How Customer Experience Programs Build Customer Bases
By Lesley Boucher, Vice President of Customer Experience, ORI
How often do we hear about great ways to “drive sales?” But truly, you can’t make prospects or existing customers do business with you—all you can do is make them want to do business with you. And you can do that by ensuring that every interaction they have with your organization builds stronger engagement through positive customer experience. Sounds simple enough in theory, but let’s explore this idea that customer experience is the accumulation of every touchpoint between your organization and your customer.
In the B2B and B2G worlds, a multitude of interactions with stakeholders determines their customer experience—when they are actually receiving a product or service, interacting with your website, working with your project managers, or even paying a bill. These are all points of connections, and your customers are forming opinions at every single one of them. Each interaction is a moment of truth—a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on your performance. This collection of experiences will build or deplete your customer base, determining whether they buy more or more often, how long they stay with you, and how proactively they recommend you as a result of their increased engagement.
It’s important to recognize that customer experience is much more than just customer service interactions. Customer service can be an element of it, but the really powerful part about customer experience happens well in advance of that endpoint moment. In addition, your employees may not be the only points of contact your customers have with your business. Many businesses work with partners, vendors, and subcontractors, and those third parties also have connections with your customers and are part of their customer experience equation. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, if your customer is not receiving the value they expected, they do not care who caused that shortfall. It’s your relationship that they were relying on, so you own it.
Understanding your customers’ perspectives on the value you are delivering is a dynamic exercise that requires a longitudinal view. How is each interaction affecting a customer’s perception of you over time? Do some experiences outweigh others? It’s essential to determine which interactions your customers care about most in order to focus your scarce resources on those touchpoints with the highest impacts for everyone involved.
What does it take to be a customer experience-focused operation?
When an organization decides to establish a customer experience-focused operation, it’s really talking about listening to customers and truly understanding what they want and need. Unfortunately, executive teams often make decisions about future products and developments, service offerings, and service delivery changes based on what they think customers want, where they think they are going, and how they think customers will benefit. In far too many cases, an organization’s executive team is making decisions based on outdated or incomplete information or assumptions. At ORI, we want to make sure that you know what your customers want.
We have found that a customer experience-focused operation starts with understanding the customer’s mindset, their preferences, and what outcome they are really looking for. Start thinking of your interactions with each customer as a journey—from the moment they first encounter your organization, to the sale, to the customer service interaction, to the billing. In a customer experience-focused organization, each employee understands that they contribute to the customer’s experience regardless of how “indirect” their role may appear. Once they own that relationship, managers can promote a culture of responsiveness in which being attuned to wants and needs, closing feedback loops, and using the information they collect to make choices valued by customers all create a customer-centric organization.
What challenges do organizations face in building a better customer experience?
As any leader who has attempted to guide or shift organizational culture knows, at its core, this is a strategic initiative that requires a dedicated effort that starts at the top. Such a pervasive change may require a transformation from an “inside-out” organization (in which the focus is very internal: “We need them to buy more,” “We need them to rave about us,” “We believe they need x, y, and z, and we’re going to push that out the door”) to an “outside-in” organization. An “outside-in” organization behaves as if a customer is sitting at the boardroom table. Every decision the leadership makes is examined from the perspective of the customer. This can require a shift in both culture and leadership attitudes.
Organizations must also learn to distinguish between focusing on customer experience and the platitude that “the customer is always right”—they are not the same. The objective of delivering great customer experience is not to always agree with the customer but to ensure that the customer believes that they have been heard and believes that you are providing value.
What can you do to jumpstart your customer experience initiatives?
If you are a leader in the public or private sector, you can begin by re-examining what you believe you know about your customers and possibly ramp up your “listening.” You may already have baseline information in-house, and that data can be augmented with surveys, interviews, and social media monitoring to provide meaningful insight. Keep in mind that you want to build—not badger—your customer base. That means ensuring that your approach is well-designed, is implemented with a focus on quality and accuracy, and includes a follow-up plan once the customer has “spoken.” Your objective is to truly understand the level of value you provide from the customer’s perspective. When you do, you will know where you are now, where your customers are going, and where you need to go to stay with them.