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Revolution not evolution

Customer experience today is largely conceived, managed and optimized within a set of channels. In-store, at home, out of home, wired, mobile, at work, commuting, watching, listening, researching and everything in between. As marketers developing strategies to change behaviors we generally rely on understanding these channels; how customers use them and the opportunities open to us through them to drive the change needed. As a wise man once said, customer experience (CX) strategy is the true intersection of human understanding, data management, and design – and it’s hard, so a channel approach provides a useful framework.

Modern customer experience has been in a constant state of flux for 30 years driven mostly by a constant evolution of the technology customers use. How we talk to one another has played a leading role in the adoption of these technologies. First with email, text messaging, on to Instant messaging, VOIP and all the way through to Facebook Messenger – talking with friends and colleagues has often been the gateway task that has driven general customer technology adoption. Again we are about to witness another revolution in customer experience; and again it’ll be led by the tech that allows us to talk.

Friendster before Facebook

In the mid 90’s email (Hotmail) fundamentally changed how we connected with one another. This signaled the start of what we now think of as “digital” changing our experience as customers more broadly. So by the turn of the century customer experiences like how we researched things, bought things, rated and discussed things all had significant digital components to them. Netscape, Amazon and chatrooms like The Globe and Friendster (remember them) were starting to become broader channels in which brands and marketers could connect with people and change their behaviors. For today’s customers finding information, buying, banking and watching things all online are all now social norms. And with infinitely measureable data we can understand and optimize these behaviors.

CX strategy now as a result is largely focused on the channels we can use to influence customers and across the digital components this is largely driven by understanding data. We consider the customer’s journey from being aware, to being favorable, to consideration, to purchase, to retention and advocacy. We organise thinking, activity and actions into TV ads, billboards, radio, search, branded-content, online-shopping, digital-entertainment, e-learning, e-payment and so on. From a digital point of view much of these activities are now well established, with the behaviors they lead to understood, benchmarked data available and case-studies well publicized so focusing in this way makes good sense.

From destinations to eco-systems

However, as with the advent of email, the way in which we talk to one another is showing the way forward on what is next in digital CX. Some key examples include:

Push notifications on Slack’s app are now increasingly filled with functionality themselves. This means you don’t have to go into the app at all and can interact on-the-fly via notifications alone – removing steps and making it easier for time pressured users.

Facebook are starting to monetise the Messenger app allowing users to order an Uber while mid conversation – handy for friends organizing a get-together.

Starbucks are about to allow customers to accrue loyalty points passively, i.e. by just being in the establishment, rather than requiring active/conscious user behavior to participate in the program.

WeChat now has a secure platform to share payments both with friends and within proximity. Within the app you can select the icon of a restaurant you are at (just as you would if you wanted to be friends with someone) and then pay for your meal from the app. They only launched it last year and of 600 million active users, one-third have now registered their credit card, linked it to their messaging application and are using that to conduct transactions.

Finally, Indian shopping leviathan Flipkart’s app now even recognizes the brands and products in the pictures you take on your phone – then provides you real-time offers on these things for you to buy.

How and where we access information is becoming ever more disjointed and good digital CX strategy therefore needs to build eco-systems of information rather than just SEO/SEM and digital display driving to destination sites, mobile apps, ecommerce portals and so on. Developing such strategies requires getting out of channel based discussion and looking at the data available to us in a much larger conceptual sphere in order to develop such a system.

The next big challenge for marketers and agencies in developing CX strategies today is bringing together a wider group of thinkers to build complex CX strategies to deliver success for the brands of tomorrow. Success will come from not only big ideas and amazing creative, but also from getting the likes of a psychologist, data scientist, and designer to all work together and create wonderful eco-systems that work with the individuals of a target audience.