One of the key themes that resonated with marketers at Brandweek last week was the need for brands to be human, or more specifically, empathetic. Data and technology will only take the customer on their journey so far. To achieve emotional connections, “customer centricity,” explains Glen Hartman, head of Accenture Interactive, North America, should be at the heart of a marketer’s strategy.

Here, Hartman shares more about empathy.

Nitro-Net: How has managing the customer experience been simplified and in other ways become more complex?
Glen Hartman: Experience has never been more essential. It’s been simplified through its primacy. It’s been simplified because there are more technologies and external guidance that brands can receive to create a seamless and meaningful experience.

On the other hand, it’s more complex because consumer expectations of the experience are more demanding. We used to talk about omnichannel and multichannel—a consumer wants their tablet experience to be the same as or somehow connected to their phone experience and their website experience—but now they require that same connection to sales and customer service experience. For example, when I call the call center or go into a physical store I want them to know everything I do on the web. When I go to the web, I want them to know about everything happening in a call center and at the store. The complexity and breadth of touchpoints is creating a new level of challenges for brands to tackle.

You’ve spoken in the past about the need for empathy in the customer experience. How does creativity and empathy fit into the blend of data and tech?
When it comes to creating and delivering remarkable experience for customers, one of the key points is tech and data as enablers, whereas empathy and creative are the drivers—and the connective tissue between all of them (creative, empathy, tech and data) is in helping customers establish and maintain an emotional connection with the brand. The heart of empathy is emotion, meaning something people really care about. The way to get there is through technology and data as enablers, to get to know the needs of the person, and then unlock the big creative idea, so it’s more relevant to them as their wants and needs change in real time.

I can give you an example. If the key part of this is the emotional connection and finding something a customer finds truly meaningful and useful to them, it becomes more important to create experiences not based on demographics or what they purchased in the past. Instead, we need to understand why they made the purchase. Let’s say it’s shampoo and they’re buying it because it isn’t tested on animals or because it’s eco-friendly. Or perhaps it’s because the “no tears” formula works and makes the experience of shampooing his or her child easier. Discovering what people really care about is how to uncover the emotional connection—for that person and their relationship to that product or brand. So you could use data and technology to find out if that’s why they like it, and to enable those kinds of experiences.

In a world where businesses have become complex ecosystems, both internally and externally, how important is it for marketers to create a “living business,” one which continually evolves to meet the changing needs of consumers?
If you’re serious about creating long-term relationships with the customer and being relevant to the customer on their terms, then you need to be able to reverse engineer the systems, the operating model, etc., to be able to do that. It’s all really about a new level of customer-centricity.

We’re talking about a heightened level of relevance here. It’s not just about getting the right product to the right person at the right time. It’s way beyond that—where we really need to change things operationally and organizationally to make those experiences come to life. We’re fundamentally talking about changing the way the company works around customers’ needs. We like to say you move from an organization to an organism that lives and breathes and learns, like humans.

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