Theorising the pursuit of loyalty in the age of the customer

11th Dec 2014

In a world of more and more choice and less and less differentiation, customer promiscuity has increased significantly. As Youngme Moon, one of the world’s most compelling voices on the future of brands and a Professor at Harvard University said, “Products are no longer competing against each other; they are collapsing into each other in the minds of anyone who consumes them.”

As a result, it has become more important for companies to differentiate through the experiences they deliver.  Supermarkets have recognised this – witness the introduction of Waitrose’s scheme to reward its MyWaitrose card customers with a free coffee when they shop in store. Or,  the new-look Watford Tesco Extra which brings, under one roof, restaurants, cafes, as well as the means for a weekly shop. Tesco waved goodbye to sub-standard supermarket café lattes, and welcomed three course meals from Giraffe, coffee from Harris + Hoole and fresh pastry from Euphorium Bakery and the Bakery Project.  Both these examples are great ways to help customers distinguish the Waitrose experience from the Tesco one.

The development of technology also means people can explore their choices in a way they have never been able to before; we are living in a world where price comparison sites, specialist discount forums and Amazon are in the palm of consumers, 24/7. People don’t just explore online – they share, and are communicating using their smartphones all the time, not only via social media, but also through instant messaging, emails and SMS.

Gone are the days where the occasional overripe banana could be forgotten. If their experience is out of the ordinary, then the chances are, consumers are going to let someone else know about it.  There are a thousand extreme examples of this across the web.   The video of a FedEx employee delivering a computer monitor by throwing it over a fence has been seen by 9.5 million people to date. And in the case of ‘United Breaks Guitars’ some people have built their careers on customer service mistakes (14.3 million hits on YouTube, and counting).

Getting to grips with the ‘always on’ consumer

But there’s an up-side to all this.  Consumers do not only share bad experiences with dozens of friends or millions of followers, they also share great experiences, positioning them as ambassadors by spreading word of mouth.  And because the smartphone is in the customer’s palm 24/7, they can be reached any time, any place, anywhere.  As a result the industry has seen the evolution of ways to interact with consumers that were inconceivable just three years ago.

Companies need to understand what constitutes a great experience for their consumers before they can start improving it. This means gathering feedback and understanding how customers experience affects their brand at every touch point.  They need to analyse and synthesise the data to detect trends and risks, and distribute the information to key stakeholders in real time, so they can act quickly and personally. 

This is by no means an easy feat, but many companies are stepping up their data game to meet their customers’ expectations.  Asics recently announced that it will be creating new in store and online interaction points, boosting the number of data points from which it can extract insights.  This, along with the customer data, consumption behaviour and attitudinal data it already uses will allow Asics to gain increased insight into the experiences of its customers, analyse and synthesise all available data faster, prioritise better and act more personally – all in real time.

So, as we can see, customer experience technology has changed a great deal and is evolving at an amazing rate. Companies can now obtain customer feedback systemically and continuously; they can share the information across the organisation in real-time and provide the tools for immediate action – all aimed at responding to customers as things happen. A process that used to be slow and cumbersome has become fast and responsive.

The future

In the immediate future, we will see customer feedback measurement programmes turning into actionable customer experience management tools.  This means we will see more companies continuously engaging with customers all along the customer lifecycle through relevant dialogues and personal action, as opposed to a one-way collection of feedback which is then used in aggregate to change processes slowly. We will also see smarter supply chains that factor buying behavior and other conditions (such as the weather) into their algorithms to make forecasting easier and help companies plan with improved accuracy. Customers won’t experience the disappointment that comes with unavailable products – never will they encounter the last one on the shelf.

Mid-term, the trend we will see is the growth of passive collection; seeing and sensing without customers providing direct feedback using media like facial detection, mood recognition and attention scanners. 

Either way, within customer experience management the future is here and now.  Those companies that don’t embrace the opportunities afforded by new technology will be left behind. Those that do will prosper and keep more customers loyal, win more customers over and increase customer profitability. In other words, successful companies will manage their customers experience to generate measurable business outcomes.

Stephan Thun is CEO Europe at MaritzCX


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