By Andrew Thornton
In essence it is all about your customers’ perceptions of their relationship with your business or organisation. This perception is formed from a culmination of all the interactions with your business over the lifetime of the relationship, which critically starts at day one! These interactions run across 4 dimensions of customer experience - Brand, Buying, Product and Service. At The Customer Edge we refer to this as the Total Customer Experience.
Customer Experience Management involves understanding and reacting to your customers’ interactions to meet or exceed their expectations across each of the 4 dimensions. The aim is to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy which, in turn, results in tangible and measurable value to your business; importantly a win-win for both your customer and your business.
Let’s discuss each of the 4 dimensions of customer experience in more detail
The following chart illustrates the interaction between the 4 dimensions:
Critical to the success of effective Customer Experience Management is that your business must manage the balance across each of the 4 dimensions. This is because each dimension is inextricably linked. Consistency is vital because customers want to know what your business is going to deliver each and every time they interact with it.
The more compelling the Total Customer Experience (TCE), the faster you will build customer loyalty. In fact, the total experience you build becomes your brand in your customers’ minds. The TCE must be consistent across all dimensions because a weak performance in one dimension may significantly undermine the balance of the TCE the customer has with your business or organisation.
In addition to considering the totality of the experience, you also need to consider the tonality.
Tonality is about the spirit of the experience. It should also be in line with how you have defined your business and its brand (e.g. we are an ethical business or we offer value for money) and with what you know your customers want.
The right combination will make the experience unique to your business and motivating for your customers. Without both totality and tonality, you won’t provide a great customer experience - and without a great experience, you're just another business or organisation lost in a cluttered market place.
Every experience or interaction with your business forms how a customer views and values your brand.
A misconception is that a brand is simply about the logo or colour scheme used in a business’s livery. It is much more than that. In relation to TCE, it is very much about the tonality of the brand. It is what your business - your brand - stands for.
Many consumers are drawn to a particular business or organisation by what they perceive the brand represents and its reputation; but they can quickly disengage with the business (and its brand) if the reality of their experience is not what they understood the tonality of the brand to be.
Critically, this often occurs at the very first interaction with your business – and few customers will give your business a second chance if the tonality of the experience is at odds with what they understood it to be.
Consumer research has shown that companies that deliver great buying experiences grow twice as fast as companies that deliver average experiences. A positive buying experience can drive more frequent and higher value sales, higher customer retention rates and more customer referrals. It’s about providing customers with what they want – a great experience – and then watching critical revenue metrics improve as a result.
The buying experience includes the entire process that the consumer engages in as they move from pre-purchase to purchase. In short, this ranges from initial awareness and consideration about a business and its products to initial purchase and the establishment of a repeat buying habit.
During this process there are a number of considerations a consumer goes through, which includes the initial information gathering – today’s consumers are more savvy and educated thanks to the internet and social media (as well as the traditional sources such as family and friends) and the customers psychology and emotions– their desires, needs, wants, and fears.
And finally – and one where your business can more directly impact - is the interaction that a customer has during the buying process - who they interact with (within your business) and how this interaction takes place (e.g. your channels to market such as on-line, in store, telephone etc).
The key is to deliver an experience that is consistent across all interactions and channels so that the business can meet or exceed the customers’ expectations.
Here, we are dealing with all aspects of the interaction with a product ranging from expectations to actual usage.
Typically, there are four types of product experiences. In summary:
- Aesthetic experiences that involve a product’s capacity to engage one or more of the customer’s senses
- Relevance experiences which involve a customer’s ability to assess the personal significance of the product they intend to buy to themselves and their needs or wants
- Emotional experiences which are based on how they relate to the product (e.g. ‘this will make my life easier’ or ’this will enhance my social status’)
- Social acceptance - inevitability some customer buy a particular brand or product because it carries social kudos – many people (consciously or subconsciously) want to belong to a peer group or cohort and will buy to satisfy their need to ‘belong’.
A critical consideration in relation to product experience is whether your business is the originator of the product or a re-seller of the product. If an originator, your business will have greater control over the product experience. If a re-seller, you are subject to the vagaries that may impact that product which are outside of your control (e.g. a VW dealer contending with the negative brand perceptions caused by the recent VW ‘scandal’).
At The Customer Edge we align price experience with the product experience as the two are generally intertwined in the mind of the customer – how much I am prepared to pay for the product (or service). Price is also often seen as a proxy for the level of product experience the customer expects – for instance, a high price leads to high expectations (and vice versa). It also influences how they perceive their experiences – fair value or ripped off?
As an observation, even those businesses that consider themselves ‘customer centric’, or state they are focused on ‘customer experience as a strategic priority’, often end up making pricing decisions that lead to negative customer experiences. Why? Because pricing decisions are often made without the benefit of customer experience insights or made in operational silos. This is why Customer Experience Management must be adopted on a whole of business basis.
A misconception within many businesses is that customer experience is the domain of the customer service team or customer contact centre.
As I have illustrated above, it is much more than that. Customers interact with your business across a number of touch points during their engagement with your business and the service experience is not just about the service provided by the customer service or contact centre. Each touch point provides a moment of truth where the interaction can be positive if things go right or negative should things go wrong. Consistency in service delivery is key, regardless of which touch point is involved.
Let me be clear, though. For many businesses, particularly larger ones, a customer service or support team is an important element in the overall customers’ experience. These teams are generally dealing with customer queries or unsatisfactory customer experiences. Today’s customers expect that individuals within these teams be empowered to deal with customer issues at the first point of contact (wherever possible). How the service or contact centre deals with these moments of truth can critically impact the service experience. This means putting in place the right processes and training staff to behave in a way that ensures consistency in service delivery in line with what you want your business to stand for.
Once you have put in place the processes and instilled the passion to deliver a consistent service experience then you have to maintain momentum and guard against delivering sub-par experiences. A last observation about the service experience: many businesses – particularly large volume based ones - see the provision of a customer service or contact centre largely from a ‘cost to the business’ perspective (hence, many seek cheaper options offshore) rather than as an important ‘value add’ to their overall customer experience. This begs the question: does a low cost service provision result in a sub-par experience for the customer? If so, what is the impact of that on your business?
Consistency is King
Consistency across all four dimensions of the TCE is critical to success in effective Customer Experience Management.
During every interaction with your business, customers are forming an opinion about their experience. A great experience results in the customer staying with you – a poor experience and they are likely to walk. Moreover, consistency means that the customer knows what to expect each and every time they interact with your business. It removes the ‘friction’ and we know that as soon as customers run into ‘friction’ they start thinking about dealing with another business or buying an alternate product.
Your challenge, as a business owner or leader, is to take control of how the Total Customer Experience is managed, perceived and valued by your customers. Done correctly it can offer you a unique point of difference that is difficult for your competitors to replicate.
Co-founder and Inspirer
The Customer Edge
About the Author
Andrew is passionate about the mutual benefits that effective CEM delivers to a business and its customers. He was at the forefront of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) movement in Australia as a business philosophy and is in demand as a speaker and educator on customer-related strategy. Andrew’s career has spanned senior leadership roles in corporate Australia across the financial services, telecommunications, professional services and infrastructure sectors. He has been and continues to be an adviser to business – in particular to emerging and medium-sized businesses – in market and customer-centric strategy. A hallmark of his advisory work is his approach to coaching and mentoring his clients to deliver successful business outcomes