No matter the sector or industry, most large organisations now have CXOs (Chief Experience Officers) – or some variant thereof – to lead the development of a CX strategy and use it to drive business results. But what are these new members of the C-suite doing exactly and where do marketing and advertising agencies fit in these efforts?
Broadly, a CX strategy addresses the question: ‘How do we enhance the experience our customers are having, and thereby create value and competitive advantage?’
Practically, this means understanding customers’ pain points and needs, then designing systems and processes that mitigate an issue, solve a problem or serve a purpose, such that your customer has a great experience with your brand. In terms of evolving marketing practices, CX enthusiasts can be considered the offspring of the ‘surprise and delight’ generation (a catchphrase made famous by Steve Jobs when he used it at a press conference in 2010 to describe Apple’s legendary focus on the customer experience; thereafter, it became an unofficial motto for Apple).
Now, generally speaking, I’m not the kind of person who jumps on a bandwagon. But what I like about CX is its overarching attitude, i.e. that it’s not reasonable to assume that the product or service you are trying to sell is enough.
In the past, the conversation may have been: ‘Too bad if the e-commerce site is slow or confusing to navigate. Customers will still go to the effort because the product is great.’ Today the conversation sounds more like: ‘Our customers are really frustrated by our online store. X% of customers experience difficulty with Step XYZ in the purchase process. How can we improve that?’ It’s like replacing an arrogant salesperson with a considerate one.
One of the key principles of designing brand interactions through a CX lens is that great experiences extend beyond the actual product or service itself and are never limited to a single point in time. Rather, CX planning incorporates all the people and interfaces the customer encounters across time and touchpoints as they search, assess, compare, buy and, ultimately, use your brand. In CX, omnichannel is omnipotent.
Like any good strategy, CX is insight-driven but it’s more iterative than most, demanding teams to learn over and over again from customers about what’s working, what’s not, what could be improved and where the gaps are. And not only at the level of traditional customer segments but down to the level of the individual customer – a deep and singular kind of granularity. As such, CX strategies are often said to have three key ingredients: data, technology and people. Indeed, the successful implementation of a CX strategy relies on giving brand and sales teams the framework and tools they need to learn from customer interactions and make changes based on data and feedback. Without this, CX planning has no credible basis. It becomes a stab in the dark based on assumptions and personal biases.
In some ways, CX is an agency’s dream. Because it mandates the delivery of a seamless experience across all channels in which a brand is present, it naturally elevates brand consistency. We want the brand to look and feel and sound the same, no matter where the customer encounters it (and here I can’t help but hark back to Apple’s entire experience ecosystem as the exemplar). Agencies excel at producing the assets that enable this. While in the past, agencies would often lament a client’s lack of dedication to brand consistency, it seems we have now reached a point where we are all on the same page.
As always, agencies play an important role in delivering content that nurtures the customer journey. However, there are now many more content variations that need to be conceived and produced in order to satisfy the call for customisation that goes beyond broad-based brand personas.
It’s no longer one message or campaign fits all. Rather, if Customer A/Group A thinks this or acts this way, Content A is appropriate. If Customer B/Group B thinks this or acts this way, Content B is appropriate and so on. If you’ll forgive my use of corporate jargon, it truly does require a new kind of agility to pivot between increasingly granular customer groups and brand messaging. Modular content is now matter of fact. Good agencies are up to speed with this and understand how to deliver large volumes of content efficiently without trebling or quadrupling content development costs for clients.
Of course, agencies have always been good at generating customer insights and conceiving creative solutions accordingly. But with customer data now funnelling in at faster and faster rates, it can be tempting for clients to become too iterative by continually tweaking a creative idea – peck, peck, pecking until the campaign is but a shadow of its former self. In many cases, this data would be better applied to content-heavy channels (like website content and EDM campaigns); a single advert can’t achieve everything.
Agencies can help clients walk this fine line. We can show you how different variations of the same creative theme can serve different audience segments while still nurturing an overarching concept. We can show you how an integrated multichannel campaign can serve different data points. And we can demonstrate how a creative refresh can address changing market insights without the need to replace an entire creative before its true expiry date.
Given that repetition is one of the best ways to develop memory structures, the best campaigns endure. One of the greatest threats to the longevity of a campaign used to be client (or agency) fatigue and boredom – now it tends to be the endless flood of data convincing brand managers that every campaign is a sprint.
And finally, as creatives, we agency types inherently seek fun – while our job demands that we stay close to your audience. This ‘nature-nurture’ combo means you can rely on us to come up with interesting ways to make an impression with customers that’s aligned with brand and considerate of your audience’s needs. If you’re looking for ideas to ‘surprise and delight’ your customers as part of a CX strategy, we’re definitely the right people to talk to. Creating impact and achieving brand memorability is our bailiwick.
Having spent most of my career trying to convince clients of the value of creating a distinctive product-service mix, particularly when the purchase represents a high-involvement decision, I think of CX as a close cousin of brand augmentation. Surrounding your brand with people, processes and perks that make life easier, encourage treatment adherence, deliver convenience, support use, and make customers feel respected, not only encourages purchase but nurtures brand loyalty and advocacy in the long term.
Life is hard and messy and complex at the best of times. Let’s do what we can, one brand at a time, to make it a little easier (and delightful!) for everyone.