Four things the best CX disruptors do right

CX Best Practices

Feeling authentically known is at the heart of today's best customer experiences. Some of the top CX disruptors of the past decade — companies like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb, among others — have proven that to be true. While the incumbents in their respective industries were trying to chase the trends, these trailblazers focused on what was missing - the overlooked key component where they could carve out space to deliver an innovative, digital-driven customer experience.

While technology is an undeniable ingredient in disruption, it's more than that. The best companies aren't out to merely gain customers; they're in it to create brand champions who will spread the news. To do that, they're investing mightily in the relationship-building component of CX — and customers are leaning into this type of newfound kinship with the brands they frequent.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of people say CX is an “important factor in their purchasing decisions" and 42% say they'd pay more based on experience, according to PwC's Experience Is Everything report. Meanwhile, 63% of consumers are willing to share personal information with brands that deliver a stellar experience — an important factor to consider in an age where data is a valuable commodity, not just for increasing personalization but for improving or developing new products and services.

Yet, there's a disconnect. The same PwC survey found only 49% of respondents say companies are providing a “good customer experience today." That points to a massive opportunity for brands to take a few cues from the disruptors in their industries. Here are four key traits they have, and ways your business can embrace their ethos.

1. They're thoughtful with technology

Technology brands like Uber and Airbnb are in the platform business, building simple bridges to connect consumers with an end product or service. That's the ingenuity of what these brands have done: They've been so thoughtful with their implementation of technology — the design and endless improvement to the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) — that the consumer often doesn't realize they're a part of a continual experiment in how to deliver great customer experience.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Airbnb. Like most businesses, the company has had to pivot in search of different ways to operate as many of us face strict travel restrictions around the globe and remain close to home. To offset this, Airbnb launched their 'Online Experiences' service, giving users a new way to connect with each other and unique hosts around the world and travel virtually. Offering an array of options from cooking with a Moroccan family to learning the secrets of magic to working out with a professional circus acrobat, the company has found a way to bring the world to its customers in a whole new way.

Airbnb's new service offering is a valuable lesson in leveraging technology: be deliberate with how you use it; take your customers' cues and discover what can elevate your CX.

2. They have a culture of innovation

One of the biggest challenges with innovation is that it often runs contrary to a company's organizational structure. The things that can help workplaces run smoothly, such as a defined chain of command, project workflows and structured roles within an organization can sometimes impede risk-taking, experimentation and innovation.

Building a corporate culture that encourages creativity by way of suggesting game-changing ideas to improve CX doesn't have to mean overhauling the current structure. Innovation can be introduced in small steps and ways.

WeTransfer, the file sharing app, is a prime example. The platform has a devoted user base of artists and photographers, but it also has an in-house team of innovators. The company says every employee is given one full “Innovation Friday" every month to set aside their normal duties and focus on a project that inspires them. One of those employee ideas was the mobile uploader that is now part of WeTransfer's suite of tools.

Giving your employees that kind of time and opportunity to ideate is an impactful and powerful way to not only see tangible results today, but to set in motion the creation of a culture whose foundation is rooted in innovation. That latter aspect is what will ensure sustainable success.

3. They empower customers to be part of their brand

Another thing CX trailblazers do right is they view their customers as a community. Brand attachment can be converted into a community by empowering your consumers to share their experiences with your products.

Beauty company Glossier excels in this regard. The e-commerce site was spun from a beauty blog, Into the Gloss, after founder Emily Weiss was inspired to radically overhaul the way beauty products were created and sold.

“Beauty brands were not listening to customers — these women didn't feel qualified to talk about the products they had been using for years and [the industry] made customers feel like constant beginners," she said at the 2018 ShopTalk Conference in Las Vegas. At Glossier, new products are released a few at a time and are always based on real feedback from the community. The company calls it "co-creating."

There are great gains to be had by developing this kind of relationship with consumers. According to Sprout Social's #BrandsGetReal research, "When customers feel connected to brands, more than half of consumers (57%) will increase their spending with that brand and 76% will buy from them over a competitor."

Glossier's approach to turning customer feedback into visible results is a great lesson for brands. Consumers want to be heard, they want products that speak to them and they want to feel empowered. That's how brand champions are born.

4. They make their values central to the CX

Values are becoming inseparable from brand identity with today's increasingly conscious consumers. Multiple academic and industry studies suggest that companies with defined corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies enjoy heightened customer loyalty.

Making values a part of the brand conversation is how disruptors can stand out. Take Patagonia; the company famous for its fleece vests is also known for its strong values. The brand is constantly finding innovative and sustainable solutions to concerns surrounding the fashion industry (e.g. free clothing repair and vegan alternatives to insulation).

A few years ago during Black Friday, the brand made headlines for running an ad telling people “don't buy this jacket" to encourage people to think about the environment when making purchases. Patagonia is a prime example of how brands can bake trust and transparency into CX — and gain a more loyal customer base in the process.

It's important to note; however, that disruption isn't always about rewriting the playbook for an entire industry. Sure, the trailblazers above often change overall consumer expectations, but it's borne of an authentic desire to create an unforgettable experience for consumers, and not simply about implementing new technologies. Brands that can discern the difference, and get to the heart of the matter will be the ones that succeed and thrive today and well into the future.

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