It is no secret that the British high street is dying.
The ease of online shopping continues to trickle through to consumers, stimulating declines in footfall for brick and mortar stores.
There is, however, one shop which remains unscathed by this industry shift. After just opening the world’s largest retail store, Primark continues to thrive with a new megastore offering beauty salons, Disney cafes and even an instore barbers.
So, what does this have to do with digital marketing, you may ask.
The answer lies in the strategy Primark has adopted to stay competitive against online rivals. These rivals, including Boohoo, ASOS and Pretty Little Thing, do not operate with physical brick and mortar stores, giving them far fewer overhead costs than Primark. These online retailers can then offer lower prices to consumers, as well as perks like next-day-delivery and student discounts, which are not offered by Primark.
To combat this, Primark has invested heavily in an in-store approach to, basically, make entering their shops worth it. This strategy centres around customer experience marketing, offering a tangible asset which competitors are unable to mimic.
But, why is customer experience marketing relevant to the digital world?
A customer experience definition…
According to Meyer and Schwager (2007), customer experience is the internal and subjective response by customers to any direct/indirect contact with a company.
Customer experience is, therefore, the combined interactions a customer has with a brand. This can be through social media, in-store, on the website, watching advertisements, etc. The basic concept involves the ‘impression’ which consumers gain from contact with the brand. This impression is stored by users in their long term memory, making it a pretty important factor for all firms to influence positively.
Why is it suddenly important now?
Competition online is growing each day and customers are fully empowered in the digital world. Long gone are the days of consumers simply visiting travel agents, accepting the first hotel they offer, then turning up abroad and realising it is a dump.
Now, with Airbnb, Tripadvisor and Booking.com, consumers have an array of choice. In fact, they are spoilt with it. Customers can browse hotels online at their leisure, reading endless reviews until they find the ideal balance between price and quality.
So as digital marketers we may not need to install a Disney cafe, beauty salons and barbers into our site, but we certainly do need to seize the attention of our customers in the face of vast competition. Not only seize it, actually, but we also need to impress, wow, dazzle and satisfy the attention of our customers if we want to avoid losing them.
And how do we do that, you may ask? Well, I am sure you guessed it. We do it with a handy concept called customer experience marketing.
Learning from offline customer experience marketing
The most basic level of online customer experience, according to Convenience and Convert, lies in the following rule of three:
If we use this rule of three, we are said to be on our way to achieving a lasting customer experience for consumers.
In my opinion, however, although these are important for online survival, I would suggest adding a couple of additional rules which we can borrow from the successes and failures of the offline world.
4. Industry trends
5. Consumer behaviour
Following the rule of three is important, but so is understanding what our customers want and how the industry is trending. Blockbusters faced strategic drift after failing to notice key industry shifts and ignoring the changing behaviour of their customers. This meant they continued to operate in store whilst competitors such as Netflix grew rapidly in the market.
In an opposite manner, Primark has used shifts in the industry and customer behaviour to adapt their customer experience. They noticed consumers favouring the ease of online shopping and next-day-delivery, as well as the fall in popularity for high street shopping. To combat this, they offered a customer experience which could not be replicated by their online competitors.
In short, this is what we need to achieve. To find out how we do it, simply read on below.
Creating a digital customer experience
By answering queries from customers, you are contributing to their experience. The first place, therefore, which we can implement a customer experience is in the SERPs (search engine results pages). For those who don’t know, a featured snippet is a format on search engines which aims to provide the user with a direct answer to their question. The aim of a featured snippet is to give this direct answer without users needing to click through to the site. In practice, if you are featured in the snippet, your brand receives far more exposure in the search results.
Sites who answer questions in a clear and concise manner are the most likely to obtain a featured snippet. Writing articles well, with a straightforward format, is a well-known way to boost your chances of being in a featured snippet box. Why? Because you are providing the most relevant answer to users and giving them what they need rather than a load of waffle. Now, this may seem purely for your benefit, but actually, it is for consumers.
When your content is relevant enough for Google to include it in a featured snippet box, you improve the customer experience by solving their issue and preventing them from having to scroll through irrelevant answers to find their query result. This will draw them directly to your site where they can leave, impressed, wowed, dazzled and satisfied with the experience you provided.
