Why the customer (experience) comes first

| October 12, 2015

Do you care about your customers? No, really, do you? Do you care about the kind of experience they have with your business? This is why you should.

It’s no secret that today’s customers have very high expectations of the day-to-day experiences they receive from any business they choose to deal with. Customers are more savvy, better educated, and consequently, more demanding.

In recent times, we have seen a greater focus on businesses stating that they are ‘customer centric’ or ‘focused on our customers’. But is this just idealistic, or simply a business fad? Or do they genuinely believe in the mutual benefits to be gained from effectively managing their customers’ experiences?

There’s little doubt that in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, effective Customer Experience Management (CEM) can be a critical differentiator for any business. Done well, it will deliver tangible business value through repeat sales and referrals from satisfied customers, resulting in increased revenue (and profit) for your business. Done poorly, it can damage your business.

So, what do I mean by customer experience?

In essence, it is all about your customers’ perceptions –- both conscious and subconscious -– of their relationship with your business. This perception is formed from a culmination of all the interactions with your business over the lifetime of the relationship, which critically starts at day one!

These interactions run across 4 dimensions: the brand experience, the buying experience, the product experience and the service experience.

Customer Experience Management involves understanding and reacting to all of your customer interactions to meet or exceed their expectations; the aim is to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy. In turn, this results in measurable value to the business and in a win-win for both the customer and the business.

In my experience, small to medium businesses appear better positioned to consistently and effectively manage the customer experience. This is because they are generally closer to their customers, more agile and therefore able to change and adopt a CEM focus.

I have seen very few examples of businesses –- particularly large corporate enterprises –- that have fully embraced customer experience management as being integral to their business.  Certainly, many large corporates deliver some aspects of CEM well -– but then they let themselves (and their customers) down with delivering other aspects poorly. Commonly, corporates focus on the service experience rather than ensuring consistency across all 4 experience dimensions. When it comes to CEM, consistency across the 4 dimensions is critical.

A September 2015 study by The Customer Edge of a sample of Australian business owners/leaders revealed that, whilst 100% of respondents said that a business would be more successful if it consistently met customers’ needs, only 30% stated that the business they ran or worked for actually achieves this. This is a significant gap to overcome. However, it also begs the question: “how would the customers of these businesses rate their experience?”. I suspect the gap may be wider.

Overcoming the gap is a major challenge – but not insurmountable.

It comes down to the adoption of the right mindset at the start and a willingness to embrace CEM across the entire business. Where many businesses fail is that they tend to adopt customer experience at a tactical level rather than a whole of business level (probably because tactics are easier to do).

The Rise of the Customer Experience Manager

Many businesses state that they are ‘customer centric’. As ‘evidence’ of this, they have appointed Customer Experience Managers or Chief Customer Officers. Some of these are new appointments whilst many are simply a change in title (with the inherent legacies). But are they empowered to drive the change and focus necessary to achieve a CEM culture?

Don’t get me wrong, there is a role within any business for someone to champion CEM – to be the catalyst for organisational change and to provide stewardship for CEM.

But the critical question is: do these roles have the level of influence required to drive change or is it a case of a ‘tick the box’ appointment? My observation is that, in many cases, these positions have limited ability to drive the change required -– so most are, sadly, destined to fail.

A colleague recently told me that the business they worked for had appointed a CE Manager. This initially was received as positive, but was quickly dismissed as ‘tokenism’ when it became apparent that the role lacked any real ability to drive the change required to fully embrace CEM.

Let me reiterate that CEM only succeeds when it is seen as a whole of business philosophy. And this starts with the right mindset and a real willingness to embrace CEM at the heart of a business’s culture. That means that all employees within the business must adopt that focus. The role of the Customer Experience Manager is to be the driver or catalyst of change, ensuring success of the strategy as a CEM mindset is embraced holistically through the business, before focusing on tactical outcomes.

Smaller and medium sized businesses are better placed to reap the rewards of CEM because they are more able to embrace the change required to embed a CEM culture.

Not an IT solution

One thing you may have noticed is that I am yet to refer to IT or technology in the context of CEM.  It does amaze me that many consulting firms still see the concept of CEM as a technology-based strategy.  It is not. It may be technology enabled or supported, but it should never be driven by technology.

Some of the best examples of successful CEM come from businesses that have made little investment in IT. The hallmarks of these businesses are their mindset and willingness to understand customer needs with the business being structured around meeting or exceeding those needs. They do the little things well, which resonate with, and form a positive impression in the mind of, the customer.

Returning to the point I posed at the outset: is CEM a business fad, or simply good business?

What any business should not do is make a token effort or act on the pretence of being ‘customer centric’ because it is ‘flavour of the month’. CEM needs to be taken seriously. Today’s customers have high expectations and low tolerances; and more importantly they have more choice than ever before.

Any business leader or owner that dismisses CEM does so at their peril. CEM must be adopted as a whole of business strategy and, critically, it all starts with the right mindset –- for without that, any business embarking on CEM is likely to fail.

CEM a fad? No – it’s just good business. But it has to be done right!