Skip to content

Today it is hard to ignore Customer Experience. Every organisation acknowledges that good CX is core to their success in today’s economy, and yet few are able to deliver truly differentiating CX strategies.

I am often asked by organisations as to what key attributes they should focus on when it comes to succeeding with the shopper of tomorrow. Should they invest in emerging technologies, a better omnichannel strategy or work on optimising their customer experience? While all are valid, the answer really lies in how you execute your strategy, and today, with the speed at which you do so. Successful companies are those that are pivoting, adapting to their changing environments and changing appropriately. So what does that mean for Customer Experience strategy?

Today, to grow and protect your brand, you need PACE. And I don’t mean Usain Bolt. What you need is each of the following elements working together to deliver a Personalised Authentic Contextual Experience.


1. #Personalisation: It’s all about you

I have written in detail about personalisation across several previous posts here (My Way or Highway: Why Personalisation is the key, Personalized Promotions and When Personalisation gets Creepy) so let me just summarise. The days of uniform product offerings are over. The Cookie has re-wired consumer expectations, and we are not talking about the chocolate chip kind here. Most digital interactions that consumers have, recognise who they are, and react accordingly. The grocery website you visit recalls your favourite purchases, prompts you to buy a shampoo it knows you like for a discount and highlights a new health food product if thinks you might like, based on your previous purchases. When you book your next flight, the airline app auto-completes your personal information (passport information, credit card) and even suggests the departure airport based on your location. At the simplest, the car park barrier lifts as it reads your automobile licence plate, charging your account appropriately.

Today as consumers we expect to be recognised and treated as the individuals we are. We assume that the data that is being collected relating to our behaviours and purchases will then result in tailored content, offers and unique service propositions that are ideal for ‘just me’. The problem is that most organisations are great at collecting the data, but very few are turning that data into useful personalised experiences for their customers.

I received a personalised direct mail offer from my bank recently for a first-time mortgage. I already have 2 mortgages. I lost my mortgage virginity a long time ago. Failing at such basic individual communications significantly undermines the customer experience.


2. #Authenticity: Be Genuine

This is something that most brands really struggle with – Authenticity. Even as individuals we all want to be genuine, but most of us seem stuck between who we are, who we want to be and who we should be (deep eh!). It is the same with organisations.

To most shoppers, many retailers are the same. I won’t mention names (as I am bound to anger at least one client!) but truly differentiated retailers and brands are hard to find. There are few brands that know what they are and deliver on it, every time, regardless.

Zappos is an authentic brand. So is Amazon. Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency and integrity. IKEA is a genuine brand. What marks these examples out as unique is that they work hard at being themselves. They do not copy others. They do not conform to established norms. And they build their brand around that attitude.

And when they do get it wrong, they admit it, say sorry and fix it. They are transparent and proactive. Being authentic doesn’t happen overnight. It is a culture, a belief system.

It is important because today’s shoppers expect authentic. They don’t want mass produced goods or services.

To deliver truly unique customer experiences you need to be authentic, throughout. And not artificially authentic. Genuinely so. It needs to feel real.

My favourite, authentic tag-line of all time was for the Irish Rail company a while back. They were upgrading their rail network over a number of years, which of course meant train delays became annoyingly regular yet unpredictable. Their tag-line read “Irish Rail – We Are Not There Yet, But We’re Getting There” which ironically was what most passengers experienced when using their services! At least they were genuine in their claim (although I think accidentally).


3. #Context: Where Content is King, Context is GOD

Context goes past personalisation and delivers the product offering at the right moment. Relevant not only to you as a shopper, but to you RIGHT NOW.

Imagine a Sportswear retailer who sends you a Meet-Up notification for a running group meeting tonight in your area at 8pm for a casual 5k jog. You bought new running shoes from them last week. Maybe you’d be interested in coming along? It is an offer related to your purchase, an offer that should appeal to you within the context you purchased that item, relevant to your lifestyle.

Most retail and brand promotional offers are blunt instruments, devoid of any understanding of shopper context. It is time we started using the technology we have and all the data we are capturing to start delivering real contextual experiences for shoppers.

Context is easy once you sit down for a moment and think about what consumers need. I arrive at an airport to take a flight. If you have enabled location services on your airline app, they know where you are. They can simply push you your boarding card to your phone as you walk into the terminal, alongside a message welcoming you to the airport, giving up to date boarding gate information and wishing you well on your journey. Context moves the CX satisfaction needle from average to out-standing.

4. #Experience: A Mind That is Stretched by a New Experience Can Never Go Back to its Old Dimensions

Today we live in an Experiential Economy. If you don’t realise that, then you have been time-warped in from the 1980’s (and if you are, next time can you bring back some of those cool neon laces we used to wear in our sneakers?).

It is why customer experience has become a central pillar of most organisations strategy. In fact some products are just about the experience. One of my favourite examples of this is the Australian brand Jaffle Chutes.



This is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich. But they have gone past the service economy and into the experiential. You pay online and once you select your preferred time, you are given today’s secret location. You then proceed to stand on the white X that appears at your location, at your time specified (personalisation), and from the sky above your toasted sandwich is parachuted down! It is nothing if not experiential! The producers invite consumers to offer their apartments as future sandwich preparation/drop locations (so it is Sharing Economy meets Food Service) and so it is also achieves that sometimes elusive authenticity.

There are lots of great examples of ‘experiential’ delivery in Food Service. Here are my favourite two this week, both involving water! First there is the Zaou chain of restaurants in Japan where you ‘Catch Your Own Sushi’


And then there is this Waterfall restaurant in San Pablo in the Phillipinnes, a spill over from the local dam. It is nothing if not experiential.


Today every brand and retailer needs to think about the experience. How can we add further value for the shopper through the experiential? Having a store and goods to sell no longer is enough. Having free Wi-Fi in-store is not an ‘experience’. The game has completely changed.

Change Your PACE

So that’s it. Deliver authentic and genuine customer experiences that are based around an individual shoppers needs at that exact moment – PACE.

Those that develop Personalised Authentic Contextual Experiences will own the marketplace. But the PACE acronym is not accidental. This needs to happen now, or else you will find that your competitors or an unknown disruptor will do it before you do. There is no point in spending all your time in training and planning your race strategy.

The game is won or lost in how fast you move off those starting blocks.

Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

Subscribe to this blog and be the first to get notified of new posts.

A blog to  inspire and delight

Not yet signed up to receive the latest posts? Do it now!

A blog to  inspire and delight