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The Ultimate Guide to Customer Experience

Not long ago, companies believed they could compete on price. 

Empires were built on the ability to squeeze savings out of production and efficiency out of employees. Companies like Walmart became synonymous with “low cost,” while offering minimal (sometimes sub-optimal) service, and similar concepts began to crop up in other consumer-facing industries. Amazon cut prices within e-commerce, Costco rolled out the warehouse model, and RyanAir started offering no-frill flying options.

This worked. For a while.

But with the proliferation of the Internet and smartphones, consumers became more aware than ever of options. And began demanding better experiences along the way. They also became quick to voice their displeasure with a company through online reviews, warning others away from bad service. That was when companies started realizing customer service wasn’t enough. They needed to see the bigger picture. 

And thus, a new marketing buzzword was born: “Customer Experience” (or its shortened counterpart “CX”). Today, leading researchers—including Harvard Business Review—consider great customer experience a differentiator. A core competency. And something the modern businesses can use to outrun their competitors.

But how can your company identify CX opportunities? How do you build a fantastic customer experience?

Let’s take a look.

What is Customer Experience?

Simply put, customer experience is the combined interactions a customer has with your brand. It looks at the lifecycle of the customer, mapping each and every touchpoint the customer has with you. It highlights where you’re delivering an exceptional experience, building loyalty and advocacy. And where you’re delivering a poor experience, driving your customers to competitors.

It puts you in the shoes of the customer.

Now you may be thinking, “every company has a customer service department. Isn’t that enough?” But customer service is transactional. It occurs at a specific moment in time and solves a particular problem.

Customer experience, meanwhile, is about showing up for the customer when and where they need you, with ease and consistency on their part. And it’s about making sure every interaction with the company is memorable and meaningful. It’s not transactional, it’s relational.

And it’s not as difficult as you might think.

According to customer experience expert, Shep Hyken, all it takes to turn those moments of truth into moments of magic is a predictable, consistent experience that’s just a little better than average. That puts you ahead of the competition because most other organizations only meet the satisfactory criteria. 

And so the next question for many companies is, “how do we create a great customer experience?”

Characteristics of a Great Customer Experience Strategy

There are two distinct sets of characteristics that should be considered for a great customer experience strategy. One is internal, more for your company’s operational effectiveness, and the other is external, more visible to the customer. 

Though not an exhaustive list, these areas of focus cover significant features that can make or break your customer experience. 

Internal/Operational

  • Design
    • Is the layout and functionality designed to be customer-centric? 
  • Technology
    • Do you offer self-service or chatbot options for the customer? 
    • Does the experience integrate cross-platform? 
  • Data
    • Are you collecting data accurately and using that data effectively to improve their experiences? 
    • Do you have all the data you need to optimize your strategy?
  • Customer Service
    • Are there holes in your customer service model and execution? 
    • Do you foster a service culture that proactively anticipates and fills the needs of your customers?
  • Culture
    • Does your company operate in silos or have  a “that’s not my job” mentality? 
    • Do you have buy-in and input on the strategy from all departments?

External/Visible 

  • Relevance
    • Are you delivering value to your customers?
    • Are you answering your customers’ questions ?
  • Authenticity
    • Do your customers trust you?
  • Consistency
    • Are you delivering the same level of experience (or better) every time?
  • Convenience 
    • Is your experience convenient for the customer? 
    • Is it more convenient than your competitor’s? 
  • Ease 
    • Is it easy to use/navigate?
    • Do your customers have to put forth a high or low level of effort? 
    • Are they getting frustrated in the process?
  • Speed 
    • Is it fast (enough)? 
    • Is the speed meeting or exceeding expectations? 
    • How does your speed compare to your competitors? 
  • Personalization
    • Are you personalizing content to enhance their experience? 
    • Do you know their preferences? 
  • Omnichannel access 
    • Can they move seamlessly from platform to platform with your brand?
  • Clear paths to resolution 
    • Are you removing friction for the customer? 
    • Do they have access to the right resources to resolve their issues? 

Use this list to analyze what you’re currently doing and how it’s working to determine what areas you need to focus on improving. Then consider which characteristics are appropriate for your brand before developing your strategy.

Examples of Great Customer Experience

Below are examples of brands that excel at executing these core characteristics that create their great customer experiences. 

1. Discover

In the past four out of five years, Discover has scored the highest in customer satisfaction by J.D. Power across the credit card giants. Not only did they rank the highest in overall satisfaction, but also in loyalty. They take their customers’ needs seriously, combining technology with speed and ease to provide exceptional service on all platforms: in-app messaging, online, and live, U.S.-based customer phone support. 

