This is part one of a two part series. You can read part two here

We operate in a world where customer expectations for brands are high. Shep Hyken writing for Forbes said, “Your customers no longer compare you just to your direct competition. You are being compared to the best service they have ever received.”

As a marketer, it can feel impossible to create a customer journey that rivals the best a customer has ever experienced. In order to accomplish that, marketers must reframe how they approach customer expectations so they can ease the customer journey.

One way to do that is through customer experience marketing, which is an approach that moves away from selling products and towards meeting customer expectations and delivering personalized experiences that offer true value. 

What is the customer experience?

Before we talk about customer experience marketing, let’s back up a little bit to discuss customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) is the sum of every interaction a customer has with a business, both pre- and post-sale. Marketing teams not only influence the customer experience, but essentially create the pre-sales customer experience journey.

While many marketing teams focus on capturing traffic and converting it to MQLs, they may not realize that they’re shaping a customer’s first impression of a brand. And the expectations customers have at that stage are high. According to Salesforce, “About half of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences… customers expect companies to understand and care about them as individuals and treat them accordingly.” 

Why should marketers make CX central to their strategy?

For marketing teams under pressure to deliver a target number of leads or generate a certain threshold of traffic, it can be difficult to really care about the impact they have on the customer journey.

However, the ability marketing teams have to influence the customer journey can directly impact the bottom line. According to a study from Temkin Group, a moderate increase in customer experience generates an average revenue increase of $823 million over three years for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues.

On top of that, 83% of CMOs say delivering a customer experience that is seamless and consistent across all channels is key to future business success. But in order to achieve that, marketing teams needs to rethink how CX fits into the larger marketing strategy.

Image that says: 83% of CMOs say delivering a customer experience that is seamless and consistent across all channels is key to future business success

Katie Howe, Dentsu Aegis’ UK executive director of creative and commerce, explains that “CMOs are increasingly seeing that they need to transform their business and not just optimize what they’ve got today,” she says.

But how can CMOs and their marketing teams transform their strategy to focus on generating more revenue through a better customer experience? Read on for actionable tips on how to get started.

Establish unified brand strategy across the company

Customers want consistent messaging, information, and service when they interact with a brand.

They may not know, and certainly don’t care, if they’re receiving information from a marketing team or an account manager.

They want your brand to feel like a consistent experience.

In order to create a feeling of a consistent brand, your entire company needs to be aligned on the brand strategy, which should be owned by marketing leadership. However, according to a recent study by IDG and Siteimprove, 44% of companies say consistent messaging and brand compliance are a challenge, indicating that there’s still work to be done.

What is a brand strategy?

Your brand strategy is the plan for how you solve your customers’ needs with your unique capabilities as a company now and in the future. 

If you break that down, you can see a few concrete components: 

Image with the text: Your brand strategy is the plan for how you solve your customers’ needs with your unique capabilities as a company now and in the future.

Below, we’ll dive into each of these four components and how marketing can work them into their strategy for creating a better digital customer experience.

1.    Setting customer expectations

Your plan for solving your customers’ needs: what customers can expect from you as a brand.

Often, when we talk about customer experience, we talk about customer expectations, but we don’t address the other side of the problem: what marketers do to set customer expectations.

How we experience a situation is the result of two things: the experience itself and our expectations about what that experience will be like. There have been many studies and stories about how our expectations shape our experiences as parents, patients, educators, and, especially, as consumers.

Dr. Breuning, Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, explains, “Expectations are the core of our brain’s strategy for making sense of the world. Your brain is constantly generating an expectation and then comparing new inputs to it. When reality matches the expectation, dopamine is released, and you move on to the next expectation. If a mismatch is perceived, cortisol provokes closer inspection.”

Quote by Dr. Breunig

When we, as businesses, are transparent with our customers about what they can expect in terms of wait times, product quality/features, levels of service, etc., customers are actually more likely to value the service (even if it takes longer).

According to Salesforce’s global State of Marketing report, only half (49%) of the surveyed marketing leaders across both B2C and B2B brands believe they provide an experience completely aligned with their customer’s expectations—leaving a lot of room for marketing teams to align expectations with customers.

Before we set about creating plans for a delightful CX, we have to be transparent with customers about what their experience will be like. We have to be honest and realistic in our marketing messaging.  

Deliveroo’s chief marketing officer Inés Ures commented on this, saying, “One of the most interesting things about customer experience is around expectation – generally the perception of a ‘good’ customer experience will depend on setting expectations rather than a defined standard of what ‘good’ is.”

Actionable tips for being transparent in marketing:

  • Set clear timelines. When it comes to delivery times or the time it takes for a sales rep to get in touch with a prospect, set a clear expectation for when customers can expect something.
  • Don’t overstate how easy or fast it is to get started. Have you ever seen “three simple steps to get started,” then ended up using the better part of an hour getting an account setup? Avoid overstating the simplicity of account creation on your signup pages. When a customer sets up an account, show a numbered progress bar during the account set up. This keeps customers engaged and sets their expectations for how long account creation will take.
  • Set clear, actionable brand promises. In your website copy, taglines, email subject lines, etc. make your brand promise clear and actionable. Let customers know what to expect and don’t over promise on the benefits (e.g. time or money saved, faster than average shipping times, etc.).
  • Use specific customer quotes or reviews that align with your brand promise in your marketing materials. This will reinforce a customer’s expectations from their peers.
  • Use visuals to set expectations. Show a customer what they can expect in terms of your product or service. Use accurate product photos or screenshots. Don’t over-edit or over-simplify.
  • Survey current customers about their experience, then use that data in your messaging. If you think your product or service significantly saves your customers money, but only 10% of them report that in the survey, then you need to revise your messaging to more honestly reflect the reality of your current customers. 

