Customer Experience.

What, no clever title, you ask? Not this time – it’s not because the subject is so serious, but I think the words are mysterious enough already.

Customer experience is a more recent bogeyman (read: buzzword). It’s been around long enough to impact our thinking and strategies, and for people to claim to be gurus, but not long enough to be embedded into every session at every conference you attend.

Only every second conference. HA!

Anyway, what is customer experience – this seems to range from being an amalgam of managing your customer oriented marketing and lifecycle management to (my preferred) – the living ecosystem of the brand itself that understands that the brand-customer relationship is like any other relationship that they have with friends/family. It starts somewhere, it shares, it responds, it gives/takes, and it ends.

Customer experience for many really kicked into the big time with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, who pioneered a lot of employee enablement – that each employee embodied the spirit of the brand, and were enabled to solve customer’s problems. This was seen in recruiting sessions, where unhappy employees were paid to quit (a program also used by Amazon, which owns Zappos). It’s an interesting approach, that really drives home the idea that employees are there for more than money. But is also drives home the entire concept of customer experience – if we consider that our employees are also customers, then a goodbye is as good an opportunity as ANY to give a lasting impression (something I’ll get to in a little bit).

This is especially pertinent in the media industry, who have generally been a bit slower to understand and try to treat their viewers/readers/consumers as customer-consumers, more than content consumers. It’s a vital difference – while media has already mastered content as king (ain’t that another buzzphrase) we hadn’t mastered the conversion funnel.

Much of this is due to the fact that media industries very rarely knew anything about the customers. While banks have for decades understood that to get a customer for life, they had to start in primary school (yay Dollarmites!), the media stood apart – peddling its wares but never really knowing who or what our customers liked. Retail, communications, began exploring data and customer insights in far more detail and appreciation than most media, and so media have also found it hard to grab hold of the concept of customer experience. It’s been spoken about for a few years, but rarely embraced.

Perhaps there’s too much at stake. With authenticity and content at the absolute core of the spirit of media, what happens when our conversion funnel tells us something we don’t want to know? What happens when our customers challenge us? Are we ready to become customer service companies, beyond being content enrichment companies?

This is where the lifecycle can lead this transformation. We know when a customer has joined us – they’ve paid money. They may pay more money to stay with us when they renew. Or we may no longer have them as a customer when they leave. It’s a stand off relationship that doesn’t tell us enough. We understand a bit about what drives them, but very rarely what causes them to start, or leave.

I was thinking about this the other day – the ideal customer is the one who dies. It’s morbid, but as brands, we NEED the customers who die and are farewelled in a home made flag with our brand on it. We want sports fans, who live and die and protest when a ‘bad change’ happens to a brand they cherish.

These are the folk who talk. Who share. Who challenge. They are the ones who have a real relationship with the brand, and more importantly – they are the ones who come back. Again and again, with their lifetime membership, adorned in loud scarves, singing the brand anthem, and making an experience of it all themselves. The people make a brand immortal – amazing content will bring them in, but they stay because of the personality – the connection with the brand. The relationship.

Similarly we want children to grow into our brands, and not know any other. Create Brand X households. Holden vs Ford, Manchester United vs half the known world…

If a child who grows into Brand X in a family that has always been Brand X…then leaves it…that’s a ‘big thing’. It’s an outlier. It says that the brand did something desperately wrong. Do we know WHY a customer leaves? Did they grow out of the brand? What made them change their minds? Was it ‘a long time coming’?

What did we do wrong?

Wrong is good. Wrong is challenge. Being wrong gives the brand an opportunity to do right. When Optus ran into a barrage of complaints over its Arabic language posters in Casula, their social media team was able to turn a big wrong into an amazing opportunity by responding with intelligence, but with an authentic stand. These allowed it to barrel through the complaints with head high, turning the conversation into one of challenge and strength.

I see the Apple vs FBI struggle as similarly. Apple, in prioritising customer privacy over governmental compliance, has also valued a very long term customer experience, by making a stand now, and giving it to future generations to have the choice of whether to forsake their privacy for perceived security.

I’m seeing more companies stand strong like that. It’s a good thing. Seek challenge. Stand firm. Come out sronger. Just like we (as corporations) need fanatical fans, we also need them to willingly participate in the lifecycle.

This leads to the other essential part of customer experience – how do we use it?

As I mentioned before, media has mastered content. To a great extent, we’ve mastered context and channels. The next 3 big links in this C-Train are conversion, connection and challenge.

The customer engages when content is used in the right context, in the right channels. These lead to conversion, that brings a connection between customer and brand.

The relationship that develops, is the customer experience challenge.

(see what I did there?)

I’m a big fan of the idea of the ZMOT – the Zero Moment of Truth. In the ZMOT concept, we make micro decisions whenever we decide to interact with something (eg the factors that make an online purchase). This is relevant at every step of media – a customer chooses to read a headline, chooses to read the summary then perhaps the whole article. Chooses to click something else on the site. And chooses to come back. Similarly, what are the ZMOTs for a customer to end the relationship?

Each of those is a ZMOT that leads to the customer engagement. Sharing. Subscribing. Unsubscribing. Currently this is led by the one thing that media is good at – content.

But we need to know how to use it to seek conversion. Then used that conversion to form a relationship with the customer through service and connection, and then ask to be challenged by that customer.

That relationship then goes through a lifecycle – the customer lives, buys, shares, subscribes, then dies. And in turn, the brand’s lifecycle lives, breathes, sells, creates and renews through the new customers that join.

Does customer experience lead to more money? No, not directly. It’s difficult to monetise what I’m writing about. But what it does do is point to better money – a reliable customer base who will listen to the brand first and foremost. And a customer base more likely to try and influence others into following the brand. And more importantly – it means that the brand is more likely to be top of mind. It’s brand immortality that leads to a position of strength.

We’re at a really cool juncture in corporate transformation as we realise that our customers are more than consumers. They’re people who want to have a relationship. The customer experience challenge is becoming a really central part of our conversation.

2 thoughts on “Customer Experience.

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