Competition is fierce. Your costs are too high. Customers aren’t as loyal as they used to be, and even worse, even the slightest negative experience gets quickly and widely broadcast. So how can you stop worrying about survival and instead, focus on the building blocks that would allow you to become the market leader? Two words: Customer Experience.
Next big fad or sound business strategy?
Companies looking to maintain their customer experience leader position in the market or differentiate themselves from others are focusing their efforts on the Customer Experience. Forrester’s 2013 “The Unified Customer Experience Imperative” Report uncovered that not only is Customer Experience the biggest driver of competitive advantage for must companies, but a large portion of companies want to be the customer experience leaders in their industry, with some wanting to be the leaders across any industry.
In fact, Gartner research shows that many companies plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016. Improving the customer experience can help drive value, increase revenues and profitability, increase brand awareness and loyalty while reducing costs. For example, one survey by Harris Interactive showed that 89 percent of customers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. Where do you stand?
Customer Experience defined
First of all, with so many definitions out there, let’s agree on what we mean by “Customer Experience” for our discussion. Let’s use this one:
“Customer Experience is defined as the way in which the customer mind (conscious and subconscious) perceives the interaction with your company.” – Harley Manning, Customer Experience Defined
The biggest challenge here is that most companies silo their “interactions” based on the specific channel that the consumer has selected to engage with (website, in person, telephone, mobile app, email, etc.) or by the line of business that is servicing the consumer’s need. But the reality is that customers just want to solve their problem or get the answer they need and they don’t necessarily think in terms of channels or lines of business. They just want to get something done and must play along (often painfully) with whatever processes companies have defined to do so.
In an ideal world, systems and processes would match the consumer’s expectations, taking into account what they are trying to do and catering for their needs and preferences. By delivering the right content, functions and features consistently across all interaction points, consumers will walk away delighted, excited and impressed after a memorable experience that meets their needs seamlessly and easily.
Unfortunately, some companies fail to provide even basic services like CTI, lack an overall customer experience strategy or don’t have cross-divisional integration and coordination.
How to get started – without breaking the bank
It’s called Customer Experience for a reason – it begins with the Customer. By putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, you’ll start noticing all those aspects of your current experience that need to be changed or redesigned. But doing so doesn’t necessarily mean making huge investments or turning your operations upside down. Here are three steps you can take to get started:
1) Leave market research and surveys on the side
Many companies leverage instruments like market research and surveys to collect feedback from their customers. This can turn out to be not only an expensive proposition but also a very dangerous one. Why? Because the problem with those sources is that they focus on past events. Furthermore, it gives all companies access to the same type of information about the needs and desires of existing and potential customers, making many products and services more and more similar to each other.
To set yourself apart, look instead at service design tools such as Customer Journey Maps and Service Blueprints. The former allows you to document your customer experience from your customer’s eyes, helping you better understand how customers interact with your products and services over time, allowing you to even predict their next move or needs. Then, the latter supplements that view by clarifying the interactions between users, digital touch points and service employees that make that journey possible (even if users don’t see them).
2) Think about a Unified Experience
In the current state of digital disruption, new technologies and digital channels emerge faster than companies can support. And when they do, they very often are developed in an individual fashion, leaving you with isolated and disparate solutions that yield entirely different customer experiences from one channel to another. This even causes situations where starting a process on one channel (like the web) becomes completely untraceable once you leave that channel and move on to another (like the phone).
The way to address this is via a multi-channel approach that strives to deliver a single, consistent and seamless customer experience across all channels. To get started, take a step back and look at what you have across your channels – the individual features offered, the services provided, the technical capabilities, etc. – and then contrast that against what you learned via journey maps and service blueprints, along with the data your company has about that particular customer. Something as simple as recognizing a pattern – such as a passenger calling back within 24 hours of making a reservation or finding a correlation between a particular web page and an immediate follow-up call to a call center – will give you the upper hand in finding quick-win opportunities.
3) Consider the emotional side of the experience
Customer experience is not only about the rational experience (the time it takes for an agent to answer a call, your hours of operation or your shipping costs) but also about how users feel throughout the experience. A quick look at your customer complaints should reveal just how emotional they can be, yet many organizations tend to focus their experience efforts on the “what” rather than the “how.”
A well-designed customer experience triggers positive emotions that have a similar effect on customer loyalty and retention. The challenge is that your customers will leave with an experience – good or bad, whether you plan it or not. So, it’s better to be proactive and take control to ensure a positive, emotionally-engaging experience. To begin, you can look at short-term opportunities to improve your existing system, such as getting the IVR recordings from your critical paths re-recorded and coached to yield a better experience.
It should be clear by now that competing on experience is not an option anymore but a necessity. Taking that challenge head on and turning it into your advantage will help you establish or maintain a leadership position in your market.
While many of these approaches seem like common sense and don’t require a large investment from companies, it is amazing that only a few of them would consider themselves Customer Experience Leaders today. There’s nothing stopping you from taking that first step, getting new insights into your customer’s needs and emotions, and start looking at the overall experience you deliver across all your channels.