‘Customers are one click away from having a new brand that they love’: CX’s evolution

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

Merkle

|

CX article

March 21, 2022 | 5 min read

Digital acceleration pre-exists the Covid-19 pandemic, but the last couple of years have moved at a pace that feels new. Like sourdough and bedroom workouts, digital trends have come and gone in that time, so it can be hard to keep up. We sat down with eight CX experts to demystify the moment and get to the bottom of a tension between customizability and privacy; the interconnectedness of CX and organizational change; and whether there’s still such a thing as brand loyalty.

On the long road out of the pandemic, in the customer experience (CX) world one thing’s for certain: we’re not the same coming out as when we went in.

The buzzword in CX circles is ‘touchpoints’: every place, however small, that a brand makes contact with a customer. The pandemic gave a new set of touchpoints and not just new digital ones. “The doorstep suddenly became the place where we could interact with brands,” says Across the Pond’s Chris Godfree. A doorstep is a threshold, and with brands penetrating the inner sanctum of our home lives more than ever, another threshold was crossed.

“Your home is your personal space,” says Godfree. “It felt like, ‘Alright, I’m in my home, I’ve got so much other stuff going on. If I’m going to deal with you, I’m going to deal with you on my terms.’ People’s patience with brands was so much shorter ... we needed it convenient, and we needed it fast.” With customers reclaiming that power, brands became more aware of their precarity, necessitating a shift toward customer focus.

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‘The unglamorous plumbing of killer CX experiences’: privacy and customization

The pandemic brought increased customer expectations in more ways than one. Stuck inside, being delivered personalized recommendations by Netflix’s algorithms and custom meal kits from HelloFresh, we came to expect tailored experiences. But there’s a tension, even a paradox between “wanting greater and greater personalization, and yet, at the same time, greater and greater concerns over privacy,” says Known’s Stephen Schutzman. “That is a wicked problem for marketers to solve.”

Resolving that tension, Schutzman says, is “often the unglamorous plumbing of killer CX experiences.” The good news is that, for the first time, we’re getting closer to smart resolutions – that’s the promise of increasingly-popular customer data platforms. “There are solutions that allow us to take anonymous customer interactions on a site or in your store, and connect that to known users (who’re part of a loyalty program ... or who bought something from you),” Schutzman says.

Portable expectations and the Amazon problem

Sticky problems remain, though: all those brands turning up on our doorsteps have changed our expectations forever. With, perhaps, the most total global infrastructure of any company in history (and resulting resources), Amazon can offer a largely quibble-free customer service when it comes to returns and refunds, for example. And as Merkle’s John Stauffer says, “the expectations that customers have are portable.” Customers don’t think in terms of categories or sectors, and certainly not in terms of ‘best in class’ – they hold all brands to the highest standards of their best experiences. The result is that “our customers are one click away, one Instagram ad away, from having a new brand that they love.”

iCrossing’s Maria Bain sums it up when we ask her what the biggest CX mistake brands make is: “Thinking that there’s brand loyalty still.”

The solution? Our panel gives two. One is – among pervasive change and uncertainly – the industry’s oldest constant: stories. Being able to tell a compelling one is and will remain the surest way of attracting customers. Bain elaborates: “Both brands and cultures are shaped by stories and the best brands are defined by and established themselves through great stories and storytelling ... As Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones says, ‘There’s nothing more powerful than a good story.’”

The other is newer: understanding that CX problems often come from within, and their solutions can require painful remedies.

‘It’s not the work but it is the work’: organizational change and CX buy-in

Omobono’s Chris Barnes states the problem simply: “Organizational change is the thing nobody talks about in CX – but without it, nothing happens.”

‘Siloes’ is the word of the day here: in a familiar story, our panel agrees that all too often, the original sin lurking behind a CX problem is an organizational failure – one team not talking to another; insufficient buy-in to make necessary changes; obstructive legacy structures. Those all show up as mismatched or inefficient CX. Too often, as Stauffer puts it, brands “expose the customer to their org chart.” And as Schutzman says, “it’s the clients and customers who lose,” which means the brand does too.

More than ever, then, doing CX work means doing systems design work. Schutzman again: “It’s not the work but it is the work.”

But that can be hard – as Foolproof’s Ross Tulloch says, “Clients are really scared about doing that because it allows us to open up and look at all of the issues within their organization.” Ironically enough, that might require a bit more of the data-transparency and openness that brands are requiring from customers: “It’s about coaching clients to allow us to help; being a lot more transparent and open across the organization and allowing that change to happen.”

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Merkle is a leading data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company that specializes in the delivery of unique, personalized customer experiences across platforms and devices. For more than 30 years, Fortune 1000 companies and leading nonprofit organizations have partnered with Merkle to maximize the value of their customer portfolios. The company’s heritage in data, technology, and analytics forms the foundation for its unmatched skills in understanding consumer insights that drive hyper-personalized marketing strategies. Its combined strengths in performance media, customer experience, customer relationship management, loyalty, and enterprise marketing technology drive improved marketing results and competitive advantage.

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We’re a global, independent creative agency helping tech brands create a better world. How? We make the complex, human.

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Known is a modern marketing company that pairs Ph.D. data scientists with award-winning creatives, expert research teams and strategists who leverage machine learning, AI and the company's proprietary media operating system, called Skeptic. Known is anchored by two decades of groundbreaking market research and data science capabilities, which uniquely empower our marketing strategy and acclaimed creative groups, who produce some of the most innovative, cutting-edge creative work in culture. The result? Marketing that is predisposed to succeed and be persistently optimized, directly impacting clients' bottom lines.

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We are specialists in experience design. We create value for you by creating value for your customers.

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The Marketing Practice is a leading, global B2B agency that delivers growth right across the funnel.

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iCrossing is a digital marketing agency that works with businesses to create a real step-change. Setting it apart, iCrossing is owned by Hearst, the world’s largest independent media, entertainment and content company. Being part of the Hearst family gives iCrossing access to Hearst audiences, data, consumer research and category experts which allows iCrossing to better spot new insights, trends and inform direction for its clients.

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