6 Customer Experience Principles for Immediate yet Lasting Change

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Your CEO has come to embrace customer success! Terrific! And you’ve been tapped to lead a customer experience team. But where should you focus for immediate yet lasting change? Do you need a lengthy class or book on customer experience principles? Nope!

Short is sweet, and this brief article gives you a primer on the critical customer experience principles you need for high-impact, laser-focused success.

Whether you’re in B2B or retail, the six principles apply. And if you already have a CX program, this is a great brainstorming refresher. Let’s get started!

Getting Your Team on Board

But first, how important is the customer experience? And will adhering to customer experience principles make a difference? The answers: very important, and yes.

Seth Godin succinctly summarizes why this is the case: “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

Data backs this claim. According to PwC, “Customers are willing to pay more for the experience qualities that matter most to them:

  • 43% of consumers would pay more for greater convenience.
  • 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience.
  • 65% of U.S. customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising.”

If your hunch is that customer experience matters, your intuition is well borne out by the data. Start by instilling the importance of CX in your team.

Yet just establishing the importance of CX is not enough, and many CX teams falter at this point. If you don’t want your CX program to fizzle out, implement these 6 core customer experience principles — evergreen truths that remain despite change. 

Defining Customer Experience

Customer experience is what we hear, see, and feel when interacting with a company PLUS what we bring to a company based on its claims and values – and what other companies do.

Note that often CX is defined ONLY as the touchpoints a customer has with a company. But that leaves out the all-important fact that no company is an island, and experiences will always be judged in relation to a constellation of influences.

As for the customer journey? It spans discovering a brand, considering competitors, browsing for products, interacting with associates, asking questions, returning products, working with warranties, and much more.

Good CX, Bad CX

We’ll dive into the principles in a minute, but to see the impact of CX, let’s look at two customer journeys.

In both scenarios, the product was defective. But only the second journey resulted in a happy customer who will buy again — and that was because the second company had some customer experience principles in place. (This is a retail example, but if you are in B2B, switch out a $100 sweater for a key product on which your company stakes its claim to fame.)

Journey 1: Too Difficult and Too Many Interactions

A customer orders a sweater from an online retailer. The checkout process is confusing, and the customer is not allowed to review their order before their card is charged.

The sweater arrives in a different color than what the photos depicted online. Naturally, the customer pulls up their order to file for a return. But the company not only charges for the return, it refuses to issue a full refund, and it seems utterly disinterested in the customer’s perceptions of what went wrong.

After the customer sends five emails over several weeks and talks to two associates and at last a manager, the retailer issues a store credit.

After every one of the eight interactions, the customer feels progressively uneasy, disappointed, irritated, and then mad.

Even worse, after the second interaction, the customer receives a survey and uses the open-ended text question to explain the problem. They get no response. Not a peep from the company. Overall, it’s a miserable experience, and probably for the representatives who interacted with the customer too.

Journey 2: The “Wow, That Was Easy” Experience

A customer orders a sweater online. The checkout process is crystal clear. Before placing the order, the customer reviews their order and feels confident.

Shortly thereafter, the sweater arrives, boxed beautifully. Unfortunately, the sweater is not the color that the customer imagined.

The customer contacts customer service to initiate a refund. The agent listens, apologizes, and issues a full refund immediately. Then the rep explains that this line of sweaters (and only this line) has some uncharacteristic quality issues and asks if the customer would be willing to answer just a few questions.

After a quick, short chat, the agent thanks the customer and says, “You have been so helpful. Please keep the sweater. Perhaps you can pass it on to someone else or donate it to Goodwill.”

Despite a failed product, the customer leaves the interaction with a positive perception of the company. And by following core customer experience principles, the company gathered useful information, creating a winning experience for everyone involved.

This second scenario exemplifies Principle 1 (Start with a Research Mindset) and Principle 6 (Make it Easy. Then Make it Easier.), two of the six core customer experience principles we’ll explore.

