Thursday 29 September 2016

John McGee: Customer experience is the new marketing

Forget 'caveat emptor', customers are now living in the age of 'caveat venditor'

John McGee

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie
Contact John McGee at john@adworld.ie

Every couple of years the marketing communications profession comes up with a new buzzword or concept which, in the true spirit of marketing, we are told is the next big thing for the industry to embrace.

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Often the underlying idea or assumption is not necessarily new and to many it's a case of stating the blindingly obvious. Somebody somewhere, however, has experienced a eureka moment, decides to put a label on it, repackages it and throws out it into a marketplace hungry for new ideas and thinking.

When an academic, a management consultant or "thinkfluencer" goes and publishes a book about it, you can bet with a fair degree of certainty that it's got legs. And then, with the help of marketing of course, everyone wants to be part of it and embrace it with open arms.

The flavour du jour at the moment is customer experience or CX as it's more commonly known as in an industry that loves its acronyms. Depending on who you talk to, CX is the new marketing and companies that don't embrace it run the risk of being marginalised.

CX can be briefly summed up as a customer's perceptions - both conscious and subconscious - of their relationship with a brand as result of all their various interactions with that brand, for as long as they are customers.

This experience can come from a range all sorts of different interactions with a brand.

It could be the frustration you feel having spent an hour on hold waiting for a customer service agent in Bangalore to sort out a billing problem. It could be that cold and officious letter from a bank after you complained about a missed direct debit.

On the flip side, it could also be the surprise of a free ticket to a gig from a brand or even something as simple as a sense of satisfaction derived from a hassle-free online purchase.

In the connected and social world that we live in, where a brand is never more than one click away from an online drubbing, it is worth remembering that one good experience may only be shared among four or five people, but one bad experience could easily be shared with 300 people. In the CX world, it's the four or five people that count.

For companies and their brands this can be challenging, particularly those that are semi-delusional in their belief that just because they have a customer service department or a Facebook page, all the boxes have been ticked.

In short, CX is a culture that has to permeate every level of an organisation and at every touchpoint along the customer journey.

Unfortunately, Ireland lags other markets when it comes to CX - and by all accounts we are pretty poor at it, according to a survey carried out in 2015 by Cexi.org, a collaboration between the customer experience agency Dialogue, KPMG Nunwood, Stir and Amárach Research. While this was the first attempt at measuring CX in an Irish context (the 2016 survey will be published later this year), it noted that Irish brands are not meeting their customers' expectation.

"Most Irish companies believe that they offer a great customer experience but the reality is they over-promise and under-deliver and that's not good enough anymore," says one of the report's authors, Michael Killeen.

According to the survey, the top five companies or organisations that offered good customer experiences included the Credit Union movement, the National Concert Hall, Dublin Zoo, Ali and Boots. Needless to say many utility companies and financial service providers were found seriously wanting.

Worldwide, there's plenty of companies that take CX very seriously and have it culturally embedded at all levels of their operations. In its early days as a start-up, the online shoe retailer Zappos, for example, blazed a trail by putting CX at the heart of its business and customers loved it.

So too did Amazon, widely regarded as a CX leader, which splashed out $940m to buy the Zappos.

Elsewhere companies like Apple, Virgin, Starbucks and Disney are also cited amongst the leading proponents of CX in the world.

While there's certainly kudos to be gained from being all touchy-feely in a competitive marketplace, the business case for customer-centricity is compelling. Not only does it offer firms a competitive advantage over their rivals but it helps future-proof their organisations.

To paraphrase the old adage, people will always do business with people they like.

Sunday Indo Business

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