Dare to be Different… Your Quest to Enhance Your Customer Experience Journey
In today’s dog-eat-dog business environment, it is essential that you develop a strategy to stand out in a crowded marketplace—to separate yourselves from your competition. Simply put, to be different!
Theodore Levitt, the renowned economist, professor at Harvard Business School and editor of the Harvard Business Review, had the following to say in his 1991 book, Thinking About Management: “Differentiation is one of the most important strategic and tactical activities in which individuals and companies must constantly engage. It is not discretionary. And everything can be differentiated, even so-called commodities such as cement, copper, wheat, money, air cargo, and insurance.”
Price is the enemy of differentiation. By definition, being different is worth something. Consumers are willing to pay a premium, redefine the buyer/seller relationship, erect barriers to the seller’s competitors, and establish the seller as a trusted advisor when a differentiated platform offers perceived value in the marketplace.
Even with all of the attention paid to branding these days, more and more industries and organizations are being commoditized. In other words, fewer and fewer are able to differentiate themselves through the eyes of the customer. Commoditization will impact you and your team if you allow the focus of the consumer’s decision to be the offering rather than the quantifiable difference that you bring to their business and family.
Brand Keys, a loyalty and engagement research consultancy, analyzed 1,847 products and services in 75 categories via its Customer Loyalty Engagement Index®. It found that only 21% of all the products and services examined had any points of differentiation that were meaningful to consumers. Of interest, Brand Keys examined the insurance industry and determined that there is little to no differentiation through the eyes of the consumer. How tragic. Compare this to the automobile industry where brand differentiation is high—Volvo (safety), BMW (driving), Mercedes (prestige) and Ferrari (speed), to name a few.
So what is missing? A differentiated value proposition supported by a unique consumer experience.
The Customer Experience Journey
What is the Customer Experience Journey? It is the sum of all experiences that the customer has with you and your agency – the actions and results that make the customer feel important, understood, heard and respected. Each customer interaction molds and shapes the Journey. While you may take great pride in the “features and benefits” of your offerings, it is important that you access the degree to which you are stimulating the emotions of those whom you serve. In order to accomplish this, your agency must deeply engage your customers’ emotions in addition to, and even above, their intellect. You will hit roadblocks unless you are able to discover your customers’ goals, passions and struggles, which opens the door for an intense and lasting relationship—an emotional connection that transcends price and product.
It is essential that you realize that building a memorable customer experience involves strategy, discipline, technology, relationship management, branding, leadership and commitment – all wrapped in a process to engage, surprise and delight. Each and everyone one of the world’s most admired companies – Apple, Google, Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines, BMW, Starbucks, to name a few – spend countless hours on how best to deliver a unique customer experience.
Your Customer Experience Journey will guide your customers through a range of emotions which affect their decisions including fear, greed, pride, envy, anger, pain, and guilt. In the business of insurance, compliance, employee benefits, and risk management, fear is a real motivator. Fear of losing something. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of injury. Fear of risk.
Emotional connections are essential components of the Journey. Research indicates that more than 50% of the customer experience is subconscious, or how a customer feels. The sub-conscious brain is a fertile garden in which to sow positive seeds. The mind is highly selective, processing millions of pieces of information each second. Whether you realize it or not, each member of your firm is impacting the subconscious in each step of the Customer Experience Journey.
In designing and delivering a Customer Experience Journey, you must have a plan to engage the consumer. Emotional engagement is the foundation of the customer experience. People rationalize personal decisions first but make decisions based on feelings. A great experience transcends the rational attributes of a product or service (e.g., price).
Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning fashion photographer said it best: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”