Why getting intimate is key to creating a great customer experience

Pip Stocks

  • CEO of BrandHook and founder of Hearsay
  • Website
Pip is the founder and CEO of BrandHook, an award winning Keynote Speaker and Thought Leader. She has worked on both agency and client side having started her career in the UK in 1992. After working in agencies such as Saatchi’s and Grey Advertising in London running Global Proctor and Gamble business, she was appointed as marketing manager for a new Virgin launch, Virgin Energy, a Branson startup. Before starting BrandHook, Pip was the brand and communications strategy director at Carat, where she undertook extensive consumer insight, brand and communications planning for Cadbury Schweppes, Fonterra, Nintendo, Just Jeans, HBA and GlaxoSmithKline brands. Stocks is also the founder of Hearsay.

According to CMO’s State of the CMO 2017 research, 83 per cent of CMOs believe customer experience to be central to their role. An interesting stat considering few of us experience great brand experiences. 

To find out why, BrandHook produced a podcast series, Getting Intimate with CX, where I asked the same seven questions of CEOs, CMOs and disruptors.  My goal was to find out what they thought made a great customer and brand experience and why some brands can do deliver it and others can’t.   

My hypothesis going in was that businesses and brands that practice customer intimacy and have an intuitive understanding of their customers were able to build great experiences.  And by getting intimate, they also drove better customer value.  

When was the last time you had a great customer experience?  

I started asking each guest about the last time they had had a great customer experience. There were two hotel chains mentioned, the obvious shout out to Apple and some retail glory scattered around. But the one that struck me as most interesting was the experience at the hairdresser.  

Jee Moon (Luxottica VP of marketing and former Best & Less and Westpac marketer) said her hairdresser regularly makes her feel special and connected. She is interested in Jee, listens, asks questions and makes her comfortable. After solving her problem – the need for new hair – she sends her on her way.  

It wasn’t just that Jee felt listened to or looked great. Her hairdresser also continued the connection days later.  

Later in the hair-cutting week, Jee received a handwritten note from her hairdresser saying thank you for popping in and checks in with something they may have discussed. In fact, this note is consistent and operationalised in her dealings with all her customers – it is delivered regularly with meaning. I don’t think Jee’s hairdresser had scoped out her ideal customer experience on her back wall but I do think she acts intuitively, knowing a simple card to check-in with her customers will continue to make them feel connected to her.  

Making CX powerful  

So how does customer intimacy fit with building a powerful customer experience?  

Let’s start with what makes a great customer experience. To help make sense of this, I have summarised all the podcast feedback and developed the BrandHook Customer Value Optimisation Model, which outlines the five key drivers that lead to a great customer experience:  

  • Consistency: Consistency helps customers feel comfortable that every time they use, buy or contact you. It provides a guarantee they will get what they pay for. It doesn’t sound particularly exciting though as a lot of marketers want to ‘surprise and delight’. But working on consistency of experience means you are getting the basics right and this is a huge step towards a powerful customer experience.
  • Choice: Brands must give customers the tools to manage their own experience. This requires implementing a range of possibilities and choices on how to deliver your service. But warning - don’t action 10 different things if four aren’t worth investing in. Offer the six you the customers really want.  
  • Control:  A direct link to choice is letting your customers be in control. As scary as it sounds, brand owners need to allow their customers to have the relationship delivered in the way that works for them. Behavioural psychology tells us the more empowered, engaged, and updated their customers during their journey, the less likely they are to assign blame to the brand when things go wrong.
  • Customisation: Acknowledge your customers not only want options, they want these options tailored to them. There are some great new brands that are creating whole experiences tailored to their customers. Australia’s Shop You help you build your own fashion wardrobe on your phone, America’s Lemonade Insurance allows you to craft your own insurance plan, Spotify sent our podcasters their very own playlist based on what they had listened during the year. 
  • Care: If Maslow was developing his Hierarchy of Needs for CX, care would be at the top of that triangle. Demonstrating your business and brand cares means the people in your business will deliver the best outcome for your customers, no matter what. This means you say yes instead of no, you spend time finding an alternative outcome when the original one doesn’t work, you ring around to find that top in their size, you open tills when there are queues, you make sure the meal they are eating is exactly what they were expecting.

Rachel Kelly (Afterpay) talked about the consistency of experience with MJ Bale, no matter the platform (in-store or online), the messages are the same.    

