By Emily Bielak
Customer experience (CX) has been described as everything from “the new marketing” to “the lifeline” of a brand’s product or service, as the concept continues to evolve and be more closely scrutinized.
The CX Professionals Association (CXPA) defines CX as, “the perception that customers have of an organization—one that is formed based on interactions across all touchpoints, people, and technology over time.” While HubSpot defines customer experience as “the impression your customers have of your brand as a whole throughout all aspects of the buyer’s journey. It results in their view of your brand and impacts factors related to your bottom line, including revenue.”
I like to think of customer experience as the intersection between utility and emotion that occurs whenever a customer or potential customer interacts with a brand, product, or service. There are three primary tenets to keep in mind when working to understand customer experience:
- The customer experience is ultimately defined by the perception that humans have because of brand interactions.
- Humans are sentient beings, often driven by emotions.
- Purchases (customer experiences) are decisions/actions made by humans, often driven by emotions.
It is critical, when analyzing and working to optimize customer experiences, that those factors be woven deeply into the fabric of the analysis, even when using artificial intelligence or other technology to do some of the information gathering and processing.
In this article, we will explore some of the techniques we rely on to gain those authentic human insights and emotions and will establish some industry terminology and definitions of some best practices. In a future installment, we will dive more deeply into those methodologies to illustrate how effective they can be in understanding humans, decoding their emotions, and ultimately creating customer experiences that generate brand loyalty and drive future purchasing decisions.
Brands are increasingly working to understand and map what’s known as the customer journey: a visual representation of the pathway prospects and customers take to an eventual purchase (and even after one). What can often get overlooked in such analysis, however, are the emotional drivers that lie beneath the surface of the more open and obvious behaviors or actions those customers take. The risk is only superficially mapping actions or behaviors, without fully studying and understanding the emotional drivers behind them.
To us, it is in many ways more important to truly understand why a customer or prospect made a choice than it is to simply chart what actions were taken or decisions made. What might be invisible is a decision not to act, but what can be identified and charted is the motivation behind such lack of action. If the customer doesn’t take the action the brand wishes it to, isn’t it equally important to understand why they didn’t click on a button, why they abandoned a cart, or why they simply left the physical or online store without purchasing?
The inverse is equally valuable intelligence. Why a customer chooses to buy, and when, and whether that customer can be retained, whether he or she will become a vocal brand advocate, and why that customer chose our product or service over a competitor’s represent the secret sauce to replicating that behavior in others—creating customer experiences that drive future sales. But without understanding the why, you are more or less guessing at the what you are trying to replicate.
Part of what is driving an increased interest in Customer Experience research is the multi-channel environment we live in these days, which has made it more challenging to map singular customer journeys, traditionally understood. We live in a world in which there are seemingly endless potential touchpoints between a brand and a potential customer. In the modern media environment, there are three basic types of touchpoints: static, interactive, and human.
Examples of touchpoints can include all the traditional touchpoints of the past – TV, radio, billboard, print, direct mail, phone, and in-store advertising – along with a new set of more modern channels like website visits, marketing emails, online chat, social media posts, digital ads, online videos…the list goes on and on. Print media with permanence are static; email and social media are considered interactive; and phone calls and store visits are human in nature.
In simple terms, the customer journey can be mapped along these touchpoints to align with the typical stages the customer may cross:
These days, however, the customer journey isn’t always linear, which is why a counterpart to the conventional customer journey is Predictive Path to Purchase, an analysis of how a customer goes from being unaware of a product, category, or perhaps even their own need and moves beyond a purchase decision in order to not only make informed conclusions about how future customers might follow similar paths, but to optimize those pathways to encourage such journeys.
In any customer experience analysis initiative, we believe it is critical to study what’s known as the Voice of Customer (VoC). VoC research is the process of discovering the needs and wants of customers through quantitative and qualitative research. It is used to capture the voice of respondents to better measure and understand both customer satisfaction and loyalty. These qualitative insights into how customers feel about a product, service, competitor, or the category in general are extraordinarily valuable. VoC research helps to capture the motives behind consumer engagement, purchases, and brand loyalty, providing a considerable advantage to those who choose to engage in this type of research.
