Delivering a superior customer experience (CX) is an effective way for businesses to separate themselves from their competition. Customers respond in positive ways to companies that understand their needs and deliver a seamless and consistent experience. In markets where products and services are similar, companies that focus on the customer’s experience can have a sustainable competitive advantage over those that do not.
There are significant revenue gains to be realized by doing right by customers because people want to do business with companies that treat them well. Satisfied customers are more loyal, tend to buy more and are more likely to refer a business that excels in delivering a quality customer experience. A Customer Experience Impact (CEI) report found that 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. But only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations.
Despite the benefits of focusing on CX, many businesses continue to come up short meeting customer expectations about being treated well. In fact, there is a huge gap between businesses and customers when it comes to CX. According to Bain & Company, 80% of companies believe they provide a superior customer experience, yet only 8% of their customers believe it. Clearly there is an opportunity for businesses to distinguish themselves based on the experience they deliver to their customers rather than the products they sell.
Word of mouth is the way that most consumers get information about products, services and the companies that provide them. It is the most trusted way to get information. According to a Harris Poll, 82% of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase and 67% are more likely to buy a product after friends or family have referred it. Providing a quality experience to a customer will likely result in positive word of mouth, which is more credible than any company’s paid advertising campaign. While an ad campaign runs over a defined time period, a company can delight its customers all the time.
The merging of digital technology and marketing has resulted in multiple interactive touch points for customers to communicate with businesses. Customers today expect and demand a seamless and consistent experience across all touch points, digital and non-digital. They want to be able to self-serve via mobile channels, but when things don’t work they want to deal with a human and basically pick up where they left off without repeating all of their information (name, address, account number, reason for the call etc.).
The way that customers buy has changed. The digital era enables customers to get tons of information about products and services when they are ready and able to buy. In many instances they can make purchases without ever visiting a store. Customers are also sharing their experiences (positive and negative) on social media.
Having an in depth understanding of customer attitudes, opinions, behaviors and expectations is critical to providing a superior experience. This data should be collected on a regular basis in a systematic way. However, there must also be a commitment to analyzing the data with the goal of developing actionable strategies and tactics to positively impact the customer experience. Customer surveys can serve as an effective early warning system for identifying service gaps. Avoid the mistake of collecting data just to find out how good you are rather than using it to identify problems, correct them and make continuous improvements to the customer experience. You can determine the effectiveness of your improvements by your customer feedback mechanisms.
Creating and fostering a customer focused culture is key for delivering a superior customer experience. It begins with owners and senior managers being committed to a customer focus. A prime example of this commitment is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, who is legendary for building a customer centric company and putting customers before profits. His leadership is a key reason Amazon has been at the top of the list of the 24/7 Wall St Customer Service Hall of Fame survey for seven years in a row. Businesses seeking to establish customer centricity as a core competency would be well served following Amazon’s primary core principle, Customer Obsession whereby,
- Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
It starts by having the right people. Customer facing employee must be:
- Internally motivated
- Willing to take ownership of the customers well-being
- Taking pride in what they do
- Supremely confident in their people skills.
These are the traits to look for when building a customer experience team.
Front line employees must be empowered to make decisions, on the customer’s behalf. However, you need to have employees that are comfortable with such autonomy. Employees who prefer the safety of bureaucratic policies and procedure are better suited for administrative positions that do not involve customer contact.
Dealing with customers can be a challenging job and it takes a person with the right temperament to do it well. Satisfied employees produce satisfied customers. To keep customer facing employees engaged they must be encouraged and recognized for the work that they do. You can celebrate and highlight employees that exemplify a customer focus, by building and telling stories of their customer encounters. These provide concrete examples for others to follow and contribute to building the culture.
The Bottom Line
Customers that receive a superior experience from a company have higher satisfaction levels and are more loyal. Over time they are worth more to a small business. Studies show that it is 6-7 times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. And a recent study by Walker suggests that by 2020 customer experience will be more important than price.
More and more companies are finding that delivering a superior customer experience is a cost effective and sustainable way to stand out in today’s hyper competitive environment. By doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way businesses can distinguish themselves in ways that customers will remember and come back for more.