Despite businesses investing in callcentre technology designed to enhance customer relationships, most companies are still not approaching customers in a particularly focused or integrated manner. They typically seek to maximise the numbers of customers, rather than being selective about which customers to work with, and develop strategies which attempt to satisfy everybody but delight nobody.
To deliver the most to your customers, and to your business, the customer experiences must have a relationship, rather than transactional focus.
Secondly, the concept of an "experience" is much more than a product and service. It includes every interaction customers have with a supplier or their brand - from initial awareness, through choice, purchase, usage, maintenance to disposal and repurchase. Crucially, it must be seen and defined by customers - by "walking in the customer's shoes".
Companies must work much harder with their customers, seeing purchases as the beginning rather than the end of their interaction. Taking this a step further, the rapidly evolving world of "one-to-one", doing business interactively with each individual, requires that the whole experience is personalised for each customer.
Creating and delivering an exceptional customer experience is a huge challenge for every business today. It requires a significant breakthrough, not just for marketing and customer service activity, but for every part of the business - IT, finance, HR, operations, and purchasing. Successful organisations direct their entire business in support of the customer experience. This requires them to seek, share and exploit all sources of customer insight, whichever internal department it involves.
Creating this experience can be achieved by following 10 steps.
Step 1: Select the best markets and customers
Choosing customers carefully is important. The "best" customers will be those who are willing to build a relationship over time, who can be profitable to serve, and therefore have a high "lifetime value" potential to future business.
Step 2: Reflect on their current experiences
Customers can be hidden by internal interfaces, wholesalers, distributors and third-party research reports. To see things from their point of view you must deliberately map out the entire experience of customers.
Step 3: Explore all areas for improvement
It's best to interrogate every part of your existing customer experience for ideas and opportunities to improve - eliminating points of "customer sacrifice" and seeking to add more to customers at every interaction.
Step 4: Understand what matters most
You must recognise the futility in asking customers what they would like.
Many customers will say everything, and others will not say what they mean. The challenge is to understand what really matters most to customers and what matters least.
Step 5: Define the customer value proposition
Companies must give customers a reason to choose them. They must stand out from the crowd. A customer value proposition is a technique which articulates this differentiation for each target segment.
Step 6: Innovate new ways of delivering differentiation
The real art in developing an exceptional customer experience is in the creative ways that the CVP is converted into reality. Innovation could be defined as "seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought".
Step 7: Design the new customer experience
The business must now define a typical experience for each customer group.
In order to ensure that the experience will be exceptional, a business case at this point should be developed to demonstrate that it will deliver superior value to both customers and the business.
Step 8: Align the business to deliver it efficiently
Nobody can deliver a great experience without the absolute commitment, support and alignment of the whole business. Successful companies must create structures, processes and systems that are shared and aligned to support the customer experience.
Step 9: Customise the delivery for each customer
"One-to-one" is set to have the biggest impact on sales and marketing activities in a long time. Indeed, the concept of interactive relationships with individuals in mass markets is no longer the stuff of marketing fads.
Step 10: Manage and measure the experience
When the business has millions of customers, therefore millions of experiences, each involving a number of interactions, then the challenge is indeed substantial. It is perhaps not surprising that, according to a PA Consulting survey, 74% of companies have yet to dedicate somebody to manage the customer experience.
The challenge is to create the right experience, for the right customers, every time. The challenge is then to ensure this delivers real value to customers and that this is also realised as superior value for shareholders.
By walking in your customer's shoes, you gain a new perspective on your business and a new picture of success. You start doing business from the outside in, rather than the inside out.
Peter Fisk is leader of strategic marketing at PA Consulting Group.
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