Customers have come to expect more out of companies, but who can blame them? We've all had customer experiences that range from outstanding to infuriating. It's put more pressure on companies to find a balance between their own needs and the experience they want to offer—especially when the well-known customer-centric companies are the ones reaping the rewards.
What is the customer experience?
The customer experience CX is everything related to a company or business that affects a customer’s perception and feelings about it. It includes customer-facing interactions throughout the customer journey (commonly known as touch points) that can have an obvious or subtle effect on customer loyalty. It’s also influenced by elements such as brand recognition and corporate social responsibility.
Leaders constantly scrutinize how their company's products or services are meeting customer expectations. But to deliver a truly great customer experience, your business needs to go beyond customer satisfaction. To compete in today's market, your business can't expect to have a catch-all approach to your customer retention strategy and succeed. According to the 2020 Customer Experience Trends Report, 76% of customers expect personalization using data. That includes engagement over their preferred contact method, account type or status, product recommendations based on purchase or search history, or some kind of personalized online experience.
What is good customer experience?
Take a moment to think back on a terrible customer experience you've had. What made it terrible? You might not be surprised to learn that almost 50% of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. Poor customer experiences can create customer churn and diminish brand loyalty—which is bad for your bottom line. On the flip side, a good customer experience drives your business.
Gartner expert Brian Manusama noted in our “Transforming your CX through Customer Service” webinar that “many customer experience programs have failed to deliver on changing a customer’s impression of their company”. Companies that are unable to successfully manage the customer experience are often taking a fragmented approach; that is, they’re looking at the different factors driving customer experience and figuring out how each one can be improved. While they’re doing so, they aren’t giving due consideration to how each factor influences the others.
That approach, Manusama says, upholds the chaos that causes unsuccessful customer experience management. By taking a more organizational and holistic approach to a customer experience strategy, it leads to more customer satisfaction and loyalty. For example, Trader Joe’s has developed their own unique customer experience aligned with their customers’ expectations. They stock their shelves during busy hours so employees can interact with more customers; a practice that might seem counterintuitive, but one that helps maximize customer encounters for a more personalized shopping experience.
Customer centricity and the customer experience
Similarly, Apple has crafted a customer experience that ties their products, brand, and customer support together. New customers are encouraged to try out the products on the floor while they provide personalized, concierge-style tech support at their Genius Bars. Apple also has a seamless omnichannel customer experience that flows from bricks-and-mortar shops to their online presence. Their unrelenting focus on delivering a great customer experience has left their competition playing catch up.
Successful companies that lead in customer experience put the customer at the center of everything they do. As mentioned in Gartner’s webinar “The Top 10 Strategic Technologies for the Customer Experience”, every employee is capable of building or destroying the customer experience. Their dedication to their work results in great and impressionable experiences; essentially, “customer-centricity” isn’t something that they do, it’s who they are.
Why focus on customer experience?
As competition heats up and economic uncertainty is a given, one thing is for sure: Customer loyalty can help drive the success of a business. And the customer experience drives loyalty. 74% of customers feel loyal to a brand or company, and 52% of customers report going out of their way to buy from those brands. Great news! But loyalty isn’t given—it’s earned. And without the right care, it’s easily lost.
Here are some areas to keep in mind when building your customer experience strategy:
Marketing’s role in the customer experience might be the most dynamic; it needs to be constantly adjusting to match the shifting needs of their customers. The department is often responsible for making the first impression on a prospect through ads, outbound campaigns, and word-of-mouth. Its influence continues through public communications, social media marketing, and creating a brand presence. The data gathered through all of these customer touch points can help you create more personalized customer experiences, which in turn creates more loyal customers.
Sales organizations are responsible for solidifying the expectations of becoming and being a customer. Outside of quick retail experiences, the sales process is often very attentive to the customer journey and meeting the needs of their prospects. This provides valuable insights concerning what customers are looking for (be it specific features, follow-ups, support requirements, etc.) which in turn can influence the efforts in other parts of the business. When your customer experience is in-sync, sales can be more enabled to close repeat purchases and reduce customer churn rates.
The goods and services provided by a company and the customer experience are closely linked; many customers will pay more for an experience than the product they’re receiving (think of the differences between high-class dining and fast-casual fare). Beyond the immediate experience, there are details like reliability, affordability, user experience (UX), general ease of use, and a product’s life cycle that all tie into the customer experience. The experience provided by the product is the primary contributor to a business’s reputation, which in turn impacts every other part of the customer experience.
After a sale, customer service is the primary department that interacts with the customer. Support agents are in a position to collect real-time feedback on the customer experience: they can see how customers interact with the product, how (and if) expectations are being met, and how the customer base is changing. Feedback is the most critical part of the customer experience; businesses can’t effectively evolve without it.
6 ways that customer service improves the customer experience
Good customer service is vitally important to your company's overall customer experience. Your agents are often the first (and only) human voice your customers hear, especially when they reach out with an issue.
Manusama defined customer experience management as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions in order to lift satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy". Reacting means directly interfacing with customers and learning exactly what they expect from the business. This data can be mined for valuable insights your company can use to tailor new products and services.
Here are six ways customer service can impact your cx:
Figure out what it is your customers want from your business. There are many ways to utilize customer feedback (also of note: the three types of customer feedback) so that their needs can be matched with the appropriate support. That can provide more insight into your customers’ expectations that are set by sales, marketing, and other economic and societal factors. If you aren’t sure of new changes in your industry, you may have to send out post-purchase surveys to obtain a better understanding of your customers’ changing expectations.
Omnichannel customer experience
When you develop an omnichannel cx strategy, you are meeting your customers where they are. Your customers want to communicate with your company the same way they do with friends and family. So to create a more meaningful customer relationship, your company needs to think about the entire user experience from their point of view.
Analytics and measurement
The stories found in the data about your customers and your support agents will clue you into many things: the efficiency of the support organization, general satisfaction with the interactions, behavioral trends amongst your customers, and lots more. Refining processes with the customer experience in mind starts with understanding what the data is saying.
Customers would often rather solve issues on their own than reach out to a live agent. You can help them help themselves with data-driven content. Usually, it’s in the form of help articles or chatbots that quickly point customers in the right direction. Ensuring that your content is accurate and up-to-date is crucial; an unhelpful article translates into a bad experience.
Tailoring support efforts towards customer personas can go a long way, especially in the case of customer experience. Gathering context about who they are (they’re preferences, personalities, habits, etc.) can help agents better target their support that leads to faster resolutions. It may be helpful to conduct UX research on your business's support initiatives to figure out ways to make interactions more personalized. Doing this can give your business a competitive advantage.
Empowering through AI
AI-powered chatbots and virtual customer assistants are handy for quick, repetitive tasks. But when they reach their limits on providing capable customer support, humans need to be there to help their customers. Gartner estimates that by 2022, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine-learning applications, chatbots, or mobile messaging.
Customer experience matters
Investing in good customer experience is important for any company, no matter how big or small. After all, your success depends on your ability to keep and attract loyal customers. And failing to put your customers first can send them straight to your competitor, along with their business.