Credits: Branding powers CX NPS © Start Design

We live in a digitally enabled world, with the smartphone at its epicentre. For that very good reason, ‘mobile’ has been the imperative for brands looking to improve and differentiate their customer experience (CX). But as their apps and digital tools become as ubiquitous as the smartphones they were designed for, brands must do more than provide functional resolutions to customer pain points. Applying Human-Centred Design (HCD) helps focus on needs, contexts, behaviours and emotions, but true differentiation can only be achieved when people emotionally connect with a brand’s core purpose. Customer experiences that are designed to amplify these emotional responses will win through, enabling brands to rise above their competitors, build long-lasting loyalty and drive growth.

Technology is embedded into our everyday lives, helping us as never before perform routine functions seamlessly, and connect more easily with those around us. The true driver of this digital transformation is none other than the device you’re probably holding right now to read this article. According to eMarketer smartphone usage in the Middle East is amongst the highest in the world. Penetration reached 91% in the UAE and 78% in both Saudi Arabia and the UK, whilst in the US, 93% of adults own a smartphone. And when it comes to shopping, we know that smartphones are now as indispensable to people as their wallets once were. Data from Forrester shows that smartphones feature in over one third of total retail sales at some point in the buying process, and in store, 82 per cent of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision.

Rising expectations

For brands, the result is a massive pressure to invest in mobile first customer experiences, and constantly evolve and improve them as new innovations arrive, further escalating consumer expectations. Much of this investment supports more functional aspects of direct brand interactions from ‘doing’ the shopping to alleviating common pain points, liberating people to do more for themselves, when and where it suits them. Our smartphones are now the first thing we grab when it comes to comparing prices, researching products, checking orders, tracking deliveries, resolving problems, booking appointments and even paying for goods. Using our phones like this is a basic expectation – one that’s now considered table stakes and increasingly difficult for brands to differentiate around. Similarly, an AR app, allowing people to see how new furniture might look in their front room, may retain novelty now, but will fast approach homogeneity with widespread deployments and adoption.

Back to Branding

In today’s digital world then, smartphone-focused customer experiences, designed to make brand interactions and shopping easier and faster, are essential. Brands need to be present at all those ‘moments of intent’. Going mobile means brands are in their customers’ pockets – literally. But these experiences are no longer enough, by themselves, to win hearts and minds and drive differentiation. For customer experiences to resonate they must have character, personality and be authentic expressions of a brand’s unique promise. And that means identifying and amplifying what’s genuinely unique and different about a brand that will emotionally connect with people. Forrester has proclaimed that 2019 is the year that CMOs will use ‘branding to put the oomph into CX’, merging branding, technology and experience to harness customer’s emotions and revitalise brands. 

Time is of the essence

With increasingly saturated competitive marketplaces, diverse and shifting channels and emerging consumer discernment, it’s crucial for brands to invest into their branding activities in concert with customer experience management (CEM). Winning in customer experience means engaging customers on their terms, when, where and how they choose, and doing so in a manner that demonstrates to them that their time is valued. Removing or minimising customer effort is the first rule of CX, and it is also critical for branding. It is simply no longer an option to waste customers time at any point of interaction. 

Emotion beats tech, hands down.

Being able to build an emotional connection with people is now not only a prerequisite for creating winning customer experiences, but for building a winning brand. It’s about empathy, appealing to what people want, not just what they need. It’s about addressing why people should care and this often entails revisiting a brands core purpose and the values by which a brand operates. Why? Because the bottom line is that an emotionally connected customer is more valuable. In fact, research by Harvard Business Review found they are twice as valuable than highly satisfied customers. They spend more, more often, pay more attention, are more loyal and more likely to share their brand love with their friends and family. It’s not about shifting the focus of customer experience strategies away from convenience, it’s about doing it in an empathetic way that stimulates an emotional response. Connections based on feelings last longer than those based on function, convenience or necessity. 

Virgin knows this better than many. For approaching 50 years, Richard Branson has built the Virgin brand on human, not corporate, values, readily identifying opportunities where the consumer was being underserved or exploited. It has been well documented, that by doing the right thing by the consumer, Virgin has been able to correct market wrongs and build consumer trust. Today’s digital world and Virgin’s keen eye on the customer enabled the 2017 launch of Virgin Mobile UAE – the first, fully digitial, app based mobile service. After launch, Virgin Mobile was awarded the highest accolades at The Gulf Customer Experience Awards, winning both Best Customer Experience and Best Digital Experience. Just last week at Telecoms World 2019, Virgin Mobile won Best Customer Experience demonstrating its unwavering commitment to customer care since launch. Virgin Mobile UAE is a clear example of winning by customer experience and branding. For our part, Start Design has been privileged to work with Virgin Mobile over the 20 years since launch in the UK in 1999.

Authenticity Wins Through

Authentic experiences build trust; the strongest emotional connection of all. This is why Virgin has been able to move relatively easily across unrelated business sectors. More than a company, Virgin is an idea to do the right thing. People understand that about Virgin and trust it to work hard to consistently deliver its promise. 

Winning customer experiences harness customers’ emotional responses, are true to a brand’s purpose, are aligned to defined values and behaviours and are consistent applied across all moments of interaction. All relationships thrive on reciprocity and winning customer experiences align with what people value and believe in most.