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Modern customer experience: when your fans create the marketing of your company

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Some companies are growing in a silent way: you don't hear them, they don't show flashy ads and they remain in the background. Companies like fashion platform Shein believe in the principle of shared interest and their customers are happy to do the marketing themselves. There are more emerging trends in the field of customer experience, such as bringing surprises through artificial serendipity.

Steven van Belleghem is co-founder of inspiration company Nexxworks and part-time marketing professor at Vlerick Business School. In a presentation he elaborates on present customer experience trends, how companies can successfully modernize loyalty programs and reinvent the customer journey.

Loyalty programs: value for both company and customer
Van Belleghem notices that traditional companies often make a mistake when it comes to customer loyalty. „Too many companies are asking the wrong question about loyalty. They always ask: what should we do to make our customers more loyal to our brands. I believe we need to turn this question around and ask yourself if you are loyal enough to your customers."

Traditional loyalty programs that focus on the company are going to change. „We see loyalty programs where the value for the company has been higher than the value for the customer, like if you are a frequent flyer member, the airline is still benefitting more from your loyalty than the other way around. This is starting to frustrate people. So, this idea of shared interest is going to be crucial in the next few years in customer experience."

Consumer-to-manufacturer platform
An excellent example of a company that innovates in customer experience is Shein, the Chinese fashion platform that has become extremely popular outside of China. „The main driver of their popularity is their philosophy of 'consumer to manufacturer'. The starting point is the customer. They look at the data of the customer that are used to design clothes and because of this philosophy they can create almost real-time fashion. When their fans, their customers, go to the platform, every time they discover something new, they are very excited. For this reason, these companies are becoming extremely popular." In the past seven years Shein has grown more that 100% per year.

Shein grows extremely fast in an inconspicuous way: they hardly do any marketing and they have a reason for it. „They believe in the concept of shared interest," Van Belleghem explains. „Their marketing is created by their customers. They have a shared loyalty system. It is a system with points, it sounds like something of the 1980s, but they added something new. You don't get points when you buy something, you get points when you support the brand."

Incentives for customers to do the marketing
When you write a review for a product you purchased from Shein, you receive 20 points (100 points equal one dollar). It is a generous points system. Customers can earn rewards for daily logins, design of games, verifying email or writing reviews, as Matthew Brennan writes in a research article 'Shein, the TikTok of e-commerce'. Shein moreover incentivizes pictures with user size information, which allows shoppers to accurately judge if something will fit them.

Young people, who are the target group, can easily obtain free clothing such as a T-shirt. „Because of this, they promote Shein to all their friends. Shein has its marketing almost for free. They created the whole marketing machine together with their customers. The win here is that the customers have the feeling that it is a shared interest. (…) I believe in the next few years it is really time for organizations to rethink their customer loyalty."

Angry customers: a goldmine of information
Despite all your efforts, not every customer will be satisfied and companies could do much more to take frustrated customers seriously. It will help bring the company on the right track. „We tend to put them aside as people who complain too much, but let me show you some facts. About 1 out of 26 people shares their negative feedback with the company, which means 25 out of 26 tell others they leave your business, they remain frustrated and tell you nothing. This group of 1 out of 26, people that actually complain and share their frustrations, is a goldmine of information. You should cherish them and spend more time with them to understand why they are frustrated and how you can solve it for them. I really hope more companies will love their frustrated customers."

Artificial serendipity: the power of surprise
In a world where we can find everything on the internet, customers are very happy when they find something special. People love surprises and the term marketers use for such cases is artificial serendipity. „Today everything has become predictable, so if you can surprise your customer in a positive way, that is something that really boosts customer experience." According to a Facebook study 58% of shoppers enjoy discovering items they aren't looking for. „Just ask yourself: when was the last time you actually had a positive surprise? Obviously, there is a need for more serendipity. So, you see more and more companies are organizing serendipity for their customers." The marketing department at Rutgers University has investigated how happy incidents cause consumers to have a positive experience with a product.

The power of serendipity is also visible in the Shein fashion app. The app experience is more a discovery driven recommendation rather than a primary search driven experience. So, the young audience definitely find surprises. Streaming service Netflix introduced a 'play something' shuffle button. „Many of us don't know what to choose on Netflix, so we outsource that to the machine and then we get a surprise we may like or not like," Steven van Belleghem says. „When we discover a new Netflix show thanks to the shuffle button, our happiness levels are higher than when we discover something in a traditional way of finding shows on the streaming service. It is one of the most important customer experience trends I believe in: the future of artificial serendipity." 

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