Personal expressions are the foundation of brand experiences and will never go away. Most transactions are no longer dependent on a handshake. Most services use people as the primary communications medium. Many brands are dependent on people networks: Retailers, dealers, reps, distributors. Each of these groups has opportunities to make or break the brand promise based on how it is expressed. People also work behind the scenes, in a sales or customer service, by phone or over email.
Wits and personal charm may only take you so far. Increasingly, training, scripts, and templates help guide these experiences. The ultimate people-based experience is with customers interacting with each other. It’s vital that their experience matches your focus.
Physical expressions like products, stores, showrooms and other selling environments speak volumes about your value proposition. Products are too often seen as the sum total embodiment of the value proposition, but connecting with customers today requires product/service platforms – holistic expressions of a meaningful value proposition.
Most products come with some level of complimentary service, and many services come with complimentary products. Indeed, a key innovation trend is for product offerings to look like services, and services to look like products. Platforms, or holistic product/service systems, is a key strategic advantage for connecting meaningfully with customers.
Digital experiences are an important pain point and opportunity for all organizations. The ongoing system shock of the new can make it hard for organizations to respond quickly and appropriately. It’s undeniable that more and more customer interactions will be technology enabled, giving rise to more serious efforts on usability and the user experience broadly. Communications delivery systems on screens large and small – smart phones, large-scale displays, embedded, ambient sensors and feedback loops, etc. – offer new horizons for expressing value propositions.
Expressing your value proposition through human resources, investments in the physical, and the evolving digital, can be easier to prioritize through a focus on what is meaningful to your customer. What your customer values has little to do with the way you express your value proposition unless it connects.
Maintaining this connection means coordinating disparate customer touchpoints. It means coordinating all the moving parts of a customer experience – personal, physical, and digital expressions – in a system for alignment.
5. Align teams and tools
happens in the middle, between your vision and practice. Everyone nods when the C-Suite rolls out abstract goals, but too often teams go about their usual business. Systems break down because of a lack of clarity and structure in between. The key is to identify principles which are informed by the vision and guide practice areas.
Starting at the top, make sure all customer interactions add up to the intended whole. How does each touchpoint align with your focus? How does each interaction contribute to delivering your focused value proposition? How does all this make sense in the mind of the customer?
Group touchpoints by phase. Which customer interactions are about generating awareness? Which are helping to nurture leads into sales? Which are about the product or service in use through its life cycle? Which are about extending or reselling?
Next, identify your key customer interactions. Remember that not every touchpoint is equal in value to your customer – or to you. Through each phase, there is likely one or two signature experiences that are important for sales or data collection. For example, a key metric for building awareness is recall. For selling, it’s a close. For customers, it may be repeat business or referrals. Understanding key interactions will create forward motion through a sales cycle and help prioritize and streamline each effort.
Each customer interaction has attributes: Resources, cost, media, launches, timing, location. Organize all touchpoints into like groups and sort by priority, and you have the beginnings of a customer experience plan.
You can’t do everything at once, even if you could afford to, so next you’ll want to determine phases. Start with your ideal experience and then backcast to the present. Add in your real dates, obligations, and limitations. Consider your budgeting cycle, industry shows, and launch plans. What can happen next monthly, next quarter, next year? What is a small step you can take toward the big idea?
You will need to socialize and evangelize these ideas through your organization. Documenting your customer experience principles is a discipline itself, and requires the care and attention of any communications initiative. Know your audience and what you’re really trying to say.
Systems for alignment will help avoid systemic reinvention of the wheel, and help you move more quickly and efficiently.
Systems that connect
Companies with stronger customer connections will endure market and technology shifts. The bottom line for most brands will be about creating meaningful customer experiences.
The connection economy requires new skills: A tighter strategic focus based on better understanding of your customers. Expressive personal, physical, and digital customer interactions. Systemic alignment to support a holistic experience. Together, these new competencies will allow companies to build sustainable platforms for connection, differentiation, and innovation.