Develop and harness a customer-friendly environment


– make it happen by design, not by chance

Your quest to build a customer-centric business hinges largely on your focus on how to use research findings to deliver positive improvements or change. Note that a customer is not necessarily a customer until they are doing business with you consistently, and has access to all the benefits available to them from engaging with your brand. The overall journey encapsulates the five (5) key steps of awareness – ‘findability’, reputation, conversion, and advocacy.

Keeping the customer focused on this journey requires deliberate planning and effort to ensure that the ‘wow’ experience is consistently delivered throughout the customer’s interaction with your touchpoints. The truth is ‘wow’ experiences tend to be one-off; therefore, to maintain truly great experiences your aim must be to develop consistency over time.

A key question to ask is: how do I retain customers? Your answer to this should be: what makes my business different? How can research enhance my visibility to enable me to acquire and retain customers consistently through a clear demonstration of unique qualities which set us apart? Two research approaches are available to you. The first is market research that emphasises the sanctity of their data and rigour in methods and processes for acquiring information. The second involves the gathering, storing, and organising of vast amounts of data from a variety of sources, through proprietary systems and tools that make findings accessible and digestible to the end-user.

Typically, in the second approach, you will be capturing and storing customer engagements to give you a clear insight into how your customers behave at your touchpoints, and what their feelings and emotions are throughout their journey with your brand. Whatever the approach, the common insight here is that as a business you need to think through the experience you want to deliver to your customer.

According to Alan Pennington (2018), “There is a point in time when the need or desire to provide a greater focus on the customer is initiated and a plan is required”. He recommends a few triggers which may apply in your business as follows:

  1. Your company has a new CEO appointed, and that individual believes in the power of the customer.
  2. Your company has exhausted all other avenues, from cost-cutting to marketing-led sales drives.
  3. Your company is struggling to differentiate itself from the competition in terms of either product/service or price; of course, if this is a start-up then differentiation may be the business driver!

Whatever the trigger, it is imperative that you seize the initial impetus to improve the experience and take things forward. More importantly, while you are at it, aim to get into the customer’s shoes by developing a friendly approach. By always thinking that your customer is your promoter, you and your team will be poised to deliver great experiences regardless of whether it is a repeat-customer or a new customer you are dealing with.

We derive the axiom “the customer is always right” from a customer-friendly environment. Customer experts identify two critical qualities to the ‘Customer-Friendly Approach’. These are Communications and Relationships. The two main tasks of successful customer relations are to communicate and develop relationships. These don’t need a huge effort; however, they don’t happen instantaneously either. This writer is in full agreement with the assertion that developing a positive dialogue/communication with your customers and facilitating ongoing relationships are perhaps the two most important qualities to strive for in customer service. Pennington (2018) recommends a few levers we must focus on in our customer experience quest as follows: customer experience challenge, leveraging ‘moments of truth and ‘pain points’ opportunities, designing ‘wow’ experiences, and the digital experience challenge.

The Customer Experience Challenge

The saying that ‘what gets measured gets done’ rings loud and clear when it comes to assessing customer experience. From the organisational perspective, a reality we must not lose sight of is that different owners/teams of the customer experience measure and align with the customer’s needs in varying ways. The truth is that your internal functions, processes and teams will have different views of the same customer, and are likely to understand their needs differently.

Your preparedness and ability to produce an ‘outside-in’ journey map (CJM), track and collate all the interactions a customer has during an experience from the customer’s viewpoint, is a significant step in gaining insights into the customer’s view beyond company-led research. To avoid ‘navel-gazing’, therefore, it is imperative that your processing of customer data is managed in a shared way that enables you to derive a common understanding of the customer’s needs from an organisational viewpoint. What it means to be a customer has different connotations depending on who is viewing the customer behaviour data.

To clarify my point here, I will revisit an example I shared in one of my earlier articles on how managing the customer experience can pose a challenge if the outside-in perspective is not taken seriously. A detailed CJM of a financial services credit-card business reveals the following when assessed in silos:

  • The department/provider responsible for adding prospects into the system views a customer as a ‘lead generated’, regardless of whether they apply for the credit-card or not.
  • The team that sets the application and issues the plastic considers a customer as being the person who has received their plastic within the set time limit, whether they use the card or not.
  • The team that handles the card activation views someone as a customer once they have successfully activated the card – yet if that customer fails to transact or has the card at the back of their wallet, not as their primary card, then from a business perspective they are never really customers.

