Why Companies Are Failing to Grasp the Digital Customer Experience

In a 2016 report, the Economist Intelligence Unit (The Economist’s research arm) makes a bold assertion: “Customer experience” will overtake “mass advertising as a preferred channel to the customer.”

The report, titled “The Path to 2020: Marketers Seize the Customer Experience,” claims that marketing departments will be increasingly responsible for the end-to-end customer journey by 2020—and nailing customer experience will mean the difference between success and failure in the new digital economy.

It’s not a unique opinion. Customer experience—specifically digital customer experience—plays a central role in just about every major research report published recently. Nailing the digital customer experience is a big deal. According to research by McKinsey, “for every 10-percentage-point uptick in customer satisfaction, any company … can increase revenues by 2 to 3 percent.”

So how are brands faring? Despite all the attention, research from firms like Accenture don’t paint a pretty picture. Only 7 percent of brands are exceeding customer expectations, and few companies feel confident in how they’re implementing new digital customer experience initiatives.

New research from IBM’s Institute for Business Value may have some answers to why this is the case:

IBM digital customer experience

Executives and customers are not seeing eye to eye. As IBM writes in the report:

Many executives have tried to put themselves in their customers’ shoes emotionally. Yet, even with mountains of customer data at their disposal, executives are still susceptible to projecting their needs onto their customers with an inside-out point of view.

Many companies are implementing new digital customer experience initiatives, but if they are not implementing them for the right reasons, they are going to fail. The disconnect in how both sides rank the eight factors is pretty obvious. Above everything, customers want speed and convenience, but executives think they want control. It’s a classic example of brand-centric thinking: Since CMOs and other executives spend all their time thinking about their brand, they can’t help but think customers do as well.

Executives and customers are not seeing eye to eye.

Nicholas Toman, Brent Adamson, and Cristina Gomez explored this phenomenon in their fascinating Harvard Business Review article, “The New Sales Imperative.” They explore how B2B brands have tended toward customizing customer journeys to each prospect, providing them with as much information as possible to demonstrate value and empower the buyer. Yet their research showed that this kind of thinking does more harm than good. A reactive sales process led to an 18 percent decrease in purchase ease. Meanwhile, a “proactive, prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86 percent.”

It all connects back to a critical truth: Customers don’t want to waste their time. It’s why Amazon, Google, and many other digital-first champions have emphasized speed over everything. They understand that in a world filled with endless choice, brands creating delightful, fast, and easy customer experiences are much more likely to succeed. Ultimately, that’s what being customer-centric really means.

Image by Alf Hiemisch / Getty

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