Ever built a house of cards? It’s critical to start with a sound foundation to support your later efforts. No matter how sturdy your start is, however, a wrong move anywhere along the way can bring down the house and cause all your work to be for naught.
Delivering good customer experiences is like that: You can do extraordinary work in planning the basics and even get customers to buy from you. Yet at any point along the way, a single mistake can void all the good things you’ve done and send the customer packing.
It doesn’t seem fair to those charged with managing all the elements that create good customer experiences; all that work, only to have fickle customers bail over one faux pas. Life isn’t fair, though.
Unfairness No. 1: One Strike and You’re Out
Customers now expect perfection. They’ve always expected it, really, but business was so poor at delivering it that customers came to accept flawed experiences. Think of the way your parents spoke about “the phone company” with weary resignation. It was like that with most of the businesses they patronized back in the days when the seller controlled most of the conversation and thus could dictate the experience.
Today, the customer is in control of the conversation, as should have been the case all along. That means there’s more competition in most things, and customers can seek out sellers who provide the experiences that buyers want. The shift in the balance of power also has eliminated the luxury of businesses making mistakes in delivering that experience. It’s a one-strike-and-you’re-out world. You may not think that’s cricket, but that’s what it is (almost exactly).
Unfairness No. 2: You’re Blamed for Everything
The thing that upends the customer experience may have nothing to do with the people officially charged with designing or managing customer experiences. Often, the weak link lies not in sales, marketing or support, but in some other area of the company that the customer encounters.
Maybe your controversial CEO says something that offends a customer. Perhaps someone in accounting makes an error that takes the customer time on the phone to resolve. How about a shipping contractor making a mistake and delaying delivery of a product to a buyer? All of these are out of the hands of the people traditionally tasked with the customer experience — and yet customers view them all as part of their experience with the seller.
If companies are serious about delivering a great customer experience, it’s an all-hands evolution. Everyone in the business — even people you don’t expect to interact with customers — has to be made aware that their actions have the potential to alter how the company is perceived.
That includes the executive staff and the board of directors, especially in the era of social media and 24-hour news. It also includes any contractors, resellers or distributors you use to reach the market; the customer doesn’t spend a lot of time discerning who is or isn’t on your payroll.
Anyone who is involved in selling or supporting your products is part of your organization in the customer’s eyes. It’s not easy, but try to deliver and sustain that message to the people who represent you in the field.
Unfairness No. 3: Your Customers Are Hiding
Your customer’s experience with you begins without you even knowing about it. Part of that is intentional on the business’ part — marketing, advertising and content all aim to throw out a net and capture the attention of potential customers. These days, customers do a lot of research on their own as well.
On the B2B side in particular, their experiences begin long before they signal any interest. (Sixty-six percent to 90 percent of the buyer’s journey precedes contact with a seller, Forrester’s Lori Wizdo estimated). It seems unfair — you hardly have a chance to build an experience that way.
Actually, that’s not correct. The things you do with content on your website — and with contributions to third-party media — allow you to preplan a significant amount of the precontact customer experience.
Can a customer go from early-stage interest through education to decision-making through links in your content without having to jump back to Google to do another search? Is there a discussion of terminology to help the customer understand the vernacular of your market and your products? Do you curate content as well as create it, so customers feel like they are being given resources instead of a sales pitch?
If so, you’ve gotten around this unfairness. However, most businesses are still grappling with it.
Unfairness No. 4: Customers Come With Baggage
No matter how well you plan out a customer experience, your customers are going to create their own. You have an agenda (to close sales, probably), and it’s unreasonable to think that your customers don’t have agendas of their own, too. Their goals may not match yours; they may enter the experience you’re creating at a different stage than you expect. Things in their lives may alter the perception of the experience you’re creating.
You can’t take this personally — we all experience it. Have you ever been out last-minute Christmas shopping, in a frantic panic to find what you need? No well-crafted experience is likely to change your mindset short of one-stop success in finding everything on your list. The same phenomenon takes place in a less-charged way with nearly every purchase: The customer brings half the equation to the table — and try as you might, sometimes the customer’s variables negate the experience you’re trying to create.
What can you do about it? We all know from our teenage years how effective whining about the world’s unfairness is. A better approach is to employ a more mature emotional skill — empathy — and to think through your customer experience plans with some personas in mind: the customer in a panic; the buyer with the browbeating boss; the neophyte entrusted with a big buying decision; and so on.
If the customer experiences you’re planning can accommodate the baggage the customers bring — or at least have enough flexibility to adjust to fit them — you’ll have a much better chance of winning those customers over for the long term.
Empathy, combined with the smarts to do the groundwork of perfecting your processes, convincing your entire company to be aware of their impact on customer experiences, and setting the stage in the avenues where customers have experiences with you before making contact, can help you gain more control and feel less like the customer experience world is inherently unfair.