The Customer Experience: Building a Customer-Centric Organization

02.03.2011 http://www.dotkite.eu/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/DotKite-Post.jpg

It doesn’t take a genius to realize how few companies these days actually “Walk the talk”. What does this mean, you ask? I refer to “the total customer experience”.

Richard Owen, vice president of Dell online worldwide, says: “It’s the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an advert to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

Sure, we want people to think that our computers are great. However, what matters is the totality of customers’ experiences with us: talking with our call-center representatives, visiting our Web site, buying a PC, and owning a PC. The customer experience reflects all of those interactions.”

You can claim that Richard Owen would say this considering the customer centric position of Dell and the nature of their business. However, his poignant statement is applicable to any business of any size. Having a vitally active and dynamic Customer Relations Policy is should be crucial to your business.

If your staff is inadequately trained, this lack of insight into CRM only aggravates the problem. When we act as clients ourselves, we can clearly see this process in action. Just pick up the telephone and call a company, which does not value CRM. It can be an exasperating experience.

People love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human. To make matters worse, there are companies that outsource their call center offshore to a country where employees have a peculiar accent and pronunciation not well understood by the average North American or European – and who simply follow a script they can’t deviate from.

Common intelligence tells us that it shouldn’t be this way. How a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

Out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree, states Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm. Moreover, the larger the market share of the firm in question, the greater the risk that this firm will take its customer base for granted.

Remarkable Companies Deliver Remarkable CRM

Dedicated firms deliver outstanding customer service, and this policy distinguishes the best companies from the pack. Consumer products can suffer from becoming mere commodities, with price used as the sole competitive advantage. Today, it is quick and easy to check the prices of competitors with your cell phone and price comparison apps.

As more people buy online, it is important to remember that your competitor is only one mouse click away. One way to overcome the price only differentiator, which eats away at the profits and does not generate brand loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that customers enjoy a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point. Take L.L. Bean, the outdoors outfitter and equipment supplier based in Freeport, Maine. If you buy any product and desire to return it for whatever reason, the firm will either refund or exchange the item. No questions asked and always with a smile. Now that’s CRM.

The corporate goal should be to reduce or eliminate customer problems altogether. This tactic should begin prior to and during the first contact with the customer. All problems should be documented, reviewed and corrected without delay. Hiring the right people is vital, so is proper staff training, empowering staff to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

Top-performing companies also create processes that seek direct, immediate customer feedback. EBay employees known as “pinks” monitor the company’s message boards, quickly learning which issues, complaints, and concerns may need attention. American Express calls customers who don’t quickly activate their new cards to find out if they’re having problems.

Customer Engagement Builds Emotional Bonds

Engagement means creating involvement. Customer engagement is the effort taken by the company to involve their customers and the brand beyond regular purchase and use. Traditional marketing practices rarely encourage active participation of customers. Marketers are often quite content with the regular purchase of the product by the customers and the level of engagement with those customers is limited to handling inquiries, complaints and if any, loyalty programs.

Customer satisfaction is just the start. A business should aspire to engage its customers. Engaged customers ensure a sustained and profitable growth. Customer engagement is when a significant number of satisfied clients are proactively promoting the company to others with similar desires. It is not enough that they declare that they are willing to promote your business. Only when they go out to spread the word and encourage others to try your product or service do they prove that they have become engaged.

By listening to its customers, a business can learn a great deal. However, many struggle to convert these conversations into something that can really impact marketing, branding, and advertising in a meaningful way.

One valuable tactic is “Customer Collaboration” – private online communities made up of selected customers passionate about a company’s products or services. Consider this strategy a customer advisory board by those who understand the brand and whose input can help the company make the most effective marketing decisions.

GALLOP studies reveal that customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth than the average customer. Actively disengaged customers represent a 13% discount in those same measures.

Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.

There is much misunderstanding about the use of networking and social media such as LinkedIn, Viadeo, Facebook and Twitter. SM is not about marketing; it’s about building meaningful relationships with your customers.

It acts as a complement to your marketing activities, and should be integrated according as a strategic position. Facebook has +320 million active users. Twitter has +3 million. Both networks have become the world’s largest commercial channels and should be harnessed in order to influence prospects and to reinforce brand loyalty for existing customers.