On to the six foundational customer experience principles. Again, they apply whether your customers are consumers or other businesses.

Principle 1: Start with a Research Mindset

As customers, we’ve all received surveys before the products we ordered arrived or while our support ticket was still open. These surveys are a waste of time for everyone involved. Even if the customer responds, will the data be complete? Of course not.

Companies often send surveys and ask for customer feedback because it’s easy, and they feel they should. That’s not a good reason. Never send a survey just because you can.

The goal of a survey or any feedback program is to learn about your customers’ perceptions and their interactions with your company – and to act on those learnings.

To do this successfully, you need to approach your customer listening with a research mindset:

  • Develop a hypothesis. (Remember, even your survey makes assumptions about what aspects of CX matter.)
  • Match methods to investigate that hypothesis (Should you use surveys? Interviews? Observations?)
  • Measure to test your hypothesis (Even your unstructured data like reviews, conversations, and answers to open-ended text questions can be quantified.)
  • Analyze the data, teasing out correlations and causation if possible.
  • Act based on your analysis.

And keep the scope of your research focused. For example, if you want to learn how customers perceive your website, limit your survey questions to just that. Don’t delve into fifteen other topics simply because the customer agreed to take your survey.

For the best research data, combine rating questions with open-ended questions. And when you get to the analysis stage, examine your data for specific opportunities and perhaps even with specific customers.

Ideally, every customer who took your survey should get a follow-up to close the loop, even those who had a great experience.

But at minimum, respond to customers who communicate problems in their survey responses.

After all, if you claim to value your customers, you must follow up with anyone who made the effort to describe issues they’ve had with your organization.

Principle 2: Recognize It’s Not All Equal

Weight your data! Weighting is when calculations are applied to data to ensure it accurately reflects whatever phenomena are being studied.

For example, customer service is typically comprised of courtesy, empathy, solutions to problems, overall efficiency, and more. But it’s proactivity and explanations that usually matter most. So, if you issue a customer service survey, it would be remiss to weigh all dimensions of the experience equally.

To determine weighting factors, use correlation analysis or ask customers to rank-order prioritize what they deem most important.

Principle 3: Measure, Measure, Measure!

As Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This certainly applies to the customer experience. In fact (probably due to the focus it imparts), the sheer act of measuring often results in:

  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Lower costs
  • Better decision-making

But trends come and go, and so do different methods for measuring customer experience.

For example, Satisfaction Metrics were replaced in the early aughts by the Net Promoter Score, which has, to some extent, been eclipsed by the Customer Effort Score. Other metrics include the Ease of Business Score, Competitive Edge Score, Brand Compliance Score, and more.

So, as a rule of thumb, while many KPIs can be helpful, focus on the ones that align with your company’s mission. For instance, if you advertise that your company is working hard to make customers’ lives easier, then Customer Effort Score will be the most important KPI to monitor for your company.

Bottom line: Technologies will change, and survey methods will evolve, but the importance of gauging customer enthusiasm will remain constant.

Principle 4: Get to the Heart of the Matter

Sometimes, honesty hurts. But only honesty will deliver the facts you need to grow your business. How do you get honest reviews and answers from your customers? Ask engaging questions and do so in an impartial way.

While it can feel reassuring to have everyone nodding in agreement, your skeptical employees and naysayer customers often have the best insights.

As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

  • To get your survey respondents’ unvarnished opinions, examine your survey questions for leading constructs. Then, eliminate them.
  • And look out for analysis that artificially skews facts to meet a predefined narrative. Analysts are often pressured to find a story that the data doesn’t tell.

Here are two examples of common scenarios that result in biased/dishonest data:

Biased data:

  • A service associate has you take a satisfaction survey while she’s still on the line with you. She asks, “How satisfied were you with your service today?”
  • Or, in the B2B world, an account representative takes you out to lunch and asks, “So, how are things going?” over soup and sandwiches.

