For decades, the Walt Disney Company has been known for creating amazing customer experiences for millions of visitors each year. Walt himself viewed all his employees as cast members, whether maintenance crew, actors, or executive officers. He set the clear expectation that all are held accountable to one simple, common purpose: “Creating happiness.”
Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small local business, a great experience—delivered consistently—is the most powerful way to drive customer loyalty. And customer loyalty is the most impactful way to drive profitability.
In a recent McKinsey & Company study (“Developing a Customer Experience Vision,” March 2016), one example showed a greater than 15% increase in business performance by merely defining and executing one common customer experience commitment. There are numerous case studies where this simple focus on customer experience has redefined the company and its profitability.
Loyal customers are not only repeat customers who return time and time again with little to no acquisition cost, but they become your brand ambassadors—helping to tell your story to other potential customers.
This is probably not news to you. Successful companies are increasingly aware of the importance of customer experience to drive and differentiate their business. So then, why are so many still stuck in the sea of sameness: delivering the same products, using the same service platform, implementing the same marketing approaches, retaining the same value proposition, and hiring the same type of sales reps as their competitors?
To create a differentiated customer experience—and a more profitable business—here are some key considerations to keep in mind: relevance, readiness, reliability, rate, and refine.
Relevance means that each customer sees the value or advantage that you offer them or their business.
Different audiences have different needs. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for making your customer experience relevant to everyone. You can’t fake it. The only way to be relevant is to deeply understand the needs of every audience throughout the channel and then find ways to meet those needs better than the competition does. It doesn’t matter how much your organization knows if you aren’t positioned to act on that knowledge.
Take time to truly understand what matters to the various audiences you engage with, and drive your experience to meet those needs.
Readiness is the internal ability to deliver on on an exceptional customer experience at every touchpoint.
In my opinion, this is where the customer experience fails the most. Senior leadership is all in, but they fail to engage the whole organization. A truly differentiating experience can only be realized when the entire internal organization understands, and most importantly owns, it.
One reason that retailers like Nordstrom and Zappos are legendary for their customer service is that the front line employees are empowered and even encouraged to deliver exceptional customer experiences. It’s not about having the right words on a mission statement, but being ready and able to respond in the moment.
Ensure all company members are well versed and equipped to deliver your unique experience.
Reliability is your ability to consistently deliver a high-quality experience.
Many companies will do unique things for their customers as a one-off approach. Customers quickly see through this gimmick. If they don’t get a quality experience at every touchpoint and every interaction, they will continue to “shop” for a better experience. Making the customer explore other options puts price at the forefront of the conversation, and you’re back in the commodity game. When you deliver a consistent and relevant experience, price falls quickly to the bottom of the equation.
Study all customer touchpoints to ensure each fully delivers on the experience you (and they) expect.
Rate is the ability to first define and then measure what success looks like.
It’s one thing to have a goal, but those goals must be measurable and then reported frequently for the whole organization to see how they are progressing at every interaction. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done.
Measurable metrics should be embedded in each employee’s performance plan and incentive plan.
Refine is the ability to continually assess and improve.
No experience can be developed and then blindly executed for the next few years. Our industry, market forces, and customer expectations are changing faster than ever before. Staying relevant means continually assessing and understanding the needs of customers, and then regularly applying new insights to fine tune your experience and your value proposition to those you serve.
Plan to analyze and refine your experience at least annually.
Creating the Structure Around the Customer Experience
An initiative of this magnitude must start at the top. Over the last few years, some large corporations have adopted this focus on the customer experience, and are adding a new role to company, usually at their C-suite level. Titles include chief customer experience officer (CCEO) as well as the most common, chief customer officer (CCO). One of the first CCOs and thought leaders on the topic is Jeanne Bliss, who some say pioneered the concept of the CCO position with companies that include Lands’ End, Allstate, Coldwell Banker, Mazda, and Microsoft.
But there is still a large disconnect of understanding of the role. When I ask many building material companies if they have someone focused on the customer experience, the answer I usually get is, “Yes, Charlie is our VP of sales.” Don’t confuse the customer experience role with the role of the VP/director of sales. “Experience” is collective and comprehensive, it is something that everyone in the organization owns and creates. Therefore the vision and leadership of the customer experience must be more comprehensive than merely the value the sales team delivers.
The path to success is not only having the right customer experience leader in place, but also a very clear vision of the types of customers you are creating an experience for; what the experience is, by customer type; and how employees at every level are held accountable to deliver that experience.
Companies that successfully execute and evolve a great experience will see dramatic business results, not only for themselves, but also for the customers they serve.
As Disney’s enduring example demonstrates, delivering an extraordinary customer experience requires a sustained, specific focus. In turn, it creates a direct path to more strongly engaging your team, your supplier, and your customers while delivering more dollars to your bottom line.
This article is the first in a series by Bill Rossiter.