Responding to rising customer expectations
Editorial

Responding to rising customer expectations

Across almost all sector categories, customers are demanding more from their interactions with brands at every level. As a marketer, how do you meet the challenge of ever-rising expectations across the customer journey?

From personalisation to product quality, customer service to delivery, from complaint handling to social responsibility, customers have grown to expect a first-class experience from brands, wherever and whenever they interact with the business. If they receive anything less, customers will seek a competitor that does meet their expectations.

So how can marketers plan successfully to meet these changing demands? 

Benchmark against the best

“You need to get your head out of just thinking about your sector,” says Matthew Heath, chairman of M&C Saatchi’s marketing agency LIDA. “Consumers are comparing the experience they get with you with the brands that most deliver against their needs and wants. Your online checkout may be the best in your category but is it as good as Amazon’s? Your app interface may beat your rivals, but does it stack up against Uber?”

Of course, offering excellent customer experience goes beyond deploying the latest technology and solutions, Heath says. “Technology is critical, but so is an ability to understand how it adds value to the lives of your customers and where it sits against your own brand purpose. Marketers have a terrible fear of missing out when it comes to tech, but they shouldn’t.”

Instead, Heath believes that innovation should be evaluated against customer need and brand direction, otherwise, “the tail will wag the dog”.

“Do you need to consider how voice activation might work for your brand, your customers, your business model? Yes. Do you need to join the legions of brands trying to ‘do something with [Amazon’s virtual personal assistant] Alexa’? Maybe not yet.”

Aim to build experiences

While brands are under pressure to improve their technology offering to meet new customer expectations, they are also under more scrutiny in terms of how they respond. David Burnand, enterprise marketing director at Adobe, believes marketers should now reach beyond ‘meeting expectations’ to establish excellent customer experiences. “Customers are no longer content with the products they buy,” he says, “it’s about the way they buy it, how a brand engages with them before, during, and after a sale, and how it makes them feel.

“We’re living in the ‘age of experience’, whereby many consumers are happy to buy from an unknown brand if they are offered a better service. Instead of just meeting expectations, therefore, marketers need to be relentlessly creative in trying to redefine these as experiences.”

Create a lasting emotional impression

Colin Greenwood, senior experience director at global brand consultancy Wolff Olins, advocates focusing on the lasting impression you leave with the consumer. “The customer’s emotional take-out is vital. This is essentially the engine of your business; it’s what ultimately determines customer and employee behaviour, and drives conversion rates, loyalty, advocacy – the metrics every marketer wants to push.”

Greenwood believes this means not necessarily thinking about touchpoints straight away (important as they undoubtedly are), and rather focusing on the defining brand experiences. First task is to deliver the ‘brilliant basics’: the core moments that reassure consumers, create trust and reduce anxiety. These create space for ‘signature moments’ to land – the ones that go beyond expectations and create an experience that has an emotional resonance. “We are emotional creatures,” Greenwood explains. “That’s how we make decisions and experience the world, not as a series of crafted touchpoints.”

Refocus on customer life-cycles

The challenge is then to rethink how to meet those expectations. For example, marketers could refocus their budget on customer life-cycles, rather than simple conversion metrics. This involves adjusting how you measure and gain insights into customer experience and – crucially – work within organisations in a non-siloed, more collaborative way. For Greenwood, the solution is to focus on “solving real-world problems for the consumer in a uniquely ownable way, so as to leave a lasting impression that’s unique to your brand”.

Peter Reid, chief executive of MSQ Partners, believes that marketers should focus primarily on the customer, but also that relevance is at least as important as personalisation. “It needs to begin with real insights around customer expectations and needs, and how brands can create real utility at each touchpoint,” he says. “But they also need to focus on process/service design to make sure they are offering customers what they want in the simplest, most user-friendly and stylish way possible.”

Reid says consumers must get the most relevant content, at the right time, delivered through the right channel in the most engaging and easy to use form.

Export your proposition across touchpoints

“The core focus for marketers needs to be on developing a distinctive overall proposition that is authentic to the brand and that they can deliver at each touchpoint. This has to drive a compelling and differentiated experience throughout the customer journey. Technological innovation is critical, but only when it amplifies the overall brand proposition and experience by delivering richer and more useful experiences for consumers.” 

Heath from LIDA concurs. “Personalisation is vital, but the focus is really about relevance. Being super-personal might feel clever – something we do because we can. But it’s not the final word on how to deliver a great customer experience for each individual. There is a danger that brands think personalisation is the answer, rather than an important component of the answer.

“Be ahead of your customers, but not so far in front that you struggle to join the dots between where you are now and where you’re going,” concludes Heath. “If you struggle to do so, your customers certainly will!”

 

For more information on how to meet and exceed customer expectations, attend CIM’s Customer Experience Management course.

Phil Lattimore
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