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We’ve developed digital strategies for several clients recently and it’s had me thinking about the fact that we need to talk about ‘C’ words more than ‘D’ words.

Old catchphrases stick around because they ring true. One is that a Customer will form their brand perception based on what I frequently refer to as ‘the scraps and straws’of their brand experiences – digital and otherwise. Another is that customers will inevitably share their bad service experiences even more than their good ones. There’s no doubt that personalisation enhances your customer experience – so when I shop online at Tesco and see my previous shopping list there, then it’s already making my journey to purchase so much easier. It’s improved my online shopping experience and, because they have streamlined the experience just for me, I’ll keep going back and re-ordering – and probably adding more each time. So, a win for me and Tesco!

A recent study by Forrester asked brand leaders and recent customers across 227 businesses, in the US and Europe, how they each rated their customer experience and found huge gaps. Critically, when asked about wider CX Forrester said brand leaders ‘fundamentally misunderstood what their customers want’ and ‘misjudged the actions a customer was willing to take after a negative experience’. Only 20% of the brand leaders thought a customer would leave them after a negative experience, but 65% of customers said they had done just that and would again.

According to Forrester, customers most valued true personalised, timely two-way interaction (regardless of whether it was, for example, online chat, app messaging or phone) that responded to their queries in a timely way: 91% of brand leaders were ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that their business did this, but customers said they saw this regularly from a brand only about 15% of the time. 87% of brand leaders said their company offered ‘helpful and personable customer service over the phone’ but only 17% of customers agreed – a clear indication that brands need to bridge the gap between what they think they know and what customers really want.

It’s clear we need to consider digital strategy as one piece in a puzzle, that it’s just part of brand-building and that it’s critical to focus on the customer and the conversation. For that to be top-quality we need to focus on another C – your contact centre and the whole set of people, digital and AI tools that speak and listen to customers day-to-day.

McKinsey still refers to the fact that ‘if you want happy customers focus on happy employees’. They quote Southwest Airlines as a culture where leaders go out of their way to create happy employees, who then drive industry-leading customer satisfaction scores across all interactions, be they via Facebook or face-to-face. This seems to be because they feel involved in the company’s success, empowered to share ideas and maybe bend rules now and then. No doubt between climate challenges and the coronavirus the airline industry is feeling some pain right now, but I’d be willing to bet that, in the future, Southwest will come out of it all in better shape than some competitors.

Interestingly, reading this piece back it feels like it could have been written 20 or 100 years ago because the problem doesn’t change. Getting and keeping happy customers and the solution is probably the same too: listen to your customers, share what they say, create a culture that makes excellent service a norm and that’s made easy for your front liners to deliver. This is, of course, becoming harder as we have more and more channels to manage, and Forrester’s digital leaders did see boosting channel integration and reducing data siloing as top issues, but the goal of this should be clear.

Nothing’s changed about us as humans; we still love and hate the same things when it comes to service. So, my message is: don’t focus on digital strategy in isolation, be holistic and think about customer experience overall. Do your best to integrate everything from Instagram to verbal referrals, in-app messages to phone calls – and if you need some support in forming that holistic strategy then let me know, I’d be more than happy to help.