Sid McGrath, Chief Strategy Officer, Karmarama
A consequence experience
The customer experience for brands is driven by consequence: when customers have a good experience they continue to engage with the brand; if the experience is bad they disengage, often telling others about their disappointment and spreading a message of general discontent.
This makes for some pretty precarious brand relationships. However, the issue that so far no-one seems to be addressing is that the very notion of the customer experience is fundamentally flawed.
A disconnected, transactional experience
Marketing leaders see customer experience as their number one priority, but they are rarely in control of all of it, or even enough of it to make a difference. Recent focus on using digital technology to influence customer purchasing decisions is causing some companies to concentrate too narrowly on the customer’s interaction with a brand at the moment of sale. These ‘experiences’ can be relentlessly sales-focused and annoyingly interruptive. Organisations calling themselves customer experience experts encourage companies to increase the number of transactional messages, but is this really leading to better, worthwhile and relevant experiences for the customer? The fact is that global use of adblockers is rising while trust in brands is rapidly declining.
Reducing a person’s relationship to a brand solely to that of a ‘customer’ demonstrates a lack of understanding about the role that brands actually play in our lives. A transactional focus also shows a brand’s hand: their audience is perceived as a wallet ready to be picked or a purse ready to be opened, rather than a person to be understood, respected and served.
A human experience
What then is the answer? To start with, people must be respected as human beings with fairly low thresholds for unwanted buying messaging. This doesn’t mean no messaging; it means messaging that is empathetic to the individual and to the context. With this in mind the customer experience can then be reimagined as the human experience, from CX to HX, where a brand’s pathway into people’s lives is fully understood and delivered with relevance rather than persistence.
The transactional experience previously locked into consumption and category gives way to one that connects with culture and allows for meaningful, useful and relevant communication, with the selling left to the right place and the right time.
A fully-connected experience
If the human experience is the answer, how do we get there? Again, it’s about understanding how humans, and more specifically, how our brains, work.
The brain is an astonishingly connected piece of hardware. As much as we may try and separate it into left and right hemisphere, or occipital and frontal lobes, or neocortex and limbic system, every part of the human brain is connected to another part to improve its understanding and response towards any situation. This connection ensures an integrated response, a mix of logical and emotional consideration, instinct and intelligence.
The interconnectedness of the brain serves as a model for understanding how to create better, balanced and truly human experiences for brands. Approaching any experience with a whole-brain mentality means finding a way to connect everything with everything, from consumption to category to culture. This is how humans see their world — fully connected — so it stands to reason that it’s also how they should engage with their brands and how brands should engage with them.
Now consider once again the classic customer experience — an experience that ushers customers through the consumption and category phases of their relationship with a brand, but stops short of connecting to the culture of the wider life they lead.
Without the insight and intelligence required to understand the implications — the consequences — of the brand experience, the experience itself breaks or, worse, is biased towards buying rather than being. This is the fundamental reason why customer experiences are disconnected.
A meaningful experience
Once a brand is able to connect to a person’s wider life, understand and respect them as a human rather than a data point or part of an algorithm, and can connect that back to the category and consumption phase of the relationship, there emerges a new type of powerful, meaningful, connected human experience — one that people will actually want rather than one that will frustrate them.
So, paradoxically, we don’t live in the age of the customer; they are not “king”, “queen” or “the answer”. We need to move to the age of human, to human-centricity where what the human wants and needs can be fully, relevantly connected to the relationship that brands want to have.