Analyst group Gartner reported a couple of years ago that 89% of marketers expected customer experience (CX) to be their primary differentiator by 2017. Most marketers today recognise the importance of creating a positive customer experience, but there are still a number of misconceptions around that we should finally lay to rest:

1. Thinking you can treat customer engagement in isolation from employee engagement

‘Shock news: happy, motivated employees deliver better customer service’.  OK, it’s hardly rocket science. No sane human being would expect unhappy, demotivated employees to go the extra mile for their customers. Yet, while most of us acknowledge the importance of increasing employee engagement, it still doesn’t figure in many organisations’ customer engagement initiatives. This is despite some pretty compelling evidence: research suggests that every 10% increase in employee engagement drives a 5% improvement in customer service (and 2% lift in profit). And a US retail study identified a positive causal link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, with Apple being one of the brands that scored highest in both.

Experts point to a number of factors that can improve staff engagement, such as helping each employee to have a clear appreciation of how their job contributes to the company’s success; providing good training; and offering real opportunities for career advancement. One thing that often damages engagement levels is a poor relationship between line managers and employees, so organisations need to be wary of this, and put policies and processes in place to detect – and resolve – any conflict situations.

In the words of Richard Branson: “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

2. Believing customer decision making is rational

Most of us already know that a big part of how customers make decisions is actually subconscious and driven by emotional factors.  But too often it’s the rational aspects of the customer experience we focus on, perhaps because they’re more tangible and easier to work with.

In fact, as our brains are flooded with information about products and services from every angle – online and offline – some experts believe it’s getting harder to make rational decisions.  And when it becomes just too difficult we often let emotional factors take over.

We all know that retail stores use smells (think fresh baked bread) and music to encourage us to buy more, but there’s also been a huge amount of research into what you can do to influence customer behaviour in the online world.  Specific words and colours can have different effects and even the way products are positioned in online images has an effect on triggering different emotions; a slice of cake becomes more desirable if the fork beside it is positioned towards the viewer’s dominant hand, for example.

Interactivity is also very powerful. If you let customers interact with a product by allowing them to choose specific features, shapes or colours you generate feelings of ownership. And showing products in an interactive way rather that sticking to static visuals helps drive more vivid mental images. Both result in greater engagement and increase the chances that a consumer will make a purchase.

3. Imagining consumers view personalisation as creepy and off-putting

Far from being outraged that companies have a spookily accurate understanding of their desires, interests and browsing habits, research shows that people value personalisation.

In fact experts believe that with so much marketing being targeted at consumers today, people are reassured by personalised messages – it gives them a sense of control and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed by the huge mass of irrelevant information they are exposed to.

Today personalisation means everything from re-targeted advertising to delivering individualised web content and putting tailored marketing messages into bills and statements. But it’s important to recognise that delivering a personalised experience is not only about selling. You can send personalised reminders and relevant educational information to deepen customer loyalty.  A power company might insert charts within its online bills to highlight a household’s daily power consumption patterns, or insert a link or QR code to an energy saving guide, for example.

4. Assuming it’s all over once the customer hits the ‘buy’ button

Improving customer experience up to the point of purchase is where companies have focused most effort of their efforts, but it’s now becoming clear that it’s really just the start of a relationship – one that needs to be nurtured.  If you hand over all responsibility to a third party fulfilment company and think the job’s finished you are leaving the customer experience to chance. But if you continue to manage communication with customers effectively during the post-purchase stage you can build loyalty, identify cross-selling opportunities and encourage repeat purchases.

For example, after checking out, customers can be encouraged to sign up for text or mobile messaging notifications and browse FAQs on your website, or be invited to change their delivery date. And providing recommendations, deals and educational content also helps keep customers excited about their purchases until they arrive.

It is even possible to turn negatives into positives by making sure that customer service, logistics and marketing combine to quickly iron out any post-purchase problems (such as delivery delays, errors or returns).  If customers see the brand fixing these niggles in a helpful and proactive manner it will leave them feeling more positive and could potentially lead to positive word-of-mouth or online recommendations.

5. Believing marketers can control the brand experience

It’s time to recognise that the way people buy has changed massively. Now, with social media, online forums and reviews, much of the power has now shifted from marketers to customers, in the form of peer-to-peer recommendations.  According to research by Mckinsey, campaigns focused on generating consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth recommendations drum up more than double the sales generated by paid advertising.

You can support word-of-mouth not only by delivering an excellent customer experience but also by cultivating customer advocates. Which customers have made the most repeat purchases for example and who is speaking positively on your behalf on social media or online forums? How can you find ways to engage with these individuals to make a deeper connection?  Part of this is about recognising advocates by responding with positive comments as well sharing the content they are creating around your brand and featuring it on your own online channels.  You could even make advocates feel special by rewarding them with exclusive offers or VIP events.

With so much attention focused on customer experience, there’s plenty of fresh thinking and research by marketing experts and analysts that helps us understand how to improve relationships with customers and build loyalty in an increasingly competitive business landscape.  There has never been a better time to challenge old ways of thinking and embrace the new.

Lynda Kershaw

Lynda Kershaw


Marketing Manager at Macro 4