A recent study suggests 86% of buyers would pay more for a better customer experience (CX). It explains why almost 45.9% of businesses consider this as the number one priority in the next five years.
In a world where consumers have so many options to choose from at their fingertips, great CX is a huge brand differentiator and a way to put your product at the forefront and win customers’ trust and loyalty.
To find out how brands can leverage this trend, we spoke with One North’s Kat Kollett, director of customer experience strategy; Kevin Leahy, director of content & brand strategy; and Kathy Grunditz, manager of brand strategy.
Here, they share their own approach to CX and how they help clients create differentiated experiences that drive business growth.
Spotlight: According to research, 73% of consumers cite CX as a deciding factor when making purchase decisions. How can brands leverage this trend?
Kat: The first step is to really understand your customer and the experience you’re offering them. This goes beyond the general understanding of your customer from, say, a marketing perspective. You need to get to know them in their own contexts.
Find out what you’re offering that’s working—and also what’s not working—for them. Learn about the needs they have that brought them to you in the first place, and how well you’re really meeting them.
It's hard to fully understand your customer experience without this perspective. You can learn a lot about your customers indirectly from your employees who interact with them regularly, including the reasons they contact customer support and how they answer various surveys.
Still, you can’t get the whole picture, and so you can’t fully meet their needs or understand the best ways to make working with you as simple as possible. Ensuring that what you’re offering fits into your customers’ lives well is how you are going to keep your customers loyal and stop them from looking to your competitors for better service.
How do brand and CX intersect? How do your teams work together to drive measurable growth for clients?
Kevin: Brand is the sum of all the associations that people have with your organization. It's what you want customers to think and feel when they think of you. It's influenced by the experiences customers are having with your products, what they hear from others about your product or service, your marketing communications, everything.
The key is that your CX must pay off a promise that your brand makes. The important question to ask is: if my brand stands for a certain idea, then for any given experience, how do we ensure that the core idea comes across? How does this experience help pay off what we say we stand for?
Kathy: No matter what your brand conveys, it means nothing without a coordinating customer experience. The customer experience will inform whether your brand's image and promise are authentic. A bad CX can destroy your brand equity. When organizations invest purely in the brand and not the customer experience, it undermines the image they are trying to convey to the market.
Kat: The customer experience is the lived experience of interacting with your company over time. Brand work is intended to set customers’ expectations, while CX intends to shape the reality of working with you. If a company’s customer experience is aligned with its brand positioning, they have brand integrity. It’s a cycle—you must ensure the customer experience is a match for the brand and vice versa. Together, they shape a customer’s relationship with you. If you’re looking at this from the perspective of a customer journey, Brand is more focused on the initial phases and attracting customers, while CX is focused more on later phases.
For those who are only realizing the importance of CX, how can they get started?
Kevin: The short answer is, it depends. It depends on how well you know your customers; on how well your customers know you. It depends on where they are spending their time, money and attention. It depends on what you’ve tried before and succeeded or failed at.
Many of the questions you ask of your CX are the same questions you ask when developing your content strategy or brand strategy. The main difference is that they operate at different levels of specificity and parts of the funnel.
Regarding all three, it goes back to really knowing who your audience is and what they care about. What is really important to them? What role does your product or service play in their lives? Your customers will help you create experiences that are relevant to them and that are targeted toward the people you want to reach.
Kat: Right, so you can start by taking a hard look at what you already know and get really honest about where you’ve made assumptions—where you should probably try to learn more. Then go learn more. And keep doing it. The point is to get and stay curious about your customers and keep finding ways to learn more and understand them as complete humans.
What is One North’s approach to helping businesses create differentiated experiences that propel their products, services and business growth?
Kat: One North prioritizes making sure we bring diverse perspectives and a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to every engagement. Just as the three of us, who represent different practices within One North, are coming together to answer these questions, we bring multiple practices together to help our clients solve complex challenges and create truly differentiated experiences. While our teams and the disciplines they represent are distinct, they all overlap, and the solutions that consider all of these disciplines provide our clients the most value.
We put a lot of thought into the work we do with our clients and the experiences we shape for them while they work with us. From the very beginning. We get to know you. We dig in to understand the needs and concerns you have, and where your challenges lie. And then, we shape our work accordingly. We continue to do this throughout the project, shifting our approach as necessary as we learn more about our clients and their needs.
From experience, which businesses or industries should consider investing in brand building through CX and why?
