Customer experience, the new marketing

JUSTIN Chicheleko.

IN A competitive business environment, a company that provides an offering that exceeds customers’ expectations will be one that thrives. As competition continues to grow, research into consumer behaviour shows that a product or service is not the only factor that can guarantee repeat purchases but the entire experience in the customer journey.
Growing importance of customer experience
Customer experience is the entirety of the interactions a customer has with a company and its products. A customer will consider the different encounters with the customer experience components to arrive at an evaluation of the entire experience. Some of these include a visit to the company premises, the price, quality, expertise and attitude of the personnel providing the service, social media, as well as the reputation of the organisation.
Organisations will have a brand promise on one hand but need to also have an understanding of how customers experience the brand. If there is disparity between the promise and the experience, it is most likely that customers will lose trust in the brand and the value of that brand will begin to erode.
Shep Hynek, a customer experience expert, asserts that customer experience has become the most important consideration when customers want to decide if they should continue doing business with a particular brand. Research that was conducted by Gartner Incorporated (2014) revealed that 89 percent of companies in the world compete primarily on the basis of customer experience.
Customer experience has also become even more important now because of the digital and social media revolution. A customer who has a bad experience may cause a lot of damage now more than ever. Customers have the knack of recording their experiences and can share this online. United Airlines had a brand crisis in which US$1.4 billion in value was wiped out overnight when a passenger’s experience went viral on social media. Today, there are more ways in which customers can communicate about their experience. They can use social media to complain, not only to the company but the entire world.
Philip Kotler asserts that a business organisation depends on repeat purchases for sustainability. He asserts the importance of having loyal customers based on the satisfaction derived from the consumption of a particular brand and their overall experience.
How customer experience differs from customer service
Customer experience has now emerged as the key differentiator and driver and sustenance in consumer industry. As already described above, it is mainly concerned with how customers perceive their interactions with a company.
There are people who would argue that customer experience issues can be solved and avoided if there is an effective customer service unit in an organisation. On the other hand, there are many, including the author, who feel that a customer service department may not be able to improve the overall customer experience.
Customer service is a part of the whole gamut of customer experience. It is the support provided by a company to customers who are facing issues while purchasing its products or services. Customer service is reactive as it only comes into effect when a dissatisfied customer contacts the company. Business can only take action where something goes wrong and not beforehand.
Customer experience, on the other hand, is proactive. A business can take action to optimise the customer journey before the customer becomes dissatisfied. It is a holistic approach that goes beyond a customer service department and it is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation. Unlike customer service, which focuses on single specific interaction at a time, customer experience takes into account the overall customer journey by building long-term relationships with customers.
Measuring and improving customer experience
Organisations need to have systems and techniques for measuring customer experience.
It is imperative that the systems and techniques are known and understood by employees within the organisation. Monitoring and measuring customer experience enables the decision-makers to institute control measures as an early detection of problems.
Techniques that can be used to measure customer experience include focus groups, sentimental analysis or social media monitoring, customer satisfaction surveys, comments through suggestion boxes, live chats, and calls to the call centre.
These tools, if effectively used, can bring out valuable information that can help to rectify customer experience problems in the interim and information that may be incorporated in the long-term strategy for an organisation.
A number of organisations in Zambia are taking customer experience seriously. A few of these companies are mainly in the telecoms and financial services sector. They have created positions within their structures for dedicated customer experience personnel. It is the reason customer experience for these organisations has tremendously improved.
As the business environment continues to be competitive, there is likely to be a corresponding expectation by customers from companies to deliver a seamless positive customer experience. It is the organisations that will make investments in customer experience management and deliver on their brand promise that will meet customers’ expectations and make them want to come back that will not only survive but also thrive. Customer experience will continue to dominate marketing conversations for years to come. Like the Mercedes Benz USA President and CEO Steve Cannon (2018) stated, “Customer Experience is the new Marketing.”
The author is marketing practitioner and consultant.

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