Now that the world's economy is suffering so badly, the overall 'customer experience' is an increasingly vital factor for consumer-facing businesses, according to a white paper published by Peter Lavers of Ogilvy's Customer Futures Group, and edited by John and Bill Todor of The Whetstone Edge.
For the paper, entitled 'The Importance of the Customer Experience in a Down Economy', 18 international experts were asked to address the issue of customer experiences in today's challenging economic climate.
The business world is currently involved in a worldwide economic crisis and a prolonged recession looms in the future. So, with "business as usual" no longer being a viable option, companies must take action - but what action?
The Chinese term 'wei gee' expresses the dual nature of a crisis: One aspect is danger, and the other is opportunity. Businesses can either react to the danger or seize the opportunity. The reactive approach of trying to "ride out the storm" has a focus on efficiency and conservation of resources.
However, as Jan Hofmeyr says, "Businesses are under pressure in recessions because their customers are also under pressure."
There are two compelling reasons why customers cannot be left out of the survival equation:
- Customers are experiencing anxiety, stress and uncertainty and this dramatically alters what they value, what they find meaningful and how they make purchase decisions. They have a reduced sense of control over their lives.
- Customers have gained equal footing with businesses, are now, some say, have the upper hand when it comes to business transactions. Social media, an open, cooperative conversation, enables people to share insights and opportunities and help each other make decisions and make sense. This has enhanced the customer's position. Businesses must now deliver what customers value or be forced to compete on price and convenience.
An important starting point, the authors argue, is the concept of the 'customer experience'. Proponents argue that it is the pre-eminent competitive differentiator, an essential component in building sustainable and profitable relationships with customers. In the paper, a number of authors look at how current economic uncertainty is impacting customers emotionally, psychologically and in their buying behaviour. These insights provide a critical foundation for defining actions that businesses can take to align themselves with what customers now value and find meaningful.
According to some of the paper's contributors:
- Jim Barnes provides a framework that distinguishes between four aspects of the customer experience: Processes, People, Performance and Possibilities. All too often, initiatives designed to enhance the customer experience are narrowly focused on one of the four and miss out on the opportunity to fully engage customers. Or the tacit definition of the customer experience is vague and does not lead to clear and actionable steps. In addition to defining the underlying premise of each aspect, Barnes illustrates how each is impacted by current economic conditions, and how that can leads to actions that will lead to competitive differentiation.
- Lauree Vallery reports on recently-completed research on how customers and businesses view the recession. The main conclusion: "There is an alarming lack of alignment between customer emotional expectations and corporate action plans that can only result in frustration and growing distrust by customers".
- Eliminate "dumb contacts" is Bill Price's mantra. Price emphasizes that stress in customers makes them more likely to switch allegiances from companies that exacerbate it. Stressed employees increase the likelihood that this will happen. His advice is to "identify and eliminate dumb contacts - those customer interactions that add no value for either party".
- Jeanne Bliss emphatically says: "Now is the time to seek out the intangible opportunities to soothe the savaged consumer soul," and prescribes eight ways in which businesses can refocus their resources and energies.
- John and Bill Todor present a psycho-economic view of how customers are responding to financial turmoil. They describe two mutually exclusive mindsets: one that is focused on price, and another that seeks to regain a sense of control and to optimize 'experiential value'.
The full paper has been made available to download from the Customer Futures web site - click here (free registration required).