“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.”
~ Jerry Gregoire, former CIO of Dell and Pepsi
Competition in business is fierce. No one needs to tell you that. Everywhere, companies compete based on product, technology, price. Even in advertising, witness the rise of content marketing – a way to beat out the competition in the rising roar of marketing messages.
There is another way to compete. It’s old-fashioned, but it works: Be good to your customers. Really, really good. Be good from the first time they encounter you to years after they’ve become your loyal, return customer.
That sort of holistic view – of ensuring customers are always well treated no matter what stage of the buying cycle they’re in – is at the core of the customer experience ideal.
Of course, none of this is new. And even recently we’ve seen several new-ish terms that describe what a great customer experience aims to achieve.
You’ve heard of “customer centric” companies, right? And of customer advocates? You might even have heard of the empty chair used at every Amazon.com meeting. The empty chair represents the customer. It’s there as a demonstration and a declaration that every decision is made for the benefit of the customer.
That’s the right headset to create (and assure ongoing) great customer experiences.
Delivering a great customer experience is good business
Companies aren’t embracing customer experience because it’s just a cute new marketing term. There are solid business benefits to delighting your customers. Here are just a few:
- When someone’s had a good customer experience, they’re more likely to say nice things about your company to their friends, family, and coworkers. This word of mouth marketing is probably the single most effective marketing channel around.
- If someone’s customer experience is good, they might leave a nice review for you online. Those reviews can make or break a business, depending on what type of business you are.
Conversely, if someone has a rotten experience with your company, they might leave a review that could significantly affect your business.
- Happy customers – those who’ve had good experiences – stick around. The longer you can keep a customer with you, the higher their lifetime value is. High lifetime values have all sorts of excellent business effects, from how much you can spend to acquire a new customer to how much net profit your company creates.
- As this graphic from Watermark Consulting shows, good customer experiences even boost your stock value a bit. Or a lot.
- Good customer experiences open up the possibility for customers to respond to you on social media. That user-generated content is some of the best earned media you’ll get.
Your customers’ experience is part of your product – and a way to differentiate yourself in the market
There’s another reason to focus on customer experience this year. A customer’s experience with you is becoming as important as your products.
Customer experience is also a way to differentiate yourself from your competition. According to Gartner Research, “89% of companies surveyed plan to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience by 2016“.
The classic example of this is in the hotel business. As everyone knows, there’s a vast difference between staying at a Ritz-Carlton and staying at a Motel 6. Sure, they both offer a bed. They both take reservations. They even offer something called breakfast. But all similarities end there. (No offense, Motel 6. Thanks for taking dogs!)
Customer experience is as important as product or pricing
Here’s what IBM and Econsultancy found when they did the research for their report, The Consumer Conversation:
Q: What did your new vendor offer that led you to switch? Which of the following best describes what your old vendor did wrong?
This echoes another study we’ve mentioned on this blog before. In Sherry Lamoreaux’s post, The Role of Emotions in B2B Marketing: Telling a Story, Making a Sale, she quotes a CEB/Motista study that shows how people are willing to pay a higher price when they see personal value in their purchase. That’s a key aspect of good customer experiences – they make you feel good. They engender positive feelings for the company. You might even say they build trust.
Customer experience is part of every aspect of your business
Here are all the different places customer experience can (and should) show up in a business:
- Research and development
How are your current customers using your product, and other products? What are they struggling with? Where do they go to try to solve their problems, and how do they describe those problems?
- Content marketing
Customer experience and content marketing are tightly woven together. But I’d say customer experience is even a larger issue than content marketing, simply because customer experience includes all the other departments listed here. So content marketing is just one aspect of customer experience.
- Social media
In the context of customer experience, social media is a customer service function and a content marketing function. There are plenty of stories of customers failing to get help via an 800 number, only to go to Twitter or Facebook and get their issue solved within minutes.
