Digitally enabled and connected customers are looking for choice, transparency, simplicity, and personalized experiences when it comes to the products and services they buy. To the digitally empowered customer, products and pricing matter less. Experiences matter more. As a consequence, 89% of marketers are prioritizing the customer experience as the focal point of the branding, design, delivery and differentiation of their products and services by next year, according to Gartner.
Businesses that directly engage customers in face-to-face environments – including retailers, travel and hospitality companies, restaurants, and banks – are making significant technology investments in hopes of delivering unique and impactful customer experiences. These include:
• Database analytics – Retailers, hoteliers, and travel companies are working hard to unify data sources and create a single view of the customer so they can deliver offers, reward points, and discounts that are targeted, relevant and timely;
• IoT infrastructure – the retail and travel industries are among the top investors in Internet of Things (IoT) – led by Disney which has invested over $1 Billion in IoT, scent and wearable solutions to enhance the customer experience;
• Mobile, social and digital channels – 72% of travel and hospitality businesses are now providing customers mobile applications to enhance service delivery according to research by Tata Consulting Services.
These technologies provide marketers an expanded pallet of tools to redefine the guest experience in new ways. And senior executives are expecting digital technology investments to yield an improved customer experience according to the PwC Digital IQ survey. But technology alone will not delight customers or differentiate the brand. Enhancing and differentiating the guest experience will take leadership from marketing, and a blend of art and science.
Our research into the investments of marketing leaders like Disney, Hilton, Starbucks and Marriott show the best customer experience programs focus on six different dimensions – ranging from achievement to personalization to sensation. Individually these are important to customers. In combination, these six dimensions are redefining what customer experience is in the digital age.
According to Forrester Research’s Customer Experience Index, many marketers are using these strategies to more effectively address customer needs and eliminate “friction” from their experience. For example:
• Hotels including: Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton are increasing guest satisfaction and engagement by allowing their best customers to select rooms, check in, open doors and text drink or room service orders all from a mobile app on their cell phone.
• Kroger has reduced time customers spend in lines using customer monitoring and analytic tools to cut the average in-store wait time from more than four minutes to less than 30 seconds.
• Disney deployed “Magic Bands” — wearable devices that provide over 30 million guests a “friction free” and personalized experience at their Orlando theme parks, hotels, and resorts.
But delighting customers involves more than getting their name right, knowing their interests, and communicating consistently across a variety of devices. So marketers who seek to differentiate their brands with customer experience need to ask and important question – will any of these technology enabled experiences be fun, relaxing, or inspiring?
The ideal customer experience should delight the customer by engaging all five senses, not just their mobile device. For example:
• Scents have been proven to eliminate stress, stimulate fond memories and inspire customers. The right scent has been shown to make people more comfortable at hotels, shorten the time they think they are waiting at banks, and improve sense of performance at a gym. Nike conducted research with the Smell & Taste Research Foundation that found a scented retail environment induced more favorable product perceptions in in shoppers – making them more likely to buy the shoes, and often willing to pay more for the product.
• Sounds can entice customers to linger over their meals longer, ordering more drinks and enjoying the atmosphere.
• Retailers like Kenzo and Lowes are working to deliver millennials a highly visual in-store environment that parallels the online shopping experience with immersive video, interactive catalogs, virtual reality, and personalized merchandising.
According to a report entitled Guiding the Guest Experience by Hae Eun Chun of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, guests’ perceptions of their experiences can be improved without huge investments, by getting them to focus on the positive aspects of their experiences, or by avoiding calling attention to unpleasant aspects – such as waiting. She encourages marketers to tap into three different types of pleasure in their customer experience strategies. Sensory pleasures derived from a lovely sound, a pleasant taste or smell. Aesthetic pleasures derived from enjoying a beautiful environment or an attractive view. And achievement – through personal sense of accomplishment, learning new things, or winning a competition. Having people try to notice and acknowledge pleasurable little things that would otherwise go unnoticed (e.g., flowers, sunshine, or music) boosts overall happiness and enjoyment. According to Tom Conroy, CEO of Yankee Candle Scent Systems which helps retail and hospitality marketers deliver precise scent impressions using smart, connected devices – “the olfactory nerves in the nose activate all of the senses, making customers more alert, aware of their surroundings, and triggering positive emotions and memories.”
Viewed through this lens, marketers should be putting as much energy into incorporating physiological, physical, or environmental tools into their experience strategies as they do leveraging digital, mobile, and social touch points to better engage customers.
Unfortunately for customers, far fewer marketers are focused on enhancing customer’s enjoyment and pleasure as a core part of their customer experience strategies relative to a more utilitarian focus on executing a friction and error free visit.
According to Megan Burns of Forrester Research, relatively few customer experience programs pay as much attention to emotional experience as they do to functional experience of streamlining transactions, targeting offers, and customizing communications.
This means that Marketers that focus on the sensory aspects of the customer experience have a big opportunity to differentiate their business and drive superior loyalty-inspiring sensory experiences overcome the rational similarities in products, services, and prices.
“The absolute heart of what every customer brand is striving really hard now to build is a strong emotional engagement” according to Nick Mercer, the Commercial Director, of Eurostar who is featured in the Travel and Hospitality Report entitled Connecting the Customer Experience Dots. “Functional benefits – my product is faster or better or whatever else – can be replicated. So we are absolutely putting all our efforts into building a stronger emotional engagement”.
The best marketers are tapping into the full range of sensory experiences in combination with digital engagement, enhanced recognition, and proactive service are a powerful way to differentiate your brand. As Geraldine Calpin the CMO of Hilton puts it “Technology gives us an amazing toolkit to redefine the guest experience in game changing ways. The trick is to use these technology tools to find new and better ways we can deliver white glove treatment. For example:
• Rachel Shechtman has built a highly successful retail concept named STORY that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like an art gallery, and sells things like a store. She treats her store as “the ultimate touch point” that delivers an all-consuming experience that is as much about the narrative and community as it is about the end product being sold. Every four to eight weeks, STORY completely reinvents itself – from the design to scents to the merchandise – with the goal of bringing to light a new theme, trend or issue.
• According to Tom Conroy, “retail and hospitality marketers are investing heavily to build brand affinity and drive traffic in digital, social, mobile and advertising channels. Converting this demand requires flawless execution and a differentiated experience in the last 1,000 feet of the customer journey. Customer experience leaders like Best Western and Wyndham Hotels are integrating a precise fragrance impression into the customer experience as an effective and durable way to complete the multi-sensorial experience for customers.”
• Hershey’s cleverly uses facial recognition technology to get customers to smile in exchange for a free chocolate sample at the point of sale. This innovative consumer experience builds a strong brand connection by delivering an in-store happiness moment – all centered around a smile – at the point of purchase.
Progressive marketers are making their customer experience more sensational by incorporating the five senses and customer emotions into the fundamental marketing planning processes and touch points that underlie their go to market strategy.
• Opening up the pallet of options to improve your customer experience beyond traditional discounts and offers by tapping into three different types of pleasure – sensory, aesthetic and achievement – in the customer experience strategies.
• Looking beyond conventional transactions and interactions in customer journey analysis – by including “hot spots” where customers are lost, frustrated, confused, or open to a surprise, or receptive to new ideas.
• Focusing customer targeting and marketing persona’s on customer feelings and mood as well as demographic or economic identifiers. For example, separating impatient buyers from people who want to be educated.
Originally posted by Forbes Insights