In our interconnected, digital world businesses are being challenged to meet the increasing demands and expectations people have from the products and services they consume. To build customer loyalty, retention, and business sustainability, businesses need to humanize their brands. Not only must businesses provide quality products and services, they must emotionally connect and align with their customers' values, fulfill their aspirations, operate with transparency, and deliver exceptional customer experiences. With so many new digital touch points being added to the customer journey each day, how can brands assure they are constantly innovating and evolving to meet the needs of today's consumer? And, how are employees being equipped to deliver customer experiences that satisfy customer needs and demands?
Even in the digital age, we must not forget that it is still about the people. Consumers are people with specific needs and desires. Businesses are groups of people who provide products and services to satisfy those needs and desires. Employees are people striving to find purpose and fulfillment in their work, while trying to satisfy their own needs and desires. Our society is a collective group of people bound together by our unified values, vision, and purpose. And, our culture is the manifestation of society's shared perspective and common behaviors, all of which influences how your customers and employees interact and engage with one another. Businesses need to understand the systemic influences that affect the customer experience and the impact it can have on business performance.
Here we will uncover the five essential practices required to establish a purpose-driven brand to improve the customer experience.
Satisfying your customer's needs along their journey
A customer's journey begins long before there is even a conscious thought that motivates him/her to take any kind of action. Remember that we consume products and services as a means to satisfy our needs and desires. But, before we even recognize we have a particular need or desire, there is an influencer that brings needs and desires to the forefront of our consciousness. Marketers like to call this "demand creation" and use advertising as a means to drive this demand. I have never been a fan of the term "demand creation." It is very manipulative in its design and intention. Essentially, you are saying, "there is currently no need for this, so let's go out and create a false sense of need in order to increase revenue for the business." Pushing consumerism for the sake of consumerism is not sustainable on many fronts.
Every business will have a different customer journey. The first step to improving the customer experience is to map the journey of your customers. Customer journey mapping should start from the moment people are exposed to your brand. Depending on your industry category, you may also consider taking it a step further and also include how potential customers feel about your industry and your competitors. This will give you a much deeper understanding of customer needs, barriers to conversion, and identify the paths to least resistance. Journey mapping exercises should also be considerate to the various journeys different customer segments may take. Develop customer personas based on the attributes and characteristics of each segment and map their unique journeys. Different people have different needs and must be engaged in a way that is most comfortable and natural to their preferred journey. Being empathetic to how people prefer to be communicated to, how they learn, and how they value you is essential for cultivating brand relationships through the customer journey. Mapping a typical customer journey should at the very least answer the following questions:
While this provides a simple framework to understand, it is important to note that most journeys are multi-dimensional. Most people will go through these phases multiple times at various stages of their journey. For example, a person will go through this entire process just to make a purchase decision. But, the customer experience does not stop at the point of purchase. People will go through this process again and again at each touchpoint, which could include websites (both brand and distribution sites), in-store, packaging, customer service, social media, email, promotions, etc. Whether you are a B2C or B2B brand, every customer will move through these key phases. How you engage each customer through the journey will determine the brand memories you create. Those memories will determine whether or not they purchase from your company again and how customers share their experience with others. To develop healthy and sustainable brands, you must provide an exceptional customer experience at each touchpoint throughout their journey.
Digital transformation that enhances the experience
As someone who spent nearly 20 years as a digital marketer, I appreciate the enhanced capabilities, operational efficiencies, and brand experiences our digital world can now provide businesses. But remember, even in the digital age, it is still about the people. Many businesses make digital transformation decisions purely based on supply-chain cost benefits without accounting for the impact it could have on a customer's experience. If the digital journey causes more friction or inconveniences to a person's preferred journey, it could lead to a greater loss in revenue attributed to dissatisfied customers. This is why mapping the customer journey for your different customer personas is so important. Some people prefer the digital experience at certain touchpoints, while others may prefer it at other touchpoints. And dare I say, some people may not prefer a digital experience at all. Even if that is not an option, you need to make sure the digital touchpoints provides a simple, convenient, and intuitive experience.
A digital transformation strategy that provides options based on customer preferences is the way to go. While it is important to create operational efficiencies to reduce costs, it should never be at the sacrifice of the customer experience. Your customers are the reason you are in business and the reason you will stay in business. Of course, let us not forget that when digital platforms and data intelligence are used right, it can reduce friction and provide conveniences that can exponentially enhance the customer experience. Regardless of what your digital transformation requirements are, decisions need to be based on the preferences of your customers. Remember, digital strategies are designed to satisfy human needs.
