What are your customers expecting when they interact with your brand? Do they want to get from A to B as efficiently as possible or do they want an unforgettable experience?

In other words, is your brand focused on offering a Frictionless or a Memorable experience? Neither is inherently better or worse, but your organization must ensure there is total alignment between customer expectations and your CX strategy. This starts with understanding which experience your customers actually want. The answer is in your customer feedback.

The choice isn’t a straightforward binary either. For example, realizing your customers want a frictionless experience is a good start, but to what degree do they want a frictionless experience? The answer to that question is also in your customer feedback.

Where would you position your organization’s current CX strategy? Does it align with expectations?

The first step to a successful customer experience strategy is to be clear about your brand promise. Sampson Lee, godfather of the world’s first CX certification program and brain behind the PIG (‘Pain Is Good’) Strategy has said,

“When a brand delivers their brand promise repeatedly and consistently, it drives brand differentiation, commands customer loyalty, and achieves business results.”

Results come from being clear and consistent with customers about what their customer experience will be if they open an account at your bank, purchase from your online store or buy a ticket to your theme park.

Frictionless customer experience and memorable customer experience – what does it mean?

Frictionless experiences get you from A to B as quickly as possible. What those A and B points will differ from organization to organization. If you’re a bank this could be the process of transferring money between accounts or changing which account your home loan repayments are taken out of. If you’re an online store this could be the checkout experience from adding items to your cart, payment and ensuring it’s delivered to the correct address and in a timely manner. An example of a speed bump on that customer journey could be when payment details from past transactions aren’t automatically saved requiring repeat input of credit card details. When analyzing customer feedback, you’ll likely already know about these high level themes, but don’t assume you’re capturing everything.

On the other hand, organizations focused on delivering memorable experiences care less about moving customers from A to B as efficiently as possible. These organizations design CX initiatives that create lasting impressions on their customers. The Ritz Carlton, IKEA, and Disney are all examples of organizations focused on delivering memorable experiences. If your organization prioritizes memorable experiences, you’ll be looking for speed bumps impacting the immersion factor.

If you’re Disney for example, you might be very interested in knowing how a new ride at a theme park is received by ride goers and less concerned about complaints concerning high ticket prices at the gate. Drill down into specifics such as running sentiment analysis on that theme and segmentation along demographic and psychographic lines.

A comparative analysis might also be on the cards. For example, how was that new ride received by demographics targeted with marketing campaigns in the past 6 months leading up to the opening of the ride vs. everyone else?

Create ‘best fit’ experience with insights & research

In a 2021 article by HBR, there are zero-sum gains when pursuing frictionless and memorable experiences as a competitive strategy. Organizations can use both frictionless and memorable CX strategies to drive growth but they will soon hit a natural growth ceiling and will need to chose a path. As they put it, “brands must choose to focus on one or the other – to be either increasingly frictionless or increasingly memorable.” The goal is to develop a ‘best fit’ strategy where customer expectations perfectly align with the CX initiatives on the board. If we accept that customer expectations fall on a spectrum somewhere between frictionless and memorable, customer feedback analysis is how you’ll achieve that alignment.

Where does this leave insights & research teams? If you’re not already supporting the CX department achieve that ‘best fit’ alignment then you soon will be. In another 2021 report, this time by Customer Contact Week;

“65% of companies now place more importance on the customer experience than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and addressing changing customer behaviors and demands was at the top of their list of concerns.”

Increasing demand for insights will naturally put more pressure on insights & research teams to up their game.

This is precisely what Ryanair did. In 2015, it was voted Britain’s 4th most hated brand. The only things voted worse were the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage and the conservative party. Ouch!

As a budget airline it’s no surprise customers score their customer service 1.3 out of 5 stars (source: TrustPilot). 

Yet the UKIP performed well in elections and were successful in achieving their goal of pulling the UK out of the European Union with a simple majority popular vote. Nigel Farage also won several re-election campaigns despite his status as the second more despised brand in the UK. And let’s not forget the conservatives have also consistently won their fair share of elections. As a certain US former president would say, "there's so much winning." While Ryanair is not well liked by airline passengers, it nevertheless gets results.

