Customer Experience: A Buzz Term or a Source of Real Commercial Value?

Jun 01, 2017

This article is based on an interview of Andy Bertera, Executive Director of Marketing, New England Biolabs, Inc. by Chris Conner, Director of Marketing, Association Commercial Professionals – Life Sciences and Host of the Life Science Marketing Radio Podcast

“Customer experience” is the sum of a customer’s perception of their interactions with your brand across the whole purchasing cycle. Gartner describes the proactive management of these touchpoints as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy.” This article will explore the importance of a customer experience strategy (CXM) and provide a case study from a life science tools company known for its close and meaningful relationships with its customers.

Why is a CXM strategy so important?

What constitutes a great customer experience differs between companies and different target audiences: what a lab manager in an R&D lab at big pharma values is very different from the needs of a strategic sourcing professional in a smaller biotech. It is therefore critical to really understand your different audiences. A company that focuses on developing a greater understanding of what their customers are facing daily, and developing a way of working with them that is more engaging and beneficial when compared to its competitors can expect to see a stronger brand preference; increased revenues through incremental sales from existing customers and new sales from word of mouth. Additionally, improved customer loyalty is a likely result of valuable and memorable customer interactions.

New England Biolabs (NEB), a life science tools company, has focused on marketing – specifically content marketing – as a cornerstone of its CXM strategy. It’s about giving the customer the information they need, when they need it. Two key factors contribute to the company’s success in this area: the company culture of supporting science and viewing a customer’s relationship with the brand as a journey not a destination.

A journey, not a destination

Journey perfectly describes the relationship with customers: while it must end somewhere, there are multiple stops on the way, each with a unique character. With regards to the customers’ buying journey, the relationship is not linear. It may end with a sale, but if the customer enjoyed the experience, they’ll come back again, when the time is right. This could be to troubleshoot their application of the product they purchased or to seek advice on planning their next experiment. There are many touch points that make up that journey. Each of those touch points must be relevant and treated as important, but you must also consider the total experience, the sum of those touch points that the customer has, and this is what NEB sees as a means to gain competitive advantage.

Customer experience as a competitive advantage

Customer experience can be a source of competitive advantage if you use every touch point as an opportunity for the customer to both experience a successful interaction, and also to learn more about you, the brand. They understand that many aspects of the journey are not about up-selling the customer. Too often, apps and websites constantly ask, “are you ready to buy yet?” NEB decided that this was not the way it wanted to interact with its customers. Andy Bertera, Executive Director of Marketing at NEB, comments: “We want to support our customers to actually answer their scientific, research questions, their research needs, and then when they're ready to buy, we’re ready to take the order. We nurture them through that process and provide them the information and details they need, such that they will buy from us based on the experience”.

Loyalty as a measure of customer experience can’t be determined solely by purchase frequency or revenue. The NEB team discovered that in some instances, a customer was buying a specific product once every two to three years. Although there were multiple other connections with that customer during that time, that was the only purchase made. The customer was indeed happy and loyal, but you wouldn't conclude that unless the data was viewed over a longer period, because they were only buying infrequently.

Value versus an “opportunity to buy”

Companies that have an internal culture described as ‘anti-sales’ are frequently ripe for delivering exceptional customer experiences. This is because their focus is on providing value to customers in terms of giving them what they need – mainly information – when they need it, as opposed to viewing every interaction as an opportunity to sell. This is content marketing in its purest form.

The right format at the right time

At the heart of a good CXM strategy, is an in-depth knowledge of the customer and their daily challenges. Understanding that a scientist in a lab with poor internet connection needs a physical document as opposed to an app is important, but understanding how people consume different types of information is critical. Images and video help make information more dynamic - using voice overs to know how to pronounce a particular term for example, and to explain what a particular term means. Animations can bring protocols to life. It is also critical to experiment with different types of media as part of a CXM strategy.

It’s all about trial and error

It is critical to view each CXM tactic deployed as an experiment. This should be natural to scientific companies, but in reality, marketers try something and hope it works, however, they are not always evaluating what can be learned from it. If it doesn't work at first, they often view it as a failure as opposed to a stepping stone to success. Particularly in the digital realm, technologies and ways of interacting and communicating are advancing much faster outside of the life sciences than they are within it. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to take a technology or a marketing idea from another industry and re-invent it for the life sciences and see what can happen. Test an idea, put 10% of your budget into it and watch and learn.

Customers are used to using Google for search and Amazon for online purchases. These behemoths have set the standards for a person's online experience and they expect that to be the norm – they don't care that you don't have the IT budget that an Amazon or a Google has, so why not focus on replicating these proven experiences, wherever possible?

The website: the center of the customer journey

Company websites tend to be the center of a customer's buying journey. Both inbound and outbound marketing activities can be used to drive consumers into the website to explore more information. Sticking to the maxim that good CXM is about value and not sales, a website should be very content-centric; and not all content needs to relate directly to your products. Anything that is helpful provides an experience of a brand that is there to support the customer.

Just as loyalty cannot be measured in terms of total revenues alone, customer experience cannot be determined solely from an understanding a customer’s purchasing habits, an understanding of a customers’ use of your website is also essential. Using web analytics, NEB realized that if they took bounce rates (the fraction of visits to a single page only) at face value, it looked like customers were not finding what they needed from the website. However, further investigation revealed that if they just had a single question, they either came directly to the website or they came to it via Google, got the answer, and left. That one-page visit, “in and out”, which was initially viewed as a bounce, was actually a valuable customer experience. “We know there is an opportunity for us to try and retain them and get them to look at other content on the website, but it is good for a customer to be able to get what they need quickly, and that took a lot of thinking about to realize that sometimes the metrics you look at on the surface are not telling you what you might think” explains Bertera. “25% of our web traffic are researchers or individuals who have visited our site to use a particular [scientific] tool. Those tools that are not directly related to products, but are equally critical to driving traffic to the website and again supporting our customers’ research needs”.

Connecting users to a purchase can lead to an enhanced experience

It is not always possible to know who the end-users of your products are when there is a lab manager or purchasing agent between you and the researcher. This makes it harder to develop a good customer experience, as companies are one step removed from the user. Some companies, as a result, are working to place the product closer to the end user, in a way that adds benefit to that consumer. For example, ThermoFisher, BioRad, Promega, as well as NEB, have developed onsite ‘vending machine’ solutions to enable researchers to get product when they need it.

Using the data to continually improve the customer experience

For every experience to be valuable in gaining competitive advantage, you must understand how each one interacts. The ultimate goal of bringing all the data together, in a CRM for example, is personalization - being able to market the products or support services and tailoring the experience specifically to an individual.

By looking at every touchpoint a brand has with a customer as one journey, and ensuring it achieves the high standards of interactions expected from companies like Amazon, a company is able to put its customers at the forefront: providing them value that exceeds the norm. CXM is not just a buzz term – it is a tenet of good business and great marketing: solving a pain that a customer has (whether they know it is a pain or not!). It is not all about up-selling – it is about value – but focusing on value will ultimately result in increased revenues.

To hear more sales and marketing case studies and to attend industry-specific training from other leading life science companies, join us at the Association Commercial Professionals – Life Sciences Annual Meeting that will be held in Boston, MA, October 25-27, 2017.

For more information or to register visit https://acp-ls.org/annual-meeting/

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