In the 1980s, political strategist Lee Atwater coined the phrase “perception is reality”. Though he was referring to the political arena, it is equally true in business.
The customer experience is, in brief, the perceptions and feelings generated over the life of a business relationship that customers hold regarding a company’s brand. Today’s technology provides remarkable opportunities for buyers to fully educated themselves on the products and services they need. With this ability to influence the marketplace, buyers are in the driver’s seat. It matters little what corporate management thinks about how well the customers are being served; it only matters what their customers believe.
Consider when, during a 2017 overbooking situation, a United Airlines passenger was forcibly removed from the aircraft, receiving injuries in the process. The event was captured as video on mobile devices and quickly went viral. CEO Oscar Munoz then blundered with a seemingly unfeeling response. The resulting uproar did significant damage to United’s reputation and customer loyalty, with many calls for a boycott.
High expectations born in the B2C world have migrated into B2B, where both the customers and the buying framework are more complex. B2B products and services are often customized to meet specific needs and the procurement process can be highly technical and prolonged. In addition, decisions behind B2B purchases often depend not only on overall cost, but also on ingredients, such as a well-established relationship with the supplier. These elements make the B2B customer experience more challenging and very deserving of attention.
In fact, B2B sales teams — often the first point of contact for a buyer — are the tip of the sword when it comes to providing good customer service. Back in the day, salespeople needed to close sales and move. Now, with the growth of SaaS, a salesperson must also function as a long-term customer service rep to reduce churn. Providing good customer service is new the driver of revenue in the B2B sales lexicon.
Aspects of a Great Customer Experience
So, a great customer experience, to the degree that customers are willing promoters, enhances the company’s prosperity. For this, a company must target three essential aspects:
- Help the customers achieve their desired outcome. Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos is “maniacally obsessed with making sure our customers are happy and proud to do business with us.” Christa Foley, Zappos’ Culture Advisor and Director of Insights, says that, instead of using thick stacks of customer-relations scripts and procedures, they follow one general rule: “Always do what’s right for the customer!” This often means placing the company at a short-term disadvantage understanding that the buyer’s satisfaction ultimately supplies tangible gains.
- Serve the customers in the manner they wish. This may mean immediacy, convenience, and a personal touch offered by whatever means of communication they choose (phone, web, email, social media). Consumers have received a golden experience from some sellers and come to expect it from all. Understand how the customer wants to be treated in your part of the business world.
- Support the customer journey, not just individual touchpoints. In a 2015 U.S. multi-industry survey, McKinsey & Company found that customers obtain more satisfaction from companies expending effort on good end-to-end service than from those giving their best in only one or two areas. An awesome relationship in sales can easily be offset by ineffective customer support.
5 Ways to Build Great Customer Experience into Your Organization
Establishing the superior customer experience does not happen overnight; it requires planning and perseverance. Here are six strategic elements to consider.
- Gather data. The path forward can be discovered only by knowing the minds of the customers – communicate with them at every opportunity. As voiced by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, “Customers are discussing a company’s products and brand in real time. Companies need to join the conversation.”
- Make customer success the company culture. The entire organization must have a common vision and a sincere conviction toward successful customer outcomes. Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk, says that it is about your people: “Empowering the staff, the employees, the customer-facing people on your teams to do what’s right for the customer.”
- Assign a champion. Consequential changes, especially those that cut across functions and departments, require strong leadership and governance. This will likely demand someone at the executive level dedicated to the transition.
- Operate as one consistent team. Multiple departments might be involved with the customer interface, but the customer does not care. They want to be supported by a unified presence with shared information and a uniform approach. Nothing frustrates the customer faster than needing to tell their story more than once or hearing different messages from the same company.
- Measure and act. Data is powerful, but only if it can be turned into activity. Gather metrics on issues central to customer satisfaction, like NPS and churn rate. Enable the wide sharing of that information and develop processes that will ensure the conversion of feedback into actions. Do not expect magic on Day 1; instead, look for continuous improvements.
The customer experience is where companies can take a step ahead of their competitors. It is as important how the company delivers as what it delivers. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, feels that “The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer.”