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Create a relationship that your customers love

Our relationships are complex, unique, and special, yet they are all based on three common things: identity, chemistry, and experiences. To understand this, think about a close friend. Their identity—personality, actions, preferences, and mannerisms—is probably what initially attracted you. Maybe you just liked their vibe. Then once you met, chemistry kept you two talking—perhaps they told a good joke or like the same sports teams as you. Chemistry got you interested, but the positive experiences you share is what keeps the relationship alive. When you two are together, it feels good. When it stops being enjoyable, the relationship will get strained, and might end.

These three components are the exact same in brand and customer relationships. Identity and chemistry bring the customer and the brand together, but experience is king when it comes to keeping the relationship on track. During a recent SXSW session—Identity and the Chemistry of Experience, Esteban Contreras, Director of Experience Design at Sprinklr had wise words for how brands can analyze these three important relationship facets and use them to improve customer experiences.

Brand identity and power of attraction

Without a brand identity, your business is just another company selling the same product as your competitor. With a clear brand identity, your brand has a personality that attracts customers; your products become a cause people want to support, and your brand experience defines a lifestyle to which people want to belong. A strong brand identity is the most powerful tool for attracting people.

With a clear brand identity, your brand has a personality that attracts customers; your products become a cause people want to support, and your brand experience defines a lifestyle to which people want to belong.

If you are unsure whether your brand has a strong identity, try a quick exercise. Forget for a moment about your brand and focus on yourself. Describe what defines “you”. The answer will probably be a description of your personality mixed with a list of your life choices: job, friends, marriage status, taste in clothes, movies—all the facets of your life that add up to your identity. However you describe yourself, you are clear on what makes you uniquely different from your neighbor.

Now, describe your brand’s identity the same way. Can you answer with the same clarity? If not, you are missing an important part of your brand-customer relationship. Just look at the brands with the clearest brand identity—Apple, Virgin, Nike, Starbucks—they are also the brands with the highest customer engagement.

But identity is only one piece of the relationship puzzle—the attractor,

Chemistry of customer relationships

Chemistry creates an effect between two identities—a magnetic pull that leads to a feeling of belonging together. Having chemistry with someone is exciting, intoxicating and has lead to many Vegas weddings. But as we all know, it takes work to keep the chemistry alive.

In the case of brands, competition is so intense, so brands have to work constantly at sparking that chemistry. Because once a customer doesn’t mean always a customer.

It’s not about being first or most impressive. It’s about being the best fit. It’s about the laws of attraction, listening, pulling the customer closer, making them feel appreciated. Chemistry goes beyond first impressions. It’s about continual positioning.

“For brands we must understand their likes and dislikes to create relevant products. Earn, know, serve, and respect customers. The best products don’t always win but the best experiences do.” — Esteban Contreras

    How to design for chemistry:

  1. Care deeply about the customer: do user research, conduct surveys, create feedback loops that help you understand your customer’s affinities and pain points Challenge anything that gets in the way: evaluate processes to ensure that your business puts the customer first.

  2. Be empathetic: put yourself in the same shoes as the people who are using your product. Go to user research sessions, use your own product’s app, and work to understand the customer experience.

  3. Make customers feel like insiders: have conversations with the people who use your product. Whether this is on social, via email, or through customer support tickets.

  4. Show them that you respect: always follow up with customers who take the time to fill out a CSAT, NPS or another type of customer survey. Let them know that you respect their time and opinions—it goes a long way.

Good news though, all this effort pays off. When a brand has chemistry with a customer, it creates an advocacy effect. Satisfied customers share the love of your brand online. This is the basis for the promoter economy that’s crucial to business success today. In fact, rather than allocating resources to viral marketing and ads, Contreras says to try developing chemistry with customers through interactions on social and via customer service. This way you’re immediately adding value to your customer experience. And, with the promoter economy, those interactions can very well go viral.

But even if your identity and chemistry are on point, without positive experiences the relationship will likely not survive.

Customer experiences as moments of interaction

You’ve probably seen “Collect moments, not things” floating around the internet. It’s popularity speaks to our current appreciation for experiences and experience-driven purchases. Contreras believes that if your brand makes the things you sell feel more like moments, and less like things, you’ll be closer to creating richer customer experiences.

And when those interactions take place between a person and your product, you can optimize those moments to create a great experience. We all know what a great product experience feels like—personal, effortless, and makes you think, “This is the way it should have always been.” Those great experiences (your brand’s job) create mental models in our minds for how experiences should feel.

Contreras uses a specific tool for understanding how mental models are formed and for designing better experiences. It’s based off of the Hook Model and can be applied to any customer product experience. In this example, he used IKEA as the brand:

    The Experience Cycle:

  1. Signal. You see an IKEA video advertisement online. You click to learn more and see a product that is attractive. Now you identify IKEA as having a product you want.

  2. Incentive. You go to the store. At the store, you walk around and see that IKEA isn’t just selling products, they are selling a way of life. “Long live the home” sparks ideas and hopes in you for your own home. You buy the product in an effort to capture the IKEA lifestyle.

  3. Confirmation. At the end of IKEA you come home with your furniture, you put it up and you feel good. Every time you look at your new piece of furniture you feel satisfied and happy about your home.

  4. Mental Model. Next week, when you drive by an IKEA billboard you remember the good feeling you had and associate that experience with IKEA, the brand.

Mental models are where feelings become beliefs. And beliefs become actions. And actions make up our lives. Focus on identity, chemistry, and great experiences and people will map you to their own lives.

What if you are working in an industry where the mental model is already bad? Contreras talked about how his company Sprinklr has many customers in Enterprise software—an industry that has been plagued by a mental model of archaic, slow, expensive, and complex. If your brand is in a similar situation, don’t worry. You can rebuild mental models. This is where brand identity comes into play—show how your brand is different from the other companies and that you provide a new experience.

This is the year

2016 is the year when customer experience will make or break many businesses. Gartner Inc. states that “89% of companies will compete mostly on customer experience by 2016”. To succeed, brands we must develop deep relationships and understand customers’ likes and dislikes. Brands must earn, know, serve, and respect customers.

Contreras pointed out that the best products don’t always win but the best experiences do. “Understand your customer’s identities and their affinities. Care about people, not just metrics, deliver on promises that your brand makes, and create a legacy that makes for a better tomorrow.” As long as you deliver on your promises and create a great customer experience you can build a customer relationship that stands the test of time.

Chelsea Larsson is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. She believes any problem can be solved with a pen, paper, and Pimm's cup. Find her on Twitter: @ChelseaLarsson.

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