It’s no secret that the pandemic made the last year and a half very tough for customers. They are now likely to stick by the brands which made this period less nightmarish for them. For marketers engineering, great Customer Experience (CX) has been an ongoing challenge especially exacerbated by the current health situation.
There have been tried and tested methods to elevate the CX factor such as mapping customer journeys diligently, implementing quick customer service turnaround times, and listening and responding empathetically to customer angst on the internet. Since improved CX has a direct bearing on purchase frequency, purchase value, loyalty intensity, and advocacy activities of customers, it is probably time to explore some additional methods for designing and engaging customers with a better CX.
Try these for starters:
Create positive sentiments for your brand by eliminating negative associations
Customers learn about a brand through their experiences. Audit your brand, identify negatives and replace them with positive narratives periodically. Also, communicate the changes. Don’t assume customers will always “get it” intuitively. Eg. If there are some bad stories about your brand in the market, can you amplify the good stories? No brand is without its faults. While we correct our mistakes, good feedback must be shared too. These affect CX by reducing the damage and uncertainty caused by unsavory sentiments out there. There’s nothing bad about flaunting your good points while you fix the not-so-good ones.
Show customers the people behind the brand
The ethical and fair treatment of employees and suppliers are an important part of building a memorable CX for customers. But customers hardly ever come to know about such practices if they exist. Consumers would like to know that the people behind the brand they buy from are looked after by the firm. Similarly, with so much unfairness and exploitation almost everywhere, good narratives from vendors about the brands they supply to and from employees about the company they work for could give consumers a feeling of empowering them rather than just themselves. Brands with purpose are much in demand and if a firm can exhibit it genuinely, CX could be elevated significantly.
Embed consumers in a habit cycle
Habits are subconscious sequences of events starting with a trigger, followed by certain activities which end in a similar reward in every cycle. These routine repetitive subconscious activities are part of habitual brand buying (or experience) cycles. Habit-led customers offer more subconscious acceptance of marketing activities. If the customer journey from need recognition to brand choice can be made more habit-driven, marketers stand a better chance of creating implicitly appreciated CX which reduces chances of competitors wooing them away. Eg. Thirst and red colour (triggers) lead to the purchase of an iconic carbonated beverage (brand choice activity) resulting in a feeling of perceived happiness or euphoria (reward). If done well, even the name and logo of the brand may not be needed to get customers into the habit cycle. Habit cycles begin with a hook that marketers have to identify and deploy (eg. A polka-dot-dressed child character, a catchy jingle, a memorable slogan, or a unique logo). These hooks can elevate CX by offering familiarity and assurance.
Demonstrate that your geographically dispersed teams can work together
In pandemic times with remote work becoming prevalent, this demonstration has become essential to improve CX. With different functional team members often located at their dispersed home addresses it would be good to have systems in place which offer faith to customers that even when physical proximity is missing for both customers and employees, customer caring will go on seamlessly. With physical addresses becoming redundant and virtual existences increasing, customers need an anchor to overcome the sense of disorientation. Brands can play a significant role here and if executed properly, well-engineered CX can be reassuring. Eg. In a digital currency world, banks can improve CX if once a quarter a hard copy of a customer’s deposits and a Thank You note could be sent to all customers by mail using an integrated CRM system.
Differentiate and position your brand in an objective way
Standing out in a cluttered market is becoming increasingly difficult. Earlier, products had become commoditized. Now brands are facing a similar existential crisis. It is hard for consumers to tell the difference between me-too brands. Now with the pandemic, consumers feel a bit more disoriented. Elevating CX would mean helping customers clearly understand how your brand is different from the others in a given product category in an experiential manner. Being obsessed with customer well-being is one way. Exhibiting sincere social consciousness is another. Standing by one’s values is yet another. CX now includes how your brand treats employees and vendors too. Yes “customer is king”; but your value delivery partners (employees, suppliers, third-party service providers) aren’t to be treated badly either. A Gartner study states that in the present times, more than 80% of firms will have to compete on an elevated level of CX. Many brands have figured this out and have consciously worked toward designing a clear perception in consumers' minds.
Scale up response and complaint resolution timelines
Brands need to embrace automation where possible without compromising the human connection. Marketing automation helps in expanding customer reach, interaction quality, communication frequency and message accuracy. Deployment of Artificial Intelligence will play a seminal role in brands aiming to take CX to the next level by reducing response time and complaint resolution turnaround time horizons. One must not only fix the problem (when customers complain) but they must also assuage customer sentiments upset due to product or service breakdowns. AI chatbots, virtual helpers, and the like should point enquiring customers in the direction of FAQs or blog posts which will solve many levels 1 problem for them. Eg. Waiting on hold for 12 excruciating minutes while trying to contact a hospital for one’s test reports could be completely avoided by having AI systems in place.
The lesson is to explore and adopt productive and engaging ways of reimagining customer experience creation. In it will lie the difference between being loved or abandoned as a brand in the present tough times.
(The writer is the Professor at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Gurgaon).