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Stephen Maher is the CEO at MBA and Chairman of the Marketing Society. He chaired our customer service thinktank at EffWeek 2017. Here he talks about the punishing new standards of seamless customer experience that brands must offer, just to survive.

We live in a ruthless, digital world.

Customers are losing patience with clunky, awkward processes. They’ve experienced Amazon and Uber, and they are beginning to expect that kind of frictionless experience and personalised touch from all the brands they consume.

The bar is already high, and getting higher every day. We will no longer wait for buffering, we expect all our details to be saved – notwithstanding our sometimes contradictory privacy concerns. We expect two-click buying, cross device journeys, authentic reviews and immediate feedback. Kevin Kelly Wired Editor and digital guru put his finger on it when he said “We are morphing so fast that our ability to invent new things outpaces the rate we can civilise them.”

These expectations affect every brand out there. Even if you are an FMCG or automotive brand – you are now a digital business, or, at the very least, you are on a digital transformation journey to one. So from a customers’ point of view, the digital experience starts to become how you are judged as a brand, even if you are not yet, or indeed ever, a pure play e-commerce business.

Customers are uncompromising graphic

At MBA we call it ‘Total UX’ – the way that brands need to behave today just to survive. Put bluntly, “To Be Amazon, or Not To Be”.

A brutal standard perhaps, but one that I believe will be the stick against which all brands will be measured – are already being measured in fact.

“It’s exactly what Russell Davies means when he says: “The product is the service is the marketing.”

Two of my friends’ experiences, which stand in stark contrast to each other, demonstrate what we mean by this standard.

Let’s start with the good experience. A friend needed to renew her driving licence. The renewal letter seemed a nightmare of “please write in block capitals and black ink”. But there was a beacon of light: a gov.uk web address. And there it was, after putting in a single reference number. A beautiful bit of copy and a temptress of a button – would she like to simply use all the details and recent photo that she had used for her passport? Why, yes, she would. Card payment. Job done.

The other friend needed a new parking permit from the council following a change of car. There was a PDF form to download from the website… but surely the council didn’t need all his info again?

So he resorted to – gasp – the phone. He got through to a helpful lady who informed him that yes, she did indeed need the form. But surely, he asked, there must be a better, simpler way? Yes, he could use the internet – to download the aforementioned PDF, print it out, fill in the form, scan it in and e-mail it… a first-world problem, I know. But, seriously?

The first experience demonstrates how beautifully interconnected things become when customer experience is deeply embedded into brands thinking. It’s exactly what Russell Davies means when he says: “The product is the service is the marketing.”

“For me, Total UX is the marketing world’s modern crusade. It’s a noble cause, and one definitely worth fighting for.”

The second is a perfect example of legacy systems and bureaucracy that need to be overcome in order to transform a customer’s experience. And I believe it is a key part of an agency’s remit to help their clients move away from the second example towards the nirvana of the first – as a voice of the customer, not just in terms of how the communications should be, but in the whole shooting match. The effectiveness of the bread and butter marcoms will wither if they fall on a non-mobile-optimised web experience or a strategy bereft of appropriate content. We must join up the data, connect the experiences and deliver great customer centric content across all touchpoints. It will cost time and money of course, but it is a resource well-invested in building for the long term.

For me, Total UX (To Be Amazon, or Not To Be) is the marketing world’s modern crusade. It’s a noble cause, and one definitely worth fighting for.

Stephen Maher chaired the Customer Experience Thinktank at EffWeek 2017. Here he is on stage delivering the key outputs of their session:

Effectiveness Week 2016

“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”

Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”

David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK

“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”

Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA

“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.

Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited

“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”

Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA