Slick, cookie-cutter digital customer experience fails to differentiate brands

Think providing a seamless digital CX is all you need to maintain your brand in the eyes of the consumer? Chris Henderson, MullenLowe Profero's Sydney MD warns that slick, generic out-of-the box solutions could actually be doing more harm than good.

The last thing any marketer wants is for their brand to look and feel just like the competitor. However, our industry’s current focus on streamlining customer experience via tech platforms risks exactly that.

The scramble for next generation customer experiences (CX) has agencies, consultancies and marketers making brand interactions more intuitive. Innovating to find more efficiency is an important part of refining customer experiences, but it offers no competitive advantage if everyone else follows a category-generic playbook.

Brands using technology as their differentiator run the risk of creating generic interfaces and experiences. We’ve all heard about the out-of-the-box solutions that vendors promise will fix everything. Smooth and integrated customer experiences might create satisfied punters, but this is only half the battle. Brands looking for proper ROI need to consider emotional motivators when devising strategies to win and retain high-value customers.

When you hear about companies setting up a ‘design thinking team’ or ‘an innovation team’, you have to wonder what the strategic objective is. Are they just there to make platforms and processes better? Or are they driving at something deeper? I tend to worry there’s a lot of, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ afoot – innovation towards greater CX efficiency, without overarching emotional purpose or vision that knits the experience together.

Modern CX requires customer intelligence around emotion, psychology and context to add competitive value. Building great big platforms around guesswork or the business capability, rather than the customer, would be repeating past behaviour.

Next-generation CX is about knowing who the customer will be, not who the business wants them to be. Foresight is more valuable than insight, because it forever pulls CX back to the customer’s motivations and behaviours, forcing brands to stop thinking about themselves.

When creating quality customer experiences, emotional motivators offer a guiding objective that can be threaded through each touch point along the customer journey. A 2016 study from Harvard Business Review found consumers exhibit around 40 emotional motivators across most brand interactions (with varying intensity). In no particular order, the most prevalent include desire for ‘a sense of belonging, ‘to succeed in life’, ‘to feel secure’ ‘to have a sense of freedom’ and ‘to have confidence in the future’.

The study also goes on to explain that brand relationships transition through four stages: (1) being unconnected (2) being highly satisfied (3) perceiving brand differentiation (4) being fully connected. At ‘fully connected’, the customer feels a meaningful relationship with the brand through one or more key emotional motivators, like the ones listed above. Through extensive research and case study analysis, Harvard Business Review concluded customers in this category are twice as valuable to the brand as ‘highly satisfied customers’ over the lifetime of the relationship.

Furthermore, moving a customer from the ‘highly satisfied’ category to ‘fully connected’ is three times more valuable than moving them from ‘unconnected’ to ‘highly satisfied’. Fully connected customers spend more, are less price sensitive, pay more attention to brand comms, and are much more likely to recommend the brand to others.

Importantly, the research shows that while slick platforms might keep a customer satisfied, that customer’s value stagnates unless they feel a deeper connection to the brand.

The value of pushing for enhanced emotional connection is huge. The industry’s current focus on innovation and efficiency risks overlooking that value, and creating a world where brands offer a seamless experience but not a differentiated one.

Focussing on emotion enables the ability to deliver CX that impacts a person’s heuristics (how they make intuitive, simple decisions). It’s accepted that heuristics inform habits and bed down patterns of behaviour to create a cumulative advantage for businesses. Sustained differentiation is good for business.

Today’s digital experiences have core features that customers have come to expect, like intelligent recommendations, online self-service or chatbots and predictive search terms. As brands rush to bring themselves into line with those expectations, everyone is pretty much working from the same formula – make it simple and clean. Sooner or later, we’re going to nail that methodology and everyone is gonna be pretty slick, and pretty samey.

Elevating your brand above the competition is soon going to take more than technology platforms. If CX is the new battleground, emotion is the not-so-secret weapon. Your partner, agency or consultant’s ability to unlock that power is what will create a truly unique customer experience. This process takes research, time, and crucially, expertise that does not yet exist in great quantity.

The alternative is a future of marketing governed by efficiency and technology. Easy to navigate, boring to experience.

Chris Henderson is the Sydney MD of digital transformation agency MullenLowe Profero.



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