The importance of customer experience

There are many reasons for the rise of the customer and their experience. Competitive advantage and sources of success have moved over the decades from manufacturing and distribution (Ford, Tesco etc), through information advantages (Google, MBNA etc) to where we are now where, arguably, customer experience is the differentiating source of success and dominance (Apple?).

In the world of digital marketing it is clear that the criteria for success have moved over the years from essentially gaming the system, or just being first to market, to needing to provide an outstanding customer experience to deliver a return on investment.

In the early days of SEO (search engine optimisation), for example, it used to be enough to buy links or stuff keywords onto the page to rank top. Now it is about earning links and social media approval through useful content and outstanding customer experiences.

Likewise, the brave new world of CRO (conversion rate optimisation) is all about fine-tuning the customer experience to optimise performance.

Econsultancy recently polled senior digital marketers to discover what they felt were the most critical criteria to be successful in digital marketing: a relentless focus on optimising the customer experience came out top.

So should the CMO be responsible for this all-important customer experience?

Certainly in some areas, not least marketing itself. The experience customers have of a brand’s marketing is incredibly important, particularly as we move into an era of ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media where marketing assets are multichannel content, applications, utility, experiences and not ‘ads’ or ‘press releases’ or ‘direct mail’.

But what about the total customer experience? If you are marketing a museum then should the CMO be responsible for the state of the toilets, the parking facilities, the music being played in the café?

In the digital world, should the CMO be responsible for on-site conversion rates, site speed, device compatibility and so on, which, again, are clearly part of the customer experience?

What about comments on Twitter about the brand that appear in search results, impacting the customer’s total experience of the brand… are they for marketing or customer service?

CMOs are entering a new era that is challenging but exciting. Gartner recently said that most CMOs will soon have a bigger IT budget than their CTO colleagues because of all the digital-related growth that typically sits under marketing.

I see no reason why CMOs shouldn’t take customer experience under their wing. The total customer experience. Online and offline. (Then they should become CEO but that’s another article…).

But what do we really mean by ‘customer experience’?

In terms of the total customer experience you need to look at all the customer touchpoints, digital and physical, and make sure they work together so that the customer journey is as pleasurable, as easy and as useful as possible.

However, the opportunity to surprise and delight customers through experience can be done with surprisingly small details and nice touches.

The latter has been done well in the real world for years. Luxury brands are good at this, as are some hotel and travel brands; and remember those car ads based on ‘door clunk’?

But it has been harder to find digital moments of customer experience delight. Is this because the medium is less mature? Is it because the CMO hasn’t been involved enough with online? Is it just not possible to do online?

The recent Olympic games may not have been a perfect total customer experience. There were some ticketing issues. But given their complexity, it was an impressive all round customer experience.

The details delighted too. The warmth and friendliness of the Games Makers made a real impression on attendees. A smile, a kind word, it transformed the customer experience.

What great customer experiences come to mind to you, either online or offline?

A few of mine recently:

    • Google’s Doodles continue to be a delicatessen of ephemeral delights online. Most recently their Star Trek anniversary doodle.I also enjoyed a recent alert message. The copywriting, the simplicity, the transition light box effect. These are the ‘door clunks’ of online that reinforce a brand in a thousand small but very important ways.

    • Amazon’s delivery experience still blows my mind. The logistics behind it must be awesome. Others are now catching up (one-hour delivery slots from Oasis and others) but Amazon is a relentless machine of customer experience optimisation awesomeness.
    • Old Spice’s latest Muscle Music ‘ad’. A brilliant example of what ‘advertising’ can become as an online experience. The Econsultancy office favourite is “We on the internet”:

And is it possible to create great customer experiences in sectors as apparently uninspiring as, say, financial services? I believe so.

A long time ago there was indeed a CXO I talked to, at the then fresh, exciting, and internet-y, Egg. His idea was to send customers a case of champagne on the day they finally paid off their mortgage.

A small cost to Egg given the value of the mortgage customer to them, but surely a big talking point and moment of experiential delight for the customer. Sadly he has long since left and who knows whether Egg will even last as long as one of those mortgages being paid off. But it was a nice idea and one really the CMO should be steward of?

I don’t think CXO needs to exist as a job title but only because the CMO should own the total customer experience across online and offline.

What do you think? Are CMOs up to it? Is customer experience really any more important than it ever was?

This article originally appeared in Marketing Week.