A. What is the customer experience of my customers and why is it important?

Anno 2017, the main driver of value is the customer experience defined as the combination of all interaction points with the company. The implication for companies? In driving value for the customer, the customer experience determines the customer lifetime value which is the net profit contribution of the customer to the company overtime. Exploring how customers feel about your offering and how you can improve on that is not only important for your current earnings model but also for creating a financial base that supports business model innovation.

Generally, the customer experience revolves around three dimensions: the time, the place and the nature of the experience. As 66% of customers want a response to their issue on the same day and over 40% within the hour, they expect companies to be available anytime. As 60% of customers change their contact channel depending on where they are, they expect companies to be available anywhere and their customer experience to be mobile friendly and consistent across channels. Finally, as customers want to be treated as an individual and not just as another customer, they expect personalized customer experiences.

B. Customer experience Part I: How do I acquire customers?

When it comes to customer engagement we see that companies either opt for outbound marketing that revolves around pushing products or services toward customers through television, radio and billboard advertisement or inbound marketing that revolves around pulling customers toward products or services through relevant content. Since the late 2000s, inbound marketing has become the preferred method of customer engagement: not only does it cost 62% less than outbound marketing but it also generates 3 times more leads.

So how does inbound marketing work? First, you find out how customers feel about your brand and about your industry. You listen both to current customers by tracking their customer journeys and to prospective customers by monitoring (social) media outlets. Then you address those sentiments and connect to customers emotionally through compelling content. Successful content strategies involve customers and social influencers by asking them to endorse, share and co-create content. Also, they are based on both video content and text: video content is more appropriate when customers explore options as it appeals to their emotions and text is more appropriate when they take decisions as it appeals to their cognition. And finally, successful content strategies have the right technical underpinning – they drive traffic to your content through SEO (search engine optimization).

C. Customer experience Part II: How do I retain customers?

Now that you have engaged customers, you want to keep them engaged. In the digital age, most companies do so by gathering and analysing offline and online data in order to continuously improve the customer experience. Best in class companies go a step further: not only do they use descriptive analytics to find out what happened and how to take reactive action, but they use predictive analytics to find out what will happen and how to take proactive action. Data is the new currency and making sense of it is the first step toward new, innovative products.

So how do forerunners keep customers engaged? First, they personalize the online experience. Once online, customers are welcomed by personalized messages. If they know what they are looking for, they are able to search for it directly with the help of a search bar. If they don’t know what they want, they can customize their search by selecting product features such as size and colour or service features such as light or full versions. Best in class companies also enable customers to try products or services out before purchase: there’s an Ikea AR app for furniture, a Gap AR app for clothes and free demos for software.

If they decide not to purchase immediately, customers are able to log into a personal account where they can add items to a ‘wish list’ and see recommendations based on items they have viewed or bought – the most efficient way to cross- and upsell. If they do decide to purchase, they go through an optimized sales process. Routine purchases call for a simple and transparent checkout process that includes a visible inventory, a shopping cart that displays all additional fees and that is accessible from every page and a variety of payment and delivery options. Most importantly, they call for a quick checkout process – according to Amazon, every 100 milliseconds of latency cost them 1% in sales. Non-routine purchases call for assistance in the form of consultative selling, product onboarding and customer support.

Finally, forerunners make sure customers have access to self-service sections that include FAQs and video tutorials. If they need extra help they can contact the company directly and chat with a customer support representative or with a chatbot. Ideally, chatbots are able to influence customers’ perceptions of the brand through their name, gender, appearance and voice. Also, they are able to recognize when the customer is confused and to hand off the conversation to a live representative.

D. How do I structure and measure my efforts to acquire and retain customers?

As they enable the collection, analysis and integration of offline and online customer data, marketing automation and CRM systems should form the basis of your CX strategy and underlie any efforts to acquire and retain customers. Marketing automation systems create and qualify leads by driving traffic to your content. They also nurture leads as they generate personalized workflows based on the digital activities they are tracking. CRM systems convert leads into sales and nurture customers as they generate personalized workflows based on the purchase records of and interaction history with customers.

In managing marketing and sales efforts marketing automation and CRM systems enable marketing and sales teams to improve their performance. Also, they evaluate the effectiveness of marketing and sales activities. Marketing automation systems evaluate marketing efforts through digital traction metrics such as web traffic, social media reach, landing page conversion rate and email conversion rate. CRM systems evaluate sales efforts through metrics such as customer acquisition cost and customer lifetime value.