Customer experience (CX) isn’t a new concept. Customers have been experiencing the good and the bad of services as long as there have been customers and services for thousands of years. Customers who have bad experiences will not wish to repeat them and will look for alternatives. In our modern service-driven world, the availability of alternatives is high, and so ensuring customers have a good experience is more vital than ever in order to survive in that competitive environment.
If we are going to talk about customer experience, then a logical starting point is to make sure we know how we are using those two words. Some frameworks (ITIL, agile, and more) hijack words and give them meanings that are narrower or even different from their everyday use in English. Specifically, ITIL separates those in the consuming organization and gives special meaning to the customer. We take note of the different roles, but need to care about everyone:
The overall customer experience will comprise many elements, with a range of stakeholders over a period of time, ranging from initial interest through the actual customer buying experience and then living with the service afterward. Even disengagement from the service when it is finally finished or replaced forms part of the overall experience.
Good customer experiences rarely happen by accident. The best organizations work actively to understand, measure, and improve every element of the customer experience. This, of course, requires targeted management and leadership, and so we see more and more CXOs. What is a CXO? Well, CX is the accepted acronym for Customer eXperience, and so the CXO is a Chief Experience Officer – responsible for customer experience being addressed in every aspect of the organization’s business and sufficiently understood by everyone working there. Like many senior positions, there are two key responsibilities:
With effective customer experience management, then the right attitudes become embedded in the organization.
All that sounds good enough, but what defines a good customer experience? Let’s consider a few examples. First of all, realize that good customer service doesn’t need to be loud and obvious. In many situations, the best customer service is all but invisible. It’s about what doesn’t happen as much as what does:
But, of course, the positive helps too:
Of course, it’s nice to make other people feel good, and working to ensure your customers have a great experience can be rewarding in itself. The reality is that the effort and resources spent on improving the customer experience more than pay for themselves – and that’s why it is an essential business practice nowadays. Delivering that good experience means:
Think CX and you would – probably – associate it with marketing and sales, capturing and keeping customers, so they would logically be the customer service expertise, but it has a much wider touchpoint with the business areas of a modern organization. Ultimately the business as a whole will reap the benefit, more sales, less cost on customer acquisition and retention, free advertising and marketing from word-of-mouth recommendations, and so on. Indeed, these are benefits to sales and marketing, or more precisely to finance and profit via sales and marketing.
In fact, those benefits don’t just happen; they accrue from work done in considering, establishing, improving, and maintaining the customer experience levels. That effort is more likely to come from system and service design, user interface, and making things intuitive. And when things do go wrong, from support staff. Seeing the scale and lifecycle behind CX is critical to ensuring all the relevant parts of the enterprise are engaged as they need to be and to see how their efforts will benefit the organization as a whole.
Areas of customer service experience examples are wide-ranging, as touched on above, and include:
So far, we have talked about how good customer experience helps supplier and customer alike, helps both parties, and generally makes the world wonderful. But what about when that doesn’t happen? What does bad customer experience do? It isn’t just the absence of benefit. Unpleasant customer experience is likely to actively damage your viability and success as a supplier. Perhaps the worst customer experience is when expectations are set but then not achieved.
Examples can be seen across many industries, the five-year warranty on your product that isn’t honored when something breaks. The ‘delivery to your door’ that turns out to mean delivery to the door of your apartment block, not yours, the plug and play software that you have just spent 2 hours setting up, or the ‘child’s play’ interface that you can’t follow. Many of us have experienced these kinds of things. Often even where the supplier is strictly (or legally) speaking meeting their commitments – but in the letter of the law, not the spirit of their promise to you. And that’s the key message here, customer expectation is built on what they think is meant, and customer experience that then does not match it will generate negative reactions and damage to your business.
In fact, most negative CX can be traced back to not getting what was expected. And, conversely, getting more than you expect delivers a customer experience that keeps you coming back for more and telling your friends
Hopefully, we’ve made the point that customer experience covers every aspect of your customers’ interactions with your organization – the ones you can directly influence and the ones you can’t. What can we do that will help us deliver that good CX? Well, there are a few recognized customer experience strategy best practices that should help, such as:
Incorporating these simple ideas into your customer experience best standards will put you in the right direction.
