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PHOTO: Zan

Putting customers at the center of your business is no longer a competitive differentiator in today’s experience economy — it’s a requirement. At the most basic level, customers have come to expect an experience that is consistently enjoyable and streamlined. But what keeps them coming back time and time again? In what ways are elite brands going the extra mile to keep customers satisfied?

Here are five strategies companies known for their stellar customer experience (CX) are using to create and maintain brand loyalty.

1. Facilitate Meaningful Connections Between Employees and Customers

Outstanding CX and an engaged workforce go hand-in-hand within world-class companies. Temkin Experience Ratings showed companies delivering great CX have employees who are one and a half times more engaged than those with less satisfactory CX.

How can companies foster an environment for genuine engagement between employees and customers? The key is to provide employees with the tools and context required to make a real, emotional connection with customers.

Take USAA, for example. This organization, which provides financial services for families and veterans of the United States Armed Forces, realized the people it serves have a unique set of circumstances and perspectives that are difficult for people who have not experienced them firsthand to understand.

To provide employees with context to better serve their customers, USAA team members spend a day in boot camp, complete with a real drill sergeant and preparing and eating MREs (pre-packaged meals soldiers eat in the field). This experience gives employees a small glimpse into the lives of the people they’re serving, creating a heightened sense of empathy and improving engagement.

Related Article: Want to Be Customer-Centric? Engage Your Employees

2. Focus on Exceptional In-Person Experiences

While digital is all around us and shows no signs of slowing down, customers still care about in-person experiences. According to research by A.T. Kearny, 81% of Gen Z consumers prefer to do their shopping in-store, rather than online. Furthermore, a survey from Google/Ipsos found that 60% of consumers would rather buy from brands that had a physical presence over those only available online.

This preference for in-person experiences may be due in part to the saturation of digital experiences in our daily lives, which has arguably created an empathy gap between consumers and the companies they’re interacting with. This presents businesses with the opportunity to create exceptional in-store experiences by offering a wide variety of products, a memorable ambiance, and excellent face-to-face customer service.

Related Article: Brick and Mortar: Reports of Its Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

3. Invest in a Seamless Omnichannel Experience and Ecosystem

From researching a purchase to interacting with customer service chatbots, today’s consumers have a dizzying number of touchpoints with brands. Each touchpoint provides an opportunity for companies to either earn or lose the loyalty of their customers.

Consumers have a low tolerance for bad experiences encountered at any given touchpoint, so brands can’t afford to risk ignoring the details that make up the customer journey. Elite businesses put significant time and resources into understanding how their customers experience their brand across all touchpoints and channels to ensure a positive outcome.

Related Article: Where Testing Fits in Your Omnichannel Experience

4. Zero in on Personalized Experiences

According to a PWC survey, 86% of consumers are willing to pay more if it means they’ll have a better experience. The same survey found 49% of consumers made impulse purchases after having a more personalized experience.

Making customers feel understood and seen is essential to creating personalized experiences that inspire loyalty. There’s a big difference in consumer expectations when it comes to buying a pair of shoes versus a larger-ticket item like a car, which requires a more tailored approach.

Since the bar is set higher when it comes to big-ticket purchases, companies must ensure they’re going above and beyond to keep customers satisfied. For an automotive retailer, this could entail ongoing support in the form of a courtesy car when the customer’s vehicle needs servicing, real-time updates while it’s in the shop, and home delivery of the car once the servicing is complete.

Related Article: Which of the 3 Personalization Types Are You?

5. Understand the Power of Emotional Design

Emotions aren’t a topic that typically comes up in the boardroom. They’re subjective, they change, they’re hard to quantify — but emotions are what connect us all.

Nike's commercial during the 2019 US Women’s World Cup is a great example of effective emotional design. The ad elicited strong reactions from viewers and soon went viral. While it was clearly a Nike ad, it wasn’t specifically advertising anything Nike was selling, but rather focused on people, and the powerful emotions that we experience throughout life.

According to Forrester's 2019 CX Index, emotion plays a strong role in customer loyalty, even more than ease of use or effectiveness. Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman even went so far as to say that 95% of purchasing decisions are driven by emotion.

These statistics highlight the importance of going beyond simply providing a product or service. Successful brands understand the importance of nurturing a relationship with their customers which requires trust, reliability, and an emotional connection that can be influenced by design.

Great CX is a living, breathing relationship between a company and its customers, driven by an organization’s continuous focus on the customer across every touchpoint along their journey. These five practices show how even in today’s extremely noisy world, it’s possible to engender intense brand loyalty through imaginative, delightful CX.