Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the language of customer experience. I have hundreds of conversations with clients every year, and my job is to efficiently get to the heart of a CX problem and expeditiously offer practical guidance. My advisory sessions start with clients describing their CX goals or challenges, and I’ve come to realize there are a handful of words that catch my attention and suggest an area of possible concern worthy of further exploration. Those words are digital, personalization, and buyer.
Before we explore why those words might signify a potential problem with your CX efforts, let me first point you to last month’s two-part blog series examining the language of customer experience. Part 1 was about thinking like a customer and part 2 about framing your marketing and business strategies from the customer’s perspective. Today’s blog post is again focused on language and seems like an appropriate conclusion for the series.
“Digital,” “personalization” and “buyer” are powerful and common words used within marketing departments, and the potential CX dangers of each may not be readily apparent. Here is why these words are deserving of attention and further consideration:
Your brand must constantly strive to get its digital channels, interactions, and experiences right, but a single-minded preoccupation on a “digital journey” can lead your CX program astray. Customers may be embracing digital channels, devices, and habits, but none of us are wholly digital. We are all analog creatures living in an increasingly digital world. As a result, it is rare for customers to complete an end-to-end journey–from need to purchase to loyalty to advocacy–entirely in digital channels. Understanding the ways customers want to navigate back and forth between physical and online interactions permits you to best define your brand’s opportunities in both domains.
It’s easy to find examples of how merging the best of the real world and digital helps brands. For example, Best Buy, a brand many thought would be “showroomed” out of existence a few years ago, has thrived thanks to a strategy that combines the best of e-commerce and physical retail for customers. Retailers have seen tremendous growth in “click-and-collect” behaviors where customers buy online and pick up at a store; Adobe found that click-and-collect orders grew 46% year over year during a recent one-month period. Meanwhile, another study found that opening and closing a physical store can have a measurable impact on online traffic and image.
All brands–even exclusively digital ones–benefit by recognizing the role of digital and real-world behaviors in improving the customer experience. And if you’re in a digital role siloed from physical operations (or vice versa), your success still depends on your ability to recognize how customers want their online and offline experiences merged. (Gartner clients can learn more with the report, “Create Actionable, Insight-Driven Journey Maps.”)
Like “digital,” the word “personalization” represents a positive approach to customer experience–people want and appreciate personalized experiences. The reason this word can raise CX concerns is in how personalization is used by marketers. The critical question is whether your personalization strategies are intended to improve the brand or the customer. The two are not at all mutually exclusive, but a CX strategy is not a CX strategy if it is measured only in increased revenue and not in changes to customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.
To do personalization right for CX, it is essential to be “outside-in,” which means understanding and meeting customer expectations and measuring the impact to the customer. One place to start is to develop, study and understand your different personas, which helps you to define the varied sorts of content, experiences, and features desired by different groups of customers.
A good personalization strategy can lift inbound traffic, clicks, conversions and sales while also delivering more satisfied, loyal customers, but you must be careful not to presume more purchases equate to a stronger sense of loyalty and advocacy. Bridging the gap between behavioral and attitudinal measures of loyalty is vital. (Gartner clients interested in more information on the topic of attitudinal and behavioral loyalty can access our recent report, “Move Customers to Deeper Levels of Loyalty That Strengthen Brand Health.“)
The last and most concerning term is “buyer.” This is a red-letter word that implies a client may not be striving to improve CX, at all. Buyer personas, buyer journeys, buyer touchpoints and other language concentrating on the “buyer” suggests the intent is to improve the traditional marketing funnel to increase acquisition of prospects and not to improve the entire end-to-end journey to enhance satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy for customers.
Obviously, you have to first acquire a customer to convert them into a loyal advocate, and for this reason, the Buy cycle is an essential portion of the journey. But an obsession with buyers in the Buy cycle and not what happens after prospects become customers leads to weak CX strategies and outcomes. It is why our research demonstrates that clients who focus on the entire customer journey enjoy stronger results than do those who focus on a smaller portion of the journey (subscription required).
In the end, it’s not that the words “digital,” “personalization” and “buyer” are bad or wrong but what they may imply–a plan to perilously narrow the focus or produce brand results without considering the impact on the customer. Getting CX right requires you develop and measure your brand’s impact on the customer throughout their journey with your brand. There are lots of ways for your brand to increase sales or improve a specific touchpoint, but you will foster the most robust customer relationships when you look at the entire journey across all channels and identify the ways your brand builds or destroys customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.