The late Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, insisted, “There’s only one boss; the customer.” And, in most organizations, pleasing the boss is essential for success. If the customer is the boss, and pleasing the customer is essential, it’s little wonder that the staff at Racami writes, “The #1 priority for the majority of organizations is to improve the customer experience.” The staff also asks a very pertinent question: “What exactly is the customer experience?” To answer that question, they accept the Hubspot definition: “Customer experience is 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.”
Frankly, that definition may be too limited. In today’s Experience Economy, it’s the actual experience, not impressions, that have the greatest impact. Candice Mueller, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Freshdesk at Freshworks, explains, “The Experience Economy is now more than 20 years old. Back in 1998, when an article in Harvard Business Review first heralded its arrival, it identified experiences as a distinct economic offering in their own right. They were right of course, and today the evidence is everywhere.” The article to which Mueller refers observes, “Economists have typically lumped experiences in with services, but experiences are a distinct economic offering, as different from services as services are from goods. … An experience is not an amorphous construct; it is as real an offering as any service, good, or commodity.”
Enhancing Customer Experience
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “experience” as “the process of living through an event or events.” As I noted above, experience means more than gaining an impression of a company. The right kinds of experiences provide consumers a way of interacting with an organization in a positive way. In today’s hybrid world, that’s not always easy. Michael McLaren (@michaeljmclaren), Global CEO of Merkle B2B, explains, “While it all should appear simple and frictionless to your audiences, orchestrating customer experiences by merging online and offline worlds throughout a customer journey can be a Herculean task. Advances in analytics, data, and technology are driving new levels of personalization, which are quickly becoming the new norm. Critically, marketing teams can’t lose sight of where buyers are on their path to purchase, and must use journey analysis to constantly evaluate what matters most to ensure they are delivering value at every opportunity.”
David Ahuja, Amazon Web Service’s Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry strategy leader, agrees with Walton that the customer is boss. He writes, “Make no mistake: Your boss — the consumer — is still in charge.” He goes on to suggest six ways you can keep customers happy and protect your bottom line. They are:
1. Understand your customer more broadly. Ahuja explains, “With your boss possessing even more power and influence these days, it’s time to get to know them better.” To do that, Ahuja suggests asking questions like: How do interactions make them feel emotionally? How was their shopping experience? Was it fast, convenient, and even enjoyable? Advanced analytics solutions, like the Enterra Shopper Marketing and Consumer Insights Intelligence System™, can help brands better understand their customers.
2. Personalize your products and experiences. According to Ahuja, “Increasingly, consumers expect their products and experiences to be tailored to their unique needs. By finding new ways to connect with consumers with truly personalized experiences, you can improve your brand experience and lift your bottom line.”
3. Go direct to the consumer. Ahuja notes that the pandemic accelerated consumer use of the digital path to purchase and, as a result, placed greater importance on direct to consumer (DTC) sales. He reports, “DTC ecommerce sales in the US reached over $76 billion in 2019, and that number is expected to grow to $151 billion by 2022.”
4. Drive cost-efficiencies at scale. With inflation on the top of everyone’s agenda, keeping consumer prices low has become a priority. As Ahuja notes, “Not surprisingly, your new boss wants better prices. According to a recent survey, 54% of consumers said they are more cost conscious than before the pandemic, and 29% of shoppers increased purchase of budget brands. To protect margins and rein in costs, you need to drive cost efficiencies and economies of scale in your manufacturing process.”
5. Listen in to social media. Today’s consumer is an empowered consumer; and, one their most powerful tools is social media. Ahuja explains, “The days of the company complaint department are over. Thanks to the power of social media, consumers now wield the equivalent of a giant megaphone to tell the world what’s on their mind.”
6. Enrich the buying experience. “Not just your product, but the experience of buying it can make a big difference to your new boss,” Ahuja writes. “If your website is clunky and slow, they’re more likely to disengage and drop out. And if they can’t find the product they want, then you’ve probably just wasted their time. Today’s consumers have little patience for a shopping experience that complicates their life.”
Journalist Lisa Johnston (@thatljohnston) drives home the fact that it’s the customer, not a brand or organization, that gets to decide what’s a good experience and what’s a bad experience. She notes, “Even the most devoted customers get fickle, and woe to the sellers that aren’t paying attention.”
Best Buy CEO Corie Barry (@Corie_Barry) told participants at a National Retail Federation conference, “Customer expectations are not static. They are constantly evolving, and they expect this frictionless experience no matter how they touch your organization. It can’t be optimized vertically. You have to understand customer journeys first.” And, she told them, the only way to understand consumers and their purchasing journey is through the use of advanced data analytics. Artificial intelligence expert Tom Taulli (@ttaulli) explains, however, that getting the analytics right can be difficult. He explains, “CX is becoming a key differentiation and competitive advantage. … But it is difficult to develop a strong CX platform, partly due to the reliance on a myriad of legacy systems that spread data across silos. The result is that it is challenging to get a holistic view of the customer journey. Companies also do not effectively analyze the data, such as for intent, sentiment, and emotion. For the most part, the approach is more of a guessing game.”
As you might imagine, guessing games are unlikely to produce a winning customer experience strategy. Like most experts, Taulli believes cognitive technologies (aka artificial intelligence) can help turn guessing games into real business strategies. He explains, “Whenever it comes to solving a tough problem, it seems that AI is the reflex answer. … But in regards to CX, artificial intelligence does make a lot of sense.” Customer experience consultant Brad Cleveland adds, “There’s no technology that can be ‘The Answer’ to a better customer experience in the absence of effective strategy and planning.” The bottom line is this: If a company wants to offer great customer experiences, the customer must be the focus of all strategy and planning efforts.
 Staff, “Top 25 Customer Experience Quotes to Inspire You in 2022!” Racami Blogs.
 Candice Mueller, “2022 – time to make the move beyond CX and EX to Total Experience,” Diginomica, 21 February 2022.
 B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 1998.
 Michael McLaren, “Why Marketers Are Suddenly Obsessed With Customer Experience & Engagement,” Marketing Daily, 25 November 2021.
 David Ahuja, “Six Ways to Keep Your Boss (The Consumer) Happy,” Consumer Goods Technology, 30 October 2021.
 Lisa Johnston, “NRF 2022: Consumers Will Define Convenience, Not Retailers,” Consumer Goods Technology, 18 January 2022.
 Tom Taulli, “AI CX (Customer Experience): What You Need to Know,” IT Business Edge, 28 January 2022.