Experience-Forward: Putting people at the center of everything you do
At Horizontal, we embrace a mindset that puts people (consumers, clients, employees, and partners) at the absolute center of everything we do. This mindset helps us empathize with the needs of each individual and better understand what drives them.
We call it Experience-Forward.
Because when you focus on the experience you're creating FOR people, you take a mission-critical first step toward creating greater possibilities between brands and customers. After all, everyone deserves to be treated like a human.
Not only is a people-first approach the right thing to do — it’s also the best way to win over customers and boost your customer lifetime value (CLV).
For 84% of customers, being treated like a person — and not a number — is very important to win their business. (Salesforce, State of the Connected Customer 2018.)
We're moving from the digital-first movement of customer convenience to a "just do it for me" mentality of immediate gratification which has been enabled by digital.
Predicting post-pandemic customer behavior
Now, more than ever, having an Experience-Forward mindset is critical as we enter the post-pandemic era. COVID-19 has drastically shifted the way customers engage with brands (in-person and online) along with their buying habits. To continue meeting customer expectations, brands need to adapt and pivot in more nimble ways.
No one knows exactly how customer behavior will shift once the pandemic is officially over, but that’s not stopping industry analysts from sharing their forecasts. At Horizontal, we've analyzed multiple studies and published reports and articles to find the patterns, anomalies, and even conflicting predictions.
The seesaw of shopping online vs. in-store (or somewhere in-between)
It’s no surprise that lockdowns and quarantines around the world sparked a surge in digital shopping. But as we slowly come out of the pandemic, what consumer sentiment and trends are analysts seeing?
Digital shopping is here to stay
Many industry pros, like McKinsey's research study, noted "digital shopping is here to stay" indicating a consistent increase in online purchases across essentials, groceries, OTC, food, and even furnishings and appliances.
You can’t replace in-store “touch and feel” moments
At the same time, other experts are seeing trends that show consumers are ready to get back into the real world. These trends are driven by the notion that in-person shopping cannot be fully replaced. Forbes’ State of Consumer Behavior 2021 found "46% of respondents said they still prefer to shop in-person rather than online."
Most respondents say that an in-person brick-and-mortar experience allows for tactile (touch and feel) moments with products that can't be truly replicated in a digital environment. (Forbes, 2021)
Best of both worlds: “Phygital Reality”
If you want to stay relevant to your customer base, planning for both is your best bet. Elevating both digital shopping and in-person (in-store or sales) experiences allows you to serve the ever-changing dynamics of customer expectations. Research World cleverly coined it "Phygital Reality."
Phygital Reality is a hybrid of physical and virtual worlds where consumers can seamlessly live, work, shop and play both in-person and online. Digital tools allow consumers to stay connected while at home and re-enter the outside world safely as economies reopen. Businesses can integrate virtual processes into their physical spaces to give consumers who prefer to stay home the comfort to venture out instead. (Research World, 2021)
Loyalty hangs in the balance
One common theme analysts have found is loyalty — or more specifically — the erosion of it. A couple years ago, I wrote a piece about our belief at Horizontal that "brands are only as good as their worst customer experience." In that piece, I cited a stat from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
67% of customers switch brands – not due to price or features – but due to customer experience or a perceived lack of attention, personalization, and engagement by the brand.
In today’s experience economy, earning and sustaining customer loyalty continues to be in great danger. Not only must brands provide a quality product and/or service offering (a bare minimum for success), they also have to deliver it in an end-to-end, connected experience that consumers love enough to choose you over your competition.
And to make things even tougher, brands now have to deal with a volatile economy where companies often have to shut down — which, according to McKinsey, isn’t instilling a ton of consumer confidence in the market:
- 75% of U.S. consumers have tried a new shopping behavior in response to economic pressures, store closings, and changing priorities.
- 36% of consumers have tried a new product brand.
- 73% of consumers who have tried a new brand plan to continue incorporating it into their routine.
Since the pandemic began, 48.7% of respondents said they had replaced products they purchased regularly at physical stores with competitors' online alternatives. (Forbes: State of Consumer Behavior 2021)
Anticipation is key
So what’s the solution to these trends? If you're an established brand, don’t rest on your laurels. Continue to invest in meeting — and more importantly — anticipating customer needs throughout their journey with you from awareness and consideration to conversion and post-purchase support.
"Customer loyalty…is driven largely by customer experience. In fact…65% of consumers said a consistently positive experience through their entire interaction (journey) would make them a long-term customer of the brand."
