Geoff Galat
Geoff Galat 27 April 2018

It’s 2018 and we still can’t define customer experience

From EX to CX, UX to BX, it seems fair to say that 2017 was the year that brands truly embraced ‘experience’ as the mantra behind their marketing efforts. While Customer Experience, User Experience and even Brand Experiences have all become common terms within both the marketing and tech industries, it’s easy to wonder whether those using these terms even truly understand what they mean?

If pressed, could your average marketer explain the difference between a customer experience and a brand experience? Or even a customer experience and a user journey? Most important of all, could they even define what an ‘experience’ is – or what the term means for their particular product or brand?

While it’s easy to accuse marketers of simply adopting yet another meaningless buzzword – the reality is that ‘experience’ as an idea does offer a huge amount of value for brands. While product, price, place and promotion have traditionally formed the heart of marketing, there are few who can deny that experience – the ways that customers feel and perceive a brand – plays an increasingly significant role in customer loyalty and repeat purchases. 

More often than not, experience is the final factor in a purchase decision, providing the differentiation – and memorability – needed to make a customer commit to your product or service over a competitor’s. 

Based on this fact, it’s clear that customer experience plays an important role in modern marketing. But how can we as marketers strive for improved experience if we don’t even know how to define it as a concept?

Who defines experience

While there are those who treat ‘experience’ as yet another marketing buzzword, the term does in fact have a very specific and meaningful definition.

An experience is defined as “the interaction between a subject and a stimulus that is influenced by personal interpretation.” While finding its roots in psychology, this definition does also translate to the way that marketers and brands have come to use the term; in particular the fact that experience is little more than a ‘personal interpretation’ – a subjective viewpoint, which regularly alters from customer to customer.

Given the fluid nature of this definition, is it any wonder that marketers are struggling to define their customer and brand experiences? What is considered an exceptional experience by one customer, might be seen as average, or even poor, service by another.

This is the problem with brands attempting to rigidly define their customer experiences, that in reality, the quality of the experience often depends on the mood of the customer, not on the specific product or service.

Three steps to defining a clear, brand experience

Given this fact, it seems impossible for brands to predict exactly what it is that customers will demand from one day to the next. What brands can do however, is predict their customers’ moods, improve their journeys, and ensure that the maximum number of people leave their sites, apps and stores with a positive experience to talk about. Here are three steps to develop such predictions:

1. Think about your customers’ personas in advance

If a business is to talk about ‘experiences’, it must first accept that most of the interactions customers have with brands are either seemingly inconsequential or largely subjective. Both a customer’s individual personality and mood at the time can drastically influence the way that they perceive their experiences with a brand.

To address this fact, brands must do their best to understand what their typical customers look like, how they shop, and how they think. By understanding the company’s target audience, and building a persona of that audience in advance, brands can tailor their experiences to appeal to their most common shoppers. A successful persona should include everything from geographic to demographic data, right through to psychographic research into the buyer’s mind-set when shopping. This persona can then be used to tailor everything from optimum email distribution times to website navigations and in-store displays.

2. Analyse your customer’s digital body language

Once a brand has sussed out its target audience and has developed an experience strategy based on that audience, then it is still left with the challenge of adapting to those customers’ changing moods. While the development of audience personas can provide a great starting point for brands, the reality is that consumers are not fixed in their behaviours, and will often allow their own pre-existing moods to define whether or not they are receiving a positive experience.

In the past, personalization technology has provided some form of defence for such fluid behaviours. Unfortunately, such technology does not delve into what a consumer might be feeling at the time, relying instead on previous purchase behaviours to ‘predict’ current shopping moods. In order to move beyond this, marketers and brands need to take an increasingly human approach to the way they collect real-time data about their customers. A big part of this will be the move away from traditional ecommerce metrics and towards ‘Digital Body Language’. This body language represents the subtle signals that customers give off when they shop online – similar to the real-life body language that a shop assistant would watch out for in store.

By monitoring subtle cues such as mouse movements, navigation paths and ‘rage clicks’ (frustratedly clicking on content in rapid succession) brands can start to understand the moods that their customers are in when they shop online. This ‘Experience Analytics’ can then be combined with existing buyer personas to develop a much more in-depth, and ultimately more human understanding of customers. It is this understanding that can be used to provide the very best customer experiences.

3. Craft your ‘experience guidelines’

It’s fairly common for businesses and retailers to develop a set of ‘brand guidelines’ outlining everything from their company color scheme, right through to how and where their logos should appear. In the age of experience however, some have argued that these guidelines aren’t enough, and that brands need to start thinking about how they can develop a new playbook, for defining and shaping a brand’s experiences.

By using the insights developed through profiling and Digital Body Language, many brands are now looking to define customer experience literally – by writing out detailed guidelines explaining the feeling and behaviours that their interactions with customers should evoke.  These guides can include everything from the moods that consumers walk away with when they’ve interacted with a brand, right through to the tone of voice that should be adopted across all aspects of the organization.

Such playbooks aren’t just for customer experience, they can also incorporate employee and even supplier experiences, helping to ensure that everyone who interacts with the brand comes away with a positive impression.

With so many businesses unable to define what ‘experience’ really means, marketers have been faced with the seemingly impossible task of managing something that they – and their boards - don’t even understand. But by adopting these techniques, marketers, retailers and brands can ensure that they are providing the best possible customer service and the best possible experiences. And by thinking about how they define experience, and the subjective nature of the customer experiences they seek to develop, marketers and brands can guarantee increasingly positive relationships with their customers, building loyalty, increasing sales, and ultimately providing a better experience for everyone involved.

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