When we speak about the concept of experiences, we’re referring to the times when a person interacts with facts, things or events which leave an impression on them.
Such experiences are inherently sensory phenomena.
We might hear an unfamiliar noise or taste our favourite food, all the while instinctively acknowledging that we are experiencing them directly.
We can translate this understanding of experience into the world of marketing, retail and business development.
That is, every conscious interaction that a customer has with a brand’s products, employees, and buying environments all come together to form their overall perception of its identity.
Take UK supermarkets as a familiar example. Few people would find a reason to refute the observation that shopping in Aldi is a wildly different experience to shopping in say, Waitrose. But why is this the case? There is nothing intrinsically better about either supermarket nor are there any gross inconsistencies between the types of products and services they offer.
Nevertheless, customers up and down the country expect Waitrose to provide them with a certain shopping experience that they can’t find at Aldi.
They expect goods that are of superior quality, personalised service from all staff and visible attention to detail at every turn. In short, they expect an experience which is coherent with what they understand as being definitive of Waitrose’s brand identity: luxury.
But this ‘customer experience’ isn’t an isolated transaction between an individual and a business. Rather, it’s the end result of a long-term project to consistently reinforce how a consumer feels about a brand by strategically regulating every single interaction they have.
In support of this effort, there is a wealth of reassurance from industry experts. They’re confident that through focussing on the quality and character of the experience offered to customers, businesses will see substantial levels of growth in their revenues. In fact, recent studies carried out by Forrester Research showed that the organisations able to offer the best customer experience saw annual growth rates of 17% (compared with the 3% growth seen by those lagging behind).
Furthermore, findings published by PwC predict that customer experience will overtake both price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of 2020. Together, these statistics represent the potential for meaningful, visible returns on a company’s investments and highlight the importance of experience in the minds of consumers.
Such impressive returns are, however, something of a secondary effect.
More immediately, by refining their customers’ experience, businesses create benefits for themselves that are less quantifiable but which subsequently contribute to their profitability. Growing brand loyalty, encouraging advocate marketing and generating opportunities for cross-selling are all things made possible by obtaining and maintaining the consumer’s approval at every stage of their purchasing journey.
And that’s exactly how experts are urging business owners to think: in terms of ‘customer journeys’.
This is an idea which is widely understood as meaning the experiences that customers undergo when interacting with a company and its brand, from discovery and research through to purchasing and support. It can be broken down into 4 distinct phases, each relating to a different stage in the relationship between buyer and supplier.
First comes consideration. This refers to the phase in which a person changes from being a passive observer of advertisements, marketing strategies or brand exposure to someone who’s a potential customer. In short, they consider whether or not to buy a product or service from a specific company. It’s no secret that well-known brands are more likely to be considered by someone wanting to make a purchase, simply because they have a bigger market presence.
Second is the evaluation phase. This occurs because consumers rarely buy the first option they encounter. Instead, they tend to go away and research what other products are on offer from competitors in the rest of the market. At this stage, familiar brands can be discarded and replaced with others that the customer may not have come across before.
Next is the buying stage, in which the consumer decides what product to buy and from what company. Interestingly, so-called ‘deal closers’ (the human or technical interface that carries out a transaction) account for less than half of all sales. In other words, many buyers have already decided to buy a particular product before they even enter a shop.
Finally, we reach the point where customers can enjoy, advocate and bond with a brand. It is here that effective post-purchase engagement becomes essential if a company wants to retain its customers, encourage them to recommend their brand and steer them towards buying again (and again).
It’s all well and good being aware of the theory surrounding experiences, but this knowledge means little if we’re unable to apply it practically to real-world business campaigns. With increasing momentum, though, retailers and marketing professionals are paying more attention to the customer's journey, realising that it’s the key to effectively managing how customers experience and interact with their brand - a trend which looks set to continue throughout 2019.