Redefining the Customer Experience

By Sagar Paul

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What is the customer experience today? Consider yourself in the process of buying a Digital SLR Camera. Here is what you would possibly experience:


You begin by searching online for cameras noting the benefits of certain makes, models, features and prices. You follow up with a shortlist of cameras that you want to touch, feel and see. You then walk into a store, keeping the shortlist handy, explore a bit and eventually make a decision on which camera you like most. You buy it, bring it home, open the package, and find the battery missing from the package. You dial the 1-800 number provided for customer service and are assured that the battery will be shipped in three days


Next, you receive an email with the shipment tracking details. You go to the courier’s website via the product website to find when the battery will finally reach you. You have to make sure you are home to accept the package.


You receive the shipment. You then log on to the product website to register the product and put your physical address in there. You start receiving mailers and catalogs for accessories. You also receive a free, six month subscription to a photo magazine. You start thinking about purchasing a telephoto lens that you would like to take on your hunting trip.


You shop for best deals on the Web and eventually buy an OEM telephoto lens on the website that carried a discount coupon from the reseller and the manufacturer. You receive the lens and later gather the necessities for receiving the rebate. You mail it in, wait eight weeks and then receive the check.


Three Months Later


This scenario above takes over three months to fulfill. It requires you to interact with seven different touch points, some direct, some enabled via partners. Some virtual and provided as services, some physical. All of these touch points work at different stages of the customer’s lifecycle and interaction with the product’s environment. In the process, your satisfaction levels are likely to go up and down quite unpredictably.


The experience any customer receives is not just what the brand owner scripted for the customer, it was outcome-based that resulted from personal interactions and was almost exploratory in nature. The brand owner has the responsibility of only providing a framework or a platform that enables positive and fulfilling experiences while the customer defines her own at her will.


In a recent survey conducted by Forrester research on the top 16 U.S.-based credit card companies , consumer electronics retail, PC manufacturers and wireless service providers, none passed the “cross channel” review test. While the best companies in their individual categories scored very well within a certain channel thereby improving experiences in that channel only, overall scores did not receive passing grade.


Customers typically have experiences with products and environments that are cross-channel and take much longer than companies actually think they do. It's a challenge for companies to provide unified, fulfilling, self-reinforcing experiences across touch points that customers truly feel are coming from the same organization.


Uniqueness Pays


Commoditization of products and services, globalization, contract manufacturing and the maturity of the Internet will cause copying of everything. Unique experiences will be the sole differentiator. Loyalty services and gift registries took a while for retailers to adopt, put in the physical infrastructure and make the processes work. This does differentiate retailers who provide a better service than their competitors.


The Internet is providing mass-personalization and in doing so broke the tradeoff between “richness” (face-to-face sales) and “reach” (TV and radio advertising). The world is your market on the 'Net, yet you can recognize the Jones’ from Maine and recommend the next Tom Cruise release without effort. Retailers featured loyalty programs and gift registries on their websites almost overnight to integrate with their physical store processes.


Device Proliferation


The phone and the camera may have just melded into one device, but it will take a while for the unification drive to catch up with proliferation. The cell phone now becomes your e-wallet, receives location-based services such as advertisements when you are in the vicinity of your favorite burger restaurant. It could offer you a menu via SMS and a discount coupon that has a time and location validity. Your TV could find out which cell phone had been where and based on whomever has recently returned home show advertisements selectively.



The challenge in managing the experiences designed for target segments multiply with adoption of devices in the channel. This brings in enormous possibilities and at the same time enormous challenges. Stretching experiences to woo customers in a multi-cultural scenario will see more faux pas than successes. Buying processes differ, association of colors with emotions differs, and timing of festivals, promotions differs across countries.


It’s funny how people will post their most ludicrous personal videos on social networking sites and yet sue companies if their telephone numbers are shared. Companies have to recognize differences in the people’s wide personal choices from “Baby Boomers” to “Generation Y-rs”.


In our experience, we believe experience-based design has been vastly undernourished. We see a tremendous scope for companies to take advantage of this opportunity to build a differentiating edge. It’s not just the early birds who will receive the biggest catch; it’s the ones who think through their customer experiences and align them with their business strategies well. Companies need to keep the customer in the center when designing customer experiences.


The canvas for design has to start before the customer has heard about you and end after she has narrated her most fascinating experience with you to few of her friends. Understand the customer beyond socio-economic interests: People get bombarded with thousands of messages in a day. Engage deeper with customer sets to segment them into what they are like physically, intellectually and cognitively.


Interaction is two way. A rich experience will require you to create interactions that actively engage people. It is extremely important to understand what people can or cannot do. What they do well or cannot do well. What they expect and what they don’t want. What people like and don’t like and what people dream about and aspire to.


It is obvious that the design of richer experiences is multidisciplinary. Cognizance of that is essential in bringing together a diverse team beyond functional silos to be really effective. Teams have to be created who bring in business strategy knowledge, process knowledge, visual design, interface design, interaction design, psychology, skills of narration, knowledge of technological opportunities and challenges. People have gone to the extent of even recommending a Chief Experience Officer. While we may be a little away from that reality, we should certainly start getting our act together.


Sagar Paul is the general manager and head of Customer Experience Consulting within MindTree’s Business Technology Consulting Group. Mr. Paul is based in Singapore and may be reached at sagarp@mindtree.com.