Knowing speed is important to its customers, Discover is expeditious. Their customer service representatives respond to customers online in less than 5 mins, making sure the customer feels heard and the problem is solved. And to add to their efficient, tech-savvy operations, the company also offers a suite of free services that provide peace of mind to cardholders–real time fraud alerts and the ability to freeze their accounts electronically via app or online if they misplace their card. 

How did Discover do it? By putting the customer first. They realized they could differentiate themselves in a highly competitive industry because the competition wasn’t doing that. So they tapped into technology to help deliver the experience their customers wanted.

2. Zappos

Zappos believes that customer experience starts with understanding what the customer wants, so the culture was designed for its customers. They wanted things like a good return policy and free shipping, so Zappos established a 365-day return policy with free shipping and free returns. Customers wanted to be able to buy shoes online with ease. So, if Zappos doesn’t have the shoe you’re looking for, they will help you find it through a competitor. 

Their operational structure allows employees to dive into solving their customers’ problems. Micah Solomon calls this “breathing space”–the flexibility for an employee to resolve issues with ease and satisfaction. Which means employees are given the power to solve problems and provide the experience the customer needs, unscripted and untimed. They will spend as much time as they need to with a customer to find the right solution for that individual customer. 

Why does this work so well for Zappos? Because of their customer-centric culture. They don’t work in silos. Zappos believes customer experience is everyone’s job at the company, so they train every employee how to deliver a consistent level of excellence for every customer, every time, even if the employee isn’t technically in “customer service.” Their stated purpose is “To Live and Deliver WOW,” and they see every call as an opportunity to accomplish this. 

3. Chewy.com

The online pet retailer Chewy.com is a fantastic example of great customer experience. Dan Gingiss writes about how they connect with their customers by personalizing their interactions, providing relevant solutions, and giving their employees autonomy to creatively deliver the best customer service possible. 

For example, one customer received an alert that his recently-deceased cat’s auto-shipment of food was being shipped soon. He called and canceled the order, explaining the situation. The customer service representative expressed her condolences and stayed on the phone with him, asking him about his cat. She showed empathy and care, even though he was no longer going to be a customer. Then, a few days later, he received a handwritten sympathy note from the representative with a bouquet of flowers.

The employee took the time to personally connect with the customer while taking care of his issue. She followed up, even though it wasn’t required, with a heartfelt gesture that turned a regular customer into a brand advocate. What’s the takeaway? Chewy.com delivers unexpected experiences to their customers. Connect, be relevant, and empower your employees. 

Benefits of Great Customer Experience 

Once you have a clear picture of the benefits of customer experience, the business case writes itself. A primary benefit of great customer experience is brand loyalty and retention, which directly impacts the bottom line. New customer acquisition costs five times more than customer retention. And existing customers are 60-70% more likely to buy from you than new customers. You want to keep your good customers. It’s far less expensive than finding new ones.

Existing customers are 60-70% more likely to buy from you than new customers. Click To Tweet

In addition, loyal customers who have consistently great experiences become brand advocates. And their proactive word-of-mouth is invaluable to an organization. Advocates tell their stories before they are asked, and when they share their positive experiences with others, they directly promote your brand. 

And the data shows that advocates have real sway. HubSpot’s trust survey says that 81% of consumers trust friends and family over brands. This is where your advocates’ praises come into play. Trust by osmosis. Consumers want recommendations from other people like them. 

At the end of the day, brand loyalty, retention, and advocates lead to increased revenue. Bain’s research shows a revenue increase of 4-8% over companies who aren’t investing in customer experience. Forrester’s findings similarly hold that publicly traded companies who invested in customer experience “had higher stock price growth and higher total returns.”

If you aren’t tapping into your brand advocates, you’re missing out on priceless word-of-mouth marketing opportunities. And if you aren’t reaping the benefits of your customer experience strategy, you need to re-examine its foundation. 

How to Create a Great Customer Experience

1. Map Your Customer’s Journey

A great customer experience starts with a detailed map of your customer’s journey. This is where you create a visualization of every interaction a customer has with your company–both behind-the-scenes and front and center. It includes indirect interactions, starting before the customer even comes into direct contact with your brand, and continuing until after they make a purchase. Use these moments as opportunities to overserve your customers and exceed their expectations. 

But remember, moments must be considered in totality, not just individually.

A regular challenge for many companies’ CX is to deliver a strong experience during certain moments of truth, but fail to achieve a high rating overall. For example, a restaurant might have great food and fantastic servers, but if the hostess is pushy or rude, the experience can be ruined.

When your customers interact with your brand across multiple channels, consistency is paramount. Your customers expect the experience to be the same, whether they are interacting with your brand on your website, social media, or over the phone. If there are gaps or inconsistencies, it can be confusing and frustrating for them, which may drive them into the funnels of your competitors. 

