Customer Experience: Today's Differentiator
Customers are arguably the most important asset to a company. In many cases, the size of a customer database has a direct influence on the overall valuation of a business. Growing and properly maintaining this asset is not easy. Obtaining a customer takes a substantial amount of effort and expense. Unfortunately, losing one is very easy to do.
Businesses must be vigilant to ensure that a stellar experience is followed throughout the customer lifecycle. Losing a customer means losing their respective contribution. Lose too many and a business finds itself faced with declining revenue which is typically met with increased product pricing and/or decreased operating expenses.
Unfortunately, sometimes the latter is achieved at the sake of customer experience. These factors contribute to a spiraling effect, almost like a snake eating itself starting at the tail. Acknowledge, though, that divesting certain customers can be an intentional objective (i.e. they are too noisy to the brand, not profitable, etc).
There are just as many ways marketers target and convert prospects as there are ways to lose existing customers. Target marketing is where a customer’s experience with a brand begins. Their introduction to a brand is seeded in the initial contact and built upon as they travel further through the conversion process—be it the landing page of a website or the first visit to a retail store.
Businesses must be vigilant to ensure that a stellar experience is followed throughout the customer lifecycle
The aggregate cost of getting to this point and actually making a conversion ranges widely from a few dollars to several hundred depending mostly on the customer type and business model. A marketer selling an $8,000 dress will likely commit more resources than someone selling perfume at a mall kiosk. However, in the majority of cases, it is more efficient to keep a customer than to gain one.
Once a customer is gained having the right tools and processes in place are critical to keeping them engaged. These tools and processes cover multiple lines of business: supply chain defines a robust backorder process, call center leverages online chat to reduce queue length, and marketing implements an automated nurturing campaign for new customers.
All of these efforts must be aligned either through culture or executive sponsorship. Imagine having an outstanding onboarding process for new customers but a less than ideal customer care center. It is the ever common complaint where a customer gets white glove treatment until the sale is final. This leaves a customer with buyer's remorse. With the strong onset of social media, the damage to a brand can be extensive.
Amazon is a good example of a company managing customer expectations that produce positive experiences through various touch points. As with many businesses, Amazon starts with truly understanding their target audience. Through effective marketing, they lure prospective buyers to their website which is continuously tuned to produce high conversions and repeat visits. In essence, they have created a frictionless purchasing process (think single click checkout) along with a variety of features such as reviews, address books for friends/family, and wish lists. Many people visit their site just for the reviews.
But customer experience goes far beyond that initial purchase and the website. Amazon is reliant on producing a positive experience through little to no human interaction. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have additional control over how customers view their brand through physical interactions. Amazon’s interactions occur electronically, post sale via customer care, and through their delivery system. At the moment, much of the latter is out of their control.
Thus, along with an ever evolving eCommerce engine, comes the onset of innovative delivery methods. Their stated goal is to focus on improving delivery times from two days to perhaps within hours of the order. The day is not far off where drones are dropping off packages. Amazon’s amazing two-day delivery is a standard that retailers across the country are continually measured against. This is another great example of customer experience not only being a differentiator, but a competitive advantage as well.
Post sales experience is as equally important. It is imperative in this heavy social media era that a positive experience is continued with those that have questions, returns, refunds, warranty work, etc. Even Amazon has recently begun to send out questions about a customer’s buying experience, how well the package arrived, and did it arrive on time. This is rich data that can be used to either improve existing processes and tools or perhaps even make holistic changes.
There are of course many other examples of retailers outside of Amazon that are doing great things to improve customer experience. It is safe to say that customer experience has become as much a differentiator as the products themselves. A slew of startups focused on it and became very successful selling commoditized products such as shoes.
Poor or inadequate customer experiences can have an immediate and long-lasting impact on a business. Creating positive experiences throughout the customer lifecycle is a key ingredient of a successful business. It is important that a business focus on implementing the right tools and processes to support this endeavor. Take care of your customers, and they will take care of you.