“Customer experience” describes the marketing journey a person takes when interacting with a brand. Although every journey is different, there’s one common element: the human factor.
By looking at marketing through the lens of the human experience, rather than the customer experience only, the brand can enrich and lengthen its relationship with the customer, leading to greater profitability.
Marketing in the Moment
The customer-centric mindset is evolving from “the customer is always right” to “the customer is always right now.” Meaning, in the moment. To realize this need, brands are finding new and innovative ways to serve customers swiftly and efficiently.
For example, fast food giant McDonald’s is placing kiosks in its restaurants at the pace of 1,000 per quarter to facilitate self-ordering. The goal is to streamline service, offer more convenient ways to buy, and refresh the McDonald’s brand. The company’s CEO says self-serve kiosks are helping to boost average check amounts as well.
From a business operation standpoint, the kiosks limit overhead, which could help the brand save $2.7 billion annually. From a human interaction perspective, the kiosks limit communication. There’s no greeting from a cheery employee or opportunity for personal interaction.
For a brand like McDonald’s, this could be just fine. After all, it’s unlikely that customers choose McDonald’s because they want to interact with a particular employee.
But what if a customer needs to ask about an ingredient because her child has a food allergy? Fast, efficient kiosk ordering doesn’t enable such communication.
You Don’t Need to Worry About a Robot Takeover
The McDonald’s example provides a peek into the broader trend of leveraging technology, instead of humans, to serve customer needs. This isn’t a call to “beware of the machines!” And never will all jobs be handled by robots. But marketers should be aware of the importance of treating customers as people rather than solely as a necessity to impact the bottom line.
The Rise of the Chatbot
Gartner forecasts that by 2020, 25% of customer service operations will use a virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot. The technology is used primarily to answer customer requests online or via apps and social media. And thanks to machine learning and contextual analytics, the interactions between VCAs and customers have become productive. The same report by Gartner also reveals that with the technology, brands realize an increase in customer satisfaction and a 33% savings with each engagement.
These are all good things. But can the brand do better by also looking at customers as people and addressing their feelings, emotions, and opinions? Sure, the chatbot solves an immediate need — but then what? And what about a different chatbot that solved the previous need? Or another chatbot that will solve the next one?
A chatbot might not be a strong enough competitive differentiator to keep customers coming back to that particular brand.
Domino’s is a good example of a brand that makes the most of technology while also addressing a human need: knowing when dinner will be served. With online order tracking, the global pizza leader enables a customer to see exactly when his or her order will arrive.
Another brand addressing the human factor is Minted, an online marketplace for customized cards and stationery. Minted makes it easy to select, customize, and order items straight from its website. But the brand takes things one step further by sending a personalized, handwritten note with every shipment, assuring customers that their orders have been quality checked. This conveys the message that the brand cares about every purchase — enough to take the time to say so.
More Buying Channels Boost Experience — for Now
Advances in technology and automation have enabled brands to deliver goods to homes and offices within a few hours. Most airlines and banks use chatbots to collect relevant customer information to ensure calls are routed properly or, in many cases, solve customer challenges without the need for personal interaction. Many brands leverage a “live chat” function on their websites to enable text conversations with customers.
As inventive and important as these technologies are, the brand must consider the ways it can connect with customers to build the relationship. Do these technologies drive satisfaction, retention, and customer lifetime value? Or can the brand do more?
The choice to leverage technology is one a brand makes based on its own unique business case. But as marketing becomes more localized and in the moment, the way brands gain market share will depend on the way they treat their customers as people. Technology and innovation are catalysts for business performance, but there are just some things only a human can do right.