Customers Take The Lead In A True Experience Business.

At a time when expectations are only ever rising, marketers must move customer experience beyond simply producing more content.

Developing the right end-to-end customer experience is at the top of the marketing agenda. With delivery windows declining and digital platforms affording brands a growing array of tools to personalise products, getting the right approach to customer experience has become a more complex marketing challenge.

Whereas, previously, marketers could measure their performance against category rivals, experts believe that, when it comes to customer experience, they must increasingly measure up against all experiences. This “Uberfication” of business, in which marketers must disrupt and challenge their existing business models, demands a new approach. Richard Dunn, chief strategy officer at global digital agency Wunderman, said: “Simply put, marketers need to ask themselves: What are they doing to earn their customers’ business day in and day out? People don’t automatically choose the category leader any more, they choose the brand that’s most useful and valuable to them. Marketers can’t just rest on their laurels.”

It is a state of play that demands that marketers increase their focus not just on creating content but building the most effective customer journey. Maddy Cooper, founding partner at Brilliant Noise, says that brands need to move away from being product-centred to being customer-obsessed. She explained: “The needs of your customers should be leading your organisation, not the other way around. Nurturing culture change through digital capability building and using methods like customer journey mapping with data analytics and insight are essential for developing a granular understanding of your organisation and your customers."

The Personalisation Myth

However, while many marketers would benefit from having a more granular understanding of their consumers, experts warn that brands tread a fine line between personalisation and overstepping the increasingly murky boundaries between public and private spaces. Fiona Scott, CEO of customer engagement agency PSONA, says that brands need to deliver on the fundamentals to build a meaningful relationship. She said: “Being relevant and personalised is crucial, but the key is how to do this without alienating the end-user. Understanding when to ‘know’ and when to ‘show’ from a data perspective is vital. All brands have access to a deluge of data, but consumers do not like to feel stalked.”

To date many brands could be accused of seeing content marketing as a shortcut to building a better customer experience. “Content wastage from bombarding customers with untargeted content is a big problem. Poor content strategy and governance structures lead to fewer opportunities for developing effective customer-led content campaigns, and it’s something organisations really need to think about,” Brilliant Noise’s Cooper said.

Attempting to build a relationship with consumers based solely on content and not on providing a seamless user experience is a marketing dead end. Victoria Ward, digital marketing manager at Speed Agency, says that while content can play a huge role in creating a positive customer experience, customers in both the B2B and B2C spaces like to do business with companies that provide value, information, and thought leadership. She explained: “Creating a seamless end-to-end user experience is fundamental—a brand needs both to create a clear user journey for their customers.

“To an extent, some marketers can be delusional with the thought that customers want a relationship when they offer no value to them,” she added. Ward believes that today’s most trustworthy brands have created relationships with consumers through experiences that trigger a response. She points to the example of Amazon, which has a great relationship with its customers because it offers “exceptional product accessibility, functionality, and customer experience that creates a strong brand which consumers trust.”

Experts argue that, instead of attempting to build a false sense of intimacy with consumers, offering a customer experience founded on the principles of convenience and community can pay dividends. Ronny Raichura, data analytics client director at iProspect, says that global brands that have invested significantly into providing marketing experiences that feel more natural are those that benefit from higher brand engagement than localised transactional brands. He explained: “For brands like this, it’s not so much that consumers want to have a relationship with them directly, but it’s more about feeling part of a community.” He points to the example of Apple as a brand successfully building this sense of community.

The Utility Factor

Creating the best customer experience is not simply about creating the best marketing communications. In fact, a brutal simplicity and utility underpin many successful initiatives. “Not every customer relationship is about a deep, meaningful, and emotional meeting of minds,” Wunderman’s Dunn said. He draws the comparison between checking his bank balance, which he wants to be “fast, simple, and easy,” with planning a Christmas menu—a task that might mean he is “more open to an emotional connection with the brand that helps make it happen.” The conundrum for marketers is to ensure that they understand what is required as the best experience for the customer at that particular time.

This can be particularly challenging in a marketplace in which expectations change quickly. For example, a service such as in-store Wi-Fi has quickly morphed from an add-on to an essential service. According to iProspect’s Raichura, “in today’s world, marketers need to be content with consumers setting the agenda and helping facilitate their transition into brand advocates.” It is a shift that demands that brands shape their conversations in a more natural way to better fit in with what they actually need in the real world—whether that be connectivity or a more convenient delivery window. Raichura said: “Ultimately, marketing is no longer about primitive signals such as age, gender, and location. People do not see themselves as a demographic, so marketing has to be armed with an inherent culture or attitude to get people to care about the brand and share positive experiences."

In an age of ever-rising expectations, the battle to deliver the best customer experience is never won. Marketers must increasingly seek not just to personalise their customer communications, but better meet the individual needs of their consumers—or risk being traded in for a more responsive rival.