“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
One of the keys to longevity for any business is repeatedly providing a good (or better yet, great) customer experience. Without customers, businesses fail – finding and engaging customers is lifeblood. Perhaps one of the greatest masters of customer experience, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin fame, said, “The key is to set realistic customer expectations, and then not to just meet them, but to exceed them — preferably in unexpected and helpful ways.” Sounds reasonable? Well it isn’t so easy to implement, so we’ll dig into it deeper and share our recipe for great customer experiences.
What is Customer Experience?
So that we have a clear idea of the goal, Customer Experience (sometimes abbreviated as CX) is where your customers’ desires intersect with the services you deliver.
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
One component of customer experience is customer service, which is what most customers associate to customer experience. Customer service typically involves an exchange with a company representative via email, chat, phone or in person. In the exchange, the representative has the opportunity to deliver excellent customer service and a memorable customer experience. But your business may have numerous touchpoints, from online conversations to phone calls to trade shows. Any place you interact with a customer contributes to that customer’s feeling about your business.
Why Does Customer Experience Matter?
In a nutshell, your service is your brand. A product or service only has to be 10% better than a competitor’s to generate 50% more sales and 100% more profit.
When you think of Four Seasons Hotels, you probably associate the brand with ultra-comfortable accommodations and four-star service. Contrast that with Motel 6, where your customer experience is no-frills but inexpensive. Expectations of customer experience are set in advance.
What you believe about customer experience may conflict with reality. A couple of years ago, Bain & Co. surveyed 362 leading companies, finding that 80% of those companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience. In reality, only 8% of their customers agree. Your actions speak louder than your words.
Recipe for Great Customer Experiences
Now that we have a better understanding of what customer experience is and why it matters, we can look at ways to improve our delivery. Here are some key ideas to consider.
Define your ideal customer personas
We start with personas, which are fictional characters based on real customers (or desired customers). We typically write them up in short (1-2 page) documents. A good persona creates a narrative that describes their skills, attitudes, environment and goals. Having a persona document creates a foundation for mapping your planned customer experience and the language you want to speak to engage ideal customers.
Map your “normal” customer journey
Where do you interact (visibly) with customers? Where do your employees interact with each other (e.g., handoffs) that affects the customer? Each touchpoint offers the opportunity to be successful (or not) in engaging customers. Factor in your website, social media, telephone calls, in-person meetings, advertising and other transaction points. Drilling down, for example, on your website, are the pathways to the most common tasks obvious?
What would you expect to be the customer mood at each stage? Curious? Nervous? Mad? Happy? Like obstacles, setting up the challenges helps you manage the flow.
It’s useful to document potential obstacles. For example, if you’re selling an expensive product, “trust” may be an obstacle, or if you’re selling flowers, “timeliness” may be a challenge. Knowing the hurdles will help you reduce friction during the customer journey. To overcome them, you could offer a money-back guarantee or provide testimonials about how great your products are.
Visible & Internal Interactions
Some touchpoints are visible, but others are not. For example, accounting sending an invoice or products being shipped are not entirely an interaction, but they affect customer experience greatly (e.g., what if the invoice is incorrect?). Mark touchpoints with their visibility.
Create Goals and Track Applicable Metrics
Getting things right at each customer touchpoint requires an adaptive, iterative approach. What works today may not work tomorrow, and one customer’s satisfactory is another customer’s unacceptable.
We’re proponents of capturing, measuring and analyzing data at each customer interaction, preferably from the start. Whether you are with an individual, small business, large corporation or multinational operation, chances are good that you can improve customer experience. You’re probably engaging customers through direct mail, phone calls, in-person meetings, your website and social media, which provides a checklist for measurement areas. You need to add in feedback loops to know what customers like or dislike.
What systems capture data?
If you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, there are certainly reports you can tap to measure performance, such as leads captured, contacted and closed. Your website should have analytics baked into every page so you can track online performance. You may have other customer support systems, like help desks or return authorization tickets.
Is there a scorecard?
Chances are you collect a great deal of data, but many companies do nothing with it. You should consider having a dashboard or reports that make it easy to understand what is happening. It’s a great idea to have varying levels of detail (high to low) for those who need to examine them. For example, the CEO needs high level information to make decisions, but frontline employees may need to know specific details.
Implementing Customer Experience Plans
Customer experience is best viewed as a continuous feedback loop. Set your plan, measure what’s happening, review the metrics, and adjust accordingly.
Set expectations with your customer (messaging)
Before you ever officially interact with your customers, you’re creating the customer journey. Through your advertising, public relations and social media, customers develop an impression. That notion gets accentuated with any prior experience, word of mouth or events where they interact with your business.
Be “Steady Eddy” with your customer experience practices. If one employee does things one way and others use their own philosophy, customers will feel it. It starts with your company’s culture and relies on regular internal communication.
Respond to mistakes
Stuff happens. Own it. Respond with compassion and you can turn it around. It can actually work in your favor to do something unexpected and appropriate to a mistake.
How can you maximize good experiences? How do you communicate successes?
Do more of what works! Let your team know that certain items are having positive impact so they can re-purpose ideas in other areas. For example, marketing sent a reminder email before a trade show that brought in many new visitors. Why? Find out and share.
How can you minimize bad experiences? How do you communicate problems?
Fix issues as soon as possible and do less of what hurts customer experience. Share problems with your team (don’t blame, just explain). For example, shipping took longer than expected, which turned out because the order wasn’t processed before a holiday. How can you adjust to avoid this happening next time? Seek input and share ideas.
How can you reduce friction?
If you can make it look easy, your customers will rave about you. Four Seasons Hotels keep a dossier on guests, and when they return, they use it to make the stay better, without anyone asking.
Customer Experience Is About Satisfaction
The result is either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction (or ambivalence…). With metrics in place, adjustments can be made. In the past decade, the company that has “written the book” (literally) on customer experience is Zappos. The online retailer’s dedication to creating “wow” experiences has impacted many industries by showing what is possible. Their reputation sets a high expectation, and simply stated, they’re magnificent at each touchpoint in their customer journey. They measure, communicate, iterate and, as a result, prosper because of their CX. You can implement a recipe for customer experience that does that too.
About the Author
Scott Herring is the SBEC’s Director of IT. He has been a software developer for almost 30 years and is a serial entrepreneur. Scott is currently focused on his digital agency Twisted Puppy, helping small to mid-sized businesses grow using ultramodern online marketing techniques.You can find out more about Scott’s business on his company website.