At the heart of all commerce is the customer experience, and unless we’re completely off the grid (and completely alone), it’s something we simply can’t avoid.
Every transaction we ever engage in has an element of customer experience, whether we take notice or not.
When we do take notice, ideally it’s because we’ve encountered a shining example of customer experience. But, as well all know firsthand, that’s not always the case.
Poor customer experiences are often more memorable than the good ones—and they spread a lot farther, too.
According to a 2017 customer service report from American Express, “Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.” And that’s just word of mouth.
Thanks to review sites and social media, rave (and ravaging) customer reviews get further amplified. Take this tweet about SaaS company Drift:
Not only has Alexander likely shared his experience with colleagues, he’s now also reached dozens, maybe even hundreds of other Twitter users thanks to a few retweets and likes.
This is the power of a memorable positive customer experience. And frankly, it’s some of the best and most valuable indirect marketing you can invest in compared to other forms of customer marketing.
This post will dig deeper into the importance of the customer experience, and offer up four ways to improve your company’s experience—but first...
But what even is the customer experience?
Up to this point we’ve defined the customer experience by its potential results rather than what it actually is. According to Business Dictionary, the customer experience is the “entirety of the interactions a customer has with a company and its products.”
In other words, the customer experience spans the entire customer journey, from the very first blog post your customer reads to the most recent support ticket they submitted—and everything in between. Like this:
The green dots represent just a few possible touch points within the customer experience—as you can see, there are many opportunities to wow or disappoint your customer.
The customer experience is the sum of all the interactions your customer has with your company and offers, and impacts how they perceive your brand and to what extent they’ll recommend you.
In a recent Forbes article, customer experience expert Blake Morgan expands on customer perception as it relates to customer experience.
She suggests it is in fact the customer—not the brand—who defines the customer experience: “Even if you think your brand and customer experience is one thing, if the customer perceives it as something different, that is what the actual customer experience is.”
This means you need to be extra dialed in to your customers’ perceptions of your brand, and be taking active steps toward correcting any less than flattering perceptions.
Why should I invest in customer experience?
If you’re still not convinced as to why the customer experience is so important, here are three compelling reasons:
1. Consumers’ expectations are higher than ever
As consumers become savvier and more accustomed to instant gratification, they’re also less likely to put up with crap customer experiences.
This is particularly important when it comes to millennial consumers. According to news sources reporting on Adobe’s 2019 CMX Index, “nine in 10 people ages 18 to 34 said they will take an action after having a bad online customer experience, such as telling friends, stopping purchases from the company, and posting reviews on a review site or social media.”
Did you read that? Nine in 10.
On top of that, a poor online experience might be the reason you’re actually losing new and returning customers. In fact, the same report suggests those in the 35+ demographic were 40% more likely to abandon their carts as a result of a bad experience.
So if you’re not focusing on improving your customer experience, you’ll not only lose out on potential new customers via your poor reputation, you might also lose actual customers mid-funnel.
2. Consumers value experience (read: they pay for it)
According to PwC’s Future of Customer Experience Survey 2017/18, 73% of consumers say customer experience is an important decision-making factor (behind price and quality).
On top of that, customers report an increased willingness to pay more for good customer experience, in particular for greater convenience (43%) and friendly, welcoming service (42%).
So if you think that investing in customer experience is a money suck, think again. The money you put into better, more convenient experiences will be recovered, and then some, because it’s truly valuable to consumers.
3. It gives you a competitive edge
In the past 10 years, Google searches for the term “customer experience” have nearly tripled, indicating that more and more businesses are taking note of its importance. However, it seems that companies are not following through with actions.
Interest in “customer experience” is at an all-time high. Are you in the loop?
According to PwC, only 10% of companies in 2017 reported prioritizing better digital customer experiences, and this number is down from 25% the year before.
Not only that, their research also indicates a huge gap between the level of customer satisfaction across a number of industries compared to the level of importance companies place on it.
By simply prioritizing customer experience, you’ll be ahead of the competition. And by doing it well, you can close the gap between the customer’s expected experience and their actual experience, beating out your competitors and growing your brand’s perceived trust.
4 ways to improve your company’s customer experience
The following tactics will help you better position your company as a leader in customer experience.
1. Shift to a customer-centric business model
Okay, so this one is easier said than done, but it’s at the top because it could have the biggest impact on your company’s ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences.
Customer-centricity is a way of orienting your business so that all decisions are informed and influenced by the customer experience:
By positioning customer-centricity at the center of your operations, you tackle obsolescence head-on by always remaining relevant to the customer.
In order for customer-centricity to truly work, it needs to start from within the organization, and be backed by everyone, starting with the top-level executives.
If frontline staff are expected to reinforce a customer-centric model, they need to understand why it’s important, where the company is headed, and feel that they’re supported throughout the process.
According to customer-insight platform Vision Critical, there are five key pieces to customer-centricity:
- Think like a customer. Dig deeper than just vanity metrics like... to understand their motivations and behaviors.
- Address their needs (not wants). It’s one thing to pore over customer feature requests; it’s quite another to understand why said feature requests are important to the customer, and respond with a truly innovative solution to their underlying need.
