- Buyers now rate customer experience as important as price and quality when making purchasing decisions
- Customer experience is defined by the interactions buyer has with a company before, during and after a sale and buyer perceptions about the brand.
- There are six things small businesses can do to improve customer experience: Gather customer feedback, Map out ideal customer journey, Leverage technology, prioritize employee engagement, and invest in marketing
If you were to ask most people what’s most important to them when making a purchase historically it’s come down to three things - price, quality, and service.
But today’s customers have access to more information than any time in history and less time to spend on purchasing. Brands who can cut through the clutter quickly and deliver a seamless experience that simplifies the customer journey better than their competitors will be much more successful in the years ahead.
So how important is customer experience? According to PriceWaterHouse, 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. And a recent Walker study found that by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. In fact, 84% of companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in their revenue.
Here are six tactical steps brands can do to prioritize customer experience:
- Prepare a customer journey map
- Survey customers to assess priorities, challenges, and opportunities
- Create your ideal customer journey map
- Leverage technology to improve customer journey
- Prioritize employee engagement
- Invest in marketing
1. Map out your current customer journey
A customer journey map is a diagram that visually outlines all the steps a customer goes through when engaging with your brand. To develop your customer journey map, bring together leaders from each department including marketing, sales, human resources, finance, logistics, customer service and front-line employees.
Starting from the time you first engage with a prospect; create a timeline of each touchpoint your customer has with your brand.
This should include touchpoints your customer has during the following phases:
- First brand impression before becoming a lead
- Lead conversion process
- First sales contact
- Quoting Process
- Sales and marketing communication once a deal is created
- Post-sale operations after closed won deal
- Post-sale operations after closed lost deal
- Post-sale finance process
- Shipping and fulfillment process
- Post-sale marketing
2. Ask Customers what’s working and what’s not
Once you have a framework for your existing customer experience, use this information to formulate a set of questions you can ask your customers. This will help you uncover how your customers feel during each touchpoint.
Are they frustrated, happy, impatient, or delighted? By asking for feedback you’ll get a deeper understanding of where the bottlenecks are, which part of the process is working well, and where the opportunities are for improvement.
Using Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or another customer feedback tool, create and send a brief survey to your customers asking for their input. Focus on assessing the most important metrics of customer experience:
- Efficiency – Is the experience fast and seamless for my customer?
- Personal – Does this part of the journey show care for the customer on an individual and personal level? Are there enough human touchpoints during the journey?
- Problem Solving – How well does it solve the customer’s biggest pain points?
- Emotion – How does my customer feel during this part of the journey?
Questions will be unique depending on your industry, current customer journey, and business operations.
3. Put together your ideal customer journey
From here, gather the data collected from your customer survey along with the feedback received from internal departments during your initial customer mapping session. Regroup with your team and share aggregate survey findings.
As a team, determine which specific parts of your customer journey require improvement. Then, create a new, ideal customer journey map that outlines your vision for how you would like your customer experience to be in a perfect world.
Note on your new customer journey map which aspects may require additional capital investment either in technology or human capital along with R&D for new product development. Rate each of these in order of importance to determine which projects should be prioritized.
4. Leverage Technology
Investing in the right technology can significantly improve your customer experience however finding a partner with a solution that fits can be cumbersome and risky. To start, assign a team member to be responsible for researching technology solutions that can bridge the gap between your current and ideal customer journey.
With input from all department stakeholders, prepare a requirements document that outlines what the solution must accomplish in order to improve your customer experience. Your requirements document will serve as your guidepost as you gather pricing and scope from potential partners.
With partner pricing in hand, prepare your customer experience budget, outlining the total investment required for R&D, technology, and human capital.
5. Prioritize Employee Engagement
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines stated “Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers”. Organizational psychologists have confirmed this through numerous research studies. Consider the following examples:
- A study conducted by Washington State University determined that customer satisfaction is directly linked to employee satisfaction and that financial success is directly linked to customer satisfaction.
- A study conducted by Harvard Business Review and Glassdoor revealed that a 1 star improvement in a company’s Glassdoor rating corresponds to a 1.3-point out of 100 improvement in customer satisfaction scores — a statistically significant impact.
To assess and prioritize employee engagement at your organization consider the following.
Make sure everyone on the team is in the right role.
Review each employees performance to see if they are in the right seat on the bus. If not, consider where in the organization they may perform at a higher level using the skills and talents they possess.
Create a process for regularly communicating company mission, values, and goals.
Employees need to see that the work they are doing contributes to the larger mission to be fully committed and engaged. This is particularly true for millennials.
According to Gallup, rallying millennials around a mission and purpose dramatically increases their employee engagement: 67% of millennials are engaged at work when they strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important.
Communicate your purpose, mission, and goals frequently and involve your team in developing or updating your company’s purpose. For example:
- Communicate the mission, values, and goals of the organization during meetings.
- Recognize an employee who has encompassed these values and share their success story.
- In one-on-one meetings, make sure every leader is communicating each team members unique contribution to the company’s goals and overarching mission.
Provide ongoing training opportunities.Assess your current employee training program and identify where there are knowledge gaps among your team.
Create a process where all employees participate in regular training to upskill. Simplify the process by blocking time on the calendar for training and having employees get involved by putting together a list of topics they would like to learn about in advance.
Rather than developing training materials from scratch, identify what resources are already available in the marketplace. There are a number of e-learning organizations that offer courses affordably or in many cases at no cost including Coursera, Khan Academy, & EdX
Consider starting a mentorship program where employees choose a mentor, other than their direct supervisor, who can provide career development support.
Give employees challenging assignmentsTasking employees with challenging assignments outside their comfort level communicates to employees that you trust them, that you see them as capable and competent, and that you want to help them grow.
Consider giving employees special projects. Not only does this increase employee engagement but also has tangible benefits to the company. For example. Google famously encourages employees to devote 20% of their time to side projects, which has resulted in products such as AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, and several other now-ubiquitous tools.
6. Invest in Marketing
Marketing and customer experience have become increasingly integrated as companies understand the buyer’s journey is not linear and doesn’t end once a sale is made and a project is completed.
Historically, companies have allocated marketing resources heavily on lead acquisition and brand awareness efforts. However increasingly, companies realize that long term success for the brand but most importantly for the customer involves an orchestrated, ongoing marketing and communication strategy for each customer that continues well beyond a closed won sale.
These touchpoints are the impetus for new product development and help fuel brand awareness efforts as happy customers begin to refer more customers to the brand. In fact increasing customer retention by just 5% boosts profits by 25% to 95%.
Marketing is ideally suited to perform these types of ongoing customer engagements. It’s scalable, allowing companies to reach a large number of people in a way that’s efficient and personal through email marketing, social media marketing, video marketing, customer feedback, and task automation.
These highly personal and highly targeted marketing communications provide support to overwhelmed sales teams and account managers who don’t have the bandwidth to provide the level of support and automation customers have come to expect.
Marketing offers the perfect marriage between using data to guide decision making and creative problem solving. Marketers ask customers the right questions and analyze customer behavior to identify opportunities for improvement.
You can lean on your internal marketing team or partner agency to use customer data in innovative ways to improve the customer experience and lead development of new products and services.
Customer experience will become more critical to the health of your organization in the years ahead. Customers now have access to more information about you and your competitors than ever before. They want to purchase from brands they connect with that take the time and effort to WOW them.
By focusing on fine tuning your customer journey map, leveraging technology, prioritizing employee engagement and investing in marketing you'll be on your way to delivering a powerful customer experience that will elevate your brand and more importantly, elevate your customers.
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