The beautiful brand experiences that companies go to such lengths to create, either through their products, through marketing campaigns or through the in-store universes they create as brand meccas, often fall apart once it goes live online. But why does this happen, asks Samuel Cane, CXO & MD Astound Agency and what can be done to fix it?
Everyone has one or two anecdotes about brands delivering an inconsistent experience across a single buying journey. ‘Amazing products let down by a confusing, time-consuming check out process’; ‘inefficient order and delivery process riddled with errors’; and, ‘beautifully ranged and presented items but zero customer service.’ Frustrating for the brands in question is the fact that customers remember the frictions within those stories, retell them frequently and use them to not only not buy again but to tell others not to buy. Long term, this hurts brands because the cost of acquiring as opposed to keeping a customer is so high.
A perfect experience for the customer is made up of so many elements that is hard to guarantee consistency. Comprised of Brand Experience (BX), Customer Experience (CX) and User Experience (UX), each has a role to play in the reputation and success of the business, but they are distinct functions that are typically built in isolation.
Mark Atterby, writing in CX Focus says, “BX is the totality of all sensations, emotions, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and actions people associate, overtime, with a brand.” It must be authentic to the culture and capabilities of the brand.
UX however relates less to emotional and more to rational elements relating to the specific interactions between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. UX needs to deliver simplicity and certainty around these interactions, for instance search, product, service, fulfilment and returns management.
The goal of CX in turn is to live up to the promise that the brand has created and deliver the elements consistently and authentically across the whole customer journey. Within that Customer Experience is User Experience, which covers the mechanical interactions in the journey – using the website, purchasing and paying functions, and operationally organising delivery and returns.
The best distinction to make is, if BX is about making promises, CX is about keeping them. A further distinction is, BX is long term, CX is immediate. Brand experience is a long-term strategy that evolves overtime, where consumers continuously engage (consciously or not) with the brand, enabling it to influence the way consumers see the business.
The customer experience is much more immediate. If a customer doesn’t receive a parcel, is waiting on hold, isn’t able to navigate a website because the UX is complicated or worse still, is waiting for your site to load, that creates an immediate reaction – it’s not positive and it’s one that has a detrimental effect on Brand Experience.
The customer, of course, makes no such distinctions over types of experience; they are one brain working in harmony, switching subconsciously between left and right, between rational and emotional, constantly rebalancing, justifying the price based on the high style, or trading down to avoid feeling bad later about how much they spent. BX, UX and CX are part of a whole experience, but each is critical to that whole. Most brands are good at one or two elements but not all three, which is not surprising because there are so many ingredients involved and some of them can seem to contradict each other.
So, making a promise is one thing, keeping it is another. Converting the experiences into the real world of digital properties, marketing, communications, order management, customer service and logistics, requires a division of labour across multiple departments and multiple disciplines.
Designers are generally in the business of UX, which are chiefly the mechanics of the processes customers go through that relate literally to usability, while Marketing is focused on delivering messages about the brand promise and employing marketing and communication strategies to build consumer expectations around the brand. CX is then focused on delivering the customer experience, primarily through service.
Unfortunately, the two strategies have been developed in isolation and are frequently siloed. These silos need to be removed and greater collaboration fostered between the teams working on the brand experience and those working on the customer experience.
Starting from a foundation of consistency and predictability, it then becomes easier to personalise. Some customers want to go on a journey that is fun and inspiring, and interrupting them at the wrong moment with special offers or free delivery can break the spell, even before they get to the checkout. Equally, other customers want a journey that is logical and predictable; they know what they want and do not want to be interrupted with videos, flashing images and sound clips as they head purposefully for the checkout. The overall experience can then be improved by listening and taking note of customer feedback.
Crucial to aligning brand and CX is having a clear understanding of what the brand stands for and its purpose. According to Dipanjan Chatterjee, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Forrester Research, “Every brand ought to have a core belief system that translates into personality attributes and emotional benefits. These are the starting blocks for experience design”. Brands need to make a coherent as well as sincere promise; and customer experience needs to adhere to that brand story, consistently across all touch points.
Samuel Cane, CXO & MD at Astound Commerce