Keep in mind — customer loyalty is all about the long game. Prioritizing CLV over short-term profits will pay dividends. Rob Markey, co-author of The Ultimate Question 2.0: How Net Promoter Companies Thrive in a Customer-Driven World found in his research that “companies at the top of their industries in Net Promoter Scores or satisfaction rankings for three or more years—grow revenues roughly 2.5 times as fast as their industry peers and deliver two to five times the shareholder returns over the next 10 years.” (HBR Jan 2020)
At the same time, Salesforce’s State of Commerce report indicated that 55% of leaders are challenged to turn the customer data they own into insights. Fortunately, this is where the emergence of customer data platforms (CDPs) are helping brands get a holistic 360 view of their customers and activate personalized “next step action” pathways to purchase.
Within the martech landscape, recent acquisitions to bolster customer data intelligence include Sitecore's purchase of Boxever, Acquia's addition of AgilOne (now Acquia CDP), and Salesforce's continued maturity of their CDP. These acquisitions and platform evolutions will help companies aggregate structured and unstructured customer data. Additionally, as CDPs mature alongside AI, the convergence of the two will unlock better ways to drive personalized engagement.
Using predictive analytics, CDPs with machine learning will post a candid snapshot of customer behavior, allowing you as marketers to engage with them, in real time, throughout the sales journey. Rendering data that’s not only relevant to sales, but to all aspects of the customer’s relationship with your brand. (Clickz, June 2020)
The new customer convenience: Demand for instant gratification
From my perspective, we're moving from the digital-first movement of customer convenience to a ”just do it for me” mentality of immediate gratification which has been enabled by digital.
83% of consumers say convenience while shopping is more important to them now compared with five years ago. While consumers overwhelmingly opt for quality and price in purchasing decisions, convenience offers retailers a competitive advantage. The report found 97% of respondents have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient for them. (National Retail Federation, January 2020)
In the spirit of convenience, brands have found many avenues to make the lives of their customers easier. Whether that’s grocery delivery (something I love because inevitably I usually shop for food when I’m starving and end up with an 80-count bag of pizza rolls in my cart) or movie premieres on demand, consumers have told us they’re willing to pay more for elevated ”give it to me now” experiences.
(There’s a great stand-up bit by comedian Ronnie Chieng that pokes fun at our desire for immediate gratification, even taking it a step further with “Prime Before! Send it to me before I want it!”)
The pursuit of meeting AND anticipating the wants, needs, and desires of customers is a never-ending job for digital marketers. And as the consumer appetite for never-ending convenience continues to grow, brands must keep up with what’s next. Preparing for it will give you the best odds of winning.
Which leads me to my final point…
Embrace an Experience-Forward mindset
Whether your organization calls it “customer obsession” or “customer first,” putting people at the center of your work should be infused in the DNA of your company culture.
At Horizontal, our entire organization buys into this philosophy. We’re inspired by the janitor who was mopping the halls of the NASA Space Center during President Kennedy’s first visit in 1961. When JFK asked him what he was doing, the janitor replied, ““Well Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
In the same way, every employee at our company does their part to help us create truly connected experiences — from our CX strategists to our business analysts, platform consultants, experience designers, tech leads, project managers, HR personnel, and even office administrators. Everyone. We all live and breathe Experience-Forward.
People, process, technology, data
The key to achieving this collective mindset? Making sure our cross-functional teams and departments have the same shared objectives and goals to deliver a unified, connected experience for customers.
If your teams and systems are disconnected, how can you expect to create a seamless experience for your customers? This is where the complexity lies. Your C-Suite needs to drive connected experiences from top-down across your company — from corner to corner and employee to employee. At the highest enterprise-level, it's crucial that your organization's people, process, technology, and data are working together in harmony.
Adopting this approach isn’t easy, but the good news is that business leaders are taking this to heart. Salesforce’s recent State of Commerce Report stated “In the COVID-19 era, many leaders are putting people first.” Beyond bottom line profit, the top two priorities for leadership were employee safety and customer engagement:
- 67% of commerce leaders reported concern for employee safety and well-being as the top response .
- 59% of commerce leaders believe customer engagement is absolutely essential.
Turning customer insights into seamless conversations
Tapping into customer insights can help you develop sound CX strategies informed by 360 customer data and activated via an integrated tech stack. The result: truly connected experiences for your customers. This means every interaction they have feels like an uninterrupted “conversation” with your brand – no matter if one part of the conversation starts on a website, continues in-store, and segues over to the customer service call center. Every moment must be seamless.
At Horizontal, when we infuse our Experience-Forward mindset and our proprietary methodology into everything we do, it empowers us to build connected experiences – across channels and touchpoints.
By leveraging our curated set of services and combining them with our deep experience in data and technology platforms, we bring it all together into a single, cohesive seamless customer journey. Architecting a no dead-end, closed-loop CX lifecycle, while giving clients, companies and brands that competitive edge to win in the market and deliver an ROI. All to create greater possibilities between:
- Companies and employees
- Brands and customers
- Partners and prospects
- Our clients and us
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