I wrote this piece nearly a year ago, when the COVID-19 crises had literally brought the world to its knees. The looming threat of a resurgence requires that we draw lessons from the earlier threat and effects of the pandemic to help us maintain focus. The crisis drove many businesses under, while others survived by creatively engaging customers in ways that enhanced the relationship even in the worst of times. One such Business in the UK, Gin 5, was quick to adapt their offering to the production of sanitisers – branded as ‘Gintizers’ to keep their brand visible in the eyes of their loyal following.
Adapting quickly to customer’s needs becomes part of your DNA when your internal systems are primed to respond to customer needs, such that The Voice of The Customer (VoC) is easily recognisable across all your touchpoints. This is because your internal processes are configured so that you hardly miss the heartbeat of your king – the Customer. The fact is that when every actor in your value chain has an eye for the customer, and is keen to maintain that focus to ensure that your touchpoints are adjusting accordingly, you will be on course to keeping the customer satisfied.
That your customer experience has pride of place in your internal dynamics is visibly evident in your engagement strategy. When my brother walked into the restaurant of his hotel in faraway Papua New Guinea, all the staff could make him out by his first name. That personalised experience ‘wowed’ him, as he was frequently met with courteous greetings from staff. There is no secret to success, there is a system to success. These are the words of a motivational speaker, very wise words.
How you set up your success story is as deliberate as brushing your teeth every day. It is never by chance! When your experience strategy has the customer’s needs at the centre, you will be prepared to address every challenge come rain or high water. A few initiatives will help you do this very effectively. First, be Customer-centric. Second, prioritise your experience strategy. Third, Leadership influence. Fourth, driving the Employee Experience. And finally, be unique about your experience.
By visualising how your customers interact with your brand across a myriad of touchpoints, you are better able to help clients by tracking their interactions across all channels 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.
The tag-line of a well-known brand 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 and empathise 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.
A range of tools will help you do this efficiently. These include the Net promoter Score (depicts which percentage of your customers would recommend you to others – friends, family or, colleagues). Other tools you can employ include the ‘Customer Satisfaction’ (CSAT), ‘Customer Churn Rate’ and ‘Customer Effort Score’ (CES). These empower you to deliberately seek and analyse customer feedback in ways which enable you to build empathy with the customer, and also ensure that the customers’ needs are known and shared across the business.
Prioritise your experience strategy
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%, and 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.
In today’s world, 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: Apple cares about providing a user experience that is company-focused (and it does this by ensuring it puts more people than it needs in its stores), even if this means turning-off a certain kind of consumer; knowing that its loyal followers are happy with its forthright approach is all that matters.
In Samsung, however, it is about allowing the consumer to choose the experience that’s right for them; the interest is to get their phones in the hands of as many consumers as possible. 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 is simple: that your customers will pay more for a better experience, and 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.
Leadership is the key to enhanced experiences
Remember the Chinese adage (paraphrased), ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step’? The ultimate benefit of a well-executed customer experience strategy is the guaranteed business success that 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 leadership, top management.
We build a consensus at the top to ensure 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 organisation. To deliver an effective customer experience, we must first ensure 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.
Drive the employee experience
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 that 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 scrutinised 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 maturity stage of your company.
You will 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 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 can be highly misleading.
Be unique in your execution
When Virgin launched its upper-class category, 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 by 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, there is failure to measure some very basic aspects of their service – thus they miss 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 is 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, with excellent room service and a friendly environment to make their stay worthwhile. To them, that is a preferred option to any other offering, however luxurious with noticeable flaws. They would rather go for whole service consistency, even if the hotel is not on the high street or in the rich part of town.
Customer experience has emerged as the key driver of growth and a key differentiator for brands that do it well. The truth is 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 always deliver the optimum experience.
With these tips, you can survive turbulent times, create happier customers, have more committed employees and a brand that grows loyalty, profits and revenue.
|The Writer is a Change Management and Customer Experience Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205,