THE 5 essential points for improving the customer experience

This article was first published in french on the European adobe blog.
Often, when talking of digital transformation, we’re really talking about a change in mindset, meaning focusing on the consumer.
This may sound easy, but improving the customer experience is a real issue, particularly for brands that see the consumer as an expense rather than an asset, which is still often the case.
Econsultancy, in association with Adobe, published a study conducted with 2250 experienced marketing professionals, addressing the challenge the customer experience represents for companies.  It has to be said that few organizations are particularly mature in this respect.



The customer experience shouldn’t be solely linked to digital

Unless you are an entirely digital operation, like an e-commerce site, there’s no reason to see the customer experience as only related to digital.
It’s interesting to note that, according to the survey participants, website, mobile site and email are cited as the three main points of contact. The in-store
experience is ranked down in 7th position.

Although the « customer experience » as a concept was born in the digital era, from the customer’s point of view, an experience is an overall one.
The creator of an eyeglass brand, first launched on the web and then in stores, explained his philosophy to me.  He and his colleagues simply view stores as a different way of ordering on the website.  As a result, they believe the customer is unique and they constantly strive to offer him this unified experience, making it as pleasant and easy as possible.

However, as raised in the study, the bigger the company, the more problems it will face in terms of organization and overall vision.  In fact, only 8% of businesses qualify themselves as “very evolved”, when it comes to the customer experience.  For these “evolved” companies, the multiplication of contact points complicates the process of a unified customer experience. Those surveyed admit that the greatest obstacle is still the existing silos within the company, often in the form of archaic information systems.  Changing your information system to facilitate a non-friction customer experience is a delicate undertaking – both politically and technically – and a costly one. In order to convince shareholders, strong commitment from management is crucial, which is rarely the case.  This is easy to understand, because the expense is short-term and the returns are long-term.  Lack of strategy is the impediment for 45% of the study’s participants.



Do you have a Customer Experience Manager?

This is seen in bigger companies, who are advanced in this area; a Customer Experience Manager is appointed, and sits on the company’s board.  This isn’t a marketing or an SI position, but an overall, customer-oriented vision of the company. The majority of those surveyed don’t place their company at either end of the spectrum on this point, but somewhere in the nebulous center, without a clear vision and even fewer solutions.  Yet, the protectionist systems of loyalty programs and other long-term guarantees don’t really foster holding on to customers.
Someone needs to be in charge of the customer experience, someone with a vision that integrates marketing, customer service and other contact points, even including accounting for the handling of disputes.  This person isn’t the General Manager, so he isn’t in charge of all these departments, but he has a transversal approach.



Mobile at the heart of the issue

In 2015, the question isn’t whether to focus on mobile, but rather how to do so.  The majority of brands are less mature when it comes to mobile.  Only one-third (35%) claim to be mature in this area, while 74% still believe mobile answers a specific need at a precise moment.  Mobile isn’t just digital, it is everywhere the consumer is: at home, in the street, at work, in stores.  Therefore, by definition it’s at the heart of everything.  Mobile brings together the digital and physical worlds.  So it’s important to provide the right service at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, and ideally in the right context.
This perception of the consumer’s life remains a complex notion for brands.  But artificial intelligence should help them to optimize their strategy to this end.
Retailers like Walmart are testing an app that evolves according to where you are.  This app is capable of changing once you walk into a Walmart store and are connected to its Wi-Fi.  Apple has been working in the same direction, particularly with the iBeacon launched a year and a half ago.
According to the Adobe study, mobile accounts for 50% to 70% of customer-brand interaction, while only a minority of marketing professionals (29%) consider mobile to be central to their activities.  But in all honesty, half of the people surveyed aware of the growing importance of mobile in the overall customer experience.

The omnichannel challenge

Omnichannel is in the mind of every professional with several contact points.  But linking the different worlds is complex, particularly if the company hasn’t been built on this model.  The ability to recognize a customer in a point of sale, via his telephone and without friction, is one of the greatest challenges facing retailers.  41% of survey participants say they are unable to do this.  However, already 60% use digital POS to digitalize points of sale.
An optimized customer experience begins with the ability to deliver an online purchase in store, to receive an invoice via email, and following Apple’s example, to be recognized as a unique customer whether a purchase is made online or instore. These are all baby steps that many brands have yet to take.
In this regard, mobile would seem to be THE solution, even if the challenge lies in respecting the consumer’s privacy and not being intrusive. This issue of privacy has already evolved and will continue to do so.  Consumers have begun to educate themselves and will accept a brand’s “intrusion” if it really does result in an improved experience.



Connected objects, an opportunity or smoke and mirrors?

Marketing professional always want to be at the forefront of technology, especially management.  Perhaps they see this as a way of staying relevant and pleasing shareholders, or simply their children.  Their agenda is more political than operational, in the end.
As a result, they invest huge amounts of money to launch their Facebook page, Instagram account, mobile app, and now on connected objects, without even integrating them into an overall strategy or focusing first and foremost on the customer experience.
The study raises the interesting point that 40% of the participants say they are involved in connected objects, although so few claim to offer a unified customer experience or admit that the basics haven’t yet been covered.
There are already 40 million connected objects in the United Kingdom alone, and this figure is expected to increase eight-fold by 2022.  Connected objects give a brand the possibility of accomplishing its mission in a wider, more comprehensive manner.  For example, Mercedes provides the option to modify the temperature of your apartment on the way home, by connecting your car to Google’s Nest thermostats.  BMW and SAP are collaborating on a car that can tell drivers where parking spaces are available in their geographic location.  If you consider that 30% of city traffic is caused by people looking for parking spots, you can easily see how this could impact on the consumer, not to mention the environment or the traffic flow.
However, it is crucial for brands to get back to their basics and have a clearly defined « sense of purpose », before even thinking of investing in mobile apps and other connected objects, which will otherwise become nothing more than costly, inefficient PR gimmicks.  This is equally the case for “wearable technology”, even though companies seem to be less interested in this.
Many companies try to understand the impact of digital through technology.  But in reality, what’s needed is back-to-basics approach.  Technology is just an efficient means for improving the customer experience, tracking results and optimizing one’s ROI.  This change in mindset is simple but, for the most part, essential.  In fact, less than one-third (22%) of the companies surveyed increased their budgets linked to the customer experience.  The concern, as mentioned earlier, is that improving the customer experience often requires significant investment along with a strong and unified vision aimed at achieving long-term results.

It’s an essential challenge for brands and a new way of looking at business.

gregfromparisAuteur: Grégory Pouy
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