We live in a world where change is the new normal. Just about anyone in business these days has to be able to deal with change on an increasingly frequent basis. Customers now have a growing number of options, from new start-ups to consumer packaged goods giants; everyone is recognizing the value of focusing on customers.
This may not be a new concept; those brands that fail to deliver a differentiating customer experience may soon find themselves out of business.
In my 50 Thought Provoking Customer experience stats in 10 categories post the research tells a compelling story. Brands that take the customer experience seriously tend to perform better. Their customers are happier, more loyal, and they are willing to tell others about their experience.
Creating and maintaining a differentiating customer experience requires commitment and agility from an entire organization. Customers don’t live in a static environment; their needs and preferences are always subject to change.
Design thinking is a process developed to bring creative, non-linear approaches and strategic viability to the product development process. The concept has been made popular by Tom and David Kelley the creators of IDEO, a global product innovation, and design firm.
Presently, design thinking has expanded to include the digital service space. It encompasses web design that takes into account user interface and ease of navigation. Design thinking is all about reinventing the way customers interact with businesses. This process is all about gaining customer input then quickly developing prototypes and iterating continually.
I believe companies can apply design thinking principles to 10 factors that can create and sustain a differentiating customer experience.
Here are the ten factors, I’ll provide some suggestions for each one.
Everyone is busy. Time is the most precious commodity consumers have. Consumers want convenience and if checking out self-service is faster, they’ll choose that option.
Whether it’s answering a question or resolving an issue, customers expect quick responses. And, their tolerance for wait times is rapidly dropping.
Based on a recent global survey from Verint, quick resolution of requests was identified by 46% of respondents, by far the most popular response.
From the first impression to finding information customers want to be able to find what they are looking for when and where they want it. This is a real challenge for companies that have multi-channel touch points.
If your company doesn’t have performance metrics to monitor speed, consider finding ways to monitor this important factor. At the very least, ask for direct feedback from customers and front line employees. Identify speed bumps and take steps to remove them.
Customer Ecosystem Perspective
According to McKinsey, top performing companies have a clear understanding of the entire customer ecosystem. They understand relevant interactions and behaviors that extend well beyond those the company is able to control.
These companies often spend time with customers observing their behaviors and understanding their journeys and needs beyond the core journey involving the company’s products or services.
This kind of effort helps unlock insights that would never be available through product research.
Savvy companies recognize they don’t always have to spend large sums on customer research. Many can use social media tools to monitor behaviors of the relevant players in this ecosystem.
Consumers will trust complete strangers more than most brands; as a result, it’s important to find ways to provide helpful content. While it’s important to provide useful information about your product or service, think about content that might help their journey before, during and after they purchase your product or service.
Many marketers devote a great deal of content and resources attracting consumers; however, many neglect the post-purchase phase. Studies have shown that post purchase behavior is highly correlated to ongoing satisfaction with a brand.
The best way to be relevant is to be helpful. Make sure you balance your content with all phases of the buying cycle. Be generous. Prospects and consumers don’t want to be sold; they want to be helped. Helping is quickly becoming the new selling.
My friend and co-contributor Craig Jamieson has some great advice for selling with a different mindset.
Mobile technology has profoundly shaped the consumer experience far beyond the obvious. Smartphones and tablets have computing power that far exceeds that of some earlier mainframe computers. These multi-function devices have the power to replace a host of functional devices.
The technology has shaped the way brands and consumers interact. These devices have become a part of our everyday lives in ways most could not have imagined a few short years ago. For example, most searches from a mobile phone occur in the living room.
Marketers who want to reach consumers have to think beyond the basics of providing information; they have to be aware of where consumers are located when they are accessing information.
With so many accessing information from smaller screens, consideration to layout, size, download speed, etc. all are becoming essential components. It’s no longer enough to simply provide mobile access to your website; now you have to think about details like filling out forms and accessing ordering systems from a smartphone.
I would recommend using a smartphone to regularly access and conduct routine transactions from your website. Is the layout clear and is there proper spacing to accommodate touch access? Does the site respond quickly? Is it easy to access help if required?
You’ll be able to add to these questions; it’s important to build in a regular practice of monitoring and finding ways to make the mobile experience effective.
Consumers regularly use multiple platforms on a regular basis. They may access your website while in a store or car; maybe they’re watching TV and using their tablet or phone. Successful brands realize they must provide access options their customers can choose.
Consumers may start their journey on one device then continue on another. They expect one experience that is seamless. Marketers define online and offline channels; consumers don’t distinguish, they just want a seamless experience.
Companies are starting to address this challenge; in a recent survey improving the cross-channel customer experience was a top priority.
