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Article -> Experiencing the Customer Experience

Date Added: March 2007

Mislead by good intentions to deliver top-notch service, organizations can be blind to reality. Only 8% of customers at 362 companies surveyed described their experience as “superior,” yet 80% of those companies believe the experience they provide is indeed superior.1

Inflated corporate image does not serve the customer well. In fact, a focus on satisfaction surveys alone serves no one. With mere ratings, organizations may not know how to improve satisfaction. In these cases, leaders often fail to understand how the data can help, how to communicate the results or how to hold people accountable for effecting change.

A better approach is to focus on customer experience – the internal and subjective response customers have to any direct or indirect contact with an organization.2
 
The organization’s people, its representatives or even third parties have opportunities to make connections with customers through the delivery of a product or service. While all are critical touchpoints, positive encounters are not necessarily defined by enthusiasm as much as whether they are hassle-free.
 
In lieu of a method which profiles customer buying habits and complaints, a more comprehensive method focuses on:
 
·         Customer perceptions vs. demographic data
·         All touchpoints vs. official meetings
·         Meaningful questionnaires vs. buying habits
·         Education of top leaders vs. customer service improvement
·         Organizational adaptability vs. eventual obsolescence
 
AL2A (Ask, Listen, Learn, Act) is a process designed to strengthen the relationship with customers. Through its six steps, leaders can identify gaps in meeting customer needs and strategize to create specific action plans:
 
1.      Prioritize customers and determine customer-specific teams.
2.      Establish attribute criteria.
3.      Communicate and implement.
4.      Develop and execute action plans.
5.      Align the organization.
6.      Unite with performance management.
 
Since proactive organizations gain an edge through immediate responses as opposed to end feedback, organizations must redesign existing processes. Yet, change is often slow due to commitments to less-than-useful data, budgets, decision makers with non-customer focused backgrounds or moreover, apprehension in discovering the truth.
 
To fortify relationships, consider the customer in every aspect of an organization’s delivery – products, services, advertising, packaging, warranties and more. The most complete assessment will reveal key customer patterns:
 
·         Past – analysis of activity through surveys or blogs
·         Present – understanding of needs through dialogue or questionnaires
·         Potential – exploration of opportunities by studying responses
 
While data collection can be persistent, periodic or pulsed; devote more time to learning from it than gathering it. A comprehensive analysis can also help identify customers: model – high scores and high revenue, growth – high scores and revenue potential, at-risk – low scores with high revenue and dangling – low scores and low revenue.
 
Some contemplate the reliability of a process riddled with ambiguity; however, its value is found in the interpretation of underlying concepts. Consider that after Henry Ford built his first car he said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
 
The customer’s experience changes only when all organizational people focus on it. Marketing, for instance, performs and distributes research. Account representatives determine needs. Service delivers on promises. Human Resources trains and communicates. Product development studies use and incorporates new knowledge in redesign. Technology streamlines the process.
 
To impact the bottom line by learning about the customer experience, every role within an organization must be committed and engaged.
 
 
1Meyer, Christopher and Schwager, Andre. “Understanding Customer Experience.” Harvard Business Review. February 2007: 116-126
 
2Ibid.
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