VoC research studies are various methodologies to understand the customer, whereas Martec takes VoC a step further using a proprietary methodology we call Emotion Intelligence (EI). To better understand the consumer decision-making process in your market, unlocking the emotions that underlie each decision is critical. Our researchers leverage EI to uncover consumers’ hidden opinions and associations to gain an unquestionable understanding of the decision-making process, not just an inventory of the decisions made.
Advanced EI methodologies apply patented algorithms to uncover the hidden sentiments, opinions, and associations consumers have, based upon Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. The technology is simple yet versatile and can be applied to a range of possible data sources—surveys, research reports, social feedback, online product reviews, and more.
Researchers can even work to “quantify the qualified” aspects of emotion, using the Martec Emotion Score. The Martec Emotion Score is a numerical representation of the emotions that are associated with a specific topic. Typically, the majority of emotion research is either solely qualitative or presented quantitatively in a highly scientific mode that is hard to digest and understand for laypersons. The Martec Emotion Score gives these emotions a simple number that everyone can understand and, therefore, use as analytical data that can help reach specific business goals.
Finally, the customer experience research we execute is based heavily on what’s known as Peak-End Theory. The “peak-end rule” suggests that people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. This concept is the foundation of much of our customer experience work. The goal is to help brands identify those peaks (or valleys) and ending moments and turn them into memorable moments, which drive emotional connection to a brand, as well as the bottom line.
“Memorable moments” are thosecritical points in the customer experience that “make or break” the experience and work to define the broader relationship between a brand and customer. These are critical, emotionally charged interactions that hold a lot of weight with the customer, and people are often willing to pay a premium for services that address these critical needs experienced during such moments. Consider these examples:
Positive memorable moments
- Making a purchase after saving so long for it
- Putting an offer in on a home
- Getting on your favorite ride at a theme park
Negative memorable moments
- Receiving notice of a flight cancellation
- Waiting for inordinately long times to be seated at a restaurant
- Missing out on Taylor Swift tickets after waiting online
They’re not always purchases, you’ll note. Knowing where those moments exist and understanding the human emotions that are experienced during them is the key to purposefully engineering customer experiences so that the brand retains maximum control and influence to shape these moments optimally for the customer and prospect.
Taking a 5-D Approach to Customer Experience
Of course, the goal of customer experience research is to increase loyalty and advocacy through improved emotional connection between a brand and its audience. The tangible output of such work is to create a communication plan and CX strategy utilizing a touchpoint and communication preference index to determine the importance, frequency, and mode of communication preferred at distinct touch points throughout the journey.
To get there, I recommend what I call a “5-D” plan of action:
- Discover – Uncover critical CX pain points and challenges through in-depth discovery work with internal stakeholders.
- Diagnose – Monitor, measure and document the current state of customer experience before you do anything to change it.
- Design – Develop CX concepts and messaging to test various proposed solutions to see how they will be received by the target customer.
- Deploy – Implement the appropriate changes to the experience and messaging, based on feedback received during the design and testing phase.
- Decide – Track outcomes and changes, positive or otherwise, and analyze the data to determine what to continue, what to tweak, and where to potentially change course.
Customer experience should be a circuitous feedback loop, one that is constantly being monitored and analyzed, with new findings informing new directions that get fed back into the CX strategy…ongoing.
In our next installment, we will dive deeper into examining how these methodologies work, as well as review some recent case studies to demonstrate real-world examples of how customer experience research proved to be game-changing for the brands that deployed them.
Want to learn more? Read “How One Dry Cleaning Franchise Harnessed the Power of EI to Drive Business.”
Emily Bielak serves as Director for Martec, with specific emphasis on customer experience research and initiatives. To get in touch, use the Contact Us form below.