Trust in digital advertising is at an all-time low thanks to various data misuse scandals and the public's growing awareness about how their data can be exploited. While GDPR can be seen as the regulators big stand on behalf of consumers, the industry itself should be taking a proactive approach too. So what should advertisers and vendors do? Ben Humphrey suggests five key areas where they should take action.
Queues are such a turn-off for European shoppers that retailers are losing 17.9bn Euros in potential sales each year. In the same way that streamlining your online payments systems is important, savvy brands are realising that making the in-store experience exceptional pays even more dividends.
This is not surprising given that up to 90% of retail transactions still involve a store visit, when click and collect customers are included.
It’s not just traditional retailers, but leisure brands, such as restaurants and cinemas, those in financial services, B2B businesses, and pretty much every other service provider. They all need to focus on just one thing – understanding the real needs of their customers, so they can do a much better job of meeting them.
While it sounds so simple, it’s actually a challenging and painstaking task, partly because the traditional approach of defining customer personas and then designing services for these personas simply doesn’t go far enough.
It turns out that the same customer can have a very different set of needs depending on the context in which they engage with a brand and there are often several contexts for any type of customer, making the process considerably more complicated.
In other words: the customer experience is vitally important.
The world’s leading brands – Apple, Amazon, Uber et al – understand this and have used this to build billion dollar brands on foundations of great customer experience. As a result, people’s expectations have changed permanently and we can now be confident that the future will belong to brands that deliver remarkable customer experiences.
The tragedy is that whatever the experience, expectations move and customers then expect more. So brands must be prepared to be engaged in a process to iterate and improve constantly.
Inspired real-life CX transformations
With any new development and process changes, going either too early or too late can be disastrous. That’s why now is a pivotal time for transforming your customer experience – and brands that don’t recognize this and take action could fail. Equally now is a fantastic opportunity to develop a competitive edge.
A good example is McDonalds. Think that McDonalds digital kiosks are a fad or trial? No, they’re part of a planned customer service strategy to remove identified customer pain points. These include queues, complicated ordering, time pressures and stress.
These might seem a small change perhaps, but a visible one – and one that transforms their service, elevating it from another fast food outlet to an easy and slick delivered-to-the-table restaurant level experience.
As McDonalds CEO stated: “…for the best part of our 60 years we’ve asked customers to fit around our business model.” Now the company is adapting its business to fit around its customers needs.
Other fast food outlets are playing catch-up – and not just click & collect, but via apps and innovations that blend online-to-instore – compelled to react in the face of such a fundamental change.
But that’s just part of the here and now, what’s coming up next? (See what I mean about always expecting more?).
It’s likely that voice-operated systems will help the interface – think ordering in-store via Alexa or Siri. There are many opportunities where augmented and virtual reality can give customers a more realistic, immersive idea of what an experience will be like – look out for widespread in-store and in-app examples soon, not just for clothing , cosmetics and virtual test drives, but 3D models of menu choices and virtual stage views for event ticketing.
Other innovators, such as Deliveroo, Open Table and Rentalcars, are using today’s technology to make searching/ordering/booking/payment/fulfilment and communication much simpler, easier and convenient for users. As a result, some of these will come to dominate the industries they are in.
What should brands do?
To embrace such a transformation fully is all-encompassing, often involving an attitude, perception and cultural shift. It’s not just about shops, websites or apps, it’s about the entire customer experience. And it takes a scientific approach.
In short, you need to understand who your customers (and other users of your services) really are, how they are responding to your overall brand experience and identify their unmet needs, so you can innovate to meet them.
The techniques used to do this vary, but these will all provide you with rich insights:
- completing research to understand who your customers are and what their needs are when they engage with you;
- carrying out social listening to understand what they are saying about their experiences with your brand;
- observing their behaviour and measuring their emotional response as they experience the services you offer;
- and analysing and benchmarking the data you have.
Together they will help you identify where customer pain points are and identify those unmet needs, that will allow you to transform the experiences you provide.
So what should brands not do? Throw tech at the problem. It’s critical to get your mechanics right – by identifying which parts of the customer journey you need to improve and what problems you need to solve. Only then can you decide the strategy – which will most likely involve the development of new digital products or services, but may not in some cases.
Adopting technology in the hope of solving an undefined or future problem is doomed to failure.
The 4-step journey for CX transformation
There are four steps that underpin digital transformation in almost any customer-facing sector or brand:
1. Identify your customers and their most common need-states when they engage with your brand and understand how they respond to your overall brand experience.
2. Map the overall customer journey for each of these need-states, supported by quantitative and qualitative data, in order to identify customer pain and unmet needs.
3. Shape a strategy to meet these unmet needs by optimising or creating new digital products and services and prioritise these.
4. Create improved or new digital products/services and experiment with, validate and test them to ensure they make a difference to your customers. Then iterate – it’s a never ending quest.
The final point is crucial. Never stop experimenting. Improving customer journeys across both online and offline channels is difficult (even if the problem itself is simple), yet highly rewarding. Through digital transformation, brands can steal a march on their competitors in the short term and come to dominate an industry in the long-term.
One word – Amazon.
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