Silvana Buljan, Buljan & Partners Consulting
Managing ‘Customer Experience’ has become fashionable in Spain. Having endured years of economic crisis, uncertainty, restructuring and reform, Spanish enterprise has finally discovered the real asset: the customer.
Before exploring the world of the customer, let us look at some figures :
- 62% of customers are willing to pay up to 10% more for the products and services of a company that exceeds their expectations.
- 23% of customers are willing to accept a 5% price increase or more in return for an excellent experience.
- For 72% of customers, price is not the decisive factor in the purchase decision.
- 62% of customers claim that they would remain loyal to a company that can guarantee excellent service.
- 68% of customers would recommend a company that can guarantee good customer experience.
The figures speak for themselves, customer experience is not a fad, nor is it altruistic.
But what does it take to move from a product or service-based company to a customer-centric one that can guarantee a unique and memorable customer experience that makes it stand out against the others?
There are five key principles when it comes to managing the customer experience:
A search of the Internet for a definition of ‘Customer Experience’ will return a great variety of opinions, descriptions, services and even software tools that promise to improve the customer experience of any business.
However, before providing a definition of what customer experience IS, perhaps we should highlight what it IS NOT:
- Customer experience is NOT just a software program that allows you to integrate all communication with the customer, their purchase transactions, service interactions, etc.; it is a single database or management tool. CRM software (which is what we are really talking about when we speak of customer experience software) is essential for knowing our customers better and storing all information on their transactions, but it does not guarantee good customer experience in itself.
- Customer experience is NOT based solely on experiential marketing. There are companies that experiment with the customers’ five senses in stores, offices, buildings, etc., to make their stay there more pleasant. Although this may be important in a “physical” visit to an establishment, it does not guarantee a unique experience in itself; it is merely a nice extra.
- Customer experience is NOT about selling exclusive experiences, such as a private visit to an amazing location or dinner with a famous actor. These are once-in-a-lifetime events and that is why we remember them.
- Customer experience is NOT about measuring the customers’ emotions when they interact with a company using smart mobile technology. There are studies that explore the relationship between people’s happiness and their moods, which retailers are eager to exploit in a bid to raise the average spend.
- Customer experience is NOT the same as customer service. It is not just about giving customers a good service when they have an incident or complaint. While this is essential for meeting customer expectations, it is not enough to exceed them.
Customer experience, from a business point of view and in the context of a corporate setting, IS:
“The sum of all interactions between the customer and the company during the former’s life as a customer, through employees, messages, channels, communications and experiences. A unique experience is recalled as a positive one, one that surprises the customer and exceeds their expectations.
2) Be disruptive
Can we surprise our customers and exceed their expectations when we enforce rules and procedures?
Companies have become obsessed with documenting everything in processes, diagrams, organisational structures, methods, etc., and have reached the point where there is a procedure for everything so that employees do not deviate from the norm. This can be good if procedures are customer-oriented. However, the reality is that procedures tend to focus on the corporate goal of improving financial performance even at the expense of customer loyalty.
To demonstrate that there is a need to give some leeway to be disruptive in interactions with the customer, the best thing is to look at a real example of a dreadful experience and a wonderful one. Both examples are from airline companies.
The dreadful experience took place when a person contacted a call centre to report an incident, only to be told that: “There is no procedure for what you are requesting. The only thing you can do is buy a new ticket or file a complaint. And you can only do that via our website; there is no customer care telephone service”.
The wonderful experience entailed the spontaneous reaction of an employee at a check-in desk, who went to the boarding gate of a flight to personally deliver an iPad to a customer who had forgotten it on the check-in counter.
There is unlikely to be a written procedure that says that you have to take personal belongings to the boarding gate, but you use your common sense and empathy… the Platinum Rule is: “Always treat the customer as you would like to be treated.” Giving employees a degree of freedom so that they can exceed customer expectations is essential for ensuring a memorable experience.
What sets a company apart is how we feel and experience when interacting with a company. Is the company genuinely interested in meeting my needs or just its own sales targets? Am I really important or only until I make a purchase? Is the company interested in building a relationship with me or is it only interested in getting me to spend money?