2.    Getting to know your customers

Your customers’ needs: understanding what your audience want to solve

This element of the brand strategy puts CX at the heart of marketing by showing customers that your brand understands them, what they want to solve, and what they struggle with.

One of the key elements of creating a better CX is data. “Customer data has become the key ingredient in providing a better customer experience,” said Tom Davis, Chief Marketing Officer at Forbes Media. “Those who fail to adapt to this will fall behind.”

While analytics and predictive data models are key to anticipating customer needs, it isn’t enough to understand the nuances of what customers need and want. Effective customer experience marketing requires big customer data as well as personal meetings and 1-1 customer interactions. 

Democratization of data

Customer data allows teams to see the previous customer touchpoints, including support tickets, purchases, behavior, consumed content, received emails, etc. While this type of data is invaluable for teams wishing to segment based on actions take or behavior, it is often inaccessible (only 21% of companies report their data is accessible for the right people).

Traditional company structures put data in the hands of IT teams or account management. Having a consolidated place for full customer journey data is rare: 94% of companies are currently not capable of seeing the entire breadth of their customers’ experience, according to a Forbes Insights study.

94% of companies are currently not capable of seeing the entire breadth of their customers’ experience

In order for data to be the heart of customer experience, companies need to undergo the process of data democratization. Giving all teams access to appropriate customer data will allow them to make data-driven decisions faster, segment customer engagement campaigns based on behavior, address a customer’s question based on their previous touchpoints, provide customized content—and, ultimately, get to know the customer better and anticipate their needs.

A study by Aberdeen Group found that companies using analytics to craft customer engagement initiatives have significantly higher cross-sell and upsell revenues, better returns on marketing investment, and higher annual profits compared with those that don’t.

Actionable tips for democratizing data:

  • Foster a data driven culture. Increase data literacy within the organization by training teams to read and understand the data that means the most for their departmental goals. Create measurable KPIs for business goals and track them on open and transparent dashboards. And, most importantly, make decisions based on your available data.
  • Create user permissions. This is key for a secure customer journey. GDPR and other data privacy legislation means that access to personal customer information should be restricted. Give teams access to data they need and will find useful, but don’t give everyone blanket access to all information.
  • Elect an analytics rep for each team. Your company doesn’t necessarily need a team of data analysts and data scientists to be data driven. Choose 1-2 natural data talents from each team and give them more training on how to set up automated dashboards, troubleshoot issues, and how to pull the rights kinds of data for their team.
  • Use a single source of truth. Marketing teams have long struggled with tool-fatigue. Ensure your marketing team (and wider business) has a common language for discussing data and a single, trusted source for your metrics.

Customer listening

While providing truly remarkable CX-based marketing now relies heavily on data and predicative analytics, it’s still incredibly important for marketing teams (and the wider organization) to meet regularly with customers.  

According to Ryan Buell Professor at Harvard Business School, “it has long been believed that the more contact an operation has with its customers, the less efficiently it runs,” but that’s actually not the case at all. On the contrary, “the deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization’s operations help customers and employees alike understand and appreciate the value being created.” 

Image of the quote: the deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization’s operations help customers and employees alike understand and appreciate the value being created.”

One way to marry data and face-to-face customer interactions in a scalable way is to build customer segments based on behavior data, then talk to a representative group frequently. This allows marketing teams to get more context for behavioral trends directly from customers.

“Brands don’t communicate in one direction these days; it is a two-way conversation in real time with savvy and discerning customers,” says Carolina Martinoli, director of brand and customer experience at British Airways.

Take a YOU-centric approach

By talking to your customers more, your marketing team can move away from traditional marketing, which is me-centric, towards you-centric marketing. Me-centric marketing focuses on me (the company), what we do, why we’re the best, and why you should buy from us.

You-centric marketing flips that dynamic on its head—it focuses on the customer completely. Shahla Hebets, Founder and CEO of Think Media Consulting, describes you-centric marketing like this: “it requires that the needs of your business are not the driving force of your customer interactions… It means that this isn’t all about you. It is about your audience and their needs.” 

When marketing teams meet with customers regularly, they understand how to approach marketing and messaging from the customers’ point of view and solve their needs. That, in turn, breeds brand trust and eases them along their customer journey—and that the essence of CX marketing.  

On the other hand, “marketing that fails to account for the user’s mindset runs the risk of being disruptive and unhelpful,” says Andrew Capland, director of growth at Wistia

Actionable tips for better customer listening:

  • Focus on being useful. Your team should consistently ask “How can we be useful to people and not so product focused?” Instead of pushing your product, be valuable to your customers. Ask customers for specifics on the type of information they find genuinely helpful.
  • Meet with customers regularly. Create representative customer groups and have your marketing team meet with them regularly. Get feedback on messaging, content, and campaigns. Ask about their pain points and the problems they want to solve.
  • Sit with the CX team once a month. Have your marketing team members sit with the CX team one day out of every month or quarter. Have them listen in on calls, take notes on frequent complaints and questions. See if there are questions marketing can solve higher up in the funnel. Learn about the topics and formats customers are interested in.
  • Aggregate customer feedback. Your company should have a single source of customer truth. Aggregate customer feedback in that platform so your marketing team can see overall trends, then drill down into individual responses for more information and follow-up.

Learn more about the customer experience 

To learn more about how marketers are creating better customer journeys and the challenges they face in doing so, download our recent report done alongside IDG

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