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Experience Forward

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Experience Forward

by Arturo Mendiola


Why do we believe this? It’s pretty simple: Customers are finicky. Every time their personal experience with a product or service is made better, this caliber of experience becomes the new bar by which all other brands are judged. It's known as the experience economy. And it’s driven by “what have you done for me lately to make my life easier, faster and more empowering.”

As a result, Customer Experience (CX) is now at the very core of any business strategy. Because the experience you create for your customers, clients and your own employees defines who you are and, ultimately, why people want to do business with you.

Here are some numbers that back it up:

  • 89% of companies will compete primarily on the basis of customer experience — Gartner
  • From 2011 to 2015, revenues for companies that scored near the top of the Forrester CX Index™ outgrew that from a group of companies who scored poorly by more than five to one.” — Forrester
  • 67% of customers switch brands – not due to price or features – but due to customer experience or a perceived lack of attention, personalization, and engagement by the brand. — US Chamber of Commerce

And if you don't rectify a poor experience for your customers in the right way, it could lead to disastrous results. In 2017, a report published in Forbes found that "poor customer service is costing businesses more than $75 billion a year."

Poor experiences aren’t just frustrating — they tend to get shared and amplified, eroding your brand’s value. A recent blog post chronicled a case where the author simply wanted to cancel one night of their five-night reservation at a well-known (but unnamed) hotel. Spoiler alert: The blogger had to navigate a maze of dead ends and make multiple phone calls to the hotel's corporate call center and hotel property front-desk staff to finally adjust their reservation. Unfortunately, this poor CX journey was caused by disjointed back-end systems and poor employee CSR training — a situation fairly commonplace across industries of all shapes and sizes.

So how do you create the right CX and — even more importantly — how do you ensure quality and control of all the critical touchpoints to avoid a 'leaky bucket' of dissatisfied customers?

At Horizontal, we consider the CX lifecycle as an infinite number of journeys a customer potentially goes through to engage with your brand. And within these journeys, activating the right touch points at the right time to the right customer ultimately drives conversion and, more importantly, their satisfaction. These journeys could consist of only two touchpoints — say a TV ad to an in-store purchase (if only it were that simple, right?!). Or a more drawn out series of touchpoints that guide the customer along the CX lifecycle from learning of your brand to eventually becoming a loyal advocate.

The key is understanding how audience insights, brand engagement, experience and service design, customer data and an integrated technology stack sets up your strategy and activates it. At Horizontal, we work with clients to create a CX lifecycle with no dead ends. Essentially, once we get a customer into your brand ecosystem, we commit ourselves to ensuring our content, campaigns and curated experiences go beyond meeting that customer’s wants and needs. (Think suggestive selling and predictive modeling.)

Here are just a few of ways we make this promise a reality:

1) We start by mapping out the ideal journey. 

This essentially comes down to two main things: realistically, what can we do and what can’t we do? And from there, we plan around scenarios: what will this journey look like in 1 year? How about 3 years? And then, let’s get ambitious: what does Year 5 look like? Planning this far out helps our clients start planning for a bigger and brighter picture.

Let’s return to our blogger/hotel example. If we were to consult on this scenario, a Year 1 roadmap might include better CSR training to quickly identify how to resolve the customers issue in as few steps as possible. A Year 3 roadmap might include the implementation of a chatbot to handle the scenario. And Year 5 could include a streamlined solution using only speech to update and resolve reservations through an integrated voice assistant. Voila! Less mess, more thinking forward.

2) Build experiences that consider context.

Who a person is, where they’re coming from and how familiar they are with a brand. This context is unlocked via the wealth of data people provide through every digital interaction. We expertly sift through this data to inform strategies, ideas and executions that treat users as unique individuals and empower them to do more with our clients — from simply acknowledging them to helping them seamlessly pick up right where they left off.

Time to boomerang back to our blogger’s situation. A simple remedy that could have softened the situation would be to simply have a digital record of each of the blogger’s interactions with the hotel staff. Had one staff member been able to quickly catch up on the situation, they potentially could’ve formulated a more personal approach (even just by knowing the blogger’s name ahead of time vs. asking for it) and avoided the rinse/repeat of asking the same questions to our hapless protagonist. These tiny contextual details add up in big ways.

3) Focus on the moments that matter.

It’s impossible to be all things to all people. But it’s mission critical to understand what are the top experiences customers expect and how you can overdeliver on their expectations. By identifying and committing to these experiences — and recalibrating them as needed — we help partners focus on making a measurable and forward-thinking difference vs. reacting to every little hiccup that occurs. That being said, experiences sometimes go sideways. And when they do, it’s how you resolve these less-than-optimal experiences in context of your customers that reignites their faith in your brand. If done right with transparency and expediency, these “fixed” moments can transform into a positive moment for your brand — simply by showing how committed you are to incredible CX.

One last hurrah for our blogger example! Obviously, this scenario went south in a hurry. But had the brand acknowledged the reality and followed up with the blogger by offering a few nights free in exchange for their participation in a prototype experience designed to accommodate smoother reservation changes, we’re willing to bet that the perception of the brand could’ve shifted drastically.

Again, these approaches are merely representational of how we operate in an experience forward manner. But at the very core of anything we do is an absolute respect for customers and how brands can deliver on and surpass their expectations. It’s not always easy but it’s always the right investment. Because, simply put, customer experience is your ultimate competitive advantage.

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