The COVID-19 crisis is driving customers to engage with brands in new ways. It is becoming increasingly important for companies to be able to visualize how their customers interact with their brand across a myriad of touchpoints. Businesses must help clients identify and track these interactions across all channels, this way they will be better able to optimize and improve their experience in real-time. That Customer Experience must be planned and executed tangibly as a business strategy, is now a given. If you intend to retain and grow your customer base by significant margins, then you need to invest in making your product or service offering customer-centric.
I recall the tag line of a well-known brand I read recently, it states: Every customer is unique. Engage each one. In other words, to make your customer acquisition and retention strategies worthwhile, you must learn to engage each customer in ways that allow you to know and empathize with their needs and concerns very specifically.
To do this effectively you must include the process of designing and measuring the relevant metrics to enhance your customer experience, as an integral part of your business planning and operations. Examples of these are Net promoter Score (depicts which percentage of your customers would recommend you to others – friends, family or, colleagues). Other tools you may employ include the ‘Customer Satisfaction’ (CSAT), ‘Customer Churn Rate’ and, ‘Customer Effort Score’ (CES). By deliberately seeking and analyzing customer feedback in this way you build empathy with the customer and also ensure that the customers’ needs are known and shared across the business.
A survey by KPMG in 2015 revealed the direct impact of customer experience on business performance. By analyzing the stocks in different sub-sectors the following outcome was established. Financial sector results in the FTSE UK went up by 5.4%, this was even higher in the CEE (Central and Eastern Europe), where an increase of 14% was recorded. In the travel and Hotel sub-sector, these values went up by 3.7% and 5.1% respectively. These findings underscore the fact that where customer experience is rated high, the stock markets are similarly high and vice versa. What we see globally is that product offerings are largely closer to parity and more easily imitated. What differentiates competitors in the same market with comparable products is their customer experience.
Take the following two companies, Apple and Samsung. Both have different approaches to customer engagement, while Apple cares about providing a user experience that is company-focused (and it does this by ensuring that it puts more people than they need in their stores), even if that means turning off a certain kind of consumer, knowing that its loyal followers are happy with their forthright approach is all that matters. In Samsung however, it is about allowing the consumer to choose the experience that’s right for them, their interest is to get their phones in the hands of as many consumers. What’s remarkable about the different approaches is that even though each has its ups and downs, both strategies have resulted in tremendous global success for both companies!
The lesson here rings very clearly: That your customers will pay more for a better experience and that delivering a poor experience will cost you more. By improving the delivery of your experience you will be impacting positively on both sides of the balance sheet. The ultimate benefit of a well-executed customer experience strategy is the guaranteed business success which we seek in many other ways.
There are very effective ways we can adapt to our businesses and thereby enrich our customer experience. We must start the journey with a carefully laid out plan. The initial thrust in this process will originate from top management. We build a consensus at the top to ensure that there is buy-in from the decision-making level and that every activity relating to the customer has been duly sanctioned.
Three key questions we need to ask at the start of this process, to test our customer experience orientation are as follows; first, what is our current state of maturity in terms of our customer experience capability, second, where do we believe we need to get to in terms of customer experience capability to deliver on our business plan, third, are we clear on what customer experience we want to deliver?
To address these appropriately we must turn our attention to the internal organization. To deliver an effective customer experience we must first ensure that we are delivering on our employee experience, the internal customer. A well-mapped employee journey will feed into our customer journey. A customer-centric employee has the right mindset to address our customer’s needs proactively.
Consider the case of an educational book supplier, the key customer measures changed through different phases in the year for the following simple reasons. In the early part of the year, the focus was on commissioning new books so the editors were centre stage, in the middle phase it was about getting the books produced and printed so the production team and their measures were the focus, in the final stage it was the finance, warehouse and logistics team who needed to get the books out to schools on time and with accurate invoices.
This just underscores the need for us to pay attention to the customer’s expectation at every stage of their journey through our touchpoints and be exact in how we respond. Even more importantly our employee journey must be scrutinized to ensure that we have a good grasp of the different outcomes from the investments in thinking and effort in terms of how we address customer needs (internally and externally).
To be successful, any customer experience activity needs top-down support and bottom-up action, NEVER refer to it as a project or programme which shouts short-term and someone else’s issue. You need to regularly evaluate your company’s maturity level in customer experience. Conduct a survey among your employees, some of the key areas to identify are Customer data, strategy, IT Infrastructure, and Customer knowledge. The result of this survey (to be done anonymously, advisedly) will determine the maturing state of your company. You would either be at the ‘starting’ phase of this or the ‘maintaining’ phase depending on the results of your survey. Doing this anonymously will enable your employees to provide honest feedback without the fear of intimidation. Customer Experience as an internal culture has immense possibilities if the internal dynamics are right. Note that even loyal customers can defect. Studies have shown in B2B markets that up to 65-85% of defectors were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier. This is indicative of the fact that ‘Customer Satisfaction Index’ (CSI) results could be highly misleading.
When Virgin launched its upper-class it captured swathes of British Airways first-class passengers, the reason was not hard to come by. While British Airways used CSI feedback to determine customer loyalty, Virgin changed the rules of the game using strategies to enhance the experience of their customers variously – cars to the airport, quick check-in, bars, lounges, massages and, so on. In some hotels, they fail to measure some very basic aspects of their service thus missing out on learning at first hand the sentiments of their customers. For example, their feedback forms omit such basic details as internet access, technical help desk facilities or, the availability of milk (in varieties) for tea and coffee, all of which are great concerns for the average customer.
A client in the tourism industry intimated to us years ago how important it was for hotel patrons to experience basic amenities in their rooms in contrast to the luxury and comfort that may be evident as you walk into the lobby and reception. According to him most tourists for example come on a budget and would rather that their showers were working, taps flowing consistently, excellent room service, friendly environment, to make their stay worthwhile. To them, that was a preferred option to any other offering however luxurious with noticeable flaws. They would rather go for whole service consistency even if the hotel was not on the high street or the rich part of town.
Customer experience is emerging as the key driver of growth and a key differentiator for brands that do it well. But it can’t be an afterthought. Great customer experience should be woven into the very fibre of your business. The key is to develop a system that enables you to build world-class customer experience into your company culture. Identify your mission and goals, craft and align your customer experience vision, implement best practices, and create a winning customer experience framework. Plus, find out how to continually evaluate and refine your strategy so you can always deliver the optimum experience. With these tips, you can create happier customers, more committed employees, and a brand that grows loyalty, profits, and revenue.
The writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected] .