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The Evolution of the Role Brand Plays in Customer Experience

April 25, 2022

Over the last few years, customer experiences have taken a different shape. Once considered only the functional (or transactional) part of business, CX is now shifting into a more thoughtful scenario of how a brand can logically deliver an experience.

At last week’s Quirk’s Event in Chicago, Mark Willard, President of CX at Phoenix MI, shared key findings from recent work that examined the relationship between customer experience and brand. The goal was to help answer the question, what is the evolution of the customer experience, and what role does brand play in customer experience?

A closer look at the relationship between customer experience and brand

When looking at a fully fleshed customer experience, we know that there has always been a portion formed by the brand, as the brand sets expectations and ultimately delivers (or not) on those expectations. We also know that a part of a brand is explained by the customer experience, set by word of mouth, positive or negative interactions, etc.

This idea has proven easy to say but difficult to measure and articulate. How much (and in which way) does CX drive the brand, and how can it drive an enlightened focus when we think about what we offer to clients and constituents?

When looking at CX, the pandemic was the catalyst in creating a “leap forward.”

When the pandemic changed the world, many brands rose to the challenge of creating more personalized experiences and doing the right thing for consumers, which earned them a lot of trust credit. For example, early in the pandemic, Nike repurposed some of its factories to help manufacture face shields and air-purifying respirator lenses. That decision showed consumers that Nike cared about doing the right thing, which earned them (and brands who did similar actions) trust credit.

In addition, the ability to come up with new methods of delivery and interacting with consumers on the fly allowed brands (whether purposeful or not) to give their customers a peek behind the curtain at what they have going on. But do we know what elements are needed to create excellent experiences to generate stronger brand KPIs?

Our hypotheses

  1. CX is evolving
  2. Trust is more critical than ever
  3. Emotions are emerging as the driving factor in brand evaluations
  4. While the final experience is important, it doesn’t allow you to measure the totality of the customer experience

Our approach

We took a look at five industries that represented various types of customer experience: automotive, hospitality, banking/investment/insurance, retail, and grocery. We conducted a combination of qualitative and quantitative work, with in-depth interviews in each sector to push past the traditional questions like “how satisfied were you” and tap into system-1 thinking and the fundamental emotions that drive behavior.

Our qualitative findings showed us that customers want to feel secure in their decision to use the brand, confident that the brand will do the right thing if there is a problem, treated like they are “friends & family,” and that the brand is making it “easy.”

What did we learn?

Trust is a complicated key component

In the past, we have used trust as an end state or a dependent variable, in the same way we would use traditional metrics in a CX study such as overall satisfaction or likelihood to recommend, which isn’t necessarily how it works. Trust is earned as the totality of a customer’s experience. The critical factor is operationalizing trust into more than just an end state but as a tool to help you manage customer experience.

Emotions matter

The qualitative work showed us that customers want to feel like a brand is doing right by them and that they are treated like friends & family, which is in that fundamental system 1 thinking of where emotions matter. Feelings are more consequential to customers now, so eliciting consistent and memorable experiences are essential to sustain customers throughout the journey.

Brand evaluations are based more on overall experiences

Many CX systems are optimized to measure the final interaction, but is that all that matters? Our view has always been that transactional work needs to be hand in glove with strategic CX work. For example, a customer can have a good final experience but still not positively perceive the brand (and vice versa.) At the end of the day, you will not measure your customer experience successfully by concentrating solely on the last transaction.

Easy experiences are now table stakes for customers

Customer effort has been an emerging metric over the past couple of years. In general, customers now demand that all of their transactions are effortless, regardless of the nature of the transaction. Benefits such as curbside pickup for groceries, buying a new car entirely online, or even having your tires serviced at home are the new baseline for customer expectations. Anything a brand can do to make life easier for their customers or give them a sense of control (whether they are actually in control or not) will aid in the positive feedback loop of your customer experience and enhance your brand perception.

Stay tuned for a new whitepaper that goes deeper into the paradigm shift in the evolution of customer experience, the new role of trust, and the emergence of the empowered customer. Have a question or comment about the findings we just shared? Drop us a line!

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