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The Sum Total of Your Customer Experience is Worth More Than You Think

Its time to start thinking about your holistic customer journey as your most effective tool for marketing your brand.

A couple weeks ago I was part of a small panel discussion at the University of Minnesota. In this group were gathered a number of design professionals from different roles, all sourced from some agency or another. From founding owners to developers, social media strategists, market research, experience designers (me), etc. We were a robust group and all together, an interesting sample from the current make-up of a modern agency. We’d been given sample questions to study ahead of time, a list that could be condensed into a couple themes (let me first say that Snapchat was mentioned so many times you’d think there was nothing else available in the world). The questions were generic, student questions, I remember when I was sitting in their seats (albeit in a different location) I had similar questions. There was one question which sparked an interesting conversation “What is the future of advertising in the age of social media?”

So Glad you asked.

The amalgamation of service offerings

Two real world events happened right before this panel discussion which I knew could play an important role in the conversation if the opportunity presented itself. These two events were United Airlines “passenger re-assignment” and Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad in which a model leads protesters to finally unite the world’s racial tensions with a can of Pepsi.

A passenger is forcefully removed from the plane when he refused to de-plane. There’s lots of explanation, reasoning, etc however in my opinion both parties could have handled the situation a lot better. The officer especially.

These two events have a direct impact as to the future of what advertising will become in the following years. Each one forshadows the overlapping nature of an evolving market and the ever vacillating requirements of consumer. Each situation requres a mixture of PR, Advertising, brand, marketing, etc all wrapped inside of what I will be referring to the customer experience.

The sum total of experiences will overpower all attempts at advertising or marketing your brand

I wrote an article about a month ago entitled The Experience is King which explored the current trend of agencies and large consulting firms combining to focus on customer experience design. A trend we will continue to see as data supporting customer experience design and its immense benefits to an organization or brand steadily pours in. In that article I made a statement about advertising:

Experiences are arguably the new form advertising, marketing, and brand awareness will be and are taking shape in the future. These new partnerships will have to manage relationships, experiences, and conversations in real-time thanks to our inter-connected world. Companies that understand this will find ways to delight their customers at unique touchpoints — “The Experience is King”

This is right in line with a report published last year the Economist Intelligence Unit which said that the “Customer experience” will overtake “mass advertising as a preferred channel to the customer.” and that “nailing customer experience will mean the difference between success and failure in the new digital economy.”

When looking at the two real-world examples which were provided above these statements hold true. How hard will it be for United to bounce back after this snafu? Are they absolutely sure they can prevent it from happening again? I’m sure the answer to both those questions are yes, there are answers out there to solve both those problems. If the answers exist the question then becomes who do we turn to for help? If we look into the causation of the United incident we find out that every airline overbooks their flights. Each one(usually) has a playbook for how to incentivize customers to voluntarily give up a seat if this becomes an issue. You see it makes business sense for an airline to overbook a flight because the data shows that 6–15% of passengers don’t show up to a flight (check out more interesting info here) which means that airlines use algorithms to predict how often and what travel plans they should overbook. In fact, they know what times of year and which trips will have a bigger “cost” to them if they make customers unhappy.

“…much like when the Super Bowl happens, the downside for us if someone fails to make it home for Christmas is significant. Worst-case scenario, someone makes a mental note never to fly with us again.”

The experience their customers have on their flights has a direct impact on the success of their company. If any one of these “customer touchpoints” isn’t in-sync with the other, customer loyalty and happiness is impacted. In these cases, advertising becomes a line-item in a much larger plan of engagement, maybe even a smaller line-item budget wise? So who do these companies turn to for help and support? Their partners need to to be well equipped to understand their business model and how that business model is impacting by the ebb and flow of customer experiences and journeys. A good journey can change if not kept up to date because outside factors are constantly affecting it and once that journey turns negative it take a lot more dollars to spin your message in a positive light. It becomes your word against thousands, and people intrinsically trust family and friends over you anyday not only is basic psychology its also common sense.

Delivering your message through millions of channels

You see its not your ad on tv thats going to move people over to your airline or to drink your soda. Sure it may generate some awareness, I don’t want to downplay the importance of getting your product or service out there but the world isn’t ruled by a few channels of information anymore. Nope, there are millions of them now. Millions of services, tribes, social channels, influencers, you tubers, podcasts, the world is in constant communication and there are a lot more people with influential opinions to smaller brands of people. Niche groups that could become the lifeblood for your brand. Those influencers have the power to do just what their name implies, influence audiences to use their purchasing power for whoever is paying them the most money (ok not all of them sell-out but how else are they going to sit around and look good not having a job?) When the group of students were asked how they currently searched for product it was a smattering of websites, social tools, friends, influencers, and pop culture but everyone of them did some sort of social review before making a purchase.

