VMLY&R’s Chief Experience Officer, Karen Boswell walks Communicate through the ever-evolving expectations of consumers in a digital age. Find out what it is that brands need to do to enhance customer and brand experience.
The totality of cognitive, sensory, and behavioral consumer responses through all the stages of purchase or accumulate to a consumer experience. With the ongoing digital disruption and transformation, it gets difficult to keep up.
Consumers across the globe are scaling down non-essential purchases in the light of a post-pandemic era. According to a recent report by Deloitte, consumer spending on services dropped by 13.3% in Q2 of 2020, as consumers cut down their spending on non-essential items. With more and more people working from home, the streaming boom led to a significant spike in bandwidth and data connectivity demand.
In an exclusive interview with Communicate, Karen Boswell, VMLY&R’s Chief Experience Officer, discusses the many challenges posing brands and advertisers in the near future with regard to building a seamless customer journey and what is it that they can do to target the right human emotion.
How do you think the definition of customer experience has evolved? Keeping in mind the circumstances of the pre and post-pandemic times?
Customer Experience (CX) is no longer about getting a product or service into the hands of a customer, it’s about the end-to-end lifetime journey of how a brand and business is experienced from the first touchpoint to the last. Connected technology and data have had their finger on the fast forward button for several years and the lockdown increased adoption exponentially across all demographics. To thrive amidst this pace of life, businesses must put their customers front and center, rearchitecting in totality around what their audience base needs and want, to be able to meet them on their terms at their point of interaction with a brand every single time, is what I believe defines great CX.
What do customers truly expect from brands in terms of experience?
Customers will respect a brand that has strength and stature in the marketplace, these attributes are made of aspects such as relevancy, innovative positioning, thought leadership, modernity, prestige, and most importantly empathy. If a customer feels like profitability is being put before their needs, they will distrust a brand and seek elsewhere, they want to feel like a brand knows them and understands them. Decades of data prove that brands that develop these attributes gain sustainable marketplace differentiation which, once achieved also provides pricing power over the competition.
Above all, customers want to be inspired, heard, and included. You could argue that everything is a brand experience and you’d be right, you could also argue everything is customer experience, and guess what? You’d be right. The experience is your brand, and your customer is your experience.
What are customers these days expecting of their digital experience?
Customers are connected to products, services, and content all the time; online, in-store, on the roads, in the air, at home, at work, in the gym… you name it. Their journeys start, stop, change, continue and start again constantly. Experiences should be designed to keep up with all these twists and turns, subtly understanding what the need is at every interaction and building a personalized (but not creepy) picture of what the customer is trying to achieve. Design to be seamless, frictionless, and enjoyable, and know that the bar is constantly being raised… A customer’s last best experience with a brand sets their expectation for their next experience wherever, whenever that might be.
How is CX integrated into commerce and what makes the combination a successful one?
I’d flip this question, buying needs to be made easy at each touchpoint of an experience, end to end, online and offline. A brand needs to be ready the second a customer has made the decision to purchase, wherever they may be, on any device, in any location. To the above point about experience expectations, this is the bar being set by the Amazons and Googles of the world. If a customer walks into your store and can’t find what they need, they can pick up their phone and have it ordered for same-day delivery at home. If you build your website on a model that pays for search and drives to the product page this is just serving as a dead end. Say goodbye to the ’90s model of ‘getting customers to come to you and take your products and services to where your customers are. Truly integrated commerce models remove barriers to purchase and increase barriers to exit.
What is it that brands need to do in a digitally advancing era to further build customer loyalty?
Loyalty is earned, it never ceases to amaze me why brands expect customers to be loyal to them if they are not first showing loyalty to their customers. Listen to what your customers want, be where you are needed, and do this every single time. Their loyalty to you will follow. Get it wrong, and you will lose them, most likely forever.
Finally, what are the challenges posed to brands and marketers in enhancing their customers' journey?
With 20 years of working in this field wearing one hat or another, the only real challenge I have seen repeatedly is the ability to overcome uncertainty. If a brand is afraid to change, or unable to take weighted risks to make the right enhancements to a customer journey then it should expect a steady decline.
Stop selling, start listening. Design for your customer, be on their journey with them and earn the right to share a narrative. If you can build a brand with your customers for the lifetime of their interactions with you at scale, then you have a sustainable growth model. They will inform you when and how you need to adapt and change across the end-to-end journey and in doing so, they will drive your business forward with the constant demands of life and the necessity to have those demands instantly gratified. Don’t compare yourself only to your competition, growth comes from serving those who fuel your business model, your customers. So, listen to them and allow yourself to be disrupted by those that would buy from you before you become disrupted by those who would steal from you.