The Customer Experience Dream

I often wonder if managing a truly effective customer experience - from start to end, at every point of contact - is a pipe dream. Can it be done? I think we at least owe it to ourselves to try, because in a world of low attention spans and constant communication, it is the captivating customer experiences that create this elusive branding and loyalty effect. So what is a great customer experience, what does it mean to you as the marketer, and what does it mean to you as the consumer?

I recently asked a very senior executive at a large U.S. organization, "What does a good customer experience mean to you as a consumer and business person?" This executive is a true consumer - not overly tech savvy, not an advertising guru. But he definitely had an opinion on how he should be treated as a consumer and he projects that to his business. He proceeded to walk me through his day from the morning coffee to the drive to work and used a story to describe this. He illustrated his point by describing his wife's desire to upgrade their Lexus automobile and described the different messages and ad impressions he was exposed to through his traditional day. He heard a radio commercial while getting ready for work, a television ad on CSPAN, another commercial on his car radio on his drive, a billboard on the side of the road, a magazine ad on his favorite business publication for executives, a banner ad on his CNN.com homepage, an e-mail responder text message on his PDA, and an e-mail from the dealership in his personal e-mail account. The story went on from there.

His idea of complete customer experience is that it has continuity; regardless of the communication medium, the message and story continued the experience. It continued his impression of what the car would mean to his life and the personal decisions involved, yet it also reinforced his belief that his organization should drive these types of experiences in all their efforts.

As I put on my E-mail Insider hat, I fear that too many marketers think a customer experience is isolated to a medium (Web, print, or TV). E-mail is an elusive tool that offers things that not many other mediums do: It is personalized, timely, one-to-one, inherently trackable, and cost effective. Yet too many marketers do it in a vacuum, thinking that a shotgun approach will yield a positive experience.

We know that today's consumers are exposed to so many more communications in a given day. According to FCC Magazine Publisher findings, in 1960 there were only 8,400 magazine titles, 440 radio stations, and 5.7 television channels. In 2004 there were over 25,000 Internet broadcast channels, 4.4 billion pages indexed by Google, 82.4 television channels, and 13,500 radio stations.

In his book, "Trout on Strategy," Jack Trout said that the average consumer can't maintain more than seven brand relationships at a given time. With this complexity, what can we really accomplish through each medium? In building experiences, how do you compete in a multiple channel world? How do you create, manifest, support, and foster brand experiences for consumers pre-and post-purchase? I believe it is through continuity in strategy and messaging. At a recent conference in London where I was a panelist, the question that was most asked was, "How do I integrate my marketing teams?"

Thinking back on the executive's story and this discussion in London, I can say with resounding certainty that a customer experience is a very discrete, singular experience, encompassing all channels. Your challenges as marketers will be to look at this "customer experience" as a whole, rather than discrete individual experiences driven by a specific channel and getting your teams to work within this framework. Although e-mail is one of those channels that has grown in popularity for its unique values to consumers and businesses, it is also one of those unique channels that can support the entire customer experience in many ways such as alerts, notifications, informational, curriculum oriented, lifecycle oriented, promotional, directive, response oriented, personalized, and as we know now from recent reports from SPEWS, it can be addictive.

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