“You must go to the customer and not expect the customer to come to you”
If the creation of brand loyalty is the sine qua non of all marketing then the way that companies define both themselves and those who purchase their products is no less of a priority. Awareness is all. From the moment that the logo is seen or a slogan is heard on any modern day media platform, a form of communication, or as some experts say, ‘interaction’ is taking place between the actors on the side of supply and those on the side of demand. If the former understands the latter as comprehensively as possible then the chances of this interaction being satisfactory, to the extent that it will be repeated, are greatly increased.
In that case, it is not just the needs of the target market but the attitude towards and perception of the target market that are at a premium. Lately, a shift has been taking place with regard to the language and mechanics of strategic thinking in this field. We are moving from the User Experience to the Customer Experience. The change is not insignificant. It is not so much a case of the customer is always right as it is the customer has a right to be unpredictable and constantly evolving.
Eewei Chen, Solution Design Director e Experience at BSkyB, puts the change down to the large amount of new companies that are launched from one year to the next. “Yes, it has a lot to do with start-ups,” he argues. “There are more and more of them and they need to have a business plan to make money. They can only do that if they approach the customer in a holistic way. You look at needs and behavior. It’s great having a good idea but you really need to understand how the customer engages and then engage with them, on their terms.”
Arthur Moan, Managing Director of UserZoom UK, contends that many organisations, particularly those who occupy a dominant position in their category, are finding that they can no longer rely on traditional elements like quality, product features, price or brand equity to effectively differentiate – in a sea of parity, it is the overall experience that defines value in this new world. When perceptible differences between brands evaporate it is critical that organisations look deeper to create differential value – and many are turning to their overall “customer experience” as the way to gain that advantage. All firms will therefore need to address how they interact with their customers if they are to compete. The reality, however, is that most organisations are just beginning to wrestle with the complex, and often confounding, discipline of managing the customer experience.
That seems to be a key principle in any field of business. David Hughes, currently head of User Experience at Expedia, saw its importance when he worked for a major credit card company. “When I was at American Express it was all about customer experience. You know they talked about a ‘member experience’ and that was just part of the company’s DNA.”
Given the fact that marketing departments seek to gauge an experience rather than a purchase, it is important that all of the surrounding or connected elements of that experience are factored into any effective strategy. Which in this day and age means quality on all ‘touch points’ – adverts, incidental recommendations or references.
Ana Cave-Wood Head of UX Design & Delivery at Unibet, agrees that things have definitely moved on. As far as she is concerned, there is a patently clear reason for it. ”Customers are inundated with choice,” she argues. “A key differentiator for businesses is the experience customers are given. Businesses need to look consistently at tone of voice and consistent use of messaging to align the experiences.”
‘Consistency of messaging’ is all the more crucial because of the advent of the digital domain and the enormous range of possibilities that it has opened up. There must now be absolute coherence between the online and offline activities for any brand. With more and more people tweeting both positively and negatively on their engagement with a product or service, any serious contender in the market place should conceive of the customer experience in the most holistic manner possible. That requires a harnessing of the substantial power of Twitter or Facebook.
“Businesses definitely need social networking today,” says Eewei Chen emphatically. “Everybody is tweeting or texting or on Facebook and the fact is that brands are simply much more prevalent than before.
“They have to work in the same space as customers, so if that is on social networking sites then so be it. They have to respond to any problems very quickly. The big change is that you must go to the customer and not expect the customer to come to you.”
David Hughes echoes his sentiments. Brands have to be more proactive than ever. “You’re really looking for maximum exposure through social media in the booking process, and how that can then be used in a positive way,” he states. “It’s about constantly monitoring what people say. There’s never been a time when you can get so much feedback from customers, whether it is solicited or unsolicited, so the question is how do you then use that information as effectively as possible.”
In many ways, it is a great irony to think that the word customer, which several years ago appeared anachronistic and hackneyed, has swung back into consciousness, but marketing only serves an effective purpose if it captures the zeitgeist. In a world where countless products and services run on the energy of new media, the zeitgeist simply does not stand still.