Whenever I think of seamless experiences, I think of Evernote. It’s an application that offers a lot of utility – from notetaking to curating, to collecting business cards, I use it all the time. It is completely seamless. I access and update information on my tablet, smartphone, and computer easily. The interface makes sense, and it’s been tweaked for each unique platform.
To provide a seamless experience for your customers, start with a journey map that identifies all touchpoints. Next identify the interactions that are likely to occur at each touchpoint. Ensure there are appropriate interfaces to internal systems that are needed to initiate or process transactions, etc. It’s a good idea to audit your own processes using multiple devices to ensure the experience is seamless and secure.
New business models are being created; some radically alter traditional business models. Imagine applying for a home mortgage that promises little paperwork and faster approval. Faster as in minutes, not days.
You may not be able to retool your current business model, but remember, time is a precious commodity for your prospects and customers. Look for ways to remove friction from your processes; even small tweaks can yield significant results.
If people have already provided information, can I use it to help pre-fill other forms?
Conduct regular audits that challenge the need for the information you are requiring. Is it really necessary? How are you using it?
Differentiating customer experiences don’t occur in a vacuum; they occur in organizations committed to the best interests of all stakeholders. They typically have healthy cultures that foster engaged employees who are empowered to deal with challenges.
Feedback and alignment around core values are the fuel that powers healthy cultures.
Surveys indicate that customers want to deal with employees who know how to resolve their problems.
Companies that sustain differentiating customer experiences regularly keep track of employee satisfaction and happiness. They know that employees who are motivated and happy recommend their friends when appropriate.
Companies that clearly articulate their values and then hire associates aligned with those values often enjoy a competitive advantage.
The statistics on employee engagement are pretty dismal. Globally they are less than 20% of the workforce. In the US, the number is around 33%. Employees are looking for mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Companies with strong cultures know how to train, empower and tell their story in a way that ignites a shared mission and vision.
Studies show that simply and authentically offering praise on a regular basis can contribute to employee satisfaction and engagement.
In The Secret of a Successful Customer Experience addressed the connection between Maslow’s hierarchy and employee.
Story is the new currency of brand engagement. Smart brands know how to help by engaging employees and customers alike through the use of compelling narratives. Including all stakeholders helps ensure alignment in consistently delivering brand promises.
John Hancock has created a compelling set of stories with their life comes next campaign. Each story is tailored to a particular target audience. The television ad sets up the story then the viewer is directed to a microsite where they can choose different endings.
It’s unique engaging and compelling. Find ways to create stories that all stakeholders can relate to.
McKinsey has studied the buying process and through their research have identified a new approach to consumer behavior. Instead of collecting a number of options at the top of the buying funnel and then eliminating them, they discovered consumers actually add options as they progress through the buying cycle.
Consumers continue to evaluate the product or service after the purchase significantly influencing future brand purchase decisions. Companies that deliver differentiating customer experiences take full advantage of post-purchase opportunities to ensure consumers continue to have a good experience post purchase.
McKinsey also identified two types of loyalty, active and passive. While both might appear the same on the surface, active loyalty is the aspirational goal for all brands.
Continually find ways to make it easy for consumers to buy and use more of your product or service. Too often little or no marketing resources are applied to existing customers. Start by thanking customers for their business. Consider surprise and delight offerings to express your gratitude.
Monitor your social channels carefully. When consumers have positive things to say, acknowledge their comments appropriately.
Ask consumers about their preferences and then honor them. Provide helpful email communications that offer so much value consumers will complain if they don’t receive them.
Use segmentation to tailor content that helps the customer, don’t turn these into Sunday paper stuffers that focus on selling.
Word of Mouth
The best form of advertising is word of mouth advertising. Create a “wow” customer experience and customers will be inclined to tell others about it. In surveys consumers usually indicate their first reaction after a “wow” moment is to share it with their networks.
Focus on creating the “wow” experience rather than the word of mouth.
I love this Seth Godin quote:
Is the goal to get people to notice what we make?
Are we setting out to make something people choose to talk about?
Many organizations put a lot of effort into cajoling customers to share with their friends and family. Without the experience to share, these efforts often fail.
There are a lot of moving parts that have to come together to create a differentiating customer experience. It can feel overwhelming. It’s a never ending journey that requires agility and discipline.
The beauty of design thinking is its iterative nature. It works best with smaller incremental changes. Your product or service has to be competitive. Invite your employees and customers to join you in continually improving it.
Most importantly, DO SOMETHING!! Don’t allow the complexity or magnitude to paralyze.
What are some of the ways you are creating a differentiating customer experience?