Not so long ago, a brand was whatever it could persuade customers to believe it was. Today, a brand is defined by how it makes customers feel as they interact with it — its products, its services and its people. This shift in the customer experience is becoming a critical factor in sorting leaders from followers.
To understand the progress companies have made in harnessing the power of a fully realized experience ecosystem, we recently commissioned a soon-to-be-published Forrester Consulting study. We believe the results confirm that top performers are outpacing competitors in delivering an experience that is personalized, predictive, precise and clearly tied to business outcomes. The research also demonstrates that some fundamental assumptions about experience should be critically re-evaluated.
Three Building Blocks of the Customer Experience
We view brand experiences as three-dimensional:
- The first dimension defines the experience itself and how it flows for the customer across channels, touchpoints and contexts. This is where the value between consumer and brand is identified. The analysis of customer signals, market context and behavioral drivers supports the ability to build new propositions, segmentation schemes, personas and critical “moments that matter”— the times when the customer’s mindset undergoes a significant shift and behaviors change.
- The second focuses on how the experience is enabled through the operating layers of the organization. Businesses should support the delivery of “the moments that matter” by aligning the layers that enable them — from employees and partners, to data and technology, through underlying business processes. Getting this right requires a detailed analysis of how these layers are aligned, how they operate together and how they might be optimized.
- The third looks at time — the temporal context over the duration of the experience. This includes both how customers engage over both time and touchpoints, and how the organization’s enabling layers are conceived and optimized as a unified experience operating model rather than as a series of disconnected point solutions.
Seeing Isn’t Always Getting
Based on the Forrester study and our own extensive knowledge in the field of experience, we offer four high-level takeaways:
- Vison is important, but it’s not enough. Ultimately, how the experience is delivered is the experience. For this reason, we advise businesses to focus more on execution than on vision. The research underscores this point; companies that were named experience leaders were twice as likely to share this execution-focused perspective as were those categorized as followers and intermediates.
- People evolve, and so must personalization. Customer insights are critical, but they’re also not enough. Personalized experiences are and must be a priority; 64% of respondents prioritize investments in this space. However, only one-quarter of respondents are building roadmaps that will evolve over time to serve ever-increasing and evolving customer needs. And most of the investment in this area is in behavioral insights — which tell you what happens but not why it does.
In one striking example of personalization evolution, we worked with a North American fast-food company with more than 2,000 restaurants that was seeking to boost sales and build brand loyalty. The chain now uses artificial intelligence to prescribe (with a nearly 95% success rate) the optimal promotional coupon offer for individual customers, driving relevance for the consumer and value for the brand.
- Experience relies on an ecosystem. Companies don’t fully own their experiences. In the complex experience ecosystem, partners and even customers themselves deliver parts of the experience. This reality requires companies to think about how they can enable everyone involved in experience delivery. There is much room for improvement; even among leaders in our study, 38% said their organizations failed to view employee and partner enablement strategies as part of an interconnected experience ecosystem.
For automakers, the dealership network is a vital, and often challenging, part of the ecosystem. When MINI launched its first all-electric car, our UK experience agency, Zone, created insights and assets, tailored to the local market, that allowed dealers to communicate with consumers one-on-one throughout their buying journey, including social media posts and videos, direct mail, editable email templates and email signatures. Retailers were provided information about how to reach their target audience, the type of content that was most likely to appeal and assets designed specifically to target them.
In a world in which competing on price and product is increasingly difficult, experience is and will continue to be a major differentiator. Companies that invest in this area wisely will excel, while those that do not will flail.
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