SYDNEY/SINGAPORE: There is no doubt that innovation is important for winning over consumers, but customer centricity and good design continue to have the edge, according to two senior industry researchers.

Brian Prentice and Olive Huang, both VPs of research at Gartner, said that creating a great customer experience does not depend solely on being innovative and that brands risk losing out if they ignore customer centricity.

Speaking to The Drum, Prentice cited tech giant Apple and Uber, the app-based transport firm, as good examples of companies that achieve high rates of customer loyalty and satisfaction by focusing on experience and design.

"Organisations that are more design centric appear to be more innovative than the R&D dollars they spend," he said. "Apple, for example, spends a fraction of R&D compared to Samsung, but their market capitalisation is higher and they seem to have a higher degree of customer satisfaction and loyalty than Samsung does."

Similarly, he argued that Uber's use of the cloud and geo-location updates are hardly ground-breaking innovative features, yet "they put it together in a way that is a great experience".

"If you don't have good design, you're relying on really, really good technical implementation which may not work," he warned.

Today's consumers are changing, added Olive Huang, who said they are now looking for different levels of engagement which brands should not ignore.

"If you look at the technology, 40% of all data analytics projects is about customer experience. If you talk about digital transformation, you have the possibilities to get more insights, they look at the data and what they can do to improve the experience," she said.

"It is really moving from how do I generate more leads through marketing, to how do I continuously engage the customer in their lifecycle? You then have customer experience becoming the competitive edge," she added.

According to Huang, brands face two main challenges when seeking to improve the customer experience they offer.

The first concerns how traditional organisations are set up, making the mistake of regarding each customer lifecycle as "individual compartmentalised cycles" rather than recognising that many purchase decisions nowadays involve consumers evaluating information and engaging all at the same time.

Secondly, over-reliance on technology can be a major problem if it comes at the expense of human interaction.

"Over-engineering is a big problem," she said. "The human factor of the customer experience is very important, and organisations that push customers to only digital channels to save costs will see the customer experience drops."

Data sourced from The Drum; additional content by WARC staff