What Is The Customer Experience In A Digital Economy?

Christopher Koch

Customer experience is no longer just about servicing customers – it has become the key to business strategy. A survey by Gartner found that 89% of companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016.

However, turning customer experience into a competitive advantage requires more than staffing up the social media team. Companies need to analyze and distill meaning from the growing volume of data generated by and about customers and use those insights to make the customer experience consistent across all channels. Employees need the freedom and support to serve customers with empathy, consistency, and justice. And companies need a leader to drive improvements to the experience across the organization.

6 ways every business can improve the customer experience 

Customer experience leaders have their work cut out for them. Customer expectations have risen dramatically – and social media is the preferred platform to voice those demands. When customers tweet to a brand, for example, 53% expect a response within an hour. When that tweet is a complaint, the expectation shoots up to 72%. Only 5% of Interbrand’s top 100 brands are meeting those expectations.

Here are six steps companies can take to improve the customer experience: 

1. Map the experience

Mapping the customer experience helps companies understand where value is being gained and lost, where to prioritize investments, and how the experience impacts key performance indicators and strategy. Begin by drawing out how customers interact with the company and the internal processes designed to help the experience flow smoothly. Companies must also capture all processes that happen outside the company with partners and outsourcers.

2. Secure leadership

In many companies, customer experience leadership is diffuse and spread across the many different functions and channels involved. But, companies need a leader to be the conscience of the customer at the executive level, balancing the needs of the customer against costs and the need to grow revenues. The customer advocate is also responsible for making sure that the mountain of data that companies gather about customers does not go to waste, but rather is turned into insight that can help improve customer experience processes across the company, according to Curtis Bingham, founder and executive director of the Chief Customer Officer Council.

3. Create a single source of truth

Applying predictive analytics, companies can see what and when the customer might buy next and glean insight as to why a customer did not make a purchase. Ideally, the repository connects with inventory systems so that the company is confident it can provide a particular offer to the customer in real time.

4. Create digital emotional affinity

Digital tools may make research and purchasing easier, but they don’t create an emotional bond with customers. To bring positive emotions into the experience, companies have to do five things:

  • Integrate humans into the digital experience. Companies can study click patterns on the website to determine when customers are frustrated and need a human intervention.
  • Create an empathetic culture. Take Navy Federal Credit Union, for example. When an experience goes wrong, the bank gives employees a sum that they can spend however they see fit to make things right.
  • Personalize. More customers want a digital experience that makes them feel known and is convenient.

5. Let customers help create the experience

Customers want active involvement with the brands they like and influence over brand direction and new products and services. And they are willing to be put to work. Consider giffgaff. The UK mobile phone carrier has a following of passionate customers who partake in a number of operational activities: handling customer support requests, creating ads, and even providing input on strategy and pricing.

6. Create a social business

Companies must do more than create a team that engages with customers on social media. They must integrate social technology into the business itself. For example, social media data should be integrated into key systems, such as call-center software and customer relationship management solutions, to aid customer experience processes and decision making. Companies should also use social media internally to engage employees working on different pieces of the customer experience to support greater collaboration and create a sense of community. 

Customer experience: The basis of competitive advantage

Customers compare their experiences from one interaction to the next. A single negative experience can turn a promoter into a detractor. That’s why companies must continuously re-examine the customer experience, looking for ways to reduce complexity while improving operational efficiency. By never standing still, companies can make the customer experience a competitive weapon.

Customers appreciate the speed and convenience of digital transactions, but to earn their long-term loyalty, companies must build emotional affinity. Learn how in our Executive Research report Customer Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is the Editorial Director of the SAP Center for Business Insight. He is an experienced publishing professional, researcher, editor, and writer in business, technology, and B2B marketing.