motorcycle laden with a flower delivery
PHOTO: Đức Mạnh

How can leaders deliver exceptional, engaging brand experiences in 2021 — especially after all of the disruption of the past year? Leaders must consider what employees as well as customers need and be willing to take a hard look at the context we find ourselves in after a rapid shift to online engagement.

We've become more reliant on technology for work and personal tasks, and having more experiences without human interaction. That’s made many of us more impatient, because we can't interact in the ways that we once did, or in ways that we prefer.

There’s another big change happening, too: The convergence of customer experience and employee experience.

According to Forrester Research (paywall), when your brand delivers great experiences, your customers become advocates and your employees become ambassadors. When your brand fails to create good experiences, retention of customers and employees decreases.

That’s the context that experience leaders need to understand: Your target audience and your employees alike probably don't have as much patience as they once did for suboptimal experiences. They want to get things done more easily and avoid the monotony of rote digital interactions. The tools leaders require to achieve these goals are empathy for customers and employees, creativity in reimagining experiences, and the bravery to try new approaches.

Delivering Fresh, Engaging Experiences Requires Creativity and Boldness

One response to changing conditions is to quickly identify and meet new customer needs. For example, early in 2020 Gap Inc. saw a need for businesses and government organizations to reduce COVID-19 risks to their employees. The company launched a nonmedical grade mask product line for B2B in less than five weeks, reaching customers like the State of California and New York City. B2B customers can customize and place bulk orders on the Gap Inc. website. The order page is simple enough for busy customers to find the relevant information fast and place orders quickly.

Peloton found an opportunity to expand its B2C customer base. The home fitness equipment manufacturer extended the 30-day trial period for its subscription fitness app to 90 days as the pandemic began and more people bought bikes to stay in shape during lockdown. With the app, users can access thousands of online classes for cycling as well as running, yoga and more. The inclusion of non-cycling classes means customers who don’t have room in their budget or their home for a bike — and who can’t or don’t want to return to the gym — can engage with Peloton through the app. Now, the subscription model is seen by many in the fitness equipment field as the “key to survival and growth.”

Related Article: Why Employee Experience Is the Next Customer Experience

Take a New Look at the Customer and Employee Experience

It’s clear that many things won't be 'business as usual' in 2021. In some sectors, it's going to take a long time to return to pre-pandemic business norms, and other experiences will evolve into something different. Because of this, it's important for customer experience leaders to meet customers and employees where they are, and then support the next steps in their journey.

That starts with asking empathetic questions about what customers and employees need now. It also means using available technology to gather insights about what customers are doing now, like how long they're on your site, where they fall off, how much money they're spending, or what their loyalty factors are. Keep in mind that quantitative data is most useful when it’s paired with qualitative data. In other words, how do your customers and employees feel about their experiences?

Related Article: What Does Great Customer Experience Look Like Today? Giving Customers Peace of Mind

Foster Open Conversations About What People Need

When you know what your customers and employees need and want now, you can start identifying areas for experience improvement. For example, many of us rely on effective, but not exactly great videoconferencing tools. Likewise, the tools for consumer retail experiences may get the job done, but just fall short of greatness. When we admit that, we can find ways to improve those experiences.

For example, B2B sales in many industries have traditionally been multi-step, ongoing conversations between salespeople and clients that last several months. Now, reliance on digital interaction has changed the process. We may not be able to fix the fact that we can't have those discussions in person right now, but we can be clear about how we might work more effectively together and what we need to do that. Once you have a strong sense of where the customer and employee experiences can improve, you can prioritize the biggest needs and start to make positive changes.

Related Article: What Does Great Customer Experience Look Like Today? Giving Customers Peace of Mind

Experience Optimization Is a Journey

Employee and customer journey mapping and research is an ongoing practice with a cadence that varies based on your industry. A fashion retailer might review experience maps three to four times a year, while an industrial equipment vendor might do an experience review every other year. When you review, also look at factors in other industries and sectors, and what people are doing in their personal lives, to understand what they want to do in their business lives.

Keep refreshing your understanding of people's expectations and the influences that affect the way people perceive your brand experience and the way they want to interact with you. Take that knowledge, use it creatively and bravely, and you can build experiences your customers and employees will want to have, so that you have loyal advocates and ambassadors working on behalf of your brand.