Throughout my career as a customer experience (CX) practitioner, I’ve seen brands make the same mistake time and again by believing that metrics alone improve customer experiences and loyalty. Too many organizations are content with merely managing their experiences and setting better metrics as their only North Star.
What I’m here to demonstrate, though, is that companies can and should set a more ambitious goal: understanding how brand perception and shared values impact customer experience, then using that understanding to create meaningful Experience Improvement (XI).
There’s More to Experience Than Measurement
It’s a scenario I see too often within the CX world: a company proclaims that it wants to get a hold of its customer experience, then becomes content with measuring its Net Promoter Score (NPS). Even many of the vendors that provide this service espouse that same low bar. Scores like these have their uses for helping brands identify that there’s a problem, but that’s about all they can do. Numbers can’t discern what the problem is — they merely indicate that an issue might exist.
More broadly, numbers don’t just fail at pinpointing the source of problems; they also fail to account for the perceptions and trust drivers that determine whether customers transact with you. Some might say that shared values are wholly irrelevant to a transaction, but organizations believe that at their peril. In fact, I would assert that a customer’s brand is one of the most important elements of a successful, meaningfully improved experience (and whether they choose to make that purchase, or interact, with you).
The reason it’s well worth brands’ time to understand customers’ perception of them and that sense of shared values is because both are pivotal to your long-term relationships with them. The ability to create connective, fundamental relationships with customers is what separates marketplace leaders from followers. It’s what allows your organization to create meaningfully improved experiences that keep customers coming to you alone and keep them feeling cared for as human beings, while also strengthening your own bottom line.
Identifying Your Trust Drivers
Now that we’ve defined the importance of shared values and perception, it’s time to explore how organizations like yours can definitely assess them, then apply those learnings to your experience initiatives. Again, numbers cannot help you identify these brand elements, which is why you should expand your experience programs’ purview to include unstructured data. Unstructured data refers to customer comments, social media reviews and other open-ended feedback that can contain helpful context.
You can gather this information by installing open-ended feedback collection points at whichever listening posts best suit your unique customer journeys. Then, use an experience platform that can ingest that unstructured feedback to produce actionable indicators of how your customers see you. You can then compare that perception to the messaging and value proposition that your organization currently puts forth, enabling you to identify, and act upon, any gaps in between.
The ability to spot these gaps also relies on having an honest conversation with your internal teams about what your brand is and how you strive to present yourself to the world. Every organization has its value proposition — in this day and age, for example, many companies try to present themselves as eco-friendly and acting with integrity. You must also contend with the notions that customers have built up about your brand historically and regionally. Levi’s denim jeans, for example, are predominantly seen as workwear in the U.S., whereas their reputation in the UK is somewhat higher class. These considerations are key to understanding perception.
Leveraging Perception to Your Advantage
Perception and shared values, much like the wider world of customer experience, demand continuous study, planning and execution. Understanding and acting upon these factors is usually a difficult undertaking; you may find yourself contending with unwanted perceptions that seem beyond your control. But understanding how customers perceive you and whether they feel that their values align with yours is key to both your long-term relationships with them and, however indirectly, their individual transactions with you.
Though every brand has desired perceptions unique to its industry, let’s go through a few value propositions that customers will appreciate no matter which vertical you’re in. Unsurprisingly, ease of doing business is key among customer preferences. So too is community involvement. Customer experience programs can help your organization solve for both of these, after which you can implement findings in your business practices, relationship surveys and advertising.
Relationships, Not ‘Just’ Transactions
The reason why understanding and acting upon customers’ perception of your brand and its values are important is because they make or break relationships with those customers. A smooth transaction is important, yes, but if customers feel that their values don’t align with yours or you have a poor reputation, your organization will be unable to attempt a fruitful, meaningful relationship with them.
Perception is important because it impacts much more than your metrics; it affects your bottom line, your values and the experiences you provide.
Expanding your CX program to account for shared values and brand perception means looking beyond numbers, considering unstructured feedback and analyzing the trust factors that bring customers to you. Your organization must then act upon that intelligence to create experience improvement. Mastering how you’re perceived, what your values are and how you communicate those values to your customer hinges upon this process; so too does the success and deeply meaningful customer relationships that follow.
Simon Fraser is VP, Customer Experience Strategy at InMoment. He has designed groundbreaking customer experience strategies at InMoment for over a decade, with a special focus on the changing retail environment. Prior to joining InMoment, Fraser consulted on a portfolio of major global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and retail brands at Nielsen and GFK/NOP, including Coca-Cola and Asda. Funda Whitaker is Senior Director, Research and Insights at InMoment.