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In order to succeed in a multichannel world dominated by a handful of major businesses and online market places, retailers need to work hard to differentiate themselves from the competition.
To avoid getting caught in a self-defeating price war, businesses should focus on improving the customer experience and ensure that shoppers want to remain loyal to the business.
This is one of the central themes in our new Modern Marketing Manifesto, which forms the basis of the upcoming Festival of Marketing. The Festival begins on October 8 and includes a number of exciting events that will help marketers get to grips with new trends and disciplines.
So to find out more about how businesses can better understand the customer experience, I spoke to Sitecore marketing director Shawn Cabral...
Why has customer experience become such a hot topic in recent years? What is driving the change?
The concept of customer experience has obviously been around for a very long time, but in the last couple of years it has become a hot topic due to the explosion of digital and social media. It’s all about the shifting balance of power between the customer and the marketer; and with digital media the power belongs to the customer.
Brands and marketers cannot dictate how customers think about brands, so the only way a marketer can attempt to balance out this power shift is to influence the customer experience.
If marketers can translate their brand story into a real life customer experience, they then get to influence the customer in a favourable manner. Customer experience is all about tapping in to the emotional sentiments of customers.
If a brand can understand a customer on an emotional level and interact with them accordingly, then it’s easier to appeal to them.
Customer experience is the key to a customer’s heart – that is why it’s a hot topic today. So it’s not just about the product and services customers buy, it’s their entire journey; the experience a customer gets before, during and after a product or service is bought.
Obviously the increased focus on customer experience has been a positive change for consumers, but how has it affected businesses? Has it been a positive change, or an additional drain on resources?
Focusing on customer experience is a game-changing concept for marketers – to think above and beyond the immediate sell and to focus on the entire ‘cradle to grave’ brand experience. Change obviously presents opportunities, and for businesses this is definitely an opportunity, though it is amazing how many organisations even now still do not embrace this.
Digital is a part of everyday life, and not using it to build more engaging experiences, or even to just influence customers – means that organisations would already be a couple of years behind.
Marketers do need to understand that digital is not something you can just bolt-on around a business and its processes and expect results. If you want to gain long-term advantages from digital then you need to rethink your business strategy in the context of digital dynamics.
You need to build your business to maximise the advantages digital can bring. Otherwise digital investments can very easily become a white elephant.
Much of an organisation’s ‘business readiness’ is linked in with ‘digital business readiness’. If you are not digital, then you can’t be fully ‘business ready’- that is a fact for most businesses. Many businesses striving to be ‘digital business ready’ really need a digital transformation.
It’s not only your website that needs to deliver a fantastic customer experience through digital, your employees, your processes and your entire organisation’s mind-set needs to be about digital and how it can influence favourable customer experiences.
Which brands do you think currently deliver an excellent customer experience and why?
Burberry is an great example of a brand delivering excellent customer experiences.
From online to in-store the Burberry the customer experience is unified and well thought out. Most of all it is telling the Burberry story in the context of a customer’s lifestyle.
How RFID technology is used in-store to extend the customer experience via bespoke multimedia content specific to different products and ranges is one of the best customer experience extensions the brand has deployed.
It’s these subtle things that make the customer think about you differently, and eventually turn from being a mere ‘buyer’ of your brand, to a ‘believer’ of your brand.
I think Ikea is another good example. From the website to the store, the experience is consistent and it is as you expected.
The good thing about Ikea is that it’s a master of managing the customer experience. When you go to Ikea you know what to expect - you are there to buy functional furniture that is affordable.
Consistently delivering the customer experience at the level that the brand has set, means that the ‘customer experience’ received is exceptional. And this is done both online, in-store, in the catalogue or on delivery.
Overall the customer experience is different between buying functional affordable furniture as opposed to buying designer furniture at Heals, because Ikea manages the experience well.
Which aspect of customer experience do you think businesses tend to struggle most with? And why do you think that is?
People. Organisations fail to understand that delivering exceptional customer experiences goes above and beyond just having a great websites. The people within the business need to change accordingly.
This is a mind-set change, and for them to do that it’s all about providing employees with the right information, at the right time in a user-friendly way so they can easily incorporate brand values to their everyday interactions with customers – ensuring consistency of the experience.
This is where seamless digital platforms that can accurately give a single customer view across all channels and touch points can become a powerful tool.
Typically, do your clients have a well-developed strategy for improving the customer experience?
The customer experience you can deliver has a direct correlation to how digitally mature your organisation is. Therefore the first step is getting the digital building blocks set up as a solid foundation, so you can build your delighting customer experiences on it.
Our business optimisation services specialists are adept at translating a business’s goals and objectives, their understanding of customers and the buying process and framing it in a digital context.
Which department or staff member should ultimately be responsible for customer experience within an ecommerce business, and which other departments should be involved?
Customer experience needs people who can understand how to create and manage the customer’s mind-set and expectations when on the journey to buy a product or services by exposing them to a series of events – digital or otherwise - that leads to a purchase.
This can only be something that can be conceptualised, developed and evolved through a department that is very close to its consumers and their behaviour.
Therefore I think the marketing department should be lead, as marketing operates as a ‘layer’ between any organisation’s interactions with its stakeholders so they can monitor, manage and influence the ideal customer experience for the organisation.
There are so many factors that make up the customer experience. What is the best starting point for businesses seeking to evaluate their overall customer experience? Where should they begin?
Listen to your customer. Understand your customer and your customer’s digital body language in the context of the category you are offering your product or service in. The experience - and everything else that follow - must be built on that insight.