Ask any leader at any company if they want their customer experience to be a valuable one, and the answer will be “yes.” But it's more than just a nice-to-have today; we live in an experience economy, and businesses are competing in it too. The traditional boundaries of industry and service no longer apply to identifying your competitors. If a better experience exists, that's your competition. Like Scott Wassmer, GM, Americas, says, "The digital world has become the great equalizer of brand experience, and that means that your experience will be judged against those created by the greats like Apple, Google, and Facebook; regularly."
For a real-world customer to have an authentically valuable customer experience — the kind they rave about on social media and tell their friends about — it needs to be centered around their needs and experiences.
Here’s where things get complicated: most businesses are structured to put their own needs ahead of their customers. Whether they want to believe it or not.
It’s a great talking point to say that “everyone” in your company is a stakeholder in how you treat your customers. From a ten-thousand-foot view, this is true and a core value that customer-centric organizations should promote, from their most removed team members to their daily customer-facing teams on the frontline.
But when it comes to the realities of executing complex business strategies, the notions of how to manage customer experience can get murkier. Who truly “owns” the program, and who contributes? How do you get all of these pieces working together effectively, particularly in large, matrixed, global organizations?
Depending on your business, it’s all too easy to let the digital user experience act as a proxy for a robust, end-to-end customer journey. On the flip side, there’s an equally common pitfall of not aligning back-end processes to front-end experiences for industries with extremely high-touch, person-to-person interactions. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or sophisticated your corporate customer experience programs are if your employees on the ground (or in the air) can’t help real customers benefit from them. Ultimately, it’s your brand.
So how do you make your customer experience perfect?
You don’t. You make it valuable.
The customer experience gap is real… and it’s costing you money
The gap in understanding what “customer experience” means between professionals also exists, perhaps more impactfully, between how well companies think they’re performing and how well their customers think they’re doing.
In this Forrester study across a range of verticals, of the 72% of leaders who felt their company delivered superior customer experience, only 8% of actual customers agreed. That’s a 64% gap between what these leaders believed was happening and what their customers really felt.
Innovative customer-centricity can feel dangerously buzzwordy, but at its essence, it encompasses various drivers with a direct impact on your bottom line. A host of recent data from The Deloitte Consumer Review CX and Forbes’ 50 Stats That Prove The Value Of Customer Experience backs up the crucial importance of customer experience to business success:
81% of buyers are willing to pay more for a superior customer experience
Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable
A 2% increase in customer retention equates to the same profit as a 10% cut in operating costs
So the end-game value of an industry-leading customer experience program is clear.
“Customers have so many options out there that you have to provide them what they need in a meaningful and frictionless way. It also means that they have to think about the way that we market and organize our channels to customers. We have to break the silos, we have to break and put the customer at the center of the thinking,” says Anton Morrison, VP of Experience Design.
While the places that are doing it well bring in six times more revenue, those falling behind are still desperately playing catch-up with current market leaders. All the while, customer expectations continue to evolve more rapidly than most organizations are capable of keeping up with.
What does it take to be at the forefront of customer experience change? Here’s where to begin:
Redefine innovation from the customer point-of-view
“Innovation” is a notion that, in the modern business context, has been overused to the point of being almost meaningless. Who’s truly being innovative? Every company on the planet, if you ask them.
It’s far too easy (and, sadly, common) for companies to talk about how innovative they are based on their own internal assumptions of what innovation looks like, starting from their biases towards what will benefit their business first.
I need to drive increased x, so I will create customer program y, and it will be different because of z.
That approach is inherently flawed because it begins with the KPI of a business goal and then tries to justify its appeal to the customer, and the value of their experience, as an outcome of what the business needs. Round peg, meet square hole.
For a brand to wholeheartedly adopt a customer-centric approach, it requires their leaders to reframe and align their internal organizations, performance, and incentives, and ask, “what are customers asking for?” and “how are we measuring our success?”
Again, this is where quality, neutral research, and a brutally honest approach are key to overcoming our own internal biases. Mining real insights and using your target audience’s expressed expectations is where you’ll break real ground.
Our ideal customers tell us they want x. We’ve never done it before because of y. But we’ve found the data to justify it in z.
If you’re listening, your customers will tell you what they want from you. Creating it with their needs in mind first and your financial bottom line second is your opportunity to be genuinely innovative and ensure you’re creating a valuable experience with your brand.
Replace assumptions with data
When it comes to defining the value of customer experience, too many companies rely on qualitative information and anecdotal evidence. While the ultimate goal of incredible customer experience is to create an emotion — one that’s memorable enough that it leads to authentic brand affinity — too many organizations also rely on feelings when planning and measuring customer experience.
“Everyone wants to build relationships more than transactions and reward loyalty. To do this, you have to focus on delivering value. But to determine that value, you need solutions based on actual consumer research and insights. From day one, informing your programs and objectives off of sophisticated data is key,” says John Mozayani, VP of Technology.
Customer experience consulting can provide the insights and user research you need. Not just one-time reports, but frequent, ongoing, and finessed data on customer behavior, trends, and expectations. Once you have it, add it as a permanent, integral step in your planning processes, not as a one-time endeavor or a nice-to-have when time and budgets allow.
You wouldn’t start a journey without a map. But a map is useless if you don’t first ask your passengers where they want to go.
User research is where, directly or indirectly, you glean the answers. You’ll not only be aware of customer experience gaps but take proactive, strategic steps to close them.
Fast(er) is the present and future
No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be completely prepared for each new customer trend or demand. But, you can be prepared for how your business will be primed to react to the unexpected in both its processes and culture.
Fail fast and gracefully and iterate is the name of the game. While improvements can take longer to make their way through complex customer support and sales processes, this is where the potential for optimal UX and digital design can have more immediate impacts. Given the right leadership and resources, data-informed design is a key capability where you respond fast, fail gracefully, and iterate effectively.
“We need to reframe what it means to be agile and take risks. ‘Agile’ is not just about speed, command and control, but about maturity in decision-making and establishing a balance between governance and empowerment,” says John Mozayani, VP of Technology.
“Real agility should enable you to go to market rapidly, consistently and at scale. At the same time, risk shouldn’t be approached as being only an uncertainty in an outcome that needs to be mitigated. Taking risk includes the potential for great success. An agile approach to smart risks is where the biggest rewards lie.”
Customer expectations are evolving faster than the services that a business offers and how they view and measure what (they think) customers want. Some of the associated risks with failing fast and moving forward are anathema to large, cumbersome organizations. Proactively building your organization so that you’re able to do what your competition is afraid of is a key differentiator and a fertile ground for building true customer-centric innovation that will actually matter to your customers.