For as long as goods have been bought and sold, customer expectations for how these goods should be delivered has been in a constant state of evolution. Consider the example of coffee. At first, coffee was cheap and plentiful — though options for consuming it were limited. Then came the pre-packaged goods economy, where consumers could purchase pre-roasted beans and product offerings diversified. As this economic model gave way to the service economy, customers began to seek out coffee brands with a signature style, which opened the door to new custom brews and flavors.

Today, coffee — and every other product category — have moved one step further, now competing based on the experience they can offer to their customers.

This story illustrates the gradual changes in customer mindset that have taken place to drive these tectonic economic shifts. The modern experience economy we know today has emerged in response to both a brand desire to differentiate from competition and a consumer desire to interact with brands that meet more than just their functional needs.

For this reason, excelling in the experience economy is about understanding each customer’s foundational needs, and then translating products, offers and services into a Total Experience that checks every box across every stage in the customer journey.

Understanding the Three Kinds of Customer Needs

It’s easier to come to this understanding if you think about consumer needs by category. At the most fundamental level, customers have three basic kinds of needs that impact the way they want to navigate their journeys and brand experiences:

  1. Functional needs: These are usually the first needs that come to mind. In large part, this is how most companies have competed for years. Functional needs simply address what the customer is trying to accomplish. Whether they need someone to complete their tax return, a TV to allow them to watch the big game or a pizza for dinner, customers expect the brands they partner with will actually solve their problem. Today, these functional needs often extend beyond simply solving a problem to helping customers identify the problem as well. Brands like Amazon thrive in this regard, by helping present the best options to solve a particular issue and recommending related products and services that customers may need to get the solution across the finish line.
  2. Emotional needs: These emotional needs consider how someone wants to feel when interacting with a brand. When emotional needs are also being met alongside functional ones, customers perceive it as added value. It demonstrates a deeper understanding of each customer, and it doesn’t focus on how to solve a customer problem. Rather, it delivers that “how” in the context of the all-important “why.” For example, if a homeowner wants to install a security system in their new home, is it because it feels like a smart financial investment to protect valuable assets? Or does it stem from a much deeper desire to protect family members and create a space where everyone feels safe? While this might seem like an obvious example, it showcases the different deep-seated expectations a customer might have as they navigate what a brand has to offer and its customer support capabilities. These emotional needs can be found at each individual step in the buyer journey. What specific expectations might a customer have at the point of purchase? After their purchase? During a customer support call?
  3. Social needs: This last category is an emerging part of the customer need landscape. Today, many people expect brands not just to have functional benefits, but to have a social purpose as well. For younger generations, this social impact element has become a major differentiator for customers (and employees) who are looking for brands that are more than just a product, service, or solution: think Patagonia, REI and Warby Parker. These brands have become synonymous with their causes and the corporate missions that reflect them. As competition continues to grow, this will be one area where brands have an opportunity to continue to set themselves apart.

Translating Customer Needs into Actionable Insights

If executing a total customer experience that accounts for all these foundational needs is the goal, then the follow-up question becomes, “How do you identify those needs — and also act on them?”

Learning Opportunities

Defining key customer personas is a vital step in building a foundational understanding of your customers and their needs. Before you begin making costly changes to your existing experience based on a gut feeling or anecdotal evidence, take time to learn your customers’ existing pain points, expectations, and goals they have in mind when they interact with your brand.

At Avtex, our team of CX strategists use a variety of techniques to uncover core insights and lay the groundwork for an exceptional Total Experience:

  • Journey Mapping
  • Voice of Customer (VoC) and Voice of Employee (VoE) programs
  • UX Research and Design
  • Design Thinking
  • Customer/Employee Insights
  • Change Management

Each of one these strategies, layered with your customer data streams, can help support your organization on the path to a comprehensive 360-degree view of your customer and their journeys. Armed with these insights, your organization can begin to create truly next-gen customer experiences that serve all their needs today — and tomorrow.

Download the Total Experience Playbook now to get additional tips for designing and orchestrating a total experience that accounts for each of your customer’s needs and differentiates your experience from the competition.