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July 23, 2021

'How' an experience is delivered 'is' the experience

Customer experience isn’t delivered in a vacuum — it requires a multilayered ecosystem that reliably and repeatably delivers on the brand promise.

How does it feel to interact with a company? Use its products and services? Walk into its store? Update its app? Reach out to the contact center? This is the customer experience: all the elements of a customer’s interactions with a company, emphasis on all. And that’s what, increasingly, defines the brand.

In the past, a brand existed in the minds of consumers largely through the messages sent through advertising, media and marketing. Today, a brand’s promise is primarily manifested in the experiences the brand enables. Consequently, success hinges on how those experiences are managed — how they’re unified for the customer and, in turn, how the brand’s organizational capabilities are unified to deliver the experience.

While companies grasp the importance of experience, however, few are addressing it holistically. In a recent Forrester Consulting study (requires login), 95% of respondents believe improving customer experience is either important or very important, but only 18% are prioritizing and investing in it enough to be getting real business results.

It’s an experience economy

The impact of today’s “experience economy” will only grow with time — yet if you tried to list the established brands competing and winning on the experience they deliver, you probably couldn't name more than 10. We think that’s because organizations are thinking about experience in a fragmented way.

Perhaps most businesses think experience revolves around delivering a quality product. Or that experience is equivalent to design — the way a product, website, store or mobile app works. They might think experience is defined by a technical platform like CRM, or a data platform that offers a 360-degree view of the consumer. Perhaps they think it’s the contact center…

In fact, though, it's none of these things, or rather all of them. Experience is how every last one of the interactions consumers have with a company makes them feel.

While thinking about customer experience in this way can be liberating, it’s also challenging. That’s because to achieve a consistent, predictable, satisfying ongoing experience for customers, brands need to orchestrate more elements than most companies recognize.

For this reason, we believe tomorrow’s brand leaders will be those that systematize experience delivery. We call this “experience orchestration” — creating a multilayered ecosystem that reliably and repeatably delivers the desired experience across business units, media, devices, geographies and customer contexts.   

How companies look at experience

Our Forrester study asked over 700 business and experience leaders to identify the practices and attitudes that lead to business success through customer experience. Among the most compelling findings: Companies almost never fully own the experiences they deliver. Instead, employees, partners and even customers themselves deliver major components of that experience.

The study also revealed the emphasis that leading companies place on the role of employees in creating the customer experience. They often consider the employee’s journey to be as important as, and also deeply connected with, the customer’s, and they incorporate this vision into their planning. These companies provide more and better technology to employees, ensure they have easy access to customer data, work to understand the mechanics of employee-customer engagement, view employee enablement as critical to customer success, and seek to use ongoing insights to improve how employees serve customers.

Employees are only one key element in the ecosystem that leads to powerful customer experiences, but their central role underscores the complex challenges involved with achieving success, and the need for companies to think in terms of entire systems.

Orchestrating the experience

When working with clients, we seek to marry the science of intimacy with the art of industrialization. In other words, brands not only need to understand the drivers of consumer preference; they also need to meet these preferences across channels, time and contexts — consistently, relevantly, repeatably and in whatever way customers choose to interact. Informed by our experience blueprint methodology, we enable our clients to efficiently scale valuable and valued experiences across their marketing, sales and service needs.

In just one example of experience orchestration, we’re helping a large European financial services company redesign its employee and customer experience. The business is shifting from an organization with 34 different products and six business units, to a customer-centric model based on 11 connected customer journeys. To ensure efficient, connected and consistent delivery of these journeys, we mapped each of them down through the organization’s key operating layers — the employee experience, the customer data, the technology platform and the business processes.

Equally, for a large prestigious automotive company, we’ve helped improve the customer and dealer experience by designing a new and streamlined interaction model that we enabled through a custom interaction platform. The combination of intimacy and industrialization enables improved customer acquisition and relationships at a lower cost per sale.

Throughout this and our other client engagements, technology is, of course, indispensable; however, we believe the brands that succeed will be those that ultimately bring the brand to life in a human way. Doing so requires listening intently, being empathetic and modulating your interactions based on changing signals from the customer — in short, using advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning to enable your brand to behave more like a human at a scale that no human can.

Not just ‘what’ but also ‘how’

Over half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” This idea can and should be applied to customer experience; in other words, how the experience is delivered is the experience. The fact is, consumers and employees will have an experience with your brand — and by taking a holistic approach to the design and delivery of that experience, you give yourself the best chance to influence how they feel about it afterwards.

Delivering an intimate-feeling experience at scale needs to be a top agenda item for the entire C-suite, from the CIO’s strategic plan to the CFO’s spending priorities. In the end, the brand experience infiltrates the organization itself, and will drive success going forward.

Cognizant Insights Team

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