So, although getting your content into a featured snippet may seem to be solely for your benefit, it is actually all part of improving the customer experience too.
According to the latest State of Service survey, 68% of consumers prefer chatbots if they need quick communication with a brand. Why, you may ask? Surely it is quicker to talk to someone in person?
Going back to the rule of 5 (ease, speed, accuracy, industry trends and consumer behaviour), it seems our customers favour both ease and speed over personal contact. In our fast-paced world, many prefer to interact with a website chatbot when searching for a quick answer. In fact, some favour it so much that they are willing to make purchases through chatbots, but this isn’t the norm quite yet.
There are currently two types of chatbots on offer. The first are those which operate as virtual assistants, and the second function within messaging apps. The virtual assistants, much preferred by consumers, use machine learning to improve their interactions. In comparison, messaging chatbots are operated through pre-programmed rules. Unless programmed correctly, these messaging chatbots have the ability to take something which should improve your customer experience and in fact make it far, far worse with irrelevant answers or a series of glitches.
Consumers can become easily frustrated if they cannot get an answer from a chatbot, even more so than if a human could not aid them. Therefore, with the rising importance of customer experience, it is worth considering whether your chatbot operates efficiently enough to justify it. If your chatbot leaves a customer worse off or annoyed, this feeling will resonate with your brand. So, think carefully about the customer service your bot is offering. If it isn’t top tier, let it go.
Back to our 5 customer experience factors, internal links can be extremely helpful for improving the ease of navigating your site.
Internal links point to another page on the same website. They are useful from an SEO perspective for spreading link equity across the site. By using internal links, we can help Google prioritise and crawl the pages on our site, showing which pages are ‘important’.
They can also greatly aid our customers in navigating through the website. With internal links, we are able to show our customers important and useful pages which may be relevant to them. This will improve their customer experience as we help them easily see related content.
Be careful though. Yes, you want to show your users content relevant to what they are reading and expand their knowledge further. But, this can be a slippery slope. It isn’t uncommon to get hooked into writing unnecessary sentences or words purely to be able to include an internal link. Really ask yourself if the link fits and if your readers will benefit from it. Don’t forget, we are trying to improve the customer experience here.
This is a ranking factor in itself, but also worth pointing out since a lack of mobile-friendliness will drastically worsen the customer experience of your site. In fact, it will probably just result in customers leaving your site instantly.
Referencing our 5 factors, ease, speed, and consumer behaviour are the most important here. With a mobile-friendly site, the user experience should be eased as they find what they are looking for with little trouble. Shifts in consumer behaviour have seen patience dwindle as our users expect a fast site with easy access to information. This means if your site is slow loading and not optimised for mobiles, your customer experience offering will be very poor.
Yes it is time consuming to do and yes it may cost you to outsource this. But Primark spent £70 million on their project so allocating a small amount of your budget to this is hardly unreasonable.
Stay up to date with your industry
When a firm holds a sustainable competitive advantage, it has something which no other firm can replicate. This can be gained through routes such as patents, trademarks or government regulations for example.
Creating an excellent customer experience may give you a competitive advantage, but sadly it is not enough to make it a sustainable one. In fact, most firms do not hold a sustainable competitive advantage. This means most advantages which firms hold can be replicated by competitors, probably even better than they are currently doing it.
Despite this not being ideal news, the concept gives you one silver lining. It means that although your competitors can replicate your activity, you also have the ability to take their ideas and do them better.
Keeping up to date with industry trends and competitor activity is the last lesson in customer experience marketing for today. It is what kept Primark going and what led to the failure of Kodak, Nokia and Blockbusters. To do this, we need to stay aware of our close and narrow competitors.
Analyse industry trends, competitors and changes in consumer behaviour on a regular basis. If you don’t you will fail to understand competitor activity whilst they continue to use your ideas. If you do, you will have the ability to continuously adapt your customer experience strategy for things like featured snippets, chatbots, internal linking and mobile usage.
This, in turn, will sustain you the competitive advantage you need to survive.