The essential guide to customer experience

What digital marketers and CX professionals need to know today

Our digitally empowered society has put customers in the driver’s seat, with a level of influence most experts would never have predicted. Customer expectations are sky high, and it is easier than ever for them to share opinions and stories across multiple channels that reach well beyond their inner circles, having a measurable impact on brand reputation.

For marketers, this shift has turned emotional connections — and in turn, good customer experience (CX) — into the currency of our time. Moments of joy from great customer experiences get posted and repeated through word-of-mouth, but frustrating interactions also are made public in an instant. The words “how you do anything is how you do everything” have never been more true.

What is customer experience?

"Customer experience" is a term that refers to the sum of all the customer interactions between an individual and a company — whether through their products, services, or employees — over the course of the entire customer journey, including any feelings, emotions, and perceptions that are formed along the way. The customer experience spans both the digital and physical worlds and can encompass any number of touchpoints, ranging from in-store to contact centers to digital experiences on websites and mobile apps. Together, all the various encounters one has with a brand shape the overall customer experience. Before the advent of smartphones, social media, chatbots, and the like, the customer experience was much simpler: often consisting of just an in-store purchase and possibly a customer service call. Long gone are the days of the linear buyer’s cycle that moved predictably from awareness and consideration to purchase and loyalty. Now, the pattern resembles a cloverleaf freeway overpass, with infinite routes from which to choose.

Customer journey map showing how two unique customers may navigate their journeys across different channels.

As journeys become more complex, every touchpoint adds or detracts from the overall impression a customer forms of your brand. With technology advancements and younger generations gaining purchase power, marketers face increasing pressure to meet rising customer expectations. The challenge is to learn enough about the target audience and scale relevant content efforts, so that the brand can delight people again and again, with memorable interactions presented at just the right time to make a difference.

This is fun and exciting, of course, but extremely difficult for brands to do well. All aspects of an organization - from customer-facing employees to the technology and solutions it leverages - ultimately impact the quality of the customer experience they deliver. As such, the need for organizations today to design, implement, and continually refine a comprehensive CX strategy is paramount.

Customer experience examples: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Positive customer experiences are personalized, relevant, and memorable. They help customers navigate their journeys seamlessly, and cater to their personal preferences. For example:

  • A customer service agent recommends the perfect product for you while you’re browsing a retailer’s Facebook shop.

  • A brand sends you a personal invitation to a livestream video event with one of your favorite influencers.

  • You see a stunning new product in an Instagram post, buy it with just a few clicks, and return to your feed without missing a beat.

  • Your hotel surprises you with a comped meal after you comment on Twitter about the slow room service.

  • You use a paint company’s AR mobile app to visualize new colors for your living room and pick out the right shade.

  • You chat with customer support on a company’s website and get your refund in less than a minute.

Negative customer experiences happen when the interaction is generic, impersonal, lacks empathy, or is just too little late. They can cause major setbacks or even abruptly end the buyer’s journey. Consider how a customer would respond to these scenarios:

  • You try to order groceries for curbside pickup, but the supermarket’s mobile app crashes during checkout.

  • Your airline never responds after you complain about a terrible flight on its Facebook page.

  • You buy a new jacket from a fashion brand’s Instagram store, only to discover the real product looks nothing like the image.

  • A customer support chatbot keeps providing irrelevant answers to your questions, and you can’t speak to a human agent.

  • You want a refund for a damaged product, but you can’t return it at the seller’s nearby location, because you ordered it online.

The importance of customer experience

Digital and demographic trends have made it a top business priority for companies to understand and improve customer experiences, so they can keep up or even get ahead of the competition. The impact of a strong customer experience strategy goes further than you might think. For example, did you know:

Check out this comprehensive list of customer experience statistics for more insights on how much great CX can impact the bottom line.

From studies like these, marketing leaders now realize that CX can become an all-powerful differentiator, or the downfall of an otherwise strong business. Whether the goal is to reduce churn rates, increase customer loyalty, or drive topline revenue, focusing on the customer experience can pave the road to success.

So what does it take to deliver memorable interactions for customers, and how do you get the C-Suite to invest in it?

Customer experience management (CXM)

Great customer experiences do not just happen by chance. They are planned strategically, executed flawlessly, and managed with great care. They are cross-functional and omnichannel efforts that can help to close the customer experience gap between what customers expect and the experiences that brands are able to deliver.

Gartner defines CX management, or CXM, as:

“the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.”

It is a discipline that often requires changes to people, processes, and technologies to be successful. When implemented effectively by marketers and customer care professionals, CXM can help a company deliver on the brand’s promise, and measurable results (not to mention, brand loyalty) almost certainly will follow.

CX also influences marketing in a huge way: word of mouth. What customers tell their family and friends, both online and offline, has a huge influence on where they choose to spend their money. Opinions from a trusted source (or even a stranger writing an online review) are perceived to be orders of magnitude more believable than even the most clever marketing campaign. Loyal customers – brand advocates – are a marketer’s greatest weapon.

50% of Americans would choose word-of-mouth if they were asked to pick only one information source.

Measuring customer experience initiatives

Customer experience management is a relentless pursuit that spans many company departments and requires not only technology and data, but also creativity and a healthy dose of empathy. CXM touches every channel and type of interaction, including social media, websites, apps, customer care, or even how you invoice.

There are several steps a brand can take to plan and assess customer experience initiatives, so the C-Suite see the value at stake:

  1. Customer experience analytics: gather and study data from all touchpoints, including via social media analytics, community management, and more, so you can gain insight and deliver empathetic experiences in any situation, from marketing to commerce to care.

  2. Collect customer feedback: A Voice of Customer (VoC) analytics solution helps you understand customer needs, expectations, preferences, and measure customer satisfaction and perceptions at each stage of the journey.

  3. Social media content analytics: Develop and manage social media content that is personalized, relevant, and meaningful, and track its performance to understand what your audiences connect with the most.

CXM software must-haves

The right CX platform can help you gather intelligence and deliver experiences at scale. Any solution you choose should cover your needs from start to finish, including audience research and content development through to engagement, conversions, and customer service – all the better if these processes can be managed through a connected ecosystem and one intuitive interface. Obviously, time-to-value should be fast, with professional support at the ready if needed.

Emplifi is the first company to bring together marketing, commerce, and care into a unified CX platform that includes an all-in-one social media marketing suite designed for the enterprise.

In the current competitive digital environment that requires brands to have an omnichannel presence, marketers cannot afford to fail at customer experience. It’s unquestionably one of the biggest influencers of customer loyalty and long-term success. Are your customer experiences helping or hurting your brand?

Request a personalized demo of Emplifi's unified CX platform today.