A successful customer experience does more than please and engage customers. It influences your best customers to do more and more profitable business with your company. What makes for such an outstanding and influential experience? We can describe its characteristics and results:
- Deliver innovative solutions to customers’ problems. Outstanding experiences leverage a deep understanding of what customers are trying to accomplish, the natural set of activities they follow, and how they think and react emotionally to what happens to them. The best experiences find ways to solve problems the customer may not be able to articulate or even realize they have.
- Earn and carefully protect the customers’ trust. Flawlessly shaping your customers’ experience requires an understanding of both their explicit and implicit expectations. For example, sales activities must be clearly oriented towards understanding and meeting more of the customers’ needs, not pressuring the customer to buy more than they are ready to or before they are ready to. The “end of the quarter sales push” does a lot to undermine customer trust.
- Activity eliminate perceived “violations of justice.” This complements and extends the previous point. Customers often have an intense emotional reaction to things that strike them as “just not fair.” Very often these violations in justice look very different to the customer than they do to the company. For example, many banks have changed the way they charge fees to include policies about posting checks from high to low. This increases the likelihood that customers will bounce more checks, increasing the banks fee income while putting the bank in the tenuous position of increasing the portion of its profits derived from its most dissatisfied customers.
- Go beyond what’s called for. Outstanding experiences demonstrate the company’s commitment to the customer – and go out of the way to under-promise and over-deliver. Ideally these are things that surprise the customer and show you uniquely value the relationship… rather than programmatic loyalty programs that quickly feel like an entitlement.
- Balance value delivered with value captured. It’s easy to create a good experience if you give the customers “three scoops for a penny.” But it’s wasteful if you deliver more value than the customer can recognize or is willing to pay for. Outstanding experiences maximize recognizable value for customers, rather than overserving on baseline or “table stakes” expectations. They make explicit and effective tradeoffs to approach the “optimal economic” point of value realized by the customer and value captured by your company in the form of price and loyalty. Outstanding customer experiences are win-win.
- Engage the “whole person.” Outstanding experiences address customers’ physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs. They help customers clarify their goals and aspirations, visualize what’s possible, and understand and explore their options.
- Build authentic relationships with customers’. The key here is to treat customers as individuals. Getting to know and treat your customers as individuals engenders close personal connections that require acknowledging the customers’ value and genuinely thank them for their business.
- Tell a compelling story. Outstanding experiences tell a story that is meaningful for the customer and helps them understand where you’re coming from, what you stand for, and what makes you special. This is the real meaning of a brand – a consistent story that is told every time the customer interacts with you. Every interaction with the customer becomes a branding event; differentiating you from your competitors.
I fully realize that these characteristics fall into the category of “says easy… does hard.” Many of the future posts will discuss what we’ve learned from 25 years of helping companies deliver these kinds of experiences. This includes the challenges of: really understanding the customers’ priorities; getting aligned on the differentiated experience the organization intends to deliver; and most importantly, dealing with the fact that the customers’ experience is a product of organizational behavior… not brilliant insight or clever design.