These different views from various departments underscore the need to facilitate a process whereby teams within the organisation share a common understanding of the customer’s needs. To address this challenge, the way forward is to align the different definitions of the customer and present a common measurement across functions. So, to address the silos challenge in the above example, no one gets a green-light or payment until a prospect has become an active and trading primary customer.

Leveraging ‘moments of truth and ‘pain points’ opportunities

Two key experiences to note in the customer engagement processes (from the customer’s perspective) are the ‘moments of truth’ (MOT) and ‘pain points’. These two tend to collide at a particular point where the experience is both important and painful.  At the same time, it presents a great opportunity for quick wins. A recommended way of looking at it is to consider the level of emotional investment being made by the customer. The fact is that these two, MOT and the pain points, present great opportunities.

An example from the insurance world is when you have an accident or your roof leaks you are in a significantly enhanced emotional state; therefore, you are likely to remember how someone made you feel at the point when you were in emotional trauma. In this case, the insurer who used the line ‘we won’t make a drama out of a crisis’ must now prove whether the advertising made about the brand crystallises in one way or another. How your call is received and responded to will articulate the meaning of the above tag-line. If the conversation begins with “hello, what is your policy number?” rather than “hello, firstly can I check are you okay? Now, if you can give me your full name, I will find your policy details”.

These opening words may have zero-effect in terms of cost for the company; however, from the customer’s perspective the impact can be huge. The customer’s emotional state will determine his/her judgment of how the business treated their case, and ultimately will determine whether the customer renews the existing policy or chooses to vote with their feet. The lesson here is that in our customer engagement we must consider all of the senses, and measure very carefully the use of language and its power in changing the customer’s reaction as a part of the experience design. To this end, your response when you identify these pain points should be to make a conscious effort to insert the customer experience design into the annual planning effort.

Designing ‘wow’ experiences 

According to Golden and Magee (2003), there is a bottom-line value of complaints. A good question to ask is: why would any business encourage complaints from its customers? The fact is that every business aims to deliver truly outstanding services. At the same time, the business owners know that 95% of their customers will continue to do business with the company if their problems are immediately resolved. They also know that they can’t retain dissatisfied customers if they do not express their concerns.

So, the reality is you must endeavour to deliberately design experiences that will stay in the memory of your customers and raise their expectations about your service delivery. Depending on the heroic efforts of an individual to project your customer-centric image is not ideal, as it falls short of sustainable and consistent posturing from your company. There is a caveat here; presenting ‘wow’ moments consistently can be risky if not carefully managed, as eventually it becomes an expectation in the customer’s mind to the point that your failure to deliver on such a promise can lead to a serious complaint from the customer.

Your challenge is to deliver a consistently superior and unique experience to your customer that meets the expectation created by your brand and to be conscious of where there is a possibility to exceed those expectations at a critical moment. An example here is this, a small hotel focusing on growth strategies decides to put a bottle of wine and a small handwritten note in the rooms of its returning guests as a unique and private welcome.

As the business grows a smart marketer decides to put this into the hotel’s brochure. What was originally a ‘wow’ moment now becomes an expectation that may lead to complaints if the wine does not appear or the note is not delivered. Your goal must therefore be to create a memorable customer experience through careful observation of how the relationship develops through attention to detail focusing on small changes.

The digital experience challenge

Delivering a consistently superior customer experience requires that your company takes a longitudinal view of your total experience to spot any inconsistencies playing up at your touchpoints. We must be aware that from the customer’s perspective, experiences are seamless and there is an expectation of consistency across channels. An example of this is in car buying where the customer will invest much of the time researching online before visiting the physical showroom thus switching channels before the purchase decision. In this instance the customer expects a consistent experience across channels failing which can influence an unfavourable outcome of non-purchase. The advice here is to avoid focusing only on digital teams that work only in their environment and ‘optimize’ for their world. Therefore it pays sometimes to slow down development in one channel to provide a consistent not frustrating experience for your customer. As much as your digitization enhances internal efficiency it is important to remember that you are only as good as your weakest link. So by all means digitize but also ensure that you are moving at a similar pace at all your channels.

The field of customer experience is fast emerging in our business space and deserves attention at the highest level as well as across the organization. However, we cannot leave the delivery of our critical experiences to chance. This means that understanding what matters to customers, actively designing critical experiences, equipping teams to deliver on the design, and connecting the customer outcomes to the bottom line are now business essentials. Make room for every customer in your annual plan to cover the active development and management of the customer experience.

The Writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],


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