Experience is the battleground for brands today, says Mark Sherwin of Accenture Interactive, with consumers and business buyers able to pick and choose more freely than ever. And industries are being disrupted constantly to give new choices.

Winning in an experience-led market means being focused on the human. Any given person is only a ‘customer’ for a small percentage of their life. To create more meaningful experiences, appeal to them as the people that they are for the 99% of the time, not the customer they are for the 1%.

To do this isn’t simple though. You need to use the right technology to make your business more agile and connected, which will translate into better experiences. You need to find the right content for all customers, not just the right devices or channels to reach them on. Finally treat people like people. Flex to accommodate their individual needs. That means stitching together design, marketing, content and commerce.

If there is anyone asking ‘why does this matter?’ – I’ll let you ponder this: 80% of brands believe they deliver great consumer experiences, but, according to the WFA, only 8% of consumers agree. Yes, that’s right. We think we’re doing a grand job…but generally speaking, we’re not.

So we need to change the experience

Technology would be the obvious place to start, wouldn’t it? In some ways yes. But the conclusion of all of this is that you have to treat people like people. In order to do that, you can’t start with technology. You have to start with the human.

The starting point for anything new has to be driven by an insight into the customer. Will they like this new technology? Will they believe you’re adopting it to really make a difference, or will they just find it just intrusive?

Human first, technology second. This mantra has been made harder because businesses have been told they need to keep up with the ‘shiny’ stuff: new technologies, new channels and new platforms to improve experiences. But as they blindly add more and more new things, they lose sight of the goal. They can’t see the wood for the trees, or the person for the bots.

The big risk of this pile-on approach is that brands can create a cognitive dissonance: ‘How can they be doing this while they still can’t do that?’ And/or, it just misses the point. QR codes were a useful technology, but to say they’ve become a mainstream experience enabler would be a stretch.

Now to the technology…

Technology has a number of positive applications. One of them is the ability to automate customer conversations. We’re not just talking about a cost measure…we’re talking about having your brand represented and on-hand for people all the time. When they need it. It can be a brand saviour, but designing experience delivery via chatbots requires an entirely new way of thinking.

The siloed nature of businesses is a big barrier to better conversations and experiences. Imagine how frustrating it is when you can’t go from buying a product to complaints to refunds in the same simple conversation. And imagine how much your experience improves when they’re joined up.

Conversations with chatbots can do this. They can be made seamless and connected. But they also must be expected and welcomed by customers. There will come a day when we’ll curse not being able to just ‘talk’ to a brand any time we want. We’ll expect to have asynchronous conversations with businesses on our terms, in real time. We’ll need to pick up at exactly the point where we left off and to feel the benefit with immediate effect. But that requires a human centric design model…not the generic linear designs that are still all too common.

Brands are starting to take the plunge, but it’s still in the form of a rudimentary chat bot technology. This constricts a conversation to a single channel and usually some kind of pre-programmed, rules-based dialogue. This isn’t a natural human experience and although running costs and therefore operating margins will improve in the short term, if they don’t bring the customer along, they will be short term in every way.

It’s not just how you say it, it’s what you say

The next stage then needs to be around the content, specifically whether it matches the expectations of the audience. You may have found the devices that people use – but are they an email, WhatsApp, Snapchat or Instagram user? Do they want to be pushed ‘broadcast’ content, or be allowed to play around with the content themselves?

A recent study by SCG reports that 89% of university and senior school students say Snapchat is their main medium for communicating with friends. Similarly, GlobalWebIndex has found that nearly 80% of Generation Z-ers are using WhatsApp once a day or more. Both these platforms lie partially in the dark web – a space near-impossible for marketers to mine for brand analytics.

We can’t be sure exactly how these people are using these channels. But we know they’re sharing content. And we know they have to get that content from somewhere. So what if their experience of your brand is – initially at least – one that provides them with entertaining content. It’s a slower path to top line impact, but is often the best way to refresh the base of potential customers.

Is your brand’s content for younger audiences authentic, does it travel easily across the channels they inhabit and help them express themselves? And does it do all of this whilst still being able to measure success?

Be people people

Technology holds a lot of possibilities for the customer and the human experience. That – in conjunction with changing consumer expectations – is why the experience is such a hot topic right now. We must remember, though: ‘Hi Mark’ at the start of a generic email is not personalisation; a person is a human, not a customer and if you start with tech, you won’t end with success. People first, people.