Empowering employees and giving them purpose
Every individual and every business has a purpose, even if you have not been able to identify it yet. Your purpose is why you do what you do. Purpose is what motivates people to action and is what keeps people focused to achieve their goals every day. Aligning shared passions, shared beliefs, and shared value is how one finds common purpose. Purposeful leaders leverage common purpose to inspire, unify, and drive collective action to achieve their goals and desired outcomes. Purpose-driven brands find the common purpose across organizational stakeholders, their customers, and society to achieve business sustainability. Purpose is determined by leveraging your expertise and aligning your needs, values, and aspirations with the impact you want to have on the world. As a business, you need to define a purpose that the company can rally and get behind.
Individuals with purpose are attracted to businesses with purpose. People want to work for companies where they are empowered and are having a positive impact in people's lives. When people are living with purpose, they are happier, more fulfilled in their work, and they are much more eager to satisfy customer needs. When your employees are happy, fulfilled, and engaged it leads to greater customer experiences. When people are operating with common purpose, it boosts employee morale and improves collaboration that results in greater performance which leads to greater customer experiences. Your employees are the face of your brand. Every interaction a customer has with an employee is a touchpoint; a touchpoint that will leave a lasting memory about the brand experience. What kind of memory do you want to create? Answering this question could help you find your purpose if you have not yet found one.
Living your values and delivering your brand promise
Your brand values are what you stand for. It is what you believe as an organization and how you want to be perceived by your current customers and your addressable audience. Consumers feel good when they spend money with a company who shares their values. Employees want to work for a company who share their values. Your values form your personality. And just like every great relationship, your looks will only take you so far. It's what's underneath that matters most. Your brand values set the expectations for your employees, tell your customers what they can anticipate from a relationship with you, and informs society how you plan to behave in the community.
We are in the middle of a cultural paradigm shift. There is a new social contract that is being drafted between businesses and the greater society. People want businesses to behave in a socially responsible and transparent way. People want to be treated with respect, be fairly compensated for their work, and operate in a healthy, happy, and positive work environment. People want businesses to have an appreciation for the value they provide to society and the impact they can have on the world. Businesses must be authentic, empathetic, and genuinely care about people -- care about their customers, their employees, and society as a whole. Purpose-driven brands are born from values-based businesses.
Your brand promise is the value you provide and the benefit your products or services have in satisfying customer needs and desires. Your values cannot be sacrificed in order to deliver a brand promise. Because of the new social contract, your values must drive your brand promise. People want to support businesses -- as consumers or employees -- who align with their needs, values, and aspirations. This alignment cultivates deeper relationships between people. Delivering your brand promise in this way strengthens brand reputation and loyalty. This is how you build stable businesses and sustainable brands.
Creating a culture of innovation and customer-centricity
Depending on who you ask, innovation can mean a lot different things. We need to be careful about throwing the word "innovation" around, only to have it become the latest buzzword that gets disregarded two years from now. I define innovation as the process by which a new idea is brought to life. Innovation is extremely important for our progress, growth, and sustainability across all pillars of society. For a business to create a culture of innovation, I believe it must at least institute these five key practices:
- Provide a platform that promotes the exchange of new ideas across the organization
- Establish a process that validates new ideas before they are implemented
- Design a workflow that permits easy integration and dissemination of validated ideas
- Reduce operational frictions and empower people to be more collaborative
- Avoid complacency by gamifying innovation and by leading with purpose
Most companies need to undergo cultural transformation in order to create an innovative and customer-centric culture. The majority of companies still retain organizational structures that are product-centric. Departments, processes, and workflow are designed around the delivery of a product or service rather than on improving the customer experience and the delivery of their brand promise. As a result, most decisions that occur across the organization and the supply-chains are based on creating efficiencies in the manufacturing and delivery of the product or service, even if it may not be beneficial to the customer. This is a huge misstep. Organizations should be designed to deliver great customer experiences. Of course, your products or services are the primary variables. But the No. 1 variable is your customer.
Employees must be educated, developed, and organized in a new way. They cannot work in departmental silos. They must understand their individual roles and responsibilities and know how they impact other organizational stakeholders throughout the customer's journey. Everyone must make a commitment to put the customers' needs first. Digital transformation strategies must be deployed as a means to enhance the customer experience, not hinder it. Management must learn how to lead with the brand's values and lead with purpose to deliver on the company's brand promise. Organizations need to establish a culture of innovation and customer-centricity in order to remain competitive in an increasingly socially conscious market. At the most fundamental level, a business is just a group of people that provide value to society through the exchange of goods and services to satisfy the needs and desires of others. Regardless of innovation or how cultures evolve, it always has been, it is now, and it always will be about the people.
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