Mixing customer experience, marketing and public relations


Google the term “customer experience” and you’ll turn up more than 5million websites on the topic.

Yet taking the time to read through just a few of these may not give you a clear understanding of what customer experience is really about.

You’ll find some really technical stuff about customer experience in software, information about user experience (a different, but related discipline), and if you’re lucky some other gems like “X company improves customer experience through dynamic IP management” (yes, really).

While none of these are fundamentally wrong, for me they miss the point about customer experience.

Delivering a competent service or a functional product, whatever business you’re in, won’t differentiate you from your competitors. But if you can’t do this properly, then you can’t start to build the next level of customer experience, which is when real differentiation happens.

Real differentiation from customer experiences comes from playing with customers’ emotions. The trick is to find those little emotional touchpoints that make a customer’s day that little bit better or make them notice how well you’re doing for them.

The challenge is to identify these and then work out how to build these into your day-to-day business, whether that’s running a website, shop, call centre or consultancy. The principle is the same wherever.

The example I often quote is the airline Virgin Atlantic. Years ago they fundamentally changed the customer experience of watching films on a long flight. Until then airlines had always just seen films as a way to entertain passengers.

But Virgin realised that they could achieve differentiation through turning the usually mundane experience of watching a film on a flight into something more – by providing low-cost goodies normally associated with cinema-going (eg ice-cream, popcorn), they turned the film into a positive experience. They tapped into a positive emotion that was normally associated with going to the cinema – a pleasurable activity.

Mike Thomson gives another good example of how DHL does this over at the Duct Tape Marketing website.

So how does delivering an emotional element in customer experience link to marketing and public relations?

It’s all about word of mouth. It’s commonly accepted that word of mouth is one of the most powerful reputation influencers there is. People always trust other people more than companies or organisations. Yet it’s also the most difficult public relations channel to use – how do you get other people to talk positively about you?

For me the answer is to actually give them something positive to talk about. It’s surprising how many companies don’t.
Find that emotional trigger in your customer experience and pull it. If you get it right then customers will soon start talking positively about you and word of mouth will be an important part of your marketing and public relations toolkit.