It’s 2021, and customers have been through enough already.
Everything has changed in so many aspects of their lives, and while many of us dream of the “before days” with wistful nostalgia, deep down we all know these shifts are for keeps. Through the global health crisis, people have transformed their understanding of commercial interactions online, even those born as digital natives. But they’re done with fake news, overpromising, and hype. Today’s consumers don’t want to be sold to, or marketed at; rather, they’re craving consistent and sincere interactions with brands they can believe in.
To engage with them effectively, you need to embody your customer service values in every aspect of your enterprise and become a true business of experience (BX) leader — where your growth and success align authentically with their happiness and loyalty.
It’s a big ask, but the need is there. In a world fragmented politically and economically, big brands are the only truly global voices left and have a greater investment in understanding consumers than any geographically limited organization or politician driven by short-term thinking. The combination of data-driven business intelligence with purpose-driven leadership is surfacing new market leaders in every vertical — and first-mover advantage remains on the table in many sectors.
Recent research by Accenture consulting, involving 1,550 executives (nearly a quarter of them CEOs) in 21 countries across 22 industries, confirmed that BX focus and orientation is driving 6x profitability and growth. BX is separating leaders from followers in every industry.
For customer service, it means a quiet but profound revolution. Putting the needs of customers front and center, rather than confining them to sales and marketing, and creating a genuinely holistic approach to doing so, may require significant reorientation for some enterprises. Baiju Shah, Chief Strategy Officer of Accenture Interactive and co-author of the report stated above, stated that BX has to be driven from the boardroom. Shah writes, “To grow in the coming year, every company and leader will need to think about experience differently — especially as nearly everything we do, from how we shop, to how and where we work, to how we interact with others — has been structurally upended.” Transformation must be driven from the very top.
Customers want to be inspired.
The old zero-sum transactional model of sales no longer applies in the new reality. It’s not about the customer exchanging their money for something you hand over in a one-off one-way deal. It’s a reflection of a digital relationship and connection, where value and service are scalable and intrinsically linked.
In the same vein, customers are less likely to compare direct competitors when choosing where to do business; instead, they will compare brand experiences across categories. Who makes them feel good, whatever it is they are offering? This yields an unprecedented opportunity for brand extension — once the trust equity is established through BX practices, customers will follow where they are inspired to be led.
They’re seeking something beyond the user-centered, design-driven touchpoints that are now table stakes. From supermarkets to SaaS, the Corporate Memphis, slick onboarding bots, and native apps are no longer enough to drive increased market share. Accenture described this as the ‘sea of sameness’, which reflects the high functionality and UX standards increasingly expected and demanded but which offer little differentiation or innovation.
Instead, customers want something bigger: a vision and a purpose, which connects to their values and beliefs. This will mean alienating some potential customers, to better connect to the hearts of others — as Gillette experienced through their thoughtful response to the #metoo movement, and many brands have learned by responding to Black Lives Matter in words and deeds. But for meaningful BX, you’d better be maraschino choc chip rather than vanilla. It’s better to be adored by your customers than liked by everyone.
This is because more than half of Gen Y and Z consumers, compared to 37% of other consumers, told Accenture they have shifted a portion of their spend away from their current service provider when a company disappointed them due to its words or actions on a social issue. They prefer brands that make them feel part of something, connected to a common cause or movement — but this must be done with complete accountability and transparency, as this cohort is quick to punish and cancel those guilty of hypocrisy or bandwagon jumping.
Manifest BX to transform your relationship with customers.
There are no quick fixes for adopting a BX mindset. You can’t achieve it with a brand refresh or by getting the right consultant in. Instead, it will require a comprehensive transformation at multiple levels, to bring about the shift you need:
CEO and the board
It starts with flipping the model to consider the purpose and the experience you want to create, then how you will generate profit from that — as opposed to the other way around. Shareholders are customers too… How will their priorities align with this vision? It’s essential to get the purpose right before shaping the strategy to deliver it.
Sales and marketing
You already built your customer-centered UI, but step back and consider their values and needs from a higher perspective: How do you build an experience which connects customers to what they want? How do you embed that experience through every CX touchpoint, in a way that is consistent and congruent, without being heavy-handed?
Product and service
How can you use your data and insight to truly adapt to your customer’s desires, and create offerings which inspire the feeling and experience you want to create for them? A range of tools, from qualitative research and social listening to interaction analytics, will help to surface unspoken needs and get you beyond the ‘faster horse’ type of solution you might come up with via the old-school interaction of just asking people what they want. Being responsive, agile, and alert to external changes will help you put the right solutions in front of people before they know they need them.
You’ll need to consider and embed your experience values through your operations and supply chain too. If your customers face a protracted onboarding experience or delivery delays you will shatter the overall perception, and truly living your value and purpose means ensuring that your suppliers do the same.
The customer comes first, last, and always.
Ultimately, success will lie in going beyond customer-centricity to customer obsession. If you dream about making them happier, learning from listening to them, and fearlessly and authentically giving them what they need, you’ll get the mindset right.
Now more than ever customers need a compass, a north star, while they grapple with economic, health, and environmental uncertainty. Your business has the potential to respond to this and play your part in a meaningful and inspiring future. From the top-down, this needs to be everybody’s alignment and everybody’s responsibility, without silos or constraints. Work smartly, efficiently, and impactfully with the right tools to serve the right purpose.
Then you’ll be creating the very best for your customers — and be well on your way to becoming a true business of experience.