“Customer experience” has been top-of-mind for business leaders for some time now, particularly as companies like Apple and Amazon have proved how vital (and profitable) it can be to deliver delightful customer experiences. And with the growth of social media, mobility and big data, customer experience has become inextricable from smart and sophisticated use of digital technologies.
In a recent survey by McKinsey & Co., for instance, C-level executives said they are stepping up their involvement in shaping and driving digital strategies, particularly when it comes to engaging with customers and reaching them through new channels. The percent of CEOs who said they were directly engaged with their company’s digital strategies grew from 46% in 2012 to 56% this year.
With that in mind, it’s incumbent on all business leaders, and particularly CMOs, to understand what goes into engaging with customers through digital technologies. In my view, here are the six essential elements of a strong, digitally-enabled customer experience:
1. Leverage data for actionable insights: In the age of big data, more companies are deploying analytics to harvest valuable insights. According to Tata Consultancy Services, 53% of respondents were leveraging big data, and of those companies, 43% predicted an ROI of more than 25%. A clear majority, 80%, said their big data initiatives had improved decision-making.
2. Increase personalization: Analytics is also key to better understanding individual customers to deliver a product or service not only that is most meaningful to them, but also when it is needed most. Customers are increasingly willing to reveal personal information in exchange for valued products or services. In the McKinsey survey, 65% of respondents said they were already making personalized information or targeted offers accessible online.
3. Anticipate customer needs. By analyzing personal information, especially data gathered and analyzed in real-time, companies can begin to predict what customers need before the customer does. This requires knowing how they’re interacting with your products, services and processes, as well as the overall context of those interactions.
4. Think “omnichannel:” Keeping tabs on customers isn’t straightforward in today’s world of social, mobile, Web, phone and in-store interactions. Many transactions and engagements that being on one channel (i.e., online) are completed on another channel (i.e., in-store). Based on recent consumer research by Vantiv/Mercator, 61% of customers search online and then buy in a store, and 35% see an item in-store, research and check price on a smartphone and then purchase online. When customers move from channel to channel (or even use two channels at the same time), they expect a consistent and continuous experience; that is, any interaction or engagement needs to pick up where it left off when the customer moves to the next channel.
5. Nurture customer advocates: When companies deliver a consistent omnichannel experience, offer personalized products and services and anticipate needs, customers will begin to feel more emotionally connected with the company and can be encouraged to act as advocates for the brand. This is a few steps beyond traditional loyalty programs, where companies nurture customers with a special interest in their brand and even pay them for voicing positive sentiments on social media and elsewhere.
6. Let customers control the experience: As digital capabilities grow more sophisticated, customers increasingly expect to take charge of their own experiences, whether seeking out product reviews or actually “trying on” attire (like eyeglasses) online. The more control the customer has and in terms of configuring their own experience, the more positively they will feel about the brand.
Whether you agree with these six essentials or would add or subtract from the list, there’s no question that customer experience today needs to incorporate sophisticated digital capabilities and that C-level execs – including the CMO – needs to drive and shape these initiatives.