- Pursue this quest relentlessly to transform your business
Just over a year ago I began this journey to share thoughts on Customer Experience. The journey has been very interesting and revealing for me. My encounter with customer experience led me to learn more about the subject, and in the process I have had the privilege of engaging patrons in its pivotal role of driving business success beyond average performance.
Any business willing to attend the needs of customers by committing resources to make this happen will ultimately reap very significant outcomes in its bottom line. The evidence suggests that this assertion holds substance, and has been highly evident in the last 18 months or so when the world has had to deal with an enigmatic pandemic.
Michael Gerber, the business motivational speaker – in his e-myth audiobook series, shares an experience he encountered at a hotel in one of the states in the USA where he had gone on a business trip. According to Gerber, the encounter was so memorable that he made a definite commitment to check-in at that hotel anytime he visits that state on business. What blew him away was the hotel staff’s attention to detail, as they took the trouble to learn about his preferences and habits and soon mastered some details about him; such that they knew his breakfast options, what newspapers he read, and his room preferences among others.
The hotel provided him with a personalised service, much to his amazement and admiration. His response to this was to check in at that hotel anytime he went upstate for a programme. The unique experience was one he looked forward to again and again. The popular axiom ‘the customer is always right’ plays up here – and demonstrates how important it is to focus on needs of the customer in your business to maintain sustained growth and customer-use – and is commonly used to depict the pivotal role a customer plays in any business venture or company.
The lesson here is crystal clear: being customer-centric is not an option, it is a requirement for any business. Three things we need to pay attention to in our quest to become customer-centric are the customer, the need for deliberate planning and the customer experience.
The fundamental definition of a customer is worth reflecting on. Anyone that buys, receives or consumes a product or service falls under the definition of a customer. Speaking more pointedly, however, we can refer to the customer as someone with whom we exchange value. Very broadly, this brings to light the question of who we refer to as customers generally. For someone with whom we exchange value, we can identify the external customer who we transact with in exchange for money; and internal customers who are employees working for wages, as well as co-workers who generate outputs for colleagues and vice versa (receive inputs from their other colleagues).
To stretch this conversation further, we may include Stakeholders as those who have a vested interest in the organization: e.g. shareholders, employers, bankers, suppliers and so on, who variously will fall under both internal and external customers. You must focus on the wider definition of customers to get your strategy right. Your customers engage with your business touchpoints regularly and have experienced the effect of the attention given them by your frontline teams. These encounters could potentially enhance or destroy your reputation if care is not taken to ensure that not only are you delivering value to them, but you are also creating memorable experiences.
In a recent survey by Accenture of more than 25,000 consumers across 22 countries, with follow-up focus groups in five countries, the following was discovered: A full 50% of consumers say that the pandemic caused them to rethink their purpose and re-evaluate what’s important to them in life. Forty-two percent say the pandemic made them realise they need to focus on others more than themselves. These consumers, labelled as ‘Reimagined’, are changing their buying habits accordingly – across all 14 industries covered. In doing so, they’re creating enormous opportunities for companies that respond by resetting strategies and setting new standards for meeting and exceeding their expectations. This is the edict: making your customers happy will make you happier.
Today’s complex world presents greater challenges to us in terms of how we engage with the customer. Six Sigma, for example, specifically identifies internal customers as part of the work culture to create a positive work environment where work colleagues are treated as customers who deserve all the attention an average customer craves. Thus, paying attention to your customer’s needs must be considered as a prime activity requiring careful attention to detail. This thinking reveals to us the concept of Customer Experience wherein the business’ focus is more on being customer intelligent as a complement to being customer-centric.
Being deliberate about your engagement with customers is necessary. Build mechanisms to monitor every experience a customer has with your brand across channels to build lasting relationships and earn advocates. When customers become advocates, they indirectly become your marketers. Guess what this means to your investments in customer acquisition and retention. Invest your best efforts into reinforcing positive experiences or rectifying negative ones by taking action on customer feedback to ensure your customers always feel heard.
When your customers feel they are listened to, they are keen to offer great feedback. I still hang onto the statement of one participant at the just-ended Customer Experience launch: that things may not always go well with customers; however, what’s important is your ability to recover. It’s about knowing where your maturity level is as a business. Pennington (2016) opines in his book, The Customer Experience Book, that a business can discover its customer maturity level through simple online surveys with outcomes depicted by a four-segment circle offering options of starting, evolving, maturing and maintaining.
He recommends that you pose certain key questions encompassing Customer Strategy – do you have one? Brand Strategy – what expectations are you setting? Customer knowledge – what do you know about key needs? Business Processes – how is the customer view included? Customer data – what and how is it used? IT infrastructure – do you have a consolidated view of the customer experience? Measures – what customer metrics exist and what do they achieve? People – who are engaged, and how is that achieved? Working through the survey in a language that works at different levels is what will enable you to obtain responses which are easy to decipher and tell the real story as it is.
Customer experience is defined as your customers’ perceptions – both conscious and subconscious – of their relationship with your brand resulting from ‘all their interactions with your brand during the customer life cycle’. According to Gartner: “It is the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations, and thus increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy”. Touchpoints are the points of interaction where you deliver to your customer every day through every transactions, direct and indirect. These interactions either build value for your brand or destroy it.
‘The sum of these touchpoints is the Customer Experience that defines your organisation. So, a customer can interact with your organisation in a range of ways: including direct contact with a sales representative, a physical store, direct mail, a customer service centre; or indirect contact via your smartphone, the web (internet), email and so on. All of these are actively engaged in one transaction or another with the customer. How you deal with the customer at these touchpoints will determine the extent to which the customer transitions from being satisfied to becoming a loyal patron, and even an advocate – which is where you want them to be.
Our quest to keep the customer happy must be pursued unhindered, with a clear focus on the customer’s interests throughout the journey. How do we achieve this effectively? We must ensure that our efforts to keep the customer happy yield telling results, being careful not to falter at any stage in our dealings. There are two things we must note here:
First, the journey is by no means a linear one; therefore, the interactions can normally take place randomly from any of the points of interaction. Second, if at any point in the journey our business falters in any dealings with the customer, in their eyes we have failed in all the steps. So, keeping a customer happy at all touchpoints requires our effort in ensuring that our stores are manned by very friendly customer service representatives, whose approach and engagement leave the customer with a positive impression from the nice experience. To stay this course, should the customer later phone in at your call centre to verify a piece of information regarding the product or service, there has to be a consistent customer-centric response; failing this, in the customer eyes that unfortunate encounter will negate the initial positive experience.
Managing your customer’s experience is therefore a delicate process as much as it is a key business requirement to ensure that your business derives value, ultimately, as a function of how well the customer is cared for. Plan and execute your customer agenda deliberately.
|The writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],