Customer experience has become one of the hardest to define business concepts of our time. When CMOs from 25 of the largest and best-recognized brands in the worlds gathered recently for a private think-tank session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, customer experience was one of the primary topics. However, their stance on t was quite simple – customer experience needs to become more “human”. Adweek spoke with Mathilde Delhoume from LVMH, who shared that brands need to focus on the longer-term customer relationship and “provide a one-on-one human experience with consumers.”
For those involved in improving the customer experience, there could not be a more basic concept on which to base your work. If an experience is designed to create human connections, it is based on authenticity and it can create real value and differentiation for a brand –not to mention marketing’s holy grail: long-term loyalty.
But being simple is often hard. Where does a company start? There are three ways a company can begin building their mentality around putting humans at the center of their customer strategy:
1.Understand Where Humans are Interacting with Humans
Customer experience mapping (“omni-channel” strategy) is a very common exercise inside large companies. Increasingly, companies are spending money to improve digital interactions to ensure a smooth experience across these different experiences the company identifies. However, computers don’t create human connections. During the experience mapping process, companies need to pinpoint exactly where in the process their human customer is interacting with a human brand representative. What percentage of the journey are those human interactions? How long are the interactions? And is the effectiveness of those interactions being adequately measured? Over time, they need to understand how much those interactions influence the buying decision. Understanding the person-to-person connections is the starting point to figure out ways to make those interactions more genuine, more impactful, more human.
2. Focus on Human Outcomes
Customers can spot a phony. If a customer experience strategy is a bunch of corporate goals thinly veiled by a flimsy feel-good story, it likely won’t succeed. For example, putting cookies at your front desk in the hopes of getting higher customer satisfaction scores (tied to a bonus, of course) is not a genuine agenda or meaningful outcome for the customer. Companies need to focus on the impact the experience can have on the customer – their pain, their joy, their image of self – and find ways (no matter how small) to positively contribute to the customer’s life. Take the example of Caesar’s Entertainment. In his book The High Roller Experience former Caesar’s Entertainment CMO, David Norton, recounts some of the casino operator’s efforts around multicultural marketing. His team didn’t just treat different cultural groups as “segments”, they spent time to understand their cultural nuances. What did their households look like? What were their family dynamics? How did these factors shape what they were hoping to get out of their leisure time when visiting Las Vegas or another Caesar’s destination? Their analysis was about humans and it gave Caesar’s the insights to create an experience that met the unique needs of various groups. They made signage in their guests’ native language, built culturally-themed areas at a dozen casinos and trained their frontline teams on cultural awareness. Of course, Caesar’s wanted to generate more business – and they did, to the tune of $600 million of growth— but this extra business wasn’t the result of hollow promises, they earned it by creating a genuine connection with numerous different audiences.
3.Make Flexibility a Cornerstone
Since the focus here is on being “human”, companies need to recognize that the most human characteristic of all is unpredictability. Things will change – needs, wants, problems, preferences – maybe from minute to minute. A human customer experience can’t be built on rules, it needs to be a set of guidelines or standards that motivate the interactions, but don’t restrict it. For example, a client of mine at InnerView, a major luxury goods retailer embraces this concept. Within their customer experience model, the company gives their customer-facing associates several different “extras” that they can use to delight a customer. If a customer is having an problem with something, the associate is empowered to offer a discount or an upgrade. If a customer is a returning buyer, they have the option to offer a discount as a “thank you”. These are not major concessions, and they are not terribly expensive, but empowering the associate to recognize an opportunity to deepen the relationship is where items 1 and 2 from above come together successfully. If the human representing the brand has the flexibility to adapt, they can deliver a human outcome – a true connection – a greater percentage of the time.
While customer experience is a hot topic for consumer brands, don’t expect the fad to end any time soon. The idea that brands are just entering the “experience age” (according to Antonio Lucio from HP) indicates that companies need to figure it out now or they’ll fall behind and struggle to grow. But before they start sifting through all the technology options that can help take “friction” out the buying process, it would serve marketers and customer experience teams to heed the advice of these leaders and start with the humans.
By Christopher Wallace, President, InnerView