It is hard to ignore the study conducted by IBM of 1700 Chief Marketing Officers1 which highlights the rapidly changing nature of customer management. This is driven by the explosion of channel choice for consumers and the difficulties CMOs face in keeping up with these changes. The four challenges seen as the most pervasive, significant game-changers are:
* The data explosion
* Social media
* Proliferation of channels and devices
* Shifting consumer demographics
This explosion in choice for the consumer and their grasp of the fundamental change in dynamics; coupled with their ability to take advantage of this, makes for exciting changes in the way a consumer experiences your organisation. Traditional methods of tightly defining the experience that YOU want your consumers to have are now being challenged by consumers who want to define their own way to experience your organisation and the channels that they use to do this.
We coin the term here ‘Self-Experience’ as it applies to the somewhat nebulous subject of Customer Experience; the personal, rational, emotional or even spiritual journey the consumer undergoes during their contacts with your company. Self-Experience is the consumer chosen experience that they wish to use to engage with your organisation; whether it is a conversation in a chat room prior to purchasing online or a web-search followed by a retail store visit and a purchase through a call centre. Each of these is a unique user defined experience of your organisation.
Perhaps you yourself choose to be a self-experience consumer? By this I mean that you would prefer to define your own purchasing experience using the media, channel and time of your choice and convenience rather than leave your ‘acquisition experience’ up to somebody else to impose on you. Your organisation will increasingly needs to provide consumers with appropriate experiences through more channels than ever; reinforcing brand values and advantages through all of these channels and providing the right experience to reduce or negate the consumers need to talk or buy from your competition.
Professor Merlin Stone in a recent article2 discusses this power shift in the choices a consumer has (within a retail environment) to manage their own purchasing experience with an organisation. He suggests that an organisation should give consumers the right tools to manage their own experience.
If your organisation doesn’t provide the tools to the consumer to define their own self-experience then the consumer will find other channels that are more convenient and that will allow this self-experience to take place. These channels may well be independent of your organisation or not under your ‘control’ and hence brand image and consumer experience may suffer. Just letting self-experience happen in an uncontrolled way is not an option. You need to implement a conscious, well thought out and appropriate route to lead the self-experience consumer along the path that the organisation would urge them to take.
Regulation may well prevent consumers in some industries from being able to choose their preferred channel but even small differences in the channel choices available can cause a consumer to switch brands to one that offers the right combination of channels and technology to suit their experience needs.
We can see an example of changing market dynamics by considering the car industry. One in which there is little regulation in order to try to prevent the consumer making these experience choices. The buying experience that automotive companies have designed through showrooms and predatory sales people seem so dated and alien to the way the modern consumer works. Car buyers can find most of what they need through other channels and can even purchase a car whilst sat on the beach. The role of the showroom and sales person is changing and while still important, are only part of the consumers’ purchase experience choice. The role of these additional channels coupled with increased awareness of them will accelerate this self-experience not just in the car industry but will eventually have a huge impact on even highly regulated industries such as financial services.
The self-experience consumer has been developing for some time now ever since the first examples in the travel industry where searching for specifications, videos, pictures and testimonials developed. Now increasing numbers of consumers are engaging with these new channels and finding the self-experience method of purchasing far more satisfying from an emotional and financial perspective. Practices from one industry are being applied in others.
But why should your organisation care about this if you’re currently doing well; and what does it mean for you? Remember that everyone outside of your ‘brand ambassador’ segment is inherently fickle and is not locked into your brand. There are countless examples of where a brand’s position can be eroded very quickly (look at UK giant Tesco’s declining perception over the last 6 month period). One way to keep abreast of world class performance and to prepare for this self-experience trend is through benchmarking. The process of analyzing your competitors’ and industry ‘best practice’ in not just customer experience but across a wide range of customer management practices is the start of a knowledge building and profit improving process. Beyond benchmarking it is vital that a prioritized, credible and achievable plan is integrated into the organisation to cater for the self-experience consumer before they choose to self-experience one of your many competitors.
The desire of consumers to self-experience your products or services will be a continuing trend not just in unregulated industries but also in regulated ones where power continues to transfer towards purchasers through initiatives such as the UK Government’s Midata concept3. It will be vital to initiate changes within your organisation to prepare for increasing numbers of consumers who say “I want to do it my way”.
A step change in performance to become world class in this area is perhaps best achieved by sharing the knowledge of specialists in customer experience and customer management and by using a structured framework. So here I must confess a commercial interest in helping organisations who want to do this. The SCHEMA® Assessor Benchmarker allows a quantitative and qualitative approach to assessing strengths and weaknesses in customer experience planning relative to your competitors and allows you to keep up with the array of developing trends in the customer management/experience arena. The benchmarking/best practice approach answers the question ‘Where am I and what should I be doing differently?’ in an analytical manner against relevant and recent industry practices. It demonstrates by way of real-world exemplars what the best (and worst) companies are doing in a dynamic marketplace. It will prepare your organisation for the day when a large proportion of your consumers ask to do it ‘their way’.
1 From Stretched to Strengthened – Insights from the global Chief Marketing Officers Study – October 2011.
2 The Death of Personal Service – Why retailers make consumers responsible for their own customer experience – Professor Merlin Stone – March 2011
3 Midata – Access and control your personal data – Department for Business Innovation and Skills – April 2011 – http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/consumer-issues/personal-data
Author details: Neil Weston is Managing Director of Clareti. Neil is passionate about delivering excellent customer management and CRM. He spends his time leading clients through major discontinuous change always with the goals of practical implementation and delivering achievable goals and defensible financial benefit. His extensive client-side CRM experience and consulting in financial services, telecoms, pharmaceutical and manufacturing gives him a rounded view of the difficulties involved in major company change.