Customers today have more information, more access and more choice than ever. And in case you haven’t heard, this has resulted in buyer expectations changing yet again. Whether they’re shopping for enterprise software or a consumer smartphone, people are looking for more than just feature functionality.
Put another way, great products are becoming commodities. Buyers still want a strong product, of course, but they also expect vendors to be the bridge between their products and a positive impact on the buyer’s life. And not just post-purchase — this expectation starts the moment someone considers buying something in a category.
There’s an emerging term for this phenomenon: the customer experience.
The Changing Face of the Customer Experience
Given that ecommerce is quickly displacing physical store purchases and 57 percent of the average B2B buying process is done before a buyer engages with a salesperson, most of the customer experience today (and heading toward even more of it in the future) is digital.
You can see the early innovations for this. B2B marketing automation pioneers showed what was possible for smaller customer sets. But these marketing programs were ultimately built to hand off relationships to live salespeople, who were largely focused on the initial sale, and rarely added any value after the purchase.
The future of customer experience won’t necessarily require a salesperson, but it will require a personal touch — an individualized text message that greets customers within moments of entering a store, for example. And it will go far, far beyond the initial sale and into the entire lifecycle of a customer’s journey.
Multiple Channels, Multiple Devices … One Customer Experience
Today, customer experience lives across every touch point through which a customer can engage a business – website, email, mobile app, brick-and-mortar store and dozens more. And these touch points are constantly evolving.
Consider social. Five years ago, MySpace was the key social medium for connecting with brands (seriously). Today, Twitter and Facebook are the big ones for most companies, with LinkedIn and Pinterest close behind. A few years from now, it might be Vine, Snapchat or something that no one has even heard of today.
Customer experience defies all the normal “build it and run it” cycles that IT has created over the decades. Instead, it demands the same level of marketing creativity as a TV ad or website — but it needs a level of agility that’s only rarely available in the tech world today.
The New Brand
In more and more industries today, products have become table stakes – it’s the experience of using and owning the products that defines the true breakout companies.
So, it may be time to toss the proverbial brand book out the window. Today, it’s the customer road map that’s defining the brand. The challenge for businesses is to allow customers to take their own unique paths at their own speeds, providing a consistent and engaging experience that softly guides them toward waypoints that benefit both them and your business.
Simply put, brands are no longer built in an ivory tower and communicated through Superbowl TV ads – they’re built in the minds of each individual customer and aggregated in an increasingly transparent and communicative world.
The bottom line is that customer experience has become the new brand. In other words, your brand is now the mirror reflection of your customers’ experience with you, and this new shift requires new focus and leadership.
In part 2 of this post, I’ll dig into the emerging role of the chief experience officer and the challenges in “measuring” the customer experience, and I’ll offer my take on how companies might approach this shifting dynamic. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below on how you see customer experience impacting brands.
1) White Paper: “20 Ways to Personalize Content and Enhance the Customer Experience”
2) Blog: “Welcome to 2014, Marketers: Ideas for a Successful 2014”
3) Blog: “Universal Behaviors: What It Means to Marketers and the Customer Experience”