In highly competitive markets, differentiation is hard to establish. Customers are more knowledgeable and demanding than ever before, global competition is intensifying, products are increasingly becoming commoditized, and all of this drives down profit.
In many cases, there is really only one area in which a company can consistently separate themselves from the competition and provide real value to consumers, and that is in their customer experience.
What is customer experience?
Customer Experience is measured by the quality of interactions at every touch-point; before, during and after the purchase of a product or service. It is delivered consistently and reinforces the brand promise and differentiation. It is a holistic approach to customer focus.
So let’s break that down a little bit.
Touch-points: Visiting a website, interaction with a sales rep, using a product feature, talking to a service engineer or customer service… your customers interact with your brand across multiple touch-points. Every one of them is an opportunity to either help or hurt that customer’s overall experience.
Before, during, and after: It’s important to keep in mind that these touch-points occur at all times, not just when you’re involved or when you’re aware of it. Your brand’s customer experience needs to be consistent and positive whether you’re directly involved in the interaction or not.
Brand promise: While most companies will have a mission or vision statement somewhere in their files, the brand promise is what your brand strives to manifest with every customer interaction at every touch-point, and if you don’t have it figured out you can be sure your customers have already figured it out for you.
Why is customer experience so important?
Customer experience is a key to establishing differentiation in a global business market that makes it very difficult to guarantee bigger, better, faster or cheaper. All these formerly effective differentiators drive down price and profit, and the easy availability of products and services from across the globe make relying on volume sales dangerous.
In building a consistent, top-notch customer experience, you create a value proposition that your competitors can never perfectly match. The customer experience is not just based on what you do, but it’s the personal and unique way you do it. It’s not just what you give your customers, it’s how you make them feel.
In relationship-based businesses, customer experience is the only way to retain and grow key accounts. If your customers even get a hint that their experience will be better elsewhere, loyalty can become a thing of the past.
A great customer experience makes up for other aspects of value proposition that may not be perfect. As a perfect example, Starbucks has nailed their customer experience. No matter which store you walk into, the look, the feel, the smell, the taste, and even the way you’re greeted and served, is consistent. So, as a customer who loves that experience, you overlook the fact that you’re likely paying more for your coffee than you would elsewhere.
What challenges get in the way of great customer experience?
The many opportunities for when, where, and how customers can interact with your brand creates a formidable challenge. Since consistency across touch-points is vital to a great customer experience, brands need to focus on identifying and controlling (to the extent possible) every customer interaction, whether it be digital, print, real-world, or word-of-mouth.
Aside from developing and transmitting a comprehensive strategy across the organization, accomplishing this consistency requires training, keeping a sharp eye on customer feedback, and focusing on continual improvement.
It’s a big task, but definitely doable, especially with the right help.