Getting the little things right
The moment of interaction has become the new marketing background, say Andy Chambers, Daljit Singh, Mike Bennett and Fergus Jackson; it is in the small details that brand loyalty will be won or lost.
Against a background of doom and gloom and the failure of marketing, many marketers will turn to radical,even revolutionary responses such as the 'big picture', transformational ideas proposed by the likes of Seth Godin and Gary Hamel. Godin talks of 'purple cows', remarkable products that the right people seek out and
tell their friends about. Hamel argues for fundamental corporate innovation. Other commentators urge us to transform our business in pursuit of a unique purpose or game-changing idea.
These approaches are valuable, but business transformation takes a lot more than a good textbook. Innovation and creativity are vitally important, but they can be difficult and expensive for a CEO to implement in a company, still harder for an embattled marketer.
Rather than reaching for another 'grand plan', marketers can take a different tack. One that reflects the state of customer brand relationships today. The answer is not (only) major investment, new corporate strategies and paradigm shifts; it's about getting the little things right. To get the attention and permission of cynical, empowered customers, you have to focus in on the moments of truth: the points at which the customer interacts with the organisation, product or brand. It's now behaviour that matters.
Think about the last time you recommended a brand, product or service to a friend or colleague. Was it the company's purpose, unique proposition or advertising strapline that you mentioned? More likely it was a smaller detail of their product or service that caught your attention. Simply getting the basics of a service right seems all too rare these days. Getting the little things right can be a powerful differentiator!
Other details may even have delighted you. The call centre operator who goes 'off the script', the delivery driver who puts your groceries away in the kitchen for you, the website that remembers your preferences, or the delight of unwrapping a new iPod.
The key is to avoid appearing contrived. Research by Shaw and Ivens in 2004 revealed that 95% of business leaders say customer experience is the new competitive battleground and a source of sustainable differentiation. Marketing now needs to reconnect, simplify, get smaller and more granular.
Marketers should be concerned with the product or service ahead of the communications. They need to get their hands dirty. They need to recognise that every interaction with their product or service is a conversation that needs careful consideration and investment. Marketers need to take part in their customers' conversations.
"We need to move beyond high altitude thinking towards a closer engagement with the world made flesh."
Maurice Merleau Ponty (philosopher and designer)
Moments of truth
The moment of interaction is the new marketing battleground: how do we start real conversations, let the customer in, show respect, deliver what they need, give them reward, leave them wanting more? Each moment is an opportunity to provide value to the customer and create more security over their custom: learning to use something new; navigating your way around a menu; finding what you need in a store; getting answers to your questions; selecting the right product. Technology can now support many of these moments allowing the business to deliver better service and experience, efficiently and to many more customers.
Concentrating on 'moments' is not a new marketing concept. Jan Carlzon's well-known 1987 book Moments of Truth
described the importance of the moment of truth every time a customer touches an organisation or company. Invest in these 'moments' and, Carlzon argued, the customer experience can be a powerful source of competitive advantage. More recently, Ian Ryder (VP marketing at Unisys and HP) wrote compellingly about practical approaches to 'moment of truth management'. Get these moments right and you have real communication (attention, two-way dialogue, understanding, commitment and the start of a relationship).
Turning attention to the moments of truth necessarily involves moving the intelligence of an organisation closer to the points of interaction. As Stephan Haeckel has written in The Adaptive Enterprise
, the brain needs to move from the head to the fingertips so that the business can 'sense and respond' quickly and appropriately. Instead of the slow, bloated and ineffective command and control marketing and communications of old, we need to see a responsive 'fingertips marketing' that takes simple steps, not huge strides.
Today, rising customer empowerment and marketing's malaise make each moment more important than ever. Of course, a focus on moments is not the only answer, but it is a vital and cost-effective part of the mix that is too important to ignore any more. And with the help of new technologies, ubiquitous computing and networks, this approach can be very cost-effective too. Applying the technology takes a new mix of skills - we must learn to apply it in a simple human way. The technology needs finally to adapt to us rather than vice versa. We need creativity, sensitivity and design excellence, but also a deep understanding of the nature of interactions, of culture and, crucially, the technologies and tools that can make each moment matter.
Done right, a small investment in making each moment matter can lead to significant rewards. Great 'moments' are more likely to be passed on by word of mouth (or 'virus-worthy' as Seth Godin would put it), getting better return for your marketing spend. The right kind of service is more likely to lead to emotional bond with a better chance of loyalty. Using technology to do simple things better is more likely to appeal to the early/late majority in any market - the group who distrust technology and are unimpressed by new features is much less wasteful than conventional communications - the spend only goes to the person who matters and is totally efficient.
Finally, it is cheaper to change and refine part of an experience or digital communication than it is to change an expensive advertising campaign or 'strategic' investment in systems or corporate ventures. Most important of all, you're having these conversations anyway. Each time a customer touches your brand or organisation, there is an opportunity to create value. Why not make each conversation as good as it can be?