Influencer power: Great power comes with great responsibility

Pepsi went the influencer route with Kendall Jenner because they could tap into their desired audience and know for sure that rabid fans would mouth market the heck out of whatever she was a part of. Its not a bad idea, in fact it can be very successful (Fyre Festival post pending) when done correctly however I can’t help but forsee a huge distrust of influencer marketing coming down the pipeline. These are people who are being given, paid, or encouraged to “rate” product in open and fair terms. Supposedly. Any psychologist will tell you that people don’t normally “bite the hand that feeds them” so to speak. I don’t want to speak against influencer marketing but I do want to say that not every influencer is worth your time and whenever a brand gets in bed with an actor, influencer, etc they are tied to whatever that person decides to do with their time good or bad.

Saving racial injustice one product placement at a time. I honestly think it was an innocent mistake of Pepsi and yes its a little in bad taste timing wise and content wise but I’d like to see how diverse the team was that worked on this was. I think we’d all be surprised and maybe realize that people were truly trying to say something meaningful in a silly commercial for a beverage…who knows.

When the Pepsi ad went badly, not only did Pepsi have to come out of the tailspin of negative comments but Kendall Jenner was quickly being pulled down into the mire with them. People will quickly start tying experiences together whether or not that was the intended result. Their experience with one will impact the other or be associated with the other permanently (or until they forget about it).

What to do about it

The takeaway from this post isn’t that I don’t trust influencer marketing (I’m not a huge fan but its effective) but that there is greater value in reigning in the channels you use to communicate with your audience and refocusing your efforts on providing quality services and products for them. Gimmicks don’t last. They have quick hitting results and can often lead to poor quality experiences if the proper time and attention isn’t put into them. Spending endless amounts of money to create that “viral” video is great but if you have points in your customer experience that cause a customer to lose their mind in anger you’re going to spend more for less. Maybe its legacy backend systems which keep your company from advancing into the new age of technology and cause your internal team to work at a snails pace. You should understand that no amount of advertising or marketing will fix those issues. There’s a bigger picture and that bigger picture can have bigger returns on your dollars than expect. In fact that bigger picture can have outside effects as well, from employee moral to increased production. Improving points along a customer journey will not only make your customers happy but the benefits to your organization cannot be overlooked.

Here’s where I’d suggest starting:

  1. Inventory your experiences: There’s no possible way to know what you need to tackle or improve if you don’t know where you’re currently engaging or being engaged. This can take many shapes and is usually a collection of documents. Think about social media channels, apps, websites, customer service, feedback forms, brick and mortar stores, technicians, delivery drivers, etc.
  2. Who is your audience? Once you have an idea of what it is you’re offering make sure you know who it is you’re talking to. Nothing beats this step than interviewing surveys. Some combination of cold hard data and empathy based information (interviews etc) is preferred.
  3. What does your customer journey(s) look like? We know the experiences. We know who is going through them. What we don’t know is how effective they are at solving actual needs. Plan on mapping out what that journey is making sure to get a sense for whats succesful and what isn’t. I like to capture emotional state at each stage for empathy sake.
  4. Build a business case around each item. I, as a designer, am saying that you need to use that business savvy with these decisions and start to monetize them. How much does it cost an airline to lose a customer due to a poor experience over one year? How about over ten? Do it to the best of your ability and remember that poor experiences have more impact than just customer loss. There’s the decrease in customer gain if those people start negatively reviewing and telling others. There’s the cost of having to deal with negative issues and problems, hiring additional support people, paying for mistakes or poor experiences, hiring PR firms, etc etc. The list can go on and on depending on the problem.
  5. Invest in what makes sense. If you need more advertising then by all means invest your money in those avenues. Make sure that there’s nothing else crippling your company to make the most of that time and money spent on those ad agencies.
  6. Ask for help. There are professionals out there who make this their lifes work. If you need help prioritizing your list then hire someone. If you can’t make a list at all, hire someone. Dont know what to do with your list? Hire somone. Personally, I love going into an opportunity and brainstorming a solution. Prototyping that solution and then helping to build it to completion. Its a dream come true.

Dont underestimate the power that customer experience has on your organization. Smart investing and resource allocation will pay good returns. I’m not suggesting you cancel your multi-million dollar super bowl ad but I am saying the return on your super-bowl ad doesn’t fix your problems. You get more eyes on your brand but if the mouths attached to those eyes don’t like what they’re experiencing you’re in bigger trouble than before.

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Brant Day

Brant Day

Experience Designer @slalom. Founder, designer, and Illustrator @wattle_n_daub. Boring people to death with UX, illustration, typography, and identity design.

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