We all know that brands like, for example, Coca Cola, Virgin, Apple, and Google are some of the most valuable brands in the world. All of these valuable brands have one thing in common: a great Customer Experience infused into the brand – in a way that makes the brand relevant to the industry and target market they operate in.
The Coca Cola brand has carved a niche as a ‘happiness’ brand with successful campaigns such as “taste the feeling” and Coke Studios. And we all ‘know’ that Virgin has branded itself as the brand for ‘cool’ people because of its eccentric leader, Sir Richard Branson.
A brief intro to Customer Experience
Customer Experience – as its name suggests – is the total aggregate of feelings, opinions, and interactions a purchaser of a brand ‘witnesses’/experiences after interacting with your product. Customer Experience is, therefore, felt at every stage of the Customer Lifecycle – i.e. from the Awareness Stage through to the Advocacy stage. Every interaction a prospect or advocate has with your brand forms part of the Customer Experience. It is therefore imperative to get it right in the early stages of brand building.
Strategically thinking about and adopting great Customer Experience practices for your brand should commence as soon as possible. The most common mistake Startups and all ‘sizes-of-organisations’ make? They all seem to have this erroneous impression that concepts such as Customer Experience is something to be done by big brands.
In reality, if you think about it, the previous (sentence) set of beliefs can’t be right. Infusing your Customer Experience into the ethos of the brand in the startup stages makes it easier for new employees and stakeholders to imbibe the brand and communicate its essence accordingly.
Customer Personas: What are they?
Possibly the 1st step in building a great Customer Experience is for you to understand who your customers are or might be. There is a word for that in (inbound) marketing: Customer Personas or Buyer Personas or Marketing Personas.
One simple definition is: “Buyer personas are research-based modeled representations of who your Customers/buyers are; what they (the Customers) are trying to accomplish; what goals drive their behavior; how they (the Customers again) think; how they buy; and why they make buying decisions”.
This is a definition from 2002. With the proliferation of all sorts of ecommerce and mcommerce (mobile commerce) platforms and activities, we should extend the above definition with the notions of where the Customer buys (is it physical? Online? Via another channel?) and when does the Customer buys.
Simply put, Customer Personas are nothing more than just fictional representations of segments of your Customers. Ideally, you should create these Personals based on real-life data, reflecting all possible behaviors of your customers. The purpose of creating Customer Personas is to put the people behind all relevant organizational decision- making in the ‘shoes’ of your customers.
(One parenthesis here: NGOs/non-profits also have customers – these are their beneficiaries.)
Unfortunately, Personas-creation is either ignored or not taken seriously by most companies or Personas are usually done based on irrelevant data, or poorly sourced data, or no data at all. Having big data for/about your Customers do not imply that they are relevant or timely or of high quality.
Also, never assume that your marketers (whether internal or hired consultants) can properly interpret all collected data or they are skilled in creating the right Customer Personas.
Tip: If your Customer Personas look like CVs or Job Descriptions, hire a new marketer or get a better consultant.
The notion that Customer Personas are only for big companies and not for Startups or SMEs is fully erroneous.
This is a big topic, possibly material for a future article, but there is plenty of good advice and templates on the Internet.
How do you model Customer Experience?
There is plenty of modeling advice around. While plenty of them are quite good, we prefer for this article to adopt Bernd Schmitt’s (a well- known marketing author and consultant) 5-step modeling methodology:
#1. Analysing the World of the Customer
This means looking at the context of the customer’s world, including their wants, needs, and lifestyles.
Here it is important to take a critical look at your current and prospective customers and identify common patterns among them. For example: your core clients might be busy professionals or first-time mothers etc. Whatever it is, it is imperative to identify the unique streaks that run through all customers. This exercise allows you as an entrepreneur to know your customer better, and appreciate why they spend money on your products and services.
There is a terminology for it: building your Customer-Personas.
#2. Building an Experiential Platform
This means building the value customers want from the product or service. This is the stage of deciding what experience you want the customers to have, based on the customer knowledge gleaned from step one. For example, a deep analysis of your customers might show they are about Speed and Reliability. This is the juncture to infuse ‘Speed and Reliability’ at the various customer touchpoints. A platform is a base on which all other good aspects of a brand are built.
#3. Designing the Brand Experience
This stage requires:
- the inclusion of all the product or service’s features,
- the look and feel of the brand,
- a suitable purchase place.
It is also the fun part – where all the strategies and ideas that you have for your brand, become a reality. Designing the brand experience is where you put into action things that have been learned at the various stages. At this stage, the logo, the colors, the feel, a convenient place to purchase your products and services are all put in place.
#4. Structuring the Customer Interface
This level involves taking a critical look at both the tangible and intangible elements of the experience, and then designing all touchpoints to reinforce and buttress the customer’s experience.
The customer comes into contact with various touchpoints of your product or service before making a decision to purchase, from your website to your social media pages and the reception. All these are various interfaces that the customer interacts with before making a purchase decision. It is therefore important to present a uniform interface that does not confuse the customer.
#5. Engaging in Continuous Improvement
Customers are not static and their desires and demands change, hence continuous improvement of customer experience is a must for your brand. As the popular saying goes, “Innovate or Die” – therefore, as customers wants and needs change, so should the interface and the experience. You must constantly communicate with your customers to figure out their aspirations and expectation from your products.
Other Considerations relating to Customer Modelling
- Are your Customers’ goals and all other possible Customer Behavioural Drivers ‘reflected’ in your Model?
- Have you created all possible stories/scenarios regarding what your Customers really want to accomplish?
- Have you also considered negative scenarios regarding customer-hesitation in decisions & purchasing?
- How do your Customers buy? Are there any obstacles to purchasing – however small?
- What are your Customers Expectations, and how do you meet each one of them?
- Have you also modeled all possible Customer Interactions? Your customers come to the buying experience with expectations and preconceived notions – not only about the product or service itself but also how they will ‘interact’ with any given touchpoint and get product/service information or make an immediate direct purchase.
- Did you also consider your Customers’ journey into finding your business?
There are plenty out there, but none of them is an ‘all-you-need-all-you-want’ solution. On top of that, they all require really experienced marketers or customer service people if they are to be configured and used properly.
And there is still no universal real-time software modeling tool – not to the best of our knowledge and hands-on experience. However, when talking to any prospect on the phone you have a few seconds to redirect the conversation into a cross-selling or up-selling opportunity. The same is true for your online prospects.
Customer experience modeling might seem like a lot of work at the early stages of building a Startup, but it is one of the key things entrepreneurs can do to stabilize a brand and create brand-awareness at the company’s beginning stages.
But even if you are no longer a Startup, most of the information above will still be relevant and applicable.
Thank you and Good Luck,
Spiros and Kwaku