If we are going to make each moment of truth matter, we need to understand what actually happens when a customer encounters us. How does the brain process information about the experience? How can we make sure it sends the right signals? Many factors need to be taken into account. Here are five that are particularly important. Applying technology sensitively to each factor will make a huge difference to the success of each moment.
Source: Atticus 13 (2007), p16
- Emotions matter
The first thing to recognize is that emotions matter.
"Emotions constitute an integrated element of the seemingly most rational decision-making. Whenever thinking conflicts with emotions, emotions win." G Franzen
Emotions are vital to human interaction and performance. Most people's minds are inattentive when they are dealing with a brand or business. We use 'pre-attentive processing' to perform the mundane tasks and navigate through all the noise. How can we engage these inattentive minds?
"In order to navigate through the shoals and hazards of a day in a fast-moving urban society it is necessary to be able to process a vast range of simultaneous sensory messages at low levels of consciousness." Alan Hedges, Testing to Destruction
The answer lies in how the brain processes information and the part that emotions play. Emotions are inseparable from and a necessary part of cognition. Our emotions change the way we think and serve as constant guides to appropriate behaviour, steering us away from the bad, guiding us towards the good.
The brain has two systems for processing information: an affective system (making visceral and behavioural assessments of the world around us) and a cognitive system (making more reflective judgements). Research has shown that automatic, 'affective' levels of brain processing act first and can control behaviour - neurochemicals bathe certain parts of the brain and modify perception, decision-making and responses. In the brain cognitive processing assigns meaning, more emotional affective processing assigns value.
Today, too much of design forces the user to operate at only the cognitive reflective level. We understand things, but don't engage with them. To connect with people we need to stimulate the affective system through more 'bottom up behaviour'. Use surprise, wit, and play to stir the emotions. Often products and services are designed rationally and they work perfectly, but no one uses them. Why is this? Perfect utility and usability are often not enough. An emotional element to an experience can often translate utility and usability into actual use.
- Put your whole self in
When we do pay attention our whole body responds - mind, nerve ends, physical responses. And it works the other way around too - things work better and we work better when we can feel and touch them. This principle, called 'embodied interaction', is particularly important when using digital technology to improve experiences.
Embedding technology in the world around us reduces the cognitive load of the user. When the physical and digital are blurred, things seem to work better. A good example of this is the London Underground Oyster card: touching the card on the reader-pad
helps affirm that it has been recognised and the trip registered.
"As computational processes disappear into the background, into everyday objects, both the real and the subject become contested. The environment becomes the interface." Rob Van Brandenburg
- The trouble with people
Customers are complex beings. The Human Factors discipline emerged in World War II to help design flight controls and other equipment the armed forces could use. The discipline has evolved and changed over the years, moving from the very tangible level of muscle operations to embrace more humanistic, sociological and contextual approaches.
The fundamental premise of Human Factors work is directly relevant to designing moments in the customer experience: we need to address the complex matrix of anatomical traits and human behaviours that make people so difficult to deal with.
We have to converse with unpredictable human beings and respond to/take account of their particular 'issues': irrationality, impatience, mood change, disability, fatigue, errors of judgement, humour, sensitivity/ embarrassment, resistance to change, social pressures, addiction, mistrust, illness, etc.
Human Factors work highlights the need for sensitivity and creativity in our approach to conversations with customers. Each moment can't be hard-wired or too systematic. It needs to recognise the individual user's personality, context, mode and mission.
- Each to his own
Recognising individual customer needs and profiles is one thing, but for conversations to work across different cultures and geographies we also need to recognise that a number of different cultural 'virtues' exist. Product and service design often tends to draw on a particular 'Californian' model, especially when digital media are involved. This is not surprising. Much of today's technology and human-computer interaction principles were developed in Xerox PARC and Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s.
Work at IVREA (the Interaction Institute) suggests that these 'Californian virtues' include pragmatism (a can-do attitude and belief in prototyping), audacity (focus on innovation and the pioneering spirit) and a certain lightness of touch (playfulness and optimism).
But if we are designing the experience for customers in Europe, different 'virtues' might be relevant and should inform how the conversation unfolds. These might include conviviality (a social, not solitary attitude), quality (craftsman-ship, individualism and local provenance), elegance (aesthetics) and a degree of friction (eccentricity and a degree of provocation). Different 'virtues' again are relevant in Asia.
- The bigger picture
Making individual moments more satisfying is a simple and inexpensive way of improving marketing and increasing customer satisfaction. But an even more powerful effect is generated if discrete moments are linked coherently to the larger customer experience.
"Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context and emotion." Donald Norman
A consistent and flowing narrative between the customer and brand is a sure way of building loyalty.