Creating an experience customers actually value

Tash Whitmey is group CEO of Havas helia, and is obsessed with the power of data in creating human insights.

Excellent customer experience – marketing’s 5th ‘P’, a philosophy, an operational guideline, a minimum benchmark, or another reason for consultants to get hired?

Along with ‘innovation’, ‘agile’ and ‘user experience’, there probably isn’t a more overused phrase; but what do we really need to do?

For the last couple of years, it has been said from many directions, but pretty much everyone would agree, it is the sum total of how people engage with your brand or business.

Not just in one channel, not just on one purchasing journey, not through one call to your contact centre – but all of them, for as long as that customer wants to.

The experience you provide is at the heart of the value you offer: provide a slick, joined-up, efficient, friendly, transparent experience and you increase your brand’s equity. On the other hand, deliver an experience that is different across channels, frustrating, impersonal and jarring and your business could be in trouble.

At the heart of a great customer experience is a personal one – and in order to deliver this, brands must first be knowledgeable, and then use that knowledge to craft a joined-up experience that supports their objectives.

The challenge most businesses have is two-fold:

  1. They cannot control in totality the experience all their customers have – there are too many variables: channels, touch-points, expectations, perceptions.
  2. Their ‘insight’ mechanisms are operationally focused on business processes – not on the customer and their behaviour.

To overcome these challenges, and to reach the heights of great customer experiences, there are some key pointers we can take from the best examples.

  • Utilise data from many sources to be able to not just understand the what (transactions) but the who, when, how and why they interact with your brand.

Vodafone spent millions of pounds creating a new data layer that would help it understand the customer experience that occurred across all touchpoints of customer service, whether it was one of nine global contact centres, ‘self-help’ information on its website, or social media. This provided the first ‘channel agnostic’ view of what the customer experienced, which agent performed well, how many calls did they have to make to get one question answered, how many other places did they have to go to get answers to their questions.

Data must be understood, architected and crafted to paint the picture you need – not what a system will give you. At its best, data provides the insight and catalyst for truly understanding what is working and what isn’t – unifying the disparate functions and activities across the business.

  • Creative inspiration is as critical as ever; and the best experiences have that additional va va voom. The mechanics of great processes and insight will only get you so far. Asking customers what they want will give you a certain level of insight, as will observing what they do and listening to what they say – but customers are very poor predictors of their own behaviour.

Giffgaff would probably have never been born if creativity had not been at the heart of a new way of delivering a telecoms product. Years of frustration at dealing with contact centres, impenetrable bills and pain have been released with a ‘people-powered’ experience where fellow customers are at the heart of the service you receive.

  • Personalisation is at the heart of a great customer experience, and has to be built on real behaviours and insights. Predictive models, segmentation and customer journey mapping will only take you so far. Listening to the actual signals your customers are giving allows you to respond with the right ‘next best action’ for that customer to experience. A media neutral, channel agnostic approach is the first starting point – connecting the dots across your business so the customer constantly feels they are put first.

It's about moving beyond using the customer’s name to understanding where they are (location), how they are interacting (device type, channel type) and what are they doing (searching vs buying vs getting help).

Remembering what the customer did/wanted last time, providing content based on their behaviour, understanding a first time vs loyal customer, offering bundles vs single products, remembering web vs mobile behaviour, understanding behaviours at different times of the day, learning the rhythms of customers' buying behaviour, offering information before it’s asked for – these are all simple examples that many businesses fall down on.

Knowing what to do, and what is needed, is pretty straightforward – but delivering a great customer experience requires a different way of operating as a business. It needs you to be cross-functional, faster, more nimble – and utterly aligned on using a mix of the right data in the right way to understand customer behaviour, then creating, testing and learning until you are creating raving fans.

Tash Whitmey is group CEO of Havas EHS

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