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Customer Experience From the Ground Up: The Basics

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Customer Experience (CX) paper basics cover

Delivering an outstanding customer experience has become central to the success of any brand, whether operating online or offline. Taking a holistic approach to how customers perceive a brand through an examination of all customer touch points is now well established as the path to making them happy, loyal and ready to return.

Customer experience is an abstract concept but easily understood. Simply put, it’s the overall impression a brand creates while interacting with customers. Great customer support, easy returns and styles customers love create a great experience while long lines, a mobile app that freezes and stores in need of a makeover don’t. We all create mental attitudes towards brands just like we do towards people—that’s customer experience. 

Customer experience is the client's perception of a brand or company based on the sum of all contact and interactions with it. It results from emotional, physical and psychological factors that influence the overall customer lifecycle. All brands should strive to improve CX to strengthen the trust and loyalty of its audience.

While defining it is easy, the idea of customer experience still often gets confused with three related concepts, customer service, brand experience and user experience. Sharing so many terms in common understandably adds to the confusion, but separating them is a simple matter. 

How CX compares to customer service, brand experience and UX

Customer service, a much narrower concept, is what brands offer to those in need of help. It’s about making sure that customers get the most out of their purchase and resolving any issues they might have. 

Customer service is a part of customer experience and, as we all know, can be done well or poorly. While it’s hard to ensure a great customer experience without equally great customer service, the former is influenced by the latter. Customer service is something brands organize to engage customers with a question or complaint.

Customer experience relates more to how you feel after engaging with customer service. Remember that time you spend an hour on the phone trying to get through to an agent, only to be disconnected and forced to start over? That was obviously poor customer service and was mostly responsible for your poor customer experience.

The line between brand experience and customer experience is a bit harder to recognize, but it’s definitely there. Think of it as the difference between someone who is aware of a brand but hasn’t bought from them versus someone who has made a purchase from the same brand.

Those who haven’t bought base their impression of the brand on the experience of an outsider, someone who has seen the commercials and maybe spoken to someone who uses the product or read reviews of it but is still on the “outside”. Brand experience is the impression that non-customers have while customer experience is the impression made on those who have engaged with a product or service. 

We’re guessing you don’t drive a Lamborghini so let’s use them as an example. You’ve seen them on television, you’re aware of the prestige of the brand and you probably aspire to own one—that’s your brand experience with Lamborghini. People who do own one have dealt with a dealership, sat in the driver’s seat and felt the roar of the engine, all of which contribute to their customer experience

The quality of your customer experience is also shaped by a product or service’s user experience, which refers to how users interact with it. A simple user experience is typically more satisfying and makes it easy for us to understand what we need to do in order to use what we’re paying for.

Think of those touchscreens at McDonald’s that prompt us to simply touch what we want and hit “Pay” when we’re ready—how much easier could it be? On the other hand, we’ve all had interactions with a product that came with an incomprehensible instruction manual or confusing interface that left us wondering if we’d lost some important part. That’s the kind of horrible user experience that leads to an equally bad overall customer experience.

What is omnichannel customer experience?

Ensuring customer satisfaction as a way to increase sales is hardly a new idea. Providing value for money and meeting expectations have been central to business success for as long as there has been business. But the idea of looking at the customer experience in a holistic manner, taking into account all interactions with a brand, is a recent phenomenon.

That’s because there are now so many more interactions to track. And that’s because consumers now are completely different than they were even twenty years ago. The reason for this is obvious—the emergence of the internet and online sales. Even more specifically, the meteoric rise of mobile ecommerce and smart technology has placed access to everything and a de facto price comparison machine in everyone’s pocket.

The old world of engaging with brands only through mass-media advertising and an in-store visit is gone. There are so many more touch points now and all these micro-interactions add up, like pixels in a bigger picture, to form the impression that customers have of a particular brand. Each of those touch points is important in its own way and, depending on how well they’re executed, can accelerate customers along a path or be the end of the road.

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The fact that customers move around in so many channels, both online and offline, still presents a challenge for many brands. A website visit here, an in-store purchase there and maybe a price check via mobile on top of that—it all makes it very difficult to create a coherent, unified message that takes all these activities into account. When data can be collected from all possible touch points and processed with the right tools, a very impressive (from customer’s perspective) and profitable (from brand’s perspective) customer experience can be created. 

Delivering great customer experience has been made easier by the advent of omnichannel communications and tools capable of managing the data it collects. The ability to track customers in the channels where they are active, across both devices and platforms, is fundamental to a modern customer experience. Every data point, every engagement both online and offline contributes to a more complete, 360-degree customer profile that makes it easier to customize content and customer journeys. 

Achieving this customer-centric approach depends on the ability to seamlessly integrate the sources of customer data to present a cohesive and consistent dialogue. When, for example, a product is added to a cart or wish list on one device, customers expect to see it later when continuing from another device. When their interactions become fragmented into separate paths, customers become confused and lose trust in the brand. A well-designed, omnichannel-based customer experience is the foundation for preserving this trust.

