It seems that everywhere we go, every place we visit, every time we buy something, we are asked to rate our experience.

There are even adverts in mainline stations encouraging us to provide feedback on our station experience with the inducement of possibly winning something. It therefore may not come as a great surprise that nearly three-quarters of the 1,000 brands surveyed as part of new research from Cognizant identify customer experience (CX) as crucial to their business.

But, while it is clear that every brand wants to offer the best possible CX at every opportunity during every interaction with consumers, there are marked discrepancies between brands’ perceptions of Customer Experience and their customers’. And the reality of executing an excellent CX is more challenging than merely stating the principle.

When we think of the brands with whom we associate great CX, they all have one thing in common: digital innovation. Even companies with very different brand positioning and strategies, like John Lewis and Amazon. Amazon is well-known for reducing the number of clicks it takes to make a purchase, offering tailored recommendations and able to deliver the next day at a price the high street finds hard to beat.

John Lewis was a trail-blazer in CX and has used its experience to become a pioneer in digital sales, becoming an early adopter of click-and-collect. Today, it continues to underpin its commitment to reimagining the shopping experience with the JLAB retail innovation incubator.

However, identifying companies doing it correctly is clearly much simpler than applying the right magic formula yourself. And with so many touchpoints in a customer journey, across digital and traditional channels, the challenge of creating a superior CX is becoming ever more complex.

Such a challenge is overwhelming for many marketers, according to the new Cognizant research, which details the gap between the experiences that consumers expect and what marketers currently feel they are able to deliver. For example, only one-in-five marketers believe they are getting it right, and nearly half do not believe they have the strategy, technology and data to provide consumers with what they truly want.

To help marketing professionals close the CX gap in their own companies, we have outlined five recommendations:

1. Start with strategy and culture

A robust strategy that is embedded throughout the organisation is critical to delivering excellent CX. A commitment to improving CX must be a shared organisational goal, for if the culture does not drive the company to improve customer experiences at every touchpoint, the strategy is merely some smart thinking put down on paper.

2. Understand your customer journeys

Without data, your CX strategy will just be a shot in the dark. Do you know and have you mapped what the customer journey for each product and service you offer is? Are there bumps in the road? Have you looked at where the path to conversion could be made simpler, frictionless and more informative?

Margaret Jobling, Group Chief Marketing Officer at Centrica, was spot on when she claimed how nobody cares about your tech excuses. Consumers simply want a smooth journey that is made to appear effortless: “Historically, there have been a series of separate customer journeys, rather than something consistent and integrated. People don’t care about what’s happening in your business and the back office, so this needs to be tackled. We systematically tackle every customer journey and every pain point and try to make it a less complicated experience. You can’t just put a sticking plaster on a pain point because that will cause a problem somewhere else within the business.”

3. Measure your CX successes

Performance measures are critical to the planning process, management and value of any business. Sales figures and ROI calculations are standard measures to show company income compared to expenditure; however, unless brands improve how they measure CX, any gains will be short-lived. Do you know if your customers are happy? If you do not ask, you will never know.

Establishing customer-focused metrics will help to understand how well you are doing. You could measure Net Promoter Scores, advocacy or satisfaction – or all three. Define your metrics and keep measuring against it to find out how your new strategy and improvements are bearing fruit.

4. Put design at the heart

Design cannot be isolated from CX, as you cannot expect the design team to deliver on the new CX strategy that it has little knowledge of.

Work with the design team to create amazing front-end experiences that are consistent with the brand promise and deliver on the plan to make the customer journey frictionless and more enjoyable. By opening up access to the CX data, designers will be able to see what customers want, and as well as what is or is not working. This empowers them to make the necessary improvements and supports the success of your strategy.

5. Invest in back-end integrations

Silos. Sadly, they have not been consigned to history.

Superior Customer Experience can only be delivered when both the marketing and design teams have access to all data sets, are equipped with the tools to make sense of that data and empowered to create a better journey based on its insights.

While many CMOs and CIOs understand this and have been talking about working together more seamlessly and proactively, our research has shown that the CX gap is wider than many may have feared. It is time to put this talk into action, working together to establish the focus on the customer, not feeding internal divisions.

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