Customer Experience: Coming Full Circle (Pt. 3)
Note: This article is part three of the series. The first article is “Customer Experience: Every Employee, Every Interaction, Every Day” and the second article is “Customer Experience: The Role of Company Culture.”
The mission statement of most every company makes reference to the customer, connecting them with solutions, serving them with integrity, and earning their trust. The words may not literally spell out “customer experience,” but the intent is there. It’s inherent. The experiences a customer has with a company’s products, services, employees, promises, and processes are what makes or breaks relationships. If a business fails to manage these experiences, they risk losing out on more than revenue—they risk not fully delivering on their mission statement and losing the most essential piece of their business, their customers.
SOS: Strategic Customer Experience Management
The practice of managing the customer experience requires transforming a company from the inside out. It’s a significant undertaking, but a worthy one; not only does it lead to real bottom-line results, but it’s something that every employee at every level of the company can get behind and enthusiastically support—because it means something. And that’s why more business leaders are accepting the challenge and taking action to ensure their customers have positive experiences with their brand.
To come full circle, planning action steps is the focus of this final installment of our blog series on managing the customer experience. In Shaping the Customer Experience: Every Employee, Every Interaction, Every Day (Pt. 1), we began with exploring the importance of taking a strategic approach to this essential work. Next, we took a deep dive into The Role of Company Culture in Creating Excellent Customer Experiences (Pt. 2), discussing why it’s important to establish a customer-centric workforce culture as the first step to consistently deliver positive customer experiences. It’s foundational—it lays the groundwork for positive events and connections. However, executing a successful customer experience management program also requires comprehensive planning and meticulous follow-through, as the following examples demonstrate.
Why the Customers’ Perspective Matters
We shared a story in Pt. 1 of this series about a manufacturer of electrical products whose ordering process caused complaints and frustration among key customers. These customers reported that standard requests—for straight-forward quotes and placing of repeat orders, for example—were taking too long to turn around, often requiring multiple sign-offs. To make matters worse, the hands of the supplier’s salesperson were tied, too.
The supplier had designed their ordering process to help their employees manage highly-customized orders; their objective was to make pricing custom requests simpler on their end. Unfortunately, the customer’s needs weren’t adequately accommodated. It’s highly likely, in fact, that the process engineers didn’t take into account the customer’s point of view at all. The result was an unnecessarily complicated (and unsatisfactory) customer experience, order after simple order.
Another example involves a company that provides construction management services. They had exceptional internal processes in place to ensure employees were attentive to quality, budget, and schedule—and they were generally very successful. It was in hindsight, however, that the firm realized how many “customers” exist on any given project—it wasn’t just the owner who had hired them who had something at stake. With this understanding, what impact were the company’s actions having (or not having) on the various project influencers, such as sub-system design engineers?
While they performed to the owners’ satisfaction—delivering positive customer experiences all the while—they missed out on numerous opportunities to create positive experiences with other key customer groups. Taking a proactive approach to managing their experiences could have resulted in additional business in the forms of referrals, word-of-mouth marketing, the building of brand awareness, and more. Fortunately, management was inspired to turn things around.
Plan Carefully to Avoid Frustrated Customers and Lost Opportunity
The important lesson here goes well beyond the challenges of pricing custom requests from customers or delivering projects on time, it’s that most of a firm’s internal processes have implications for their customers’ experience. By and large, such processes are developed to address more internal challenges, focusing on issues of manufacturability, costs, parts availability, and production scheduling—not necessarily each and every customer experience.
Success comes down to careful planning, which is a twofold initiative: planning to deliver positive customer experiences and planning to infuse internal processes with what it takes to provide positive interactions. Here are some best practices to consider:
- Take a 360-degree view of internal processes and look for customer touch-points, asking what impact each point may have on the customer, their perception of the company, and the underlying business relationship.
- Invite employees from customer-facing departments to provide feedback into processes, as these individuals can bring important insights to the table that people in non-customer-facing departments might overlook.
- Think creatively about ways to actively improve the customer experience through processes—that is, provide value-added services (e.g. access to a salesperson empowered to intervene and solve problems) and impress influencers and other “ancillary” customers who might become key customers in the future.
Integrating the Moving Parts into a System
Once customer-focused internal and external processes are in place, it’s time to institutionalize the concept of customer experience—in other words, make it an end-to-end priority. The customer experience isn’t something that’s only mentioned at the project rollout meeting and then again at wrap-up. It’s something that needs to be on every employee’s mind at every stage in the project, at each point of contact; and it needs to be monitored. Success factors need to be integrated into processes, dashboards, and appraisals. We’ve all learned that if it isn’t measured, it doesn’t matter, right?
If customer experience is reflected in key processes—both as they are developed and each time they are implemented—the results will reflect in such efforts. And if customer experience is something that is regularly measured and discussed—and acted upon by employees—the proof will show in employee performance, customer satisfaction metrics, and net promoter scores. Positive customer experiences are the result of the system working efficiently. That’s the payoff.
An example in Pt. 1 of this series about a packaging supplier illustrates this payoff. Recall that the supplier’s underwhelming response to a key customer’s problem paled in comparison to that of a competing supplier—and it cost them the account. However, it’s the competitor who provides the moral of the story. The competitor’s employees knew what was required to create a positive and lasting impression of their company, and they had a system in place to provide a solution that saved the day for the key customer. Their default response wasn’t “sorry, we can’t help;” it was, “let’s find a way to make this work,” and it demonstrated a customer-centric culture, processes that reflect the customer experience, and an end-to-end follow-through on the company’s mission to put the customer’s needs first.
Anything worth managing—and that most definitely includes the customer experience—takes planning, assessment, and everything in between. Building a customer-centric company culture, while shaping its environment and employees’ attitudes and behaviors, is an excellent first step. But, in order to consistently deliver on the customer experience, it takes planning and a careful syncing of all program components—bringing employees and processes together to deliver the company’s very best service.