Customer experience is the new competitive battlefield: every customer you need to keep is also a customer someone else wants to win from you. Customer experience needs to be continually improved, or else it will be perceived as getting worse. Innovations introduced and appreciated by customers will be presumed behavior the next time they visit you. It would help if you saw improvements to your customer experience as competitive advantage, helping you retain the customers you have and to win more. As (one of) the key engagement areas, organizations need to allocate skills, time, and resources to this area, recognizing the specialist skills involved – successful companies don’t see it as an add-on task but a specialism they take seriously.
Given its undoubted importance, it is vital that the relevant customer service experience skills are available to the organization, and therefore important to know what those skills are and how to recognize, obtain, retain and nurture them. It’s easy enough to rattle off the traditional skills for customer experience – and they are certainly relevant and needed to deliver effective customer service: things like patience, listening skills, product knowledge, and so on. These salesperson type skills are required, of course, but establishing the culture and environment for creating and delivering an excellent customer experience needs other skills too: in planning and building procedures that will deliver. So, as well as the selling skills, organizations need to make use of their marketing and research skills to ensure they have good – and up to date – knowledge of their customers and what is happening to them. Data gathering is vital. Underpinning all these skills – in selling and marketing, and design and support – is the need for empathy in customer experience; without the ability to see things from the customer’s perspective, initiatives are almost certain to be misdirected
It is easy to see the interactions of a customer with a supplier organization as a simple situation: customer wants something, finds it, agrees to buy it, gets it, lives happily ever after. Of course, things are often more complicated than that, and many other factors can affect the overall customer experience and influence customer decisions, including whether to buy or who to buy from. As we said earlier, customer experience can be seen as a battleground for success, and so understanding the customer experience journey allows organizations to then influence that journey. One of the key tools to help is to do a customer experience journey mapping exercise – the customer experience map will then illustrate the journey and aid planning to influence it and deliver good experiences. Basically, this map will show the customer experience stages, from the earliest consideration of desire through to post-purchase and consequences (including further purchases and recommendations).
A simple journey map will pick out the customer experience touchpoints, where the customer directly interacts with the supplier. Further sophistication will include more indirect customer influences and actions, including generation of demand, comparisons with competitors, purchase and funding options, and lots more, depending on the types of customer, product, supplier, and other influencing factors.
Like most worthwhile concepts, especially those that bring potential commercial advantage, new ideas, accepted approaches, and innovations are always here or on the horizon. With the ever increased focus on customer experience, then, of course, CX is no exception.
Still, arguably the most obvious trend is the ever-increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the shape of chatbots, and other direct human-computer interaction, in the customer-supplier experience. This is closely aligned with the increasing focus on social media as a prime contact and direct targeting via social media platforms.
Of course, the most important trend that will surely continue is the ever-increasing recognition of the central role that customer experience; it’s planning, measurement, and improvement will play in organizations’ forthcoming business strategy. For the next few years, in the difficult trading environment that lies ahead for the whole world, those who invest sufficient resources in customer experience are much more likely to survive than those who don’t. Customers have alternatives, and focusing on improving customer experience is your best weapon to keep them
Of course, it’s nice to make other people feel good, and working to ensure your customers have a great experience can be rewarding in itself. The reality is that the effort and resources spent on improving the customer experience more than pay for themselves – and that’s why it is an essential business practice nowadays. Delivering that good experience means: Existing customers stay with your brand – and new ones will become regulars. It’s accepted wisdom that keeping customers is more profitable than constantly need to find new ones. A recommendation is more powerful than advertising. Those who have had a good experience will tell their colleagues, friends, and families. And these days, they may well tell the whole world, too, via online review sites like Trustpilot or TripAdvisor. Conversely, they will publicize bad experience too – and help you to lose more customers than just them. Getting the experience right goes along with things working smoothly. The overhead of dealing with complaints, confusion, and misunderstanding by your customers is a cost you are better off without.