Forrester: online experiences define the brand


This blog post comes to you live from the second annual Forrester Research 2010 Customer Experience Forum at the Grand Hyatt in New York. Research Director Harley Manning sets the stage by asking, What exactly is customer experience? Answer: how customers feel about their interaction with your company. To that end, Forrester surveys 133 companies in 14 industries to create a Customer Experience Index that tracks how consumers feel about their customer experience.

The most recent index shows Barnes & Noble coming out on top with retailers in general scoring higher than other industries. At the low end of the scale: health insurance plan providers. And on average, companies who score high on the index also have customers who are willing to buy more products and services from them.

The key to improving one’s Customer Experience Index score: creating breakthrough experiences, the theme of the event.

The first speaker, Principal Analyst Ron Rogowski, discusses the connection between emotional experience design on websites and creating a great customer experience. His premise: online experiences define the brand. As John Thompson, senior VP at Best Buy said, customers are first experiencing the Best Buy brand online.

But there’s a problem: today’s web experiences leave an emotional void. They are, frankly, boring. The website for retailer Fry’s is a boring catalog of inventory, according to Ron. And Canon, which touts “moving photography” in its advertisements, provides a boring catalog of products on its website. In all, more than 90 percent of websites reviewed by Forrester fail to engage the consumer emotionally.

So how do you create interactions that engage consumers by catering to their emotional needs?

1. Address customers’ real goals. Understand customers’ latent needs through research. Anticipate and answer customers’ questions before they ask them, which is the key to creating an intuitive website. For instance Sallie Mae’s Education Investment Planner focuses tightly on goals like giving parents investment information during a time of uncertainty (e.g., planning and saving for family college needs). By using persona design to define customer goals, Sallie May created an online tool — a breakthrough customer experience — that gives parents a benchmark for knowing how they compare with their college savings program. The Sallie Mae online that meets an emotional need (worry and uncertainty about planning for college).

2. Develop a coherent personality. Lady Gaga and Elton John have talent — but they have personality, too. So what does personality mean to your brand? Personality is about being consistently recognizable. Aligning your online experience with your brand attributes. And, perhaps most importantly, adopting a human tone. Example: Progressive Insurance has created a personality for itself though the character of Flo, the fictional cashier on TV who also guides you through the Progressive website

3. Engage a mix of senses. The more senses you engage, the more memorable the experience. And how? Invest in the site’s production values. Provide a purposeful, tactile experience. Heighten the effect of your website with audio and video. Example: Armstrong Floors presents an attractive site that makes you want to hire the company to stain and finish your hardwood floors. Tazo Tea uses sound and motion to make you want to buy its tea products ( so long as you’re willing to install Flash 7).

Undertaking those three steps means making a more serious investment in rich media in your website budget.  Documenting your brand attributes and making those attributes meaningful to consumers. And orchestrating your customer’s emotional experience journey from awareness to consideration to purchase.

In short, make the experience its own reward.