Who owns and controls the brand experience in the digital age?

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Justin Gatenby
Capgemini Consulting
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The days of companies dictating brand and customer experience while their consumers play a passive role on the sidelines have long passed. The digital age has brought with it a radical change in consumer behaviour, with customers wanting to actively participate in conversations with brands and share their experiences.

As a result, the boundaries are becoming blurred, and organisations are opening up and letting customers do some of the work for them.

This can be seen clearly for companies like GiffGaff, where customer care is ‘outsourced’ to other customers via social tools – control of the customer experience (CX) is now shared and negotiated between customers and firms.

But why is this important?

CX requires a fundamental rethink

New research from Capgemini Consulting and MIT, From UX to CX: Rethinking the Digital User Experience as a Collaborative Exchange’ reveals that a fundamental rethink of customer experience is required.

Creating win-win exchanges through collaboration rather than focusing on traditional user experience has become a key part of CX design in the digital age, and brands who do not understand this evolution will be left behind.

This research shows that there are two key dimensions involved in creating shared value between firms and customers; namely, participation and information markets.

Digital technologies provide a platform for firms to engage with their customers in a multitude of ways through products, services and channels – creating a new form of collaboration built around these two main dimensions.  This allows the active participation of customers along a firm’s value chain, and the extraction of more information at every touchpoint to target and personalise the offerings:

  1. The participation market centres on how firms can drive value by sharing internal activities while simultaneously satisfying customer needs across the whole value chain from product R&D through to service and usage. Customers are keen to engage and share their expertise and feel valued for doing so.
  2. The information market centres on how brands can deliver value by leveraging information that they have directly or indirectly gathered. If this information is used to offer personalised experience or perceived value to the customer then they will be willing to share more.

Delivering a successful value exchange

But what makes a user experience valuable in the eyes of the consumer?

By assessing customer sentiment, it becomes clear that successful value exchanges must deliver at least one of the following capital rewards:

  • Economic capital where firms offer coupon codes for participation, or pay customers for their information. It’s a quid pro quo scenario characterised by payment of discounts.
  • Cultural capital gains from positive identity signalling via self-expression. This could be cultural capital through involvement as advisors in a firm’s help forums – as seen in the GiffGaff example earlier.
  • Social capital gains from increased personal status or breadth of networks. For example, when users create “fan fiction” in Reddit sub-forums they simultaneously form bonds with other likeminded individuals and increase their social capital, all while production firms are able to leverage user-generated plot lines for inspiration.
  • Information capital gains from access to personal insights or a community knowledge base. When a financial services firm like Capital One creates a “CreditWise” programme to help customers understand and track their credit ratings, the customer is empowered to analyse her spending habits, while the firm is able to identify customers that are more likely to repay loans or effectively manage their credit.

Creating a customer experience strategy

The ways in which firms create and manage participation and information markets is the first step to creating a CX strategy that will be seen as mutually beneficial. Therefore, companies must make strategic decisions around the extent of participation and information flow. This leads to four overarching collaborative exchange archetypes that firms can adopt:

  1. Hosts open up the value chain to shared participation and significant information gathering – experiences are designed from a deep understanding of customers’ desires. A good example being Uber.
  2. Companions work alongside their customer so that the shared participation and user information is leveraged to change customer experience. Waze success is based on community building. It is risky as there are lots of parties involved but the rewards for both consumers and firms tend to be highest in this archetype.
  3. Advisors leverage information about their customers but retain tight control of participation. Experiences are based on a firm’s data driven decisions. Disney’s MagicBands is a great example of this archetype.  This can be risky as there is less customer participation so the brand is held accountable if customer expectations are not met.
  4. Directors provide services based on controlled customer participation and gathered information. This is a classic pre-digital archetype where experiences are controlled almost entirely by the firm not the consumers.

Assessing the value of each touchpoint from the customer’s point of view

Companies will generally have a dominant customer experience archetype. As they innovate and introduce new touchpoints and enhancements, they venture into different archetypes and create new risks of detracting from the customer experience or failing to add value to the exchange. Firms can mitigate this by careful risk management, experimentation, sentiment analysis, and moving resources to allow a quick response if negative customer sentiment is expressed.

It is too easy in the technological age to ignore the human element, especially with the rapid development of artificial intelligence and digital touchpoints. Truly successful ‘win-win’ digital transformations take a customer-centric approach, where the value of each touchpoint is assessed from the customer’s point of view.

The future involves firms having behavioural scientists working alongside data scientists to maximise value and customer capital.

Justin Gatenby is Digital Customer Experience Lead of Utilities at Capgemini Consulting

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