If you do not use these networks or are unsure how to maximize their potential for your business, my advice is to learn. It is easy, but it takes time, patience, and a targeted strategic approach.

An excellent case-in-point for how older, established companies can put social media to work, consider Samsung Electronics from South Korea. It’s not enough for a company to simply add Facebook and Twitter buttons, expecting users will flock to “click”.

The reason that it appears to work for Samsung is that the company is using social media by the methods that we, as consumers, want it to be used. The Samsung Tweets account on Twitter is not simply utilized for public relations pitches – it’s a real tool being used for dialogue.

Samsung employees read reviews with comments left in a timely manner. As a result, the company appears to be learning from constant customer feedback. This in turn has deepened Samsung’s consumer relationships. Social media is not a separate and distinct entity. Various departments work together online and offline to develop and implement plans devised to fully engage the community. In a nutshell, there are three activities to bring to mind:

Follow – Share – Engage.

Exceeding Customer Expectations

As part of their shopping experience, when a customer walks into a prestigious boutique, his/her service expectations and shopping experience are quite high. Disappointment is not an option but rather excellence in store service plays an integral role in communicating the culture of the brand.

The salespeople in the boutique play the role of “brand ambassadors”. They stand in the forefront of the client relationship. It all starts with training, occasional re-training, including the necessity of staying informed of industry trends/evolution and thorough product knowledge. Moreover, it goes without saying that a positive attitude, grooming, pleasant gestures and apparel worn all reflect the essence of the brand. These criteria should be standardized but often overlooked. Listening to the client and personalizing each relationship is crucial. Need a good example? Go to any Ralph Lauren store and you will see this strategy put into play to perfection.

Post sales should include building loyalty, continuous customer engagement and staying in touch with the patrons via newsletters, birthday cards, and special invitations to “Previews, Promotional or Themed events.

Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute in New York states that “Luxury brands need to start focusing on what customer service means. They need to start to out-behave – not just outperform – the competition.”

He further adds, “The customer experience at the store and Web site has to be extraordinary, and consistently so, in order for luxury consumers to develop long-term relationships.”

It is clear that any innovative luxury brand building relationship strategy needs to engage their most committed customers by matching exclusivity and lifestyle. When this is achieved the brand has achieved engagement.

Measuring The Customer Experience

Customer metrics allow companies to make certain their delivery continues to meet the needs of the target segments. Customer Engagement may be used to pursue customer loyalty as fully engaged customers feel an emotional bond with the brand and its employees. Compared to customer satisfaction, customer engagement offers a better measurement tool for increasing retention and other business results such as profits and return-on-investment.

“PeopleMetrics’ Most Engaged Customer Study” whose results indicate that businesses with higher engagement levels do enjoy higher profits, a return-on-investment and market share has actually showed this. Companies, which are pursuing the love of their customers’, will be more likely to recommend, visit and return for additional purchases in the future.

Empower Your Employees & Customers

World leading organizations create potential for growth by relentlessly improving their customer relationships. Such organizations have outperformed their competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. Their customers spend more, return more often and stay longer.

Dealing with a company’s customer service center should be an efficient and pleasant experience. Companies should place toll-free numbers on their packaging to encourage engagement. Calls should be answered on the first or second ring and no phone tree. The trained person who handles the calls should be congenial, apologetic and non-argumentative. Customer relationships are the result of all interactions, operational as well as marketing. Consumers will definitely share experiences with friends and family, so having a reputation for horrible customer service could kill the chance to build a relationship with consumers who have heard bad things through word-of-mouth.

Engaging with customers is a two-way conversation. Connecting online and offline utilizing an analytic structure and acknowledging the value of each customer is the way moving forward.

Social networking sites are an ideal venue for brands to monitor what is being said about them. Those sites offer places for consumers to comment, praise, and criticize, as well as a way for them to follow brand promotions, events and a way to forward information to friends. While marketers seem to think about brands mainly in terms of whom their competitors are consumers tend to prefer brands that do something that plays a role in their lives.

Finding the right metric is an important step in a company’s journey toward increasing customer engagement. However, measurement without action is pointless.

Your views are welcome.

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