Michael Geber the business motivational speaker in his e-myth audio book 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 Geber the encounter was so memorable that he made a definite commitment to check-in at that hotel anytime he visited that state on business.
The magic expedite was this: the hotel staff 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. In short at that hotel they provided him a personalized service much to his amazement and admiration. He concludes the story by saying that the hotel was his preferred sojourn anytime he visited that state for business because of the unique experience.
The adage ‘the customer is always right’ is used commonly to depict the pivotal role a customer plays in any business venture or company. We would normally refer to a company that has customers as its main focus as customer-centric.
Generally speaking, the one 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. This brings to light the question of who we refer to as customer in broad terms. For someone with whom we exchange value we can identify the external customer, whom 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.
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 the 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 where the focus of the business is more on being customer intelligent as opposed to the customer centric approach.
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”. The points of interactions are known as touch points, these are ‘points of interactions’ where you deliver to your customer every day, through every transaction, direct and indirect. These interactions, either builds VALUE for your brand or destroys it. ‘The sum of these touch points’ is the Customer Experience that defines your organisation. So a customer could interact with your organization in a range ways 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 the other with the customer. How you deal with the customer at these touch points 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.
Meanwhile, the challenge we must all face is to keep the customer happy throughout the journey. To achieve this effectively we must ensure that our quest to keep the customer happy is realised unhindered, being careful not to falter at any stage in our dealings. Two things we must note here.
First, the journey is by no means a linear one therefore the interactions would normally take place randomly from any of the points of interaction. Second, at any point in the journey if your business falters in any dealings with the customer, in their eyes you have failed in all the steps. So for example a customer comes to your store and meets a very friendly customer service representative, leaves with a positive impression from the nice experience and then later phones in at your call centre to verify a piece of information regarding the product or service, but this time round has a spat with your call agent, in the eyes of the customer 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.
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]