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Transcending the transactional: Six ways to adopt a more human-centric approach to CX


During this time of heightened anxiety, there’s a unique opportunity for brands to create positive memories, earn trust and develop deeper customer relationships.

5th Aug 2020

Personal development speaker and author Dan Millman holds that, as people, we ‘discover our character through decisions under pressure’. The same rings true for organisations. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, businesses have responded with varying levels of empathy and understanding, sometimes laying bare their culture and ability to adapt.

Those that have responded with empathy and thoughtfulness will stand to benefit in the long run. Ipsos R&D has demonstrated that there is a link between establishing an emotional connection with customers, relationship strength and ultimately business performance.

In the report, Ipsos' Jean-Francois Damais, notes: "Nurturing relationships in times of crisis is critical. We know that critical moments can create strong and long-lasting memories. And there is no doubt that customers will remember brands that support them during these challenging times, leading to stronger and more meaningful relationships."

The six factors that transcend transactional CX

Distilled into six factors – or Forces – of customer experience, this framework is used by organisations to transcend the transactional and functional and create experiences that drive long-term positive memories and true competitive advantage.

During this time of heightened anxiety, there’s a unique opportunity for brands to create positive memories, earn trust and develop deeper customer relationships by maintaining presence, delivering relevant value and being a trusted source of accurate information.

The CX Forces are relevant across every industry and customer touchpoint, but how they can be applied differs. Here we shine a light on some of the best examples during the COVID-19 outbreak, through both small gestures and wholesale business process, but always with the outcome of positively impacting the customer sufficiently to be remembered and influence behaviour in the future.

For simplicity, we’ve classified them by the lead Force, though many straddle more than one.

1. Fair treatment: Making the customer feel as though there is a fair exchange in the relationship that you share with them.

Customers want an equitable relationship with brands and being fair, honest and objective will always be seen in a positive light. When the balance of fairness tips and brands are perceived to profiteer or gain, trust is diminished, and previously strong relationships can break down.

Example: Insurance firm Admiral created first-mover advantage by issuing an automatic £25 rebate to customers (amounting to £110m), which is fair because customers who drive less should pay less.

2. Certainty: Make customers feel that things are clear, transparent and working as expected

Customers want confidence on next steps and clarity on outcomes. Actions and options need to stand out. Customers want to be informed more than normal, and brands can build their connection with customers by maintaining presence and being a trusted source of information during these times.

Example: With all its parks closed, Haven simply provided customers with the option of a refund or to roll their holiday on to a later date. This practice is observed as commonplace at this time, however Haven stood out as an exemplar based on the timeliness of their communication and clear explanation of the process to handle queries and call to action via links embedded in the email.

3. Control: Help customers feel in control of the situation and in the driving seat

Meaningful choices are key, and customers want to know the options available. Particularly in a time of crisis when many decisions are out of our control, brands can drive emotional connection by empowering customers to make their own decisions.

Example: Premier League team Brighton FC showed a club and community spirit by putting their fans in the driving seat, once it was announced matches for the rest of the season would be cancelled. There were three options: a refund (within three weeks), the value could be donated to keep the club going, or thirdly given to a local charity to benefit the wider community. A great team play providing fans with the option to give back.

4. Status: Make customers feel valued, respected and worthy of special treatment

We all want to feel valued, respected and worthy of special treatment and we feel like we have earned it from a company we have been loyal to in the past. When organisations acknowledge and demonstrate the contribution we deliver to their business, it helps further strengthen the relationship.

Example: Many restaurants have gone silent, but not Zedel. To keep their business going and protect staff they contacted diners to purchase a restaurant voucher, effectively appealing to customers who can afford to invest in a ‘future meal’ to help put ‘today’s meal’ on the table for the waiting staff whose furlough payments are based on basic salary not tips.

5. Belonging: Help customers feel a sense of belonging and show you care about the greater good

Companies that have a clear purpose are great at demonstrating belonging. Belonging is about showing customers you care about the greater good and there is an alignment between your values. Organisations without a clear raison d’etre can struggle to articulate a sense of belonging which is so important to emotional connection.

Example: As well as shifting production to provide much needed hand sanitiser, brewers and pub chain Brewdog has provided customers with a social setting in which their products would typically be consumed. Customers can register for online events where new beers are discussed, films are shown and of course pub quizzes are run to provide a sense of togetherness for those with a common, shared interest.

6. Enjoyment: Make customers’ lives easier, so they feel a sense of freedom

It’s important to help customers to achieve their goals and remove any hassle. Enjoyment can be enabling customers to focus on themselves, as well as adapting the experience to continue offering a service customers value.

Example: Many of us missed grabbing a takeaway coffee, so Costa have helped customers recreate that experience at home, sharing expert tips on things like the right way to use a cafetière and how to create coffee mocktails.

Key takeaways

Consistency is king: While this article covers the best individual moments we’ve seen since the start of lockdown, consistency is king. Organisations require a systematic approach to customer experience delivery because it is the aggregation of each moment that becomes the memory. Excellent customer experience delivered in silos isn’t enough.

Put the CX Forces into action: Use the human-centric framework as a core part of customer experience design and…

  1. see where you stack up and identify the barriers and drivers of performance for each Force
  2. map the performance and importance of customer touchpoints aligning them with the Forces framework
  3. seek out gaps in your customer journey that could be optimised for a better customer experience?

Delivering a return on CX Investment: Employ the CX Forces model to realise the benefits of improved retention, advocacy, share of spend and operational efficiency, which are all key indicators of return on CX investment (ROCXI).

This article co-authored by Ipsos MORI's Lorraine Rough, director of customer experience; Jean-Francois Damais, chief research officer, CX; and Laura Godfrey, director of customer experience.

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