When was the last time you were truly ‘immersed’ in an experience? Was it a movie? A walk in the woods? An absorbing conversation? A bag of crisps?
While we all know the feeling of being immersed, I’ve seldom seen customer experience teams deliberately design for immersion. At least among mainstream B2C brands and B2B vendors.
However, it can be done. And it has distinct commercial benefits. In this article, I share 5+1 (OK, six) suggestions to make your customer experiences more immersive.
Let me know what you think about them!
1. Start with the story
Did I ever tell you about the time a tense looking, armed guard raced me to safety through the back streets of Moscow?
I’ll tell you more when we meet over drinks, but with that one sentence, I probably got your attention. Because your brain alerted you, I was starting a ‘story’. And there is nothing we like better. We love hearing them. Taking part in them. Sharing them with our friends. They’re also a great way to stop the kids from jumping on the couch.
But when I look at the transactionally focused customer experiences around me, there are hardly any stories worth noticing. We enter. We experience. We leave. Hopefully satisfied. Occasionally delighted. But with a story? Rarely.
Suggestion #1: Build a story-layer into every experience you offer. Ideally one where your customer or audience becomes the hero. Takes part. But even if that last bit is impossible, ‘Once-Upon-A-Time’ them beyond the widgets or services that you sell.
2. Engage the senses
Plenty of science says that by engaging multiple senses, we can increase immersion. When we augment seeing with hearing, touching, smelling and any of the other 22-33 senses neuroscience has discovered, we can bring people deeper into the experience we create. At least, if it’s done well.
But most customer experience designs hardly go beyond the senses that are transactionally required. E-Commerce focuses on screens and boxes. Physical retailers go a little further, but only push the envelope in flagship stores. B2B is even worse. For example, I still get weird looks when playing music at workshops, so I hold back on the rosemary, sage or peppermint smells that improve concentration.
Suggestion #2: As you improve or redesign experiences, take a step back to consider the senses you could (sensibly) engage and the effect they may have on the way your customer ‘feels’. But as you do, consider those of us who are neurodivergent. What immerses one person can overwhelm another.
3. Be a little ‘offbeat’
There is a movement in customer experience to remove all friction from a transaction. Part of me agrees, as making life simple and effortless for customers is the way to go. If it delays or annoys, it needs to go.
But if you become too friction-less, you also become unremarkable. The brain loves autopilot, so it tunes out everything it expects. This is great if you want to create habits, but not if you want to make people notice the value you are trying to add to their lives. Which can get painful if a competitor offers the same habit supporting experience with a noticeable difference.
Suggestion #3: Being extra-ordinary means you do something ‘out of the ordinary'. That is different. So when you’ve created that ‘perfect journey’, mess it up a little. Be unexpected, non-traditional, human. I even know a fashion brand that is deliberately ‘flawed’ in its designs. And while you should play that last card with caution, it makes customers pay proper attention. Draws them in.
4. Be meaningful
Would you rather have a new set of knives or a lovely dinner with your family? Or in a B2B: Would you rather purchase a software, or help save the planet?
If you’re selling cutlery or a SaaS, for your customers, the answer can be ‘both’. But I still need to see fork and knife sellers that help me spend meaningful time with my loved ones. Or software firms that proactively make me part of a movement to become more sustainable (OK, there’s probably a few, but they’re the exception).
Suggestion #4: Humans immerse themselves when the experience resonates with what matters to ‘them’. Their values. Their aspirations. Their rituals. Their beliefs. So make the ‘stuff’ you sell meaningful. Expand the experience you offer so it connects to your customers at a deeper level.
5. Study the masters
Immersion is a journey. There are exceptions, but we rarely go from 0 to 100% in 3 seconds. You take it step by step. Build anticipation. Create a safe place to start. Take your audience over a threshold. Vary the experiential heat. End on a high. If relevant, exit through the gift shop.
Immersive theatre makers, museum and theme park designers, artists and even a few scientists have mastered this script for decades (centuries?). But somehow, customer experience ‘experts’ ignore it. In fact, I still get funny looks when I say that some of my most insightful experience management lessons came from a Tarot class (and trust me, that’s not my weirdest story).
Suggestion #5: If you want to build more immersive experiences, immerse yourself first in the language and practices of the arts. Theatre. Theme parks. It will take a while before you catch on, and you may need to step out of your comfort zone. I still remember my Punchdrunk coach telling me to be an ‘empty vessel’. But you if you commit, you’ll learn more than any CX certification course can teach.
6. Experiment with ‘immersion’ as a measurement
While it takes little tech and a lot of neuroscience, you can measure immersion. And thanks to smart watches, you don’t even have to attach wires to customers’ skulls 😉.
It’s early days, but first tests in movies, retail and music show a positive correlation between customer immersion and purchase intent, experience ratings and even employee engagement (through a positive feedback loop).
All to say that it’s worth investigating how you can use immersion measurements to improve the customer experience. I admit it’s a variable I’ve never included in a dashboard of mine. But perhaps it should be there.
Suggestion #6: Get in touch if you want to discuss.
That’s all folks!
The above suggestions aren’t magic bullets. They still require an experience and a value proposition that your customers actually want and appreciate. But if you have your basics in place, they are a way to lift the proposition of your business above that of the competition. And, who knows, maybe even become a little more meaningful for your customers.
Do you want to talk about (measuring) immersion?
Then let’s have virtual espresso. We can have a general chat or discuss setting up an experiment to measure or increase the immersion levels of your customer experience.
It’s a journey into the unknown, so we’d probably start small and jointly figure out the best next steps. But who knows where we’ll end up.
So if you’re a brand, business or experience leader wanting to ‘immerse’, let’s chat. At a minimum, it should be fun!
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.