Understanding the problem your customer is trying to address and focusing on how you can resolve that with your products and services is the key to delivering what shoppers want, in an age in which customer experience is everything.

This is one of the key themes explored in a new podcast episode of The Experience Effect featuring Macquarie Graduate School of Management lecturer Karen Ganschow.

Ganschow, former general manager of consumer marketing and strategy at NAB, uses banking as an example. Where once great service was defined by what happened at the branch, now what’s imperative is the quality of a bank’s mobile app.

“The mobile phone is the largest, busiest branch of any retail bank,” she says. “So how you service your customers through your mobile app is what’s important. In my time in retail banking, we obsessed about what it was customers wanted to do with their bank via their mobile. It was all about making sure it was an easy experience. So the challenge for organisations is continually being focused on improving how you solve your customers’ problems.”

But, says Ganschow, it’s not just about making everything easy on a transactional level. Brands also need to connect emotionally to offer an exceptional experience.

She uses shopping at David Jones’ flagship Elizabeth Street Sydney store as an example. Traditionally, the pianist playing a grand piano on the ground floor, and the high level of customer service the business offers, made shoppers feel special – and they have been prepared to pay a premium. The current $200-million redevelopment for the space aims to enhance this.

Episode one: How we make decisions

The Experience Effect podcast series

“Offering a true theatre of experience when, really, all you are offering is a transaction, makes all the difference,” Ganschow says.

Customer experience
Technology has helped revolutionise the experience of how we shop, do our banking and more. Getty

Apple is another example. “It has mastered customer experience. All its devices are on show in their stores, and there’s lots of staff on the floor, so you get a high level of service and engagement. When you choose to buy something, you don’t have to queue up at the cash register, you can do the transaction then and there,” says Ganschow.

The message for other businesses is to focus on addressing customers’ pain points to offer the best possible experience.

“You need to do this in a way that’s so intuitive and easy, they keep coming back for more. You have to make sure you engage both the head and the heart to design an optimal customer experience. It’s easy to get buried in the transactional nature of customer experience. But making a purchase involves a high degree of emotion. So, when organisations think about how they’re interacting with customers, they must emphasise both.”

SAP head of marketing ANZ Rushenka Perera says consumer expectations of the buying experience are much higher now, given they are able to access all the information they need in real time, thanks to technology.

“They want everything faster and they have high expectations of companies. But they tell us there’s often a real experience gap in terms of what companies think they offer and what customers think they receive.”

Research backs this up. According to a survey by consulting firm Bain & Co, 80 per cent of CEOs think they’re providing a great customer experience – but only 8 per cent of their customers agree.

Yoghurt firm Chobani is one business that is bucking this trend, Perera says. Since launching in Australia in 2012, Chobani has used experience to become the country’s fastest growing yogurt brand.

“Chobani realised it needed to get feedback from customers to improve their product. After asking the market about what people wanted, it found some customers wanted a different kind of product to the one they were offering. This group were eating breakfast differently. Some were skipping breakfast all together. So Chobani came up with new products.” An example is the yoghurt pouch container it pioneered in its category.

“Chobani championed the pouch, based on market research and feedback from customers captured by its SAP Qualtrics platform. That feedback loop is really important in the experience economy to bridge the expectation gap. Companies need to get that feedback from customers, look at the data they have in their systems and respond to it,” says Perera.

This involves collecting testimonials and reviews and conducting surveys to get a greater understanding about how to improve products and services. Then, it’s important to marry this with operational data contained in backend financial, manufacturing and supply chain systems to be able to deliver customers the experiences they are seeking.

That’s the best way to cater to the experiential expectations of customers, to achieve a great outcome for buyers and for the businesses from which they buy.

This article first appeared in the Australian Financial Review