By Stephanie Stevens
When you think of your favorite coffee shop, big-box grocery store or food ordering app, what makes it memorable? Most likely, you’ve come to expect a specific type of experience, whether it’s a cup of well-made coffee served by a professional-looking barista, a vast array of high-quality inventory in an easy-to-navigate store, or a well-designed app that helps you get just the meal you were craving. These organizations know that consistent, positive customer experiences, whether in-person, online or through an app, are vital to securing return business.
What you may not know is that examining and refining customer experience (CX) is a professional specialty of its own. The father of the customer experience movement, Lou Carbone, first coined the term in a 1994 article in Marketing Management magazine, where he said: "Customer engagement, loyalty and advocacy are no longer driven by the products you sell or the service you offer; they’re driven by how well the experience you provide meets your customers’ ever-changing emotional needs and wants. It’s not the function a business provides, but the effect it has on customers’ lives that creates value. It cannot be business as usual."
So, what happens when an existing, well-established customer experience strategy is turned upside down by a pandemic? According to Forbes contributor, Mohanbir Sawhney: “From healthcare’s increase in telemedicine to retail’s expanded focus on the omnichannel experience, companies are redesigning their customer experience. While these changes were initiated due to the pandemic, many of the forced innovations will likely become permanent. As a result, the past six months have probably seen more customer experience innovations than the past six years.”
Customer experience expert and Extension instructor Jeofrey Bean agrees. “This is the starting point for considering changes,” he notes. Bean became a customer experience “true believer” in 2009 when he watched some companies recover far more quickly than others after the 2008 economic downturn. Each company he observed thriving had done well because of its customer-centric interactions.
To shift (or begin developing) your CX strategy, Bean recommends a practice called experience mapping, which involves creating a visual map of all the ways that your company currently interacts with customers including phones, email, social media and in-person interactions. We've included a quick video (below) to help. Now, make sure to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Can you easily find a product on the website? If not, what’s next? Is there a number to call? Listen to the outgoing message on your customer service line. Is it pleasant, easy to understand and helpful?
Confirm with a handful of customers that there are no other avenues to interact with your company, including apps, chatbots, signage and even peripheral services like parking or security. Examine the results for opportunities from the customer perspective. Determine what changes will bring the most benefit to your customers and begin making adjustments around the economic downturn and COVID-19.
“As you adjust the interactions to stay in business during this lean time and comply with local, state or CDC guidance for safety, consider how each interaction change will impact customers and the business from a practical, economical, time and emotional perspective. Be sure to always have the customers' perspective in mind,” notes Bean.
As you make adjustments, test them and note their impact on the business and customers. Then decide to keep, tweak, or come up with entirely different improvement ideas. As you make changes, continue to consider the customer's point of view and the effect any changes may have on their experience.
Curious about how to get started and what to ask? Bean has five suggestions:
1. Do an initial check-in with your customers.
It’s essential to reach out and help customers feel connected to your company. If circumstances prevent your regular customers from doing business with you, continue doing active check-ins with them if you can. Some companies are accomplishing this through interviews, either by phone or video conferencing. You can also contact them through surveys, email or other online tools, but personal interactions tend to create a better, more memorable experience for people.
2. Ask your customers to share their top three favorite customer experiences.
Make sure to ask customers to include the format (in-person, online, over the phone, etc.) and why it was so impactful. To keep it productive, ask them to exclude your business from the conversation and provide concrete examples such as “I really love the app because it’s so easy to use” or “Even though the situation was challenging, the call center representative made me laugh and solved my problem.”
3. Ask your customers to share their three worst customer experiences.
Again, ask for a lot of detail because their answers can quickly and easily inform where you can potentially make helpful changes to your business.
4. Take an honest look at companies that are doing customer experience well.
Even though they may not be your direct competitor, people will compare experiences. Plenty of companies are thriving during the pandemic. Your company can be one of them.
5. Take a customer experience class.
Many students in Extension's Customer Experience course use their business as their class project or work on proposals for businesses where they'd like to work. It can make a great opener for a cover letter. Learn how to innovate and transition to a more customer-centric organization.
We would love to hear about one of your best and worst customer experiences. Please feel free to share them with us in the comments.