The Right Approach to Customer Experience Management
Most business people will be aware of the topic of Customer Experience Management. Many organisations claim nowadays to have people and programmes focussed on it. But it appears, at least to me, that many of these organisations have simply changed the name of their old Customer Service people and programmes, and done little or nothing more. This is not the right approach for success and it means they have not only misunderstood what Customer Experience Management actually is, but they are also missing out on a major opportunity to improve their business performance and results.
Peter Drucker explained how there is a big difference between doing things right and doing the right things. And the more right you get at doing the wrong things, the more wrong you become. So I’m focussing this paper on explaining what I believe are the important ‘right’ things that are necessary to make a success of Customer Experience Management.
In his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ Stephen Covey suggests we should always ‘begin with the end in mind’. So with the right end in mind, I will begin by providing a view on what is or should be the core ‘purpose’ of Customer Experience Management. I think it is to:
‘Create the Desired Customer Behaviour’
What I mean is that done well, with the right the tools and techniques, Customer Experience Management will help us learn and practice how to act now, so as to cause our customers to behave now and in the future the way we want them to. In most cases this means making them more loyal to us and less to our competitors.
Some people have a natural ability (a talent or flair) to deliver great service; some don’t. And it’s really hard (many would say impossible) the get a person with the wrong character or personality to behave the right way. It therefore makes good sense, and business life much easier, if the real effort when recruiting new people is focussed on finding the ones with that natural service ability. This means it will take longer to find the right ones (there are fewer of them) but it also means that they will be easier to train and manage, and they are more likely to be happier and so stay longer in the job.
This means focussing on that well know but rarely followed mantra; "Hire for attitude – Train for skill.” And this requires you to devise some way of assessing a person’s character during the selection process, (perhaps by using a psychometric test devised specifically for that purpose).
People rarely change their personality to suit the environment they find themselves in; instead they change their environment to find one that suits their personality. This means there’s little point in taking the trouble to make sure you start by selecting the right people, with the right natural personality, if you don’t then put them in the right environment for their personality.
So if you hire people that have a natural flair for delivering high service to customers, they need to be in an environment that encourages, delivers and supports the delivery of high service to them.
To create the right behaviours, we need to provide the right focus for peoples’ activities. This also something that I think it can be expressed simply: -
We need to do less of what customers don’t want and/or won’t like, and more of they do want and/or will like.
But like many things in business, this is easier said than done. The phrase ‘We don’t know what we don’t know’ applies here. So customers are unlikely to be able to tell us they would like something they have no experience of. This means that although customer/market research helps, this is rarely enough to find all the things that will create the real differentiation and competitive advantage needed. What we’re more likely to discover is how to catch up with what others are doing; which won’t put us in the lead position!
For example –
Nobody knew they needed bits of yellow paper that don’t stick very well until they learned how useful they are.
Henry Ford is reputed to have said, "If we’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse and cart”.
Virgin Upper Class customers didn’t ask for in-flight massages but once they were introduced they became so popular that if you didn’t pre-book one you probably would get one.
This means that some experimentation with different ideas is usually needed. But experimentation requires ‘trial and error’; and there is likely to be much more error than success in any trial. We must therefore ensure we are prepared to accept many false starts and wrong outcomes…….. but still keep trying.
Organisations that do not gather regular feedback tend to commit more and more resources to things that have less and less impact on business success. Not having feedback is like playing Ten Pin Bowling through a curtain. When the ball strikes you can hear that something has happening, but you can’t clearly see what it is, so you don’t know precisely what to do about it. The right feedback is therefore critical to sustained success.
There are two essential types of feedback - colleague feedback and customer feedback.
Colleague Feedback (Giving Colleagues a Voice) – It’s not possible to deliver great customer experiences, if the people that are expected to deliver them aren’t also experiencing them. This means that great experiences for customers outside the organisation are a result of and dependent on great customer experiences for colleagues inside the organisation. This means that it is vital to understand how colleagues are feeling, gather feedback to understand this and then act positively and decisively on what is learned.
Customer Feedback (Giving Customers a Voice) – Two types of customer feedback are needed. The first and most common is the feedback that is gathered occasionally (usually annually) via research programmes. This is very useful and should provide valuable insights into how customers feel and what could be done to improve things from their perspective.