In December, Coles teamed up with Airtasker to provide another way to shop for groceries. Posting a shopping task on Airtasker means the customer can pick when they want it shopped and delivered, exactly what to substitute when items weren’t available and most importantly the customer can choose themselves who was going to pick their fruit and veg. Tapping into that insight that customers feel uncomfortable not knowing who is picking their fresh items, Coles is solving this problem with a new service option. Stan Johnson says MYOB’s number one value is ‘the client drives our world’ so every decision is based on the question ‘is the customer going to benefit from this’. It’s a great reminder for all us when evaluating which new idea to action.    

Airlines and movie theatres allow customers to select their seats, providing customers with a sense of control. Most online retailers understand the value of allowing customers a sense of control by supporting their habitual behaviour - placement of buttons in a place that makes sense to them. Sarah Daymond (VicSuper) loves the NIB app because of the control she has when it comes to health insurance claiming. This includes receiving notifications when the claim is uploaded and a text when it is paid, helping her stay in control.    

This is also where brands can provide some ‘surprise and delight’. By demonstrating how well brands know their customers, a useful offer or suggestion in the right moment can help brands show they really do care. Which leads me onto the last driver.    

In essence, the business thinks of its customers as people not numbers. Col Kennedy (Country Road, Cotton On, Target) talked about giving the people in the business the tools to help them to do anything they can to help the customer. At his last visit to Nike, the sales assistants were technology enabled and didn’t need to go to the till so could help him find the items he was looking for with ease. Digitising a team member (not the store) empowers them to do anything they can to help the customer. 

How does this come together?  

The resulting outcome of getting these drivers right, a powerful customer experience, results in Customer Value Optimisation – better customer intimacy, better brand positioning, better brand experience, better profits. 

But how do you know how to execute each of these drivers? To build the right elements of Customisation, Choice, Consistency, Control and Care, you need to have Customer Intimacy. The people in your business need to feel connected to your customers so they can intuitively solve painpoints, predict what is going to happen and solve any potential problems.   

This happens when you spend time with your customers in their world, you develop a true understanding of their needs and painpoints and only then do you become empathetic. Greg Sutherland (Australia Post) told me this higher level of intimacy is when customers and brands have a shared purpose and ‘your brand and your customers believe and act in the same way’.   

When all of this is delivered with authenticity, you are able to have the kind of brand-love that Apple and The Iconic commandeer.  

Cracking CX  

This lead to another question: Why can some brands crack a great CX and others can’t?   

There are two reasons our CMOs, CEOs and disruptors think a business needs to be able to crack a great brand experience:  

  • A culture of customer obsession: This means a genuine lean in to your customer, a real interest into what makes them tick and why they behave the way they do. How does this happen? All our podcasters said it came from the top. The CEO who, not only has the vision to have the customer conversations but, as Tammy Marshall (B_Hive) said, a CEO who has also empowered people to solve problems at the coalface.
  • Humanising the customer: Thinking of your customers as real people makes a big difference to the brand (and business) team. For the whole organisation to be able to talk about ‘Amy’ or ‘Steve’ means the customer is not just a number but a real person. 
  • Create a culture of care: It is not just good enough that a customer has had their need satisfied, they must have also had a great experience. Jane Zantuck (NGV) talked about the importance of all service staff at the NGV being equipped to help customers including the security guard on the third floor who can help you with some facts about the Rothko painting he protects. She believes it is critical everyone in the organisation has a shared passion to want the customer to have a great experience.   

Ed McManus (Powershop) does exactly this. He has his exec team answering social media inquiries on an allocated weekend. He says it is an amazing way to stay in touch, feel the pain of those you serve and offer solutions that really do help.

Karen Lawson (Slingshot) believes this is very challenging for corporates and it’s why startups are able to test, learn and grow quickly because of the closeness to the customer. Thinking like a startup is a popular way for big brands to stay in touch.  

Developing real customer intimacy  

  • Create a dashboard of brand and customer insight. As Louise Eyres (Australian Sports Commission) says, this must be a combination of emotional and rational data. Capture the information around the different typologies of people and their drivers of choice. Ensure the dashboards are dynamic – long term and short term.
  • Humanise, socialise and share information and stories about your customers with the whole organisation. Put in place customer huddles and morning meetings to discuss their problems and issues. Donna Hutchinson and Sarah Graham (NAB) talked about the weekly customer huddles that have been operationalised across the whole of NAB. Problems are discussed in small teams and better ways of doing things are activated.

Convinced by the conversations with my guests, my hypothesis was proven. Those brand owners that had a closer, more intimate relationship with the customers, did deliver a more powerful customer experience.   

Ask yourself and your team: How close do we feel to our customers? Do we intuitively know what they want and how to help them?

Tags: brand strategy

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