It is common knowledge that consumers, by their very nature, are unfaithful. Always looking for a better offer and never hesitating to bring the competition into play, consumers have historically been difficult to entice and retain. The winning price/product combination is now challenged by the customer’s increasingly prominent place in strategy. Companies are sparing no effort to impress them with memorable customer experiences. However, more often than not, these prove inconclusive, such that the customer experience remains the same across any given market. So what can companies do to stand out from the crowd, with their customer experience?
They can adopt what Forrester Research calls the Experience-Based Differentiation (EBD) model, i.e. turning the Customer Experience into a real lever for differentiation on the market.
The customer’s needs must become a true obsession
Rather than rushing to market with a new version of an offer, companies would do better to refocus on their customers’ essential needs, which could well include products with fewer features and fewer attributes. Companies tend to invest in customer needs analysis using sophisticated software that is not able to model all the tastes and needs that people have. Instead, data processing needs to be integrated, using more traditional methods that enable analysis of consumer behavior. These methods range from basic communication in the form of Focus Groups (or discussion groups) to observing behaviors and past experiences. The resulting insights should then be widely communicated across the organization so that everyone is aware of what the customer actually wants.
Strengthening the brand at each interaction
Brand messages that are conveyed using the traditional means of the past are losing their power to influence consumers. The efforts put into promoting brand image need to go beyond mere marketing communication. The brand’s attributes and values need to be stated:
- At the information search stage,
- While the customer is reviewing options,
- At the purchase decision stage, and lastly, during post-purchase analysis
The information given out by a customer service advisor must be identical to that on the website. If a marketing campaign for a telephone offer emphasizes unlimited data, then that claim must be included in the service offer, communicated transparently by customer service advisors, visible on the website and displayed in the store.
Treat the Customer Experience as a company-wide skill, not a function
Offering the customer an exceptional customer experience is not something that a small group of individuals can do on its own. Everyone in the company must be fully engaged in the effort. It is a team activity; the top leadership and the teams around them must be fully mobilized to make this happen. To remain focused on customers, Companies need to apply a systematic and continuous approach, to integrate the customer’s perspective into all their efforts. This is why “voice-of-the-customer” programs are recommended. Derived from Lean Management, they are designed to materialize customers’ needs in each of the company’s business lines. They capture, analyze and report all customer comments (expectations, preferences and pain points) connected with a company.
What makes the difference in the customer experience
For companies, there are three major and essential customer concerns.
- Trust in the brand: the brand’s ability to keep its commitments throughout the purchasing process,
- the expertise and efficiency of salespeople or customer service, as they are the ones who have to embody the brand and demonstrate its superiority every day,
- the emotional dimension of the customer journey.
One of the largest US e-commerce sites generates more than a billion dollars in annual sales and employs nearly 1,500 people. It is without a doubt the champion of the customer experience. The company makes transparency the rule, to restore trust between management and employees. This is the foundation considered to be fundamental to foster the development of employee involvement, and in particular requires better information sharing throughout the team. To maximize the value of the customer experience, the voice of the customer must be spread at all levels of the company, from senior management to the daily briefs of the field teams that are in contact with the customer. Leroy Merlin [SC1] is one of the players that has chosen this direction, setting aside a few minutes at the start of each Management Committee meeting to hear customer verbatim or complaints. The aim is to work with those in attendance on an action plan and involve the team.
It is now deemed that the customer experience will be the most powerful growth lever for the years to come. Companies that focus their efforts and invest in this area over the long term will be able to secure the loyalty of their customers and boost their turnover and profits. The customer experience reportedly even outperforms price and product as a differentiating factor for brands.
To extend the Customer Experience into a full-fledged business model, companies will need to establish a long-term business partnership with their customers. This implies a change in culture, perhaps the most difficult change to achieve. All the entities must feel they are an integral part of this change, individuals should receive support all along the way to facilitate their ownership of this new customer-centric culture. It is its direct nature that makes it easy to implement. It requires only a handful of changes in the thinking and practices of all involved. These changes have an impact both internally and on interactions with the customer.
When it comes down to it, if a company fails to radically align with its consumer in today’s market, competitors will have no qualms about picking up those customers and offering them a better experience!
 A US firm providing market research.