Beyond touch points, by AKQA’s Bassel El-Sawy

Driving transactions from meaningful customer experiences means understanding the peak-end rule, writes AKQA’s regional managing director, Bassel El-Sawy.

Consumers’ expectations from brands they purchase and talk about are now higher than ever. If we want to earn the right to a customer’s transaction, we need to delight them at every stage of their buying journey. The collective sum of these interactions (the marketing, speaking to a sales agent, the way our product arrives in their hands) refers to the customer experience (CX).

Whilst CX is not a new term or concept, it has taken time for the advertising industry to shift and be ready to deliver on these experiential consumer expectations. Not only should we always be thinking customer-centric first, but brands also need to deliver positive experiences that are tailored at every touchpoint and interaction. Our thinking must be far more joined-up than ever before and it certainly takes us agency folk outside of our communication comfort zone.

Why are consumers demanding experiences, not just services?

2020 was a redefining year. Most businesses were forced to pause, take a breath and re-evaluate and adapt their business offering in response to the pandemic. There seemed to be a renewed sensitivity from consumers around CX. If customers had questions for a product owner, they wanted answers immediately. If they wanted to make a purchase, they expected it on their doorstep immediately. If they weren’t happy with a product then they expected to return it easily from their home. Whilst these shifts in consumer demands were not exclusively digitally oriented, it’s fair to say that if you weren’t strong online as a brand, then you were nowhere.

A recent study by Forbes identified that post-pandemic, 59 per cent of consumers reference “the experience” as being an important factor when deciding which brands or products to purchase. In short, as products became more commoditised, customers differentiated more based on experiences rather than only features and functions. Perhaps we as consumers became more emotionally sensitive during these times of prolonged stress and uncertainty. As such, our purchase decisions became more considered. Less functional and more emotional. Less transactional and, by default, more experiential.

Why is this important for brands and agencies?

The ‘peak-end rule’ explains that consumers make future purchase decisions based on two parts of their experience. The peak refers to the moment when the consumer experiences the strongest emotion (positive or negative). The end refers to how their experience ended, or the lasting impression you left them with.

As brand owners or custodians, we can easily ‘peak’ a positive or negative experience at any part of the purchase funnel. If a customer reads a bad review, or we fail to reply to a customer enquiry on time, or our website has a terrible check-out process, we can lose the customer before we even have them. While we can’t make everything perfect, we need to show the customer we are always considering them – their needs, emotions and requirements. The end can be as much about our post-sale care, communication and dialogue as it is about the customer’s product satisfaction itself. In other words, if I feel like you understand me and my needs as a customer, then I’m more likely to buy again from you in the future.

What else should be considered around customer experience?

Agent experience (AX) covers any aspect of the internal operational infrastructure, from training, tools or workflows, that makes it possible to provide the right experience to the customer. Such an operational ecosystem requires C-level buy-in and belief across the business. Only once the CIO, CMO and CCO start integrating their thinking can a unified vision translate to a seamless customer experience strategy across all touchpoints.

How can we improve CX?

The most impactful area of focus is around personalising experiences. If we define those important moments (or friction points) in the user journey that matters most to our customers, then we can work hard to improve and enhance them. We need to prioritise the experiences and ensure we can overdeliver with our changes. Identify and commit to improvements by setting KPIs and measuring and monitoring the consumer response. Although it may feel like small CX tweaks, consumer satisfaction can translate to dramatic business impact and loyalty.

In conclusion, we are not suggesting the need for CX specialists in-house. Rather, we are advocating the necessity for teams of curious individuals, thinking customer-first and challenging existing user journeys with their clients and brands. Customer experience broadens the scope of agencies beyond just touchpoints and headlines to delivering meaningful experiences for consumers.