The renowned management guru, Peter Drucker, once wrote that since “the purpose of business is to create a customer; the business enterprise has two basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results. All the rest are merely costs.”
One of the key aspects of marketing is communicating with customers – and potential customers. Indeed, ‘the customer journey’, ‘touch points’, ‘the moment of truth’, and ‘the “wow!” effect’ are all fashionable management terms – and they all involve, to some extent, effective communications. Moreover, they all relate to one of the least-understood and most complex areas in the world of business – customer experience strategy (CES).
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A well-designed and managed CES is the key to a company’s market differentiation. Moreover, a CES must add value in real and innovative ways at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
In addition to the traditional customer-lifecycle stages – reach, acquisition, conversion, retention and loyalty – digitalisation has added extra stages. Customers now begin their journey by surfing the internet, searching for information and finding solutions to problems they didn’t know they had.
Nowadays, a supplier’s challenge is not just to communicate effectively in all platforms and at all stages of the customer-lifecycle but also to incorporate analysis of these new stages and points of contact into its CES so that it can influence the buyer’s experience from the outset.
More aspirational than measurable
Although a CES is, usually, more aspirational than measurable, Marcos González de La-Hoz and José María Machuca believe that there are ways to design and manage the process to have a real impact. Marcos González de La-Hoz is President of the IE Customer Experience & Inbound Marketing Club and Director of We Are Marketing (WAM), while José María Machuca is Manager of Digital Costumer Experience at We Are Marketing (WAM) and Manager of IE Customer Experience Management Club.
Marcos and José María are staff members of the Madrid-based IE Business School, which is part of the FT | IE Business School Corporate Learning Alliance. FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance designs customised programmes for companies looking to solve a wide range of business challenges – including CES.
Listening to what your customers are saying and constantly measuring and monitoring their experiences, say Marcos and José María, puts you in a good position to act whenever a ‘buyer persona’ (a behavioural archetype representing a particular group of customers) expresses a new demand.
Language and cultural mindset
This is particularly important where you’re trading internationally and, so, you are dealing with customers whose native language and cultural mindset may differ from your – and your organisation’s – own language and cultural mindset. It’s always important to listen to what your customers are saying but it’s equally important to listen carefully in the context of your customer’s native language and culture.
Marcos and José María argue that a poorly-designed CES not only distorts the customer’s perception of a product, brand or company but it can also misalign the company’s own strategy. The customer experience should be designed in-line with the brand promise – as set out in the company’s mission and promise to stakeholders.
“So, for example, a brand that’s strongly associated with environmental friendliness must act accordingly in all areas of the business – from containers and packaging to its waste-management practices,” argues Marcos González de La-Hoz.
The ‘ideal customer experience’
That said, despite the best of intentions the ideal customer experience can’t always be achieved. The challenge is to reconcile three distinct issues: what the company wants for its customers, what it’s able to deliver, and how the customer experiences it.
“Never offer a customer experience that you can’t deliver because the resulting ‘moments of pain’ can be hard to heal,” advises José María Machuca.
Companies wanting an effective CES should segment their target market creatively, say José María and Marcos. Define customer personas not just by age and socio-economic level but, for instance, by behaviour, conduct and emotions. This will help you devise innovative marketing -including customer communication – ideas.
They add that a company should constantly be creating new opportunities for interaction (that is, two-way communication) with customers – so it should always analyse new points of customer contact. In addition, they recommend being innovative in terms of technology – and staying abreast of new and improved customer-interaction formats.