The second and less common feedback is that which is done continuously, probably triggered by certain events like making a purchase, receiving a service, reporting a fault, requesting information, etc. This type of instant feedback is invaluable for tracking trends and acting quickly on issues important to customers. Modern technology has made this type of feedback relatively easy and inexpensive to gather.
A voice at the table – There’s no point in gathering this feedback if it is not acted on. The first thing that should be done is to communicate it widely so it will be ‘ringing in people’s ears’ to guide all decisions taken in the organisation. Questions like, "So what do our customers want us to do about this? or "And how will this affect the morale of our colleagues?” should be asked and the feedback used toprovide the answers.
You need to also ensure that the people providing it are thanked for doing so, told what you’ve learned from it, what you intend to do about it and kept informed of all progress made. Otherwise you have no right to expect them to keep providing it.
To positively influence current customer behaviour we need to provide the right experiences to do that. These will be experiences that are so pleasant, enjoyable, surprising, etc., they make customers decide to stay longer, buy more, pay more, or whatever it is we hope to result.
However to positively influence future customer behaviour we need to do something more. We must still provide experiences that are pleasant, enjoyable, surprising, etc., but they must also be experiences that will be memorable. It’s obvious, but often not realised, that if current experiences will not be remembered they cannot influence future behaviour.So these experiences need to be so intense (or sensational) that they will remain stuck in customers’ memories (consciously or subconsciously) and be recalled whenever they next need what we provide.
This all means that ordinary, expected, standard, experiences will not do what’s necessary. To be memorable and so do the job of influencing future behaviours, the experiences need to be, extraordinary, different and better or greater than expected. They must be sensational, and give customers positive feelings they will like and remember.
There are three key types of experiences; neutral, repellent or addictive.
- Neutral Experiences - Most experiences customers have are neutral. They are expected, ordinary and standard and have little or no impact on the customer’s behaviour. It therefore makes sense to identify as many of these as possible that can practically be turned into Addictive ones.
- Repellent Experiences – These are the experiences customers do not like. They are below expectation, substandard and irregular and are likely to cause customers to leave, stop purchasing and seek alternative suppliers in future.
They therefore need to be identified and removed as quickly and effectively as possible. Customer feedback helps you to find them. Techniques like Six Sigma can help you track their root cause and ensure they do not reoccur.
But ceasing to be bad does not make you good. It just makes you not bad. And not bad experiences will not build customer loyalty. So something more is needed.
- Addictive Experiences – Some experiences are so good that customers want them again and again; in other words, they become addictive. These experiences are above expectation, extraordinary and sensational. And if you are the only organisation providing these experiences they will become a sustainable source of competitive advantage and cause customers to spend more, return more often and recommend you to others.
However what today is viewed as extraordinary will eventually become ordinary.So to sustain competitive advantage something must be done to ensure this doesn’t happen and you stay ahead.
Creating and sustaining competitive advantage is a never-ending race. And as in any race, whoever has the right pace (the fastest pace) will always win. It’s therefore important that the final element of this approach is what is often called Continuous Improvement. That is, a rigorous, detailed, planned and never-ending programme to ensure that whatever is done today, is improved on and added to tomorrow. However I suggest it also has two additional elements.
The first is Conspicuous Improvement. This means doing this in a way that customers notice and love. You want them to be forever wondering what next? So they will be looking forward to their next purchase experiences knowing that in some way it will be better than their last.
The second is Combative Improvement. This means that also doing it in a way that competitors notice and hate. You want them also to be forever wondering what next? But in their case dreading discovering it; knowing that it will have in some way have moved you even further ahead of them.
So there it is, a brief overview of what I consider to be Customer Experience Management and what are the key elements necessary to be good at it. This paper may well prompt as many questions as it answers, so if you would like to learn more we have a range of other papers that provide more detail on the subjects raised.
- 2/8/2016:Building Customer Loyalty
- 30/8/2016:Customer Experience Journey Mapping
- 1/4/2016:In Customer Loyalty Management... all jobs count!
- 26/7/2016:Make it Memorable – but for the Right Reasons
- 6/9/2016:Implementing Organisational Service Excellence
- 8/4/2016:Focus on Experiences!
- 9/8/2016:10 Key Service Principles
- 20/7/2016:The Challenge of Service Recovery
- 13/9/2016:Educating vs Training