As you can see in the above graph, passenger numbers have grown year on year since 2015. (source: CAPA)

This graph also shows Ryanair’s profitability has also grown since 2015, despite ranking as the 4th least desirable brand in the UK in that same year. (source: CAPA)

Ryanair is a budget airline. Everyone knew them as a budget airline and nobody was expecting them to be anything else. As it turns out, passengers are prepared to suffer slightly more frustration and discomfort for a lower ticket price and getting to their travel destination. That’s the frictionless experience marketed to travellers.

There’s a finite level of discomfort though which you'll tolerate for the sake of low fares. Ryanair started to listen to its customers and shifted its strategy. As it turns out, their customers wanted more of a memorable experience. This doesn’t mean they actually want a full memorable customer experience, but the airline’s understanding of where they thought customer expectation differed.

Realizing that it must provide the whole package to compete in the airline market, Ryanair improved on the “memorable” part of the experience.

It also improved on its core offering of frictionless experience by redesigning its website and app. The booking process was stuffed with annoying advertisements, it took a minimum of 17 clicks to book a flight, and there were booking barriers such as captcha codes and hidden terms and conditions. It wasn’t unusual for the airline to learn customers were paying for something they didn’t actually want. Ryanair has since improved their experience to the point where customers are able to book flights in five clicks. Is this memorable? Somewhat. It's certainly frictionless which is how Ryanair wins and retains customers.

It’s the role of the insight teams to play an increasingly central role in discovering when customer expectations shift away from the actual CX experience. In today’s world we have access to a greater range of technology to help us collect more qualitative, unstructured customer data and to understand and extract meaning from it. This presents unique opportunities for insights & research teams that want to help CX departments find their ‘best fit’ CX strategy.

Customer expectations are always shifting so this doesn’t end when you’ve found that ‘best fit’ either. Constant monitoring and vigilance is key to ensure your CX strategy perfectly aligns with customer expectations. It's also a prerequisite to ensure all departments across your organizations are proactively two or three steps ahead of new and emerging problems.

Survey collection (at-scale)

Disney is a great example of a truly memorable brand. Children worldwide dream of going to Disneyland and meeting their favourite characters, and many know lines from Disney movies by heart. Over the years, Disney has refined its strategy so much that;

“..it has become a unique interaction strategy, with touchpoints created for each of its featured products, and focus on the senses rather than the visual appeal only.”

(source: Zillion)

Disney’s brand strategy is focused on building customer loyalty across successive generations. “How Disney does it is inherent in the understanding of human psychology and what makes people tick,” argues Zillion Designs. “Essentially, people are happy creatures, and what makes them happy motivates them to do more. By ensuring that all Disney productions are inspirational and motivational, the brand touches customers’ hearts and captivates their imagination.”

By cultivating customer loyalty and retention through a memorable experience, Disney delivers on its brand promise. Setting up a strong foundation for capturing customer feedback and understanding it at-scale is vital in doing that. Disney understands its customers holistically because it’s constantly capturing feedback. For example, after going to one of its theme parks, visitors will receive a survey about their experience. Their survey team are also found on the ground capturing customer feedback as guests exit and enter the facility. They also capture in-app feedback, and guests can email customer service with suggestions. While their collection strategy is top notch in terms of scale, collecting feedback is just the start. Analysis of that feedback leading to actionable insights into brand alignment is where insights & research teams can really shine.

Frictionless vs. Memorable

It doesn’t matter which CX strategy you implement, provided it aligns perfectly with customer expectations. While the CX department will obsess over how best to design and implement initiatives to smooth over speed bumps in the customer journey, insights & research teams have a unique opportunity to step up to the plate. Successful insights teams are supporting the design of strategies by collecting qualitative and quantitative, unstructured and structured data from customers. They’re making sense of it at-scale and they’re fully utilizing all tools and platforms at their disposal to monitor for changes over time in customer expectations and brand misalignment. Great CX at the end of the day starts with great Insights.