Why customer experience is the new marketing

Lucy Handley is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

It seems pretty obvious that the experience someone has of a brand will colour their opinion of it and whether they go back to it.

It doesn’t matter whether it is the person from Amazon customer services ringing a person about a lost order or a teenager viewing a ‘haul’ video on YouTube, where teenagers show off their purchases from stores such as fashion shop Forever 21, these are both ways that people experience a brand.

And it’s also obvious that brands that keep people happy and are nice to customers will keep them. Or is it?

This week’s cover feature is all about the experience people have of brands and it reveals some startling things. For example, Nationwide wants to put customers at the heart of its strategy but admits that doing this is a leap of faith for the accountants that run the business.

And Hilton hotels had to do 18 months of work to persuade the board that poor customer experiences were losing it money.

I am baffled by these facts. OK, I don’t hold the purse strings of a business or have to answer to shareholders, but if a brand makes doing business with it easy, effortless and efficient then I will be a retained customer.

But I am also lazy, and the places that are closest to me on the high street are likely to be the shops I go to. If the nearest supermarket is Tesco, I’ll go there.

Similarly, the online brands that make it easiest for me to navigate their websites will be the ones that get my custom. Ease of access to brands is something that BT is studying with the Henley Centre.

“Is effort the new loyalty?” was the subject of BT’s Dr Nicola Millard’s presentation at Marketing Week’s recent Customer Retention Summit. Her stats show that 83% of people will be loyal to a brand that makes it easy for them to do so.

This means making sure that everyone in a business has access to relevant data about a particular customer.

Easy? Not according to Forrester Research, which shows that fewer than 50% of customer experience professionals have a programme to improve things across all channels. Probably partly because they don’t have one view of their customers.

Added to this, it is also hard to prove that customer experience does relate back to the bottom line, as in the Hilton example. Alastair Macmillan from research firm ORC International tells me that it is difficult to get businesses to provide this kind of ‘bigger picture’ data.

ORC specialises in research into customer experience – and Macmillan also tells me that it’s difficult to get firms to link customer experience with profitability.

I hope that brands will focus on this more now and prioritising customers – the only people who have the money to make a brand sink or swim – will not be a leap of faith.

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