Customer Experience Is Everyone's Department
Customer experience is more than the experience of trading money for a product or a service. It's the experience leading up to that, and the experience customers have with what they've purchased, all the way until they stop using it.
Why is it, then, that the concept of "customer experience" seems to exist primarily in the marketing department? Marketing can take a customer up to the start of the sales process, and then later work with customers to encourage repeat business and renewals -- but marketing is but a small part of what makes an experience.
In many cases, when customer experiences run aground, it's not in marketing or sales -- and because those cases are utterly predictable, customers tend to be unforgiving when they happen.
We should create a culture of customer experience across the entire business, because every employee at some point may be a key player in a moment of truth. Without a customer-experience mindset, employees may default to the old task-based business-centric approach, and that simply isn't going to cut it in this day and age.
Where should you make sure experience is a concern within your business? Marketing and sales probably already get it, because customers have forced this understanding upon them. There are a few other areas that must be in on the experience, though -- because otherwise they can ruin it.
Here's the most elemental form of poor customer experience: The thing I bought doesn't work and can't be made to work. Experience over.
In technology, it can be a bit more complex. The thing I bought doesn't work with other things I have that do work -- why? This makes professional services people key experience ambassadors, because they're charged with helping customers get past these problems.
At the same time, they need to be diplomats, communicating between the customer and the vendor to help the relationship survive intact. Getting the implementation up and running is vital, but the relationship will be permanently weakened if your professional services people don't do it in a way that makes this stressful step as pleasant an experience as possible.
That's a challenge -- and it's an unachievable challenge if professional services doesn't consider customer experience as a key part of its job.
Service and Support
Service agents often are treated as the lowest people on your customer experience totem pole. That is not a good idea, since they field calls from customers who may be at a real breaking point with your company. Poor interactions with your agents may mark the end of their time as your customer.
On the other hand, if you take customer experience seriously and give your agents some tools, their interactions may build the bond between your company and the customer. Training agents is critical -- a knowledgeable agent instantly stands out in this era of lowest-common-denominator service.
If you couple that training with tools that allow agents to provide fast, accurate help -- and you empower agents to act on their own to resolve customer issues -- you can set up a scenario in which support calls actually build loyalty.
Paying the Bills
Anyone who manages a household budget is used to seeing examples of a poor customer experience in the form of a badly designed, confusing bill that makes it clear the business' only concern is getting the customer's money.
It doesn't have to be that way. A bill is a regularly scheduled chance for you to connect with the customer. With a tiny bit of thought, a bill can come with information that adds some value to the customer and takes the emphasis off the payment and puts it back on the relationship.
In a B2C setting, bill payment is even more important. Making arrangements for payment to suit customer needs is something that can keep customers.
For example, one SaaS vendor during the recession worked with customers to reshape payments from quarterly to monthly to help their cash flow situations. If finance hadn't focused on its role in helping the customer experience, that restructuring wouldn't have happened, and it's likely that vendor would have lost customers.
All of these experiential steps are intended to help customers come back to buy again -- and when they do, you need to be there for them. That means understanding who customers are and making yourself easy to do business with. There's no worse customer experience than trying to buy from a company with whom you've enjoyed working with in the past only to discover your contacts are gone and their processes have changed.
Don't make process changes that may make you more efficient internally if they're going to damage the customer experience. Even if they save money that you pass on to the customer in the form of reduced prices, the effects on existing customers likely will offset those savings.
Also, when key people leave the organization or are reassigned, make sure that the new contacts actually contact the customers they're responsible for. People buy from people -- even when they're working with a large company. Don't make them hunt for the right person when they're trying to hand you money.
Real-World Brand Encounters
You may think the customer experience is encapsulated entirely within your processes. If so, you're wrong. Customers see your company and your company's leadership outside of those processes, and that is part of their experience.
That means controversial stances taken by your company and people associated with your company can color the customer experience. No one enjoys having to hold their nose as they spend money, so take care in choosing what you sponsor and support.
Similarly, executives with a tendency toward outspoken behavior and a lack of tact may alienate customers and create a situation in which customers are reluctant to continue contributing to that person's success.
"Customer experience" is much more than jargon, and it's more than a simple set of processes. It's also a perception of your organization and its actions as a whole. If you don't ensure that the entire business is aware of its impact on experience, the processes you implement won't rescue you.