From Small Business Saturday to National Small Business Week, small businesses are positioned as being different – in a positive way. They don’t try to compete on price or products. They differentiate themselves by knowing your name or providing expert store staff and other experiential factors.
Thanks to the Internet, though, you can buy anything from anywhere. So, how do you choose who to buy from? Gartner research indicates that, by 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator between vendors. Customer experience has become the ultimate commodity, something the travel industry has known and masterfully marketed for decades. Even their promotional photos (like the one illustrating this post) give you a preview of the actual physical experience and make it seem very desirable.
Customer experience, as both Forrester Research and I define it as all interactions a potential buyer (or repeat buyer) has with your brand across the buying cycle, not just when they talk to support or a sales rep. In fact, even interactions with your brand that you down know about (such as earned media) or images of the destination you will be traveling to have an impact on the cumulative customer experience.
Even in my personal universe, I see organizations across the spectrum, from my favorite basketball team to one of the places I shop for my dog, putting a huge effort into customer experience. While many organizations have already realized how valuable customer experience is to their buyers and promising a faster, easier shopping experience, or telling you how they’re helping the environment or disaster victims, there is more to it than a promise.
Few organizations consider the experience the customer is an issue that runs across all the various touchpoints a buyer has with the brand. Even fewer organizations actually address all the touchpoints in the optimal way. In fact, according to Forrester Research, 84% of brands in their survey got scored as just “OK” or worse by customers. What is interesting is that this occurred despite the huge opportunities available to personalize and provide one-to-one marketing via automation.
Where is the disconnect? What can organizations do to address customer experience? Some organizations have taken to having a “voice of the customer” office and that is wonderful. However, if you’re not going to get the budget for that role any time soon, you can build a lot of the tasks a voice of the customer officer would care about into your marketing transformation:
- Develop buyer personas and use client journey mapping to move away from a silo-ed, internally-focused model that separates marketing, sales, support and other key buyer-facing roles across the entire buying, installation, and use process. Come back together in a collective way and focus on removing any bumps the buyer might face when being handed off from one team to another and improve the entire process until the client experience beyond “OK” an into the realm of “Oh my gosh! That company must be psychic! They knew everything I might want to know or need to accomplish and dealt with it smoothly before I even thought of it!”
- Measure that change from “OK” to psychic by building customer satisfaction surveys into your programs. This is as simple as putting little “Was this page useful to you?” apps on your website or as involved as doing annual customer satisfaction surveys of your support ticket clients (something our support team did religiously, to the point where they integrated survey results into the performance reviews of support staff) or even hiring an outside firm to deal with it for you. The bottom line is that you need to look at each client-facing area and make sure you’re regularly measuring progress or lapses compared to benchmark goals you’ve set for yourself in each area. Then, set a timeline of how you address the lapses or improve upon your progress.
- Augment your customer satisfaction surveys by tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) related to customer experience. Really dig into this area, since some behaviors can be easily misinterpreted. A lot of time spent on a website, moving from page to page, may not mean engagement. It might mean the buyer is looking for something she can’t find.
- Ensure that your customer relationship management (CRM) software tracks and correlates everything about the customer that you can get hold of and puts it into a single, relational database. This means website registration pages completed, telephone calls received, online chats, direct mails sent, social media engagement (yes, CRM vendors can do that now) – every little piece of data you can possible find. Don’t skimp on this step. Without this information, you can’t understand the needs and behaviors of your buyers and, thus, build a better customer experience and develop strong, long term relationships with your buyers.
- Invest in a good data analyst and some business intelligence software and study the structured and unstructured data you’ve been collecting. Look for cause and effect to see how different buyer personas behave when given specific changes to the customer experience, from changing up marketing tactics to changing prices. Create a plan and timeline on how to implement the changes indicated. I always prefer to start with the easiest changes first, so you can change them back fairly quickly and easily if your hypothesis was wrong.
- Help coordinate all the teams who impact customer experience by sharing data between them. One way to do this is to look at sales force automation software that links what your sellers are doing to all the other elements of your CRM. This gives sellers better insight into who they’re talking to but also gives marketing and even implementation and support the knowledge they need to do align more closely. For example, when I was looking for speakers for our annual user conference, I would always check our CRM data to make sure I didn’t bug a client while a seller was in the process of a pitch – or when the support team was working on an active ticket!
- Look at other sources that can help provide good customer experiences, especially after the purchase stage of the buying cycle, where most organizations feel they can end their efforts. Tap into parts of your own organization, your customer base, even your business partners and see if they have knowledge or content that you can use in unexpected ways. For example, can you sponsor user groups in the top markets where your product is used and periodically send a speaker from headquarters to do a question and answer session on the product roadmap. Can you dedicate staff to monitor or even create online social communities where customers can go to share knowledge and solve problems? Can you build a website where partners can post their best practices for using your products with theirs? I’ve done all three of these and can tell you that customers appreciated all three that our opt out dropped to virtually nil even though we dramatically increased the number of emails going out, to promote these new programs.
Good customer experience makes a huge impact on customer retention, loyalty, and – ultimately – your bottom line. Don’t take any part of it for granted. Make it the best it can be, from perception to implementation to repeat purchase.
Comments welcome, especially those related to how your brand improved customer experiences.