Making the customer feel really important, whether it is a digital or face-to-face transaction, is essential for creating excellent customer experience. It is not an act of altruism; it is about keeping your promise and showing a genuine interest in customers who spend their time and money on your products and/or services.
Satisfying the customer is something that any company can (and should) do. However, having customers who are committed to you because they feel part of the business is something that only companies that are customer-oriented can achieve.
In these companies, the management fosters helpful and motivated employees and not only attaches importance to quarterly results, but rather to turnover that is sustainable over time. They also take a “customer-oriented approach” when defining processes and procedures and have a policy of attracting passionate employees instead of excellent technicians. Their technology infrastructure helps employee to create experiences with their customers, because technology is placed at the service of the business, not the other way around. They also listen to their customers, not just to attain high customer satisfaction ratings or comply with ISO quality standards, but to really understand them and their needs and thus be able to differentiate and improve the experience in a structured and ongoing way.
Figure: Unique Customer Centric Management Approach.
Differentiation is the key to tapping into the huge potential of Spanish enterprise: a genuine interest in people, creating emotional connections and being concerned about their welfare is quite natural in Mediterranean countries. It happens every day within families, much more so than in other countries. And the same can be accomplished in business settings. If the employee takes as good care of the customer as he does of his family, Spain may well find itself at the forefront of customer experience and surpass successful cases such as Apple, Amazon, Marriott and Disney.
Company management must understand that it is the employees who create customer experience, and give them the support they need to take care of the customer… what’s good for the customer is good for the company!
Once you understood that customer experience is not a theoretical concept or academic exercise, it is time to come up with a plan: “how can I make my company strongly customer-oriented, while engaging the entire organisation and ensuring profitable growth?” That is the key question and the one preoccupying companies who wish to make the customer experience and its impact on the bottom line a tangible one. The process of rolling out the customer experience begins and ends with the customer, and assigns different roles to leaders and teams.
Figure: Steps in the roll-out of customer experience.
The management needs to ask itself: how do we interact with our customers? What language do we use? What is the atmosphere like in our business setting? And think about the answers.
Listening is essential for breaking down the paradigm that we know everything already. Studies have shown that there are three parallel worlds: that of the customer, that of the employee and that of the manager of a company, all of whom have very different perceptions. While 80% of executives are convinced that their companies offer a unique customer experience, only 8% of their customers agree with this .
Employees are the best people for designing the desired customer experience. If they are allowed a degree of leeway, they are the best source of feedback based on their observations, and of innovation. Unlearning something that has no positive effect on customers can sometimes have a much greater impact than learning something new.
Constant measurement of customer experience is essential for progressing in the “customer world” because it is not a static one. Typical examples would be satisfaction ratings (CSI), recommendation (NPS), advocacy (BAI), and commitment (CES).
Implementing a plan is the key to taking the company from a “product focus” to a “customer-centric” mindset. Experiencing the customer-centric culture is different and the real challenge of being a customer (and employee!)-oriented company as opposed to simply implementing a customer experience project.
Company culture is comprised of tangible or visible aspects (vision, mission, strategy, processes, etc.) and subjacent ones (how things are done in the company, unwritten rules, etc.). Culture is experienced through people, and as long as there is inconsistency between what people say and what they do, it is impossible to speak of a company that “IS” customer and employee-centric. Customer orientation and the goal of exceeding their expectations is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation. The key people factors for ensuring customer orientation can be summarised in three attributes: manners, example and evolution.
Manners are taught at home. This means that, when recruiting employees for any level of the organisation, companies must look beyond their academic qualifications. “Customer centric” employees strive to build customer loyalty at all times.
Example is what people copy, the more “customer centric” talent we have in the company, the more positive and motivating example we see in the workplace. Management teams should be required to set an example worth following.
Evolution is what allows us to be disruptive. The “customer world” in a digital society changes at a dizzying speed. Only those who are open to continuous development and evolution will be able to create a unique innovation in the customer experience.
For Spanish businesses, customer experience has gone from being a theoretical concept to a strategy for achieving differentiation and sustainable growth, with its own unique – but as yet untapped – potential.
If each company is given the leeway to be disruptive and there is differentiation, roll-out and durability, we can achieve a level of employee and customer commitment never before seen in Spain.
 Source: Customer experience study 2012, Buljan & Partners Consulting  Source: Bain & Company