Here’s one story. A marketer was traveling on an overly hot Amtrak train. She couldn’t get anyone to help her on the train, so in desperation, she tweeted to Amtrak about the stifling heat. They tweeted back within minutes, saying they’d try to reach the conductor. And they did! The air conditioning the marketer’s train car was turned on. (Editor’s note: Last summer I tweeted to United about helping my son, who was stranded in Dallas by a flight cancellation, and they did come through. Coincidence? I think not. Don’t forget to tweet your thanks when social works for you.)
- Public relations
Does your company do good deeds above and beyond its business requirements? Getting the word out about those activities puts you in a highly positive light. Many customers really value companies with a mission beyond making money. Examples of this are almost any company with the word “organic” or “sustainable” in its mission statement, or companies that dedicate a percentage of profits to a charity or a community they do business in. Or outdoor outfitters like REI and Patagonia.
- Your website design.
There are quite a few articles linking customer experience to web design. App design and other user interfaces are equally important.
This makes total sense to anyone who has ever gotten frustrated with a computer. I once heard an AOL executive explain the company’s early rise to greatness this way: “Ease of use is the secret sauce.”
Personalization also plays a big part in having a website with a great customer experience. Many of the recent articles about customer experience trends say personalization is one of biggest trends around. It goes hand-in-hand with automation.
- Your mobile presence and usability.
It’s time to think outside the website. There’s more mobile traffic than desktop traffic, and that’s been true for a while. That means, at the very least, your website must be mobile-friendly. The forms need to work, and any other mission-critical functionality (orders? Calculators? Customer support?) need to work well too. Customer experience, to a large extent, requires that omni-channel marketing so many companies strive for. So as soon as you’ve thought about mobile, think about video. And in-store marketing.
Because interfaces and product design are so critical for customer experience, IT has as much a role to play in CX as any department. Even if they never directly talk to your customers.
Your sales department staff are basically the front-line emissaries of your customer experience. From the time they make a first connection on LinkedIn, to when they meet a prospect in person the first time, they are the face of your business, they are your customers’ experience.
- Post-sales, Customer Success.
Accenture’s 2015 B2B Customer Experience survey notes that while customer experience (CX) leaders achieve higher-than-average revenue growth, fewer than 25 percent of them excel. The leaders elevate service as a critical enabler of growth, the study states. This chart shows how leaders prioritize after-sales support and service.
- Human Resources and employee engagement
What’s the attitude of your employees in-house? How do they talk about your customers? Is there some grumbling and looking off? That’s going to show up somewhere. This is also critical because employee morale will be reflected on social media too. Even more importantly, unhappy employees just don’t deliver the quality (and quantity) of work that happy employees do.
This can also work in reverse. There’s nothing quite so bad for employee morale than knowing you work for a company that treats its customers poorly. Things like that tend to drive employees out, and the best go soonest.
Whether it’s a refund or a billing problem, how well your accounting department responds to customers can have a huge effect on their goodwill.
- Your executive team.
Customer experience is so critical that 59% of B2B customer experience leaders are appointing a C-level czar for it.
What makes for a great customer experience?
It largely depends on your company and your audience. For example, millennials may want more DIY customer service support, where Baby Boomers will want to get a real person on the phone. But here’s how customers from around the world answered the question:
Notice how six of the elements listed there refer to channels. Omni-channel marketing is already a required element of a great customer experience – at least in the eyes of customers.
Customer experience is no empty buzzword. It’s a view of the customer lifecycle powerful enough to differentiate companies, spike stock values, retain and attract better hires, and dramatically increase ROI.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to building a great customer experience. It’s so embedded in company processes that everyone in the business needs to be in on the effort. But for the companies agile enough to work towards it – or for companies already doing it – the rewards are worth the effort.
Back to you
Does your company have a customer experience strategy? Are you seeing results from your work? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Happy, engaged, and loyal customers lead to a strong business – and more opportunities for growth. Keeping track of your customers engagement and their experience with your brand will set your company up for long-term success. Download Act-On’s eBook “Do You Really Know Your Customers?” to learn how marketing automation can help you build quality, lasting relationships.