With a true omnichannel strategy in place, brands are in a position to optimize, accelerate and enhance like never before. The impressive results achieved by early adopters paved the way for wider acceptance and now PWC reports that as much as 80% of companies are investing in upgrades to their omnichannel capabilities. Data-driven views of customers empower brands to track trends, tastes and opportunities like never before.

The results of this new approach to customer experience are all around us.

How customer experience makeovers pay off

Let’s turn from theory to practice with some specific, real-world examples of how an improved customer experience delivers results.

It’s interesting to note that many of the examples that illustrate the value of a carefully maintained customer experience have their origins in failure. It took a drop in sales or customer traffic to set off alarm bells to alert brand managers that something needed to be changed.

But once these painful lessons are learned, enhancing the customer experience becomes a preventative measure against repeating them. As you can see, even minor alterations and simple upgrades can make a huge difference: 

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Responsive mobile experiences.

One of the earliest advances in customer experience came about when mobile shopping started its dramatic rise. Many customers accessed websites from smart devices only to find that those sites treated smartphones as an afterthought. 

Those shopping on a desktop got the full experience, while everyone else had to struggle to see everything and deal with awkward, sometimes broken displays. The absolute necessity of making sites responsive—enabling them to easily and automatically adapt to different screen sizes and dimensions—was among the first steps towards an upgraded customer experience.

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Dedicated mobile applications.

What’s even better than optimizing a website for interactions on mobile devices? Building a dedicated mobile app tailored to the needs of mobile users, of course. 

Recognizing the coming wave of mobile traffic, brands had to up their game in an effort to deliver the best customer experience possible. This meant recreating the experience of using the “full” website as much possible for smartphone users. Today, the lack of a dedicated mobile app is a sure sign that a brand is not taking customer experience seriously. 

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Pushing the boundaries of omnichannel communication.

 If you really want your mind blown on the possibilities available, take a trip to any Disney park. In the last few years, they’ve integrated an omnichannel experience that allows their guests to book their holiday with ease while arranging tickets, reserving their place in line, making dining arrangements, checking transport options and integrating everything with their hotel stay, all from a mobile device. And that’s not even the impressive part. 

On-site guests receive a wristband programmed with all their information, which then acts as a hotel room key, virtual wallet for purchases and card for concierge services. Customers get to relax and have fun instead of having their face buried in a map while carrying bags of purchases. No wonder they call it the Magic Kingdom!

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A deeper experience built around a product

This goes beyond product unboxing (which has really become “a thing”, as they say). Nike created a great app for runners to track their progress towards fitness goals and measure their runs. It has since been expanded and integrated with Apple products, where the app’s geo-tracking data is integrated with relevant content across other devices. 

In certain flagship physical stores, Nike added interactive areas where customers can shoot baskets, take penalty shots or try out running simulators. To facilitate purchases and help customers avoid long lines, staff are provided with handheld POS hardware. Taken together, these upgrades make the store a recreational destination, get more products in the hands (and on the feet) of customers and create an express lane for checking out. Retail can be fun and easy after all!

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Reimagining the idea of customer service.

Opportunities for impressing customers with next-level customer service are everywhere. The bar in this field is set so low that it’s easy to stand out and deliver the kind of customer experience that people tell their friends about. 

Best Buy, the American retail electronics giant, recognized that the nature of their product base—computers, smartphones, home appliances and more—inevitably results in more questions, more setup problems, more returns and more after-sales support generally. But this is not the burden it may appear to be. 

Best Buy leveraged this need for continued customer engagement into a way to deepen relationships and cement their status as the default choice for their customers’ electronic needs. This was the background for every store getting their own Geek Squad, a highly-trained team dedicated to handling installations, set up and repairs. 

The Geek Squad gave Best Buy even more credibility as a retailer (seriously, they know everything…) but it also showed customers that they were welcome to return to the store with any issues they may have and talk to a trained pro in minutes. This kind of service not only boosted their customer experience, but helped them to succeed in a market where competitors like Amazon are restricted in their ability to deliver similar levels of support and service. 

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The list goes on.

We could go on all day about the different things that brands have prioritized in an effort to enhance their customer experience. Think about easy Wi-Fi access on airplanes or in public spaces, dedicated user onboarding, customized experiences on websites or streaming platforms, easy returns for online purchases, loyalty programs, secure and easy mobile banking and a thousand other things that have been upgraded because brands understand that providing convenience, satisfaction and general happiness is now an expectation, not an unusual extra. 

Just the beginning

This introduction only presents the proverbial tip of the customer experience iceberg. In our next post, we’ll dive under the surface to show just how deep the subject goes. We’ll cover how to integrate CX into business processes, CX management and making it part of an ongoing strategy that directly impacts a business’ bottom line. 

Join us in our next post on customer experience—coming soon!