- Provide solutions, not products. At the core of every successful product is how it improves the customer’s life. By focusing on impactful solutions rather than piecemeal products, you become irreplaceable to the customer.
- Prioritize lifetime value. While it’s important to provide top service to all your customers, putting more time and energy into those customers who will generate the highest lifetime will serve you better. By addressing the needs of these customers, you’ll not only improve retention, you’ll also attract and retain similar customers with similar lifetime values.
- Be proactive. Constantly reacting to customer requests, complaints, and needs is like running on a hamster wheel. By zooming out to look at the big picture and implementing real solutions at scale, you can spend less time being reactionary and more time growing your business.
2. Invest in storytelling
In a recent article, expert Rebecca Wilson explains that customer experience professionals will play a critical role in the future, connecting the dots across the organization. However, that doesn’t mean their roles will remain the same.
Specifically, customer experience professionals “will need to ramp up their role as storytellers, bringing to life not only customer experiences but success stories that infuse a different spin on business cases.”
Storytelling, when done well, has the ability to simultaneously humanize your brand, while also framing your offers in a compelling narrative.
Take Wealthsimple, for example, which after only 4.5 years of existence now manages more than $1 billion for about 50,000 clients. According to CEO Mike Katche, Wealthsimple is not interested in talking oil prices and interest rates, but rather sharing “interesting stories about money.”
Wealthsimple’s magazine is full of celebrity profiles, all with a finance spin.
Their editorial approach to branded content has not only contributed to their fast growth, but also secured their spot as a credible publication. In fact, mainstream media outlets like Business Insider, CNBC, MarketWatch, and Money cite Wealthsimple’s content frequently.
Of course, not everyone will achieve Wealthsimple status; however, most brands will benefit from strategic storytelling.
A great place to start is to identify customer story opportunities, and share them across your channels. Rather than telling prospects and customers what your product or service can do, use these stories to show them how other customers are succeeding using your products and services.
3. Incorporate personalization
Everyone wants to feel special, and the customer experience is no exception. A great way to make your prospects and customers feel like you not only care about them but also understand them is with personalization.
A recent report from LinkedIn suggests that “decision makers are more likely to consider a brand’s products or services when the experience is personalized.” This is supported by a 2017 survey which revealed that 88% of of those who implemented personalization “realized a measurable lift in business results” and 61% reported “improved overall customer experience.”
If personalization is new to your organization, start small. This can mean personalized emails and landing pages. A robust CRM will track a variety of information, which you can leverage in your comms and emails at scale, and many landing page options will allow you to dynamically replace headline text (and more) with personalization tokens.
Below is an email I recently received from 23andMe, which uses two personalization tokens including first name and number of new DNA relatives in the past 30 days.
The email above would be simple enough to replicate in your own materials, and it makes the recipient feel like they’re your one and only (customer).
On the other hand, if you are well versed in personalization, consider kicking it up a notch by digging into what it would take to implement predictive analytics tools and AI.
Take McDonalds, for example, which recently bought personalization platform Dynamic Yield (a $300 million deal).
Their plan is to “inject real-time decision making into outdoor digital Drive Thru menus so they can display and suggest menu items based on weather, time of day, restaurant traffic and customers' current selections.”
While a $300 million acquisition might not be in the cards for your business, this serves as a great example of how some companies are making large-scale business decisions to focus more on the customer experience.
4. Track the metrics that matter most… and act on them
You can’t improve your customer experience if you have no baseline to work with. If you’re not currently tracking metrics associated with customer experience, consider starting with at least the following:
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Churn rate
NPS is the most widely used customer experience metric that exists, and it gives great insight to how your brand is perceived. It only asks one question: how likely are you to recommend [business] to a friend or colleague?
Ideally you want your NPS to be in the 9-10 range, since these folks will tell their friends and colleagues about their positive experience.
A quick churn analysis on the other hand will give you insight into customer attrition. To calculate your churn rate, simply take the total number of customers at the end of a specified period (say one month) and divide it by the number of customers at the beginning of the period.
Learn strategies to reduce churn and keep customers longer with this handbook.
Beyond the NPS and churn metrics, you can get more granular and dig into other metrics such as:
- Customer satisfaction (Sent after a customer completes an action such as sends in a product return.)
- Time to resolution (How much time does it take to solve a customer issue from end to end?)
- First contact resolution (How many issues are solved in the first interaction versus those which aren’t?)
And even more granular still, you can analyze visitor and customer behavior across your site and other assets using feedback tools such as Hotjar.
Hotjar’s screen recordings allow you to see real visitors’ behavior, helping you to quickly identify and remedy usability issues.
This will help you get into the mind of your customer and identify areas of your sales funnel that may be confusing or difficult—like a signup form that doesn’t indicate that all fields are required.
Customer experience—it’s a lifestyle
The truth is, there are no shortcuts to creating a consistently amazing customer experience. Yet, those who make the shift and become hyper-focused on customer experience will thrive in comparison to those who don’t.
If improving your company’s customer experience feels like a monumental task, it’s because it is. In order to truly impact the customer experience, your company needs to make significant shifts in its culture, structure, and operations.
However, like any long-term lifestyle change, your efforts will be rewarded—maybe not with a slimmer midsection, but with customer loyalty, referrals, and respect in your industry. We’ll take it.