Kat: It's very easy to say everyone should be investing in CX, due to what we’ve said so far—it should be a no-brainer for all industries to care about their customer's experience. But to be specific, CX is becoming more and more critical to success in the B2B space. There have been lots of articles recently about how the B2B space is changing, how expectations are rising and how CX has really started to be a key to success where it wasn’t historically.
Another way to think about this: any organization that feels vulnerable to disruption should be building its brand through CX. Watch the businesses in your industry that are starting to do things differently. Start trying to understand why they are doing those things and where you might be falling behind or missing opportunities, as these are reasons you might lose customers.
Newer organizations are not held back by pre-existing biases and resistance to change. They enter with a fresh perspective and all the new technology and trends in CX that your organization may not have embraced yet. At the same time, you need to be cautious. Just because a new organization is trying new things doesn’t mean they’re right. The point is that when new ideas surface, it’s likely time to reassess your own CX and determine if you need to make adjustments.
Kathy: The professional services space is ripe for CX work. It remains an analog, relationship-driven environment. While many of these companies use CRMs, the individual account reps typically must manage and coordinate the client experience. Adding CX as a top priority in the professional services industry is a compelling differentiator.
To Kat’s point about everyone needing good CX, it’s better to be proactive than reactive—just do it. You will thank yourself in the long run, as we all know this industry is changing constantly. It's better to stay ahead of the curve rather than try to catch up to it later down the road.
How has One North helped clients strengthen results for the future?
Kat: With our CX practice, we help our clients prioritize their work in a way that is aligned with their customers’ needs and preferences. Not without also aligning it to their business goals, of course—it’s ultimately a balance of both. But, we help them understand what they should tackle first.
Most people have huge, long lists of stuff that they need or want to do. They need help determining how to spend their time and money effectively. Whether clients stay on with us to implement the changes we recommend, or only engage us for strategy work, they at least have a foundation they can build from and adjust as needed, long after our partnership has ended.
Kathy: We have found how important it is to ground yourself in strategy work. The strategy should serve as the foundation of all your work. If you're going to put yourself in the right position for the future, you have to make sure you have the right strategy to get you there. One North has many different layers of strategy that we can mingle together or attack separately to make sure that the clients we’re working with really have that vision, plan, and roadmap to success.
Kevin: We like to think of strategy as a creative act, and the creative at One North always has strategy baked in. The thing that really makes us different is the multidisciplinary nature of the teams we build. We generally skew toward either senior talent who’ve found a second gear or folks who are really good at more than one thing. That lets us deliver richer work for clients by solving what they came to us for—plus deliver multiple perspectives regarding what they should do next.
One North has been part of TEKsystems since 2019. How does this partnership help you provide end-to-end services to clients?
Kat: Our acquisition by TEKsystems—in addition to scaling our full-service offerings—has allowed our agency to gain new clients, from a variety of industries, that offer different types of challenges to solve. It has introduced a level of complexity that many smaller agencies don’t get to encounter. It has provided us with the opportunity to think bigger and really grow ourselves. We’ve matured and have had the opportunity to see larger, more complex ecosystems for what they are. We can serve a broader variety of clients than we might have been able to before because we've taken the opportunity to learn and grow.
This year marks One North’s 10th anniversary! Can you share pieces of advice on how to become a successful agency and be trusted by leading brands such as Meta?
Kat: Do great work. Great work attracts great people who help do great work—it’s a virtuous cycle. Partnership and relationships have also always been so critical throughout our history as One North. We treat our clients with the same care we’re suggesting they take with their own clients. We get to know them, really understand what their specific challenges are and what their growth goals look like. We become this extension of their team—we work with them, not at them.
Kathy: There aren’t a lot of agencies that look like One North, and that makes us a great partner. Meta sees this and has expanded our relationship to reach across different areas of their organization. What makes us unique is this deep investment in strategy across CX, brand, content, UX and technology—coupled with our ability to produce great work at scale.
Kevin: Keep an eye out for the problems your client didn’t ask you to solve. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve got another agency working on it, in which case you need to be a good partner to that agency.
In some cases, it’s because that problem isn’t a priority, which helps you tune into what your client values and make sure you’re on the same wavelength. But sometimes, it’s because they didn’t know they had that particular problem. And if you can bring them an idea that solves it, you might create a lasting and valuable relationship.
Thank you for your time, Kat, Kevin and Kathy! Best of luck to you and One North!