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Don’t Forget the Fun When Designing Customer Experience


A carefully designed customer experience is the cornerstone of modern omni-channel customer relationship marketing. Retailers painstakingly craft marketing messages and engagement strategies that a customer will encounter at a specific time, in a specific place, via a specific channel. The experience often has some flexibility built in so it can adapt to individual customer behavior, wants and needs.

Generally speaking, every aspect of this carefully crafted and curated experience is geared toward directly convincing the customer to make a purchase. Naturally, all the investment retailers are making in omni-channel technology fails to make a whole lot of sense if it doesn’t result in higher conversion rates and purchase totals. But when designing their omni-channel customer experiences retailers are too often forgetting one crucial aspect: fun. As in mindless fun that is not directly tied to any sort of marketing campaign or effort to separate customers from their cash.

The lessons of ‘Penguinball’

Some years ago, I worked at a small company where late on Friday afternoons the senior executives would usually have already left for the weekend. The remaining employees would often take the opportunity to engage in a homemade game called “Penguinball” that tested a player’s strength and agility using small rubber balls thrown at foam penguins that had been given out as promotional toys at trade shows.

Penguinball had no real tie to anyone’s job, but offered a valuable stress valve at the end of a tough week and also brought together employees from different departments in a highly siloed and politicized company in a friendly atmosphere. The 30 minutes or so spent playing Penguinball resulted in improved morale and enhanced interdepartmental communication and cooperation that no official work activity could have ever produced.

That’s nice, you’re probably thinking, but what does it have to do with how I design my omni-channel customer experience? Quite a bit, actually.

Avoiding marketing saturation

Your customers are literally exposed to thousands of marketing messages every day, through every channel in which they live their private lives (i.e., all the same channels you are trying to sell them stuff through). These may be blatant advertisements or more subtle messages, like product placements in a TV show or sponsored sections of a website. But in any event, customers are bombarded with efforts to get them to spend money the way employees are bombarded with assignments from their supervisors and like a worker late on a Friday afternoon, they reach a point of saturation.

Many omni-channel retailers are engaging in gamification to liven up the customer experience they offer. This is by no means a bad idea, but the typical retail gamification offering is still a fairly obvious sales pitch. Common omni-channel gamification gimmicks include rewards and status for customers who spend a certain amount of money or buy a certain number of products, scavenger hunts where customers find free products or discount coupons in the “real world” using online clues, photo contests where customers submit online photos of themselves using a retailer’s products, or online games where prizes include special discounts and other bounties that directly lead consumers to purchases.

Again, there is nothing wrong with these type of gamification offerings, but retailers should also consider gamification offerings that do not serve as direct (or even indirect) entreaties to buy something. An athletic goods retailer could offer sports-themed video games on its site, or an entertainment retailer could let mobile customers play music and movie trivia on their devices. A basic tie-in to the retailer’s core business is OK, but the key point is not to perform any advertising or send any marketing messages or promotions.

The serious business of fun

Like Penguinball, retailers will build morale and solidarity among their customers as a result. They will start to associate certain brands with sheer fun and wind up visiting the various channel offerings of “fun” retailers more frequently. Almost inevitably, this will lead to customers turning to their favorite “fun” brands when it’s time to make a purchase.

In addition, there is nothing to prevent retailers from building customer communities by providing fun games, contests and activities where customers can compete and/or cooperate with each other. Bringing customers together organically, rather than through more formal means such as online forums or social media pages, can result in the development of more natural communities of like-minded shoppers. Similarly, Penguinball brought together members of different departments more naturally than formal company meetings and retreats.

Of course no company could survive long if its employees played Penguinball all day and no retailer will survive long if its omni-channel CRM strategy consists of fun and games with no marketing or promotion. But sometimes easing up a little on chasing every last nickel can result in a business earning a few extra dollars.

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