It wasn’t long ago that customer experiences primarily focused on the transactional details of purchases. Today the customer experience is far richer and includes many touchpoints prior to a sales transaction and also many that come after.
Those leading towards a sale could include everything from the advertising and marketing that begins to build an expectation in the customer’s mind and starts to form their intent to possibly buy the products or services of the company. It can include information and resources that allow them to research a purchase or learn more about the organization.
Touchpoints after the sale are the most important – the primary one being the actual experience with the product or service. Do the shoes fit and look great? Does the new piece of electronics easily work, and what type of support is available if I get stuck? Do I enjoy using it? Is the food at the restaurant enjoyable? Does the health system get me back to feeling great and help me prevent being sick in the future? In the B-to-B world, does the service meet my needs? Is the new equipment living up to expectations and do the parts work as needed? What happens when something needs to be resolved? The list goes on.
Some of the more obvious examples of customer experiences are within retail. Customers are often guided through a sales experience that introduces options, educates about product features, builds value for the selection, and measures overall satisfaction. Sales teams are trained to use specific vocabulary and ask well-crafted questions in order to standardize and enhance the buying experience while building value for products and services.
Customer experiences can also include environments that evoke a specific feeling or impression that can bring life to brands that might otherwise feel inanimate. These spaces are often beautifully and specifically crafted to portray the brand while subtly educating about product and service features through hands-on experiences and interactions with trained brand ambassadors.
Packaging is also part of the customer experience and can include everything from the “must-have” shopping bag at the mall, to carefully constructed product packaging from companies like Apple. Customers can feel a sense of specialness without even being in a branded environment. In some cases, I have kept product boxes for years because they simply seemed too special to toss. Certainly, this adds to the impression of the brand and becomes an additive component to the experience.
Online experiences are also becoming more intentionally focused on evoking brands rather than simply offering a space for transactions. Well-branded websites often include a host of product information, interactive experiences, stories about customers or products, and associates ready to chat with you in real time. Customers can often track their purchases through every step of the delivery process, and returns are easy and painless.
Companies that deliver services can also offer branded experiences, even outside of a traditional purchase scenario. Think of a healthcare organization that wants to provide a consistent and personal experience to patients at many different and variable touchpoints – from the hospital ER to a physician’s office to a virtual visit. These branded experiences can include the environments in which the care is delivered, online and virtual experiences, and hands-on service provided by employees who are trained to deliver the brand promise even as they perform routine medical tasks.
Many brands follow up after the experience to quickly address any issues the customer might have and to offer other products or services that may enhance the initial purchase. They also solicit positive reviews that solidify the brand connection with the primary customer while also generating insights that can be shared with other customers.
All of these examples demonstrate opportunity to carefully design and perfect the customer experience in order to create distinct impressions of the brand that will build emotional connections with audiences. These connections are the key to long-term customer loyalty that will strengthen brands and deliver outstanding business results even in a crowded market full of distractions and competitors.
For a more in-depth look at designing the customer experience, be sure to download our position paper: