Times have changed. Just 15 years ago, the novelty of the internet brought with it an emphasis on convenience. Cheaper, faster consumer goods won out in a market dominated by minimal intrusiveness and satisfying superficial wants.

Today, we’ve moved far beyond those basics. Customer experience, in fact, has become a vital part of differentiating one product from the next. Two otherwise identical brands can chart drastically different courses just based on how they decide to treat and prioritize that experience.

To succeed in this new age, you have to understand and adjust to client expectations. Consistency is as important as providing unique value within your industry. Let’s dig deeper into the basics of client experience, how we got to where we are are today, and specific strategies you can leverage to maximize that experience for your customers.

The Basics of Client Experience

In a way, the term is quite self-explanatory. Customer or client experience refers to the actual thoughts and feelings your audience has as they interact with your business and brand. There’s a crucial component hiding in there: your audience will have a client experience with you, whether or not you actively influence it. Or, as the Harvard Business Review puts it,

That experience may be good, bad or indifferent, but the very fact that you have customers, you interact with those customers in some manner, and provide them products and services, means that they have an experience with you and your brand. It’s up to you whether it’s superlative, awful or industry average.

The takeaway is clear. Unlike marketing concepts like brand loyalty, its mere existence doesn’t depend on your action. What direction it leans to, though, does. The actions you take and strategies you implement can make all the difference between satisfied customers who are happy to come back, and initially intrigued clients who will try their luck elsewhere after the disappointment.

Customer experience ranges across marketing channels. Virtual engagement, through emails and web content, can be as vital to it as visits to your store or a call to a customer service representative. The impact these channels make is easy to quantify:

It’s no surprise, then, that companies across the globe and in almost every industry are beginning to prioritize customer experience in all aspects of their business. That’s a long way from the age of convenience, where speed mattered above all else. But how did we get there?

Convenience to Custom: The Evolution of Client Experience

Think back to the 1990s and early 2000s. The internet was still relatively new, and promotional communication was largely one-dimensional. Any messages about a given brand or product likely came from the business to which it belonged, reducing the customer to a passive recipient.

This was the age of big retail. When you needed something, you went to a big box store; Amazon was still just an online bookstore. When your audience wanted to learn more about you, chances were they relied on materials you produced for that learning. In other words, almost everything happened on the terms of the brand in question. 

The Rise of Social Media

Then, in the mid-2000s, something changed. MySpace, then Facebook, began to amplify consumer voices. Suddenly, even strangers could communicate with each other about a given product, creating the beginnings of shared brand experiences. The advent of Twitter in 2006 as the first true instant communication channel only accelerated that process.

Today, social media is ubiquitous. Almost 3 billion users, more than a third of the global population, have an active account on at least one network. Many have more. For all its dangers, social media has amplified consumer voices to the level that they’ve become impossible to ignore.

The result has been a democratization of content. When a customer has a bad experience, they don’t just tell their friends. They tell Twitter, with potentially thousands of retweets amplifying that message beyond its original reach. It’s how a complaint about a broken guitar led to 13 million video views on YouTube and a loss of $180 million to United Airlines shareholders. 

Increasing Competition Leads to Customer Power

The internet as the great equalizer played out in more than just new communication channels. It gave rise to more businesses than ever before, many of them competing on nearly even level ground with the giants. Amazon has become much more than a bookstore; meanwhile, niche alternatives like Etsy have carved out a spot for their own, specialized markets.

With choice comes higher expectations, both digitally and in a physical environment. If customers can choose between two otherwise identical products, experience immediately becomes the top differentiator. It’s another way in which the internet, and its easing of business creation and marketing, has led to rising client experience needs.

Data Capabilities Build Customization Possibilities

Finally, the rise of data has provided significant opportunities for marketers that simply didn’t exist years ago. Just a decade ago, a digital map was a printout from a website. Today, it can feed in real-time traffic, weather, and parking information. As such, this single tool has moved from a helpful visual to an invaluable part of the overall visit experience. Or comparison shopping was limited to one or two brands at the local mall but is now a few clicks on a website with personalized options automatically generated. 

We’re still very much in the growth phase of this factor. The vast majority of business data today is unstructured, meaning it’s not currently and not easily quantifiable. But as businesses have begun to uncover the ways in which they can leverage data gathered through their customer journey into more personalized experiences, its rising capabilities have led to increasing expectations.

Today, 36% of consumers would definitely become more likely to buy a product as a result of a personalized experience. Almost 50% would even wait longer to receive it just to get that experience. Finally, a study by SalesForce found 57% of consumers would actually give up their personal data to receive that customization. 

And again, new advances in this area have led to increasing expectations. A customer who receives a personalized experience at one firm will begin to expect it in others. Data thus becomes the final factor in leading to client experience as we know it today.

How Can You Optimize the Experiential Component for Your Customers?

You know it matters, and you know the factors that have influenced the rise of customer expectations. Time to get specific. In both digital and physical environments, consider these tactics to optimize client experience and maximize your opportunities with both current and potential customers.

Measure Your Current Experience

You need to establish a baseline. None of the improvement tactics below will be successful if you don’t know where you need to improve in the first place. That’s why successful companies in this area also tend to be ahead of the curve in measuring the extent to which their customers enjoy or commiserate across brand touch points.

That effort starts with basic measures like Net Promoter Score, simply evaluating how likely your customers are to recommend your brand. Don’t stop there. Advanced surveys allow you to discover each touch point in more detail, helping you uncover improvement possibilities.

Finally, it pays to look for brand mentions on social media and review sites. Social listening, in fact, can be invaluable in finding unhappy customers and determining trends across the user journey that deserve a closer look. The more comprehensively you measure the process, the more specifically you can target your improvement areas.

Leverage Experiential Touch Points

Digital or physical, every business has in-depth touch points at which your audience cannot escape your brand and product. This might include a visit to your store or campus, a sales pitch in a B2B environment, or a website that builds essential conversion points. These are the key factors in your customer experience. It pays to focus on them.

Don’t treat them as functional steps to get to the next step in the buying process. Instead, treat them as what they are, experiences that can be deciding factors in the final buying decision. 

Apple has long been a front runner on the customer experience front, and that starts at Apple Stores. By spending significant resources to optimize the experience from the moment a would-be customer steps in the door, it can turn an otherwise functional buying process into something thousands of customers actually look forward to.

Treat All Audiences as Human

It’s tempting to treat especially digital audiences as faceless names and addresses that just need to be sold to. In the age of customer experience, that’s not nearly enough. If every touch point matters, you have to make sure they matter for you as much as your audience.

Especially in B2B contexts, marketers have long considered the buyer’s journey as largely rational, with little room for emotion or experiential additions. Research shows that’s no longer enough. Evidence now points to emotional storytelling as a core decision driver in this context, and the experiences your audience has with your brand have to be a part of it.

It all comes down to treating your audience the right way. Approach them as you would in person: friendly, with a specific point of view, but ready to hear theirs as well. Treat them as human, and their brand experience will almost automatically improve as a result.

Turn Content Into Experience

Beyond your obvious touch points, it also pays to go beyond. Every piece of content you publish could be an opportunity to turn information into an experience. Such is the world of virtual engagement in today’s environment.

What that looks like can differ widely based on channel, audience, and industry. A simple blog post might be better as a video, or perhaps even more so, an interactive storytelling opportunity. 

Take the above example of a college or hospital map. At its bare minimum, it’s a wayfinding tool. Ideally, it also acts as a way to communicate core brand messaging and clear out hurdles (like traffic, parking, and live appointments) that might prevent the conversion point. Add a virtual reality component, and it becomes a truly virtual experience that your audience won’t soon forget by increasing the digital interactivity. 

Provide Exceptional Customer Service

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of customer service as part of the client experience. Globally, more than half of consumers admit to raised expectations compared to last year when it comes to customer service. When they have a question or problem, they look for help. What happens next will define their opinions of your brand and its products or services.

Don’t underestimate this point as an opportunity to add value to your client experience. In their race to the top, brands are increasingly realizing that simply providing the right level of service can go a long way towards differentiating them from their competition. Once you get that positive reputation, you’ve gone a long way in the persuasive process.

Customer service matters from the moment you gain a new customer throughout their lifespan. In fact, the same Microsoft study linked above found that across the globe, 96% of customers say their brand loyalty improves as a result of a positive customer service experience. The more and the earlier you can influence this experience, the better.

We recognize the importance of customer service and client experience as a whole. That’s why we treat each of our clients as valued members of the Concept3D community, who will receive the personalized attention they need. In fact, every client receives a CS manager personally assigned to them for any questions, planning, and problem solving. Contact us to learn more about that process, and how you can leverage our solutions to achieve similar heights with your organization.