2. Gather Feedback

The next critical step in the process is gathering feedback from your customers. Surveying your customers on a regular basis is an effective, and accurate, method of understanding where there are gaps in the delivery of a stellar experience. 

By collecting data, and analyzing for pain points, you can offer better solutions and continue to capitalize on what you do best. Simply put: you won’t know what you need to work on if you aren’t asking. 

3. Include Internal Stakeholders

The final consideration when crafting a strong customer experience is including internal stakeholders. Employees across your company have diverse perspectives and interact with your customers in different ways. For example, salespeople are often the first point of contact, providing upfront information about products and services while interacting with potential customers. They can often anchor the first impression. Whereas customer service representatives answer calls, emails, and chats from customers, who either have questions or problems that need to be solved post-purchase. You want to capture their interactions, record them, and use them to design a customer experience that’s right for your customers and your employees. 

Including your employees in this process will ensure important details aren’t missed. It will also highlight the value they bring to the organization. According to McKinsey & Co., including your employees in customer experience design can boost engagement by up to 20%. When it comes to executing a brilliant customer experience, your employees hold the key. 

Involving your employees in customer experience design can boost engagement by up to 20%. Click To Tweet

How to Improve Your Customer Experience

Let’s say your organization has a decent customer experience. There’s been significant investment in this area, and customers rate their experiences as satisfactory. But you want to do better because you understand the importance of the outcome. You know the benefits, and you want to improve the existing framework. 

So how do you do it?

1. Create a common purpose the entire organization can buy into. Tie this purpose to a business goal so it will be monitored, measured, and prioritized. Customer experience isn’t just the job of marketing. As previously mentioned, crafting the customer experience strategy is the responsibility of the entire organization. So it’s critical to have everyone on board so all other relevant decisions can be connected to that central purpose.

2. Check the pulse of your current customer experience strategy by sending surveying your customers. Collect the data. Analyze it. Apply the knowledge. Make adjustments where necessary. If you ask, they will answer. 

3. Use the insights gleaned from the data to ensure you truly know your customer–their pain points, their values, their priorities. Paint the entire picture of the customer to truly know them and start anticipating their needs. 

4. Take advantage of social listening to hear what’s working and what isn’t from your customers’ perspectives. Know what is being said about your brand when you’re not in the room. The good. The bad. The surprising. Take that chatter and transform it into action–making the necessary changes to your operations to exceed customer expectations or maintain strengths that are already doing that. Remove friction, streamline communication, and decrease response time across platforms. 

5. Harness the power of customer reviews. Ask for them and acknowledge those who take the time to write them. 

6. Respond to all comments online and offline, good or bad, that are made about your brand. And be sure to respond quickly. Customers with complaints on social media expect to hear back from companies in an hour, but the average response time is 5 hours. If customers reach out on other channels, it takes an average of 44 hours for companies to respond. Conversely, customers praising companies don’t expect to hear back and are delighted when they receive responses. 

Customers with complaints on social media expect to hear back from companies in an hour, but the average response time is 5 hours. Click To Tweet

While only 41% of people who complain on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other review sites anticipate a response, when they do receive a response, they’re almost twice as likely to recommend the company afterward.

7. Change the cultural mindset of viewing the investment in customer experience as an expense. Think of it as an economic asset instead because it contributes to the lifetime value of your customers. Remember, it isn’t transactional.

Though each organization is different, following these steps will vastly improve your current customer experience strategy and delivery. 

Who is Involved in CX?

While certain people in the organization are tasked with developing the customer experience strategy, conducting training, and implementing it, the entire organization is responsible for designing and delivering it.

It starts with buy-in from the top. But everyone has a hand in it because it’s not just operations or just marketing, it’s up to the whole company to map and develop it. This is crucial because the customer journey begins long before a purchase is made, and it ends long after, if at all. 

When leadership takes a stand for customer experience, the entire organization prioritizes delivering it. Employees feel engaged and empowered to create experiences for their customers with autonomy and purpose. Which leads to better experiences, more sharing, and greater loyalty. 

What this means for you

The customer currency has shifted from price to customer experience. By 2020, companies will be competing more than ever on their ability to deliver the best customer experience possible. Those who do not trade in that currency will be left behind. 

By 2020, companies will be competing more than ever on their ability to deliver the best customer experience possible. Click To Tweet

It’s time to start improving your customer experience strategy now. Use the list of characteristics to determine which areas are key for your brand to make a positive impression on your customers. Talk to your customers and your employees. And get buy-in from leadership. Those actions will help guide you down the path to delivering a great customer experience.

And if your company is struggling getting started or executing its customer experience strategy, don’t worry. We can help. 

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