In either case, customers can’t answer these questions honestly because social pressures to conform are too potent.

Besides, in the first scenario, the question is impartial; it assumes the customer is somewhat satisfied, and in the second scenario, the question is too vague to be actionable.

To get solid data, make sure the experience is wholly done and closed out – but don’t wait too long; you want the customers’ memories to be fresh.

Then, send your questions from an independent third party, offering the option of anonymity – that way, customers are free to share their most honest opinions.

Most importantly, for science-based data, it’s critical to put in the effort it takes to allow your customers to be 100 percent honest.

Principle 5: Incorporate Both Sides of CX

There are two sides to the customer experience. Without a firm grasp of both, you’ll come up with a shortsighted view! Companies often don’t realize how misaligned the two sides of CX can be.

First, there is the customer’s perspective. This is where methods like surveys, interviews, and analyzing review sites fit in. This is because customers are great at telling you about their expectations, perceptions, and what matters to them.

In fact, your opportunities with customers can generally be summarized as what they wanted or expected of you minus their perceptions of what actually happened.

Then there’s the second side of customer experience: This is what customers can’t tell you about—which is how you perform relative to your own brand and sales goals.

This side of CX is about watching your customers in action, whether that’s observing customers in stores or as they navigate your website — or as they call, email, and chat with your company.

Observational studies reveal strategic insights about the customer experience that can’t be uncovered through customer questionnaires.

Furthermore, this second side of CX gives you insights into the elements you care about but your customer doesn’t really know about, like the extent to which you communicate your brand.

Like the two faces of a dime, both sides of CX give you a complete picture.

Principle 6: Make it Easy—and then even Easier!

You don’t have extra time, and neither do your customers.

So don’t demand more of your customers’ time than you really need. For instance, never ask customers to go through a hundred hoops to contact you. And don’t ask them to read account numbers only to transfer them and ask them to do that again. Minimize what you ask of your customers, and then minimize again.

This applies to your surveys too. Alaska Airlines once sent me a 94-question survey. Don’t do that! If you ask the right questions pertinent to the experience, you’ll learn a lot more and keep your customer open to answering future surveys.

Whether your customers are busy businesspeople, harried parents, or stressed supply chain managers, everyone wants “easy”– starting from when they consider buying your products through to your surveys about their interactions. Eliminate all needless steps, processes, and questions.

Bonus Practice: Understand the Power of One

To make good decisions, you need data based on solid research.

But all customer experience data is from people and about people. And studies show that thinking about large groups reduces our empathy for them. In large, it’s when we get down to the individual level that we can fully appreciate another’s perspective fully.

Here are two methods to reframe your customer experience around the individual:

Pick one customer: Take a moment to think deeply about a recent interaction you or your team had with a customer. Try to recall as many details as possible.

  • How would you characterize the customer’s experience from their point of view?
  • How did that one customer’s experience compare to your ideal customer interaction?
  • If you could go back in time, what changes would you make to this one interaction?

When doing this exercise, being honest about your shortcomings is crucial. Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes is a positive step toward change.

Re-read one email: Pick any email you’ve sent to a customer. Ask yourself two key questions:

  • Does it support your company’s brand and everything you are trying to accomplish as an organization?
  • Does it in every way satisfy the customer and what they need?

It’s more than just answering the customer’s immediate questions. Make sure your email looks ahead proactively for potential future questions the customer might have. Re-work that one email and pass it to other departments to see if they have suggestions for how it could improve the customer’s experience.

Don’t confuse an individual interaction with solid data collected from multiple customers. And don’t make business decisions based on one customer’s experience.

But, revisiting experiences from the customer’s perspective serves as a reminder that CX is about the quality of real interactions that affect your customers every day.  

Principles Recap

  1. Start with a Research Mindset
  2. Recognize It’s Not All Equal
  3. Measure, Measure, Measure!
  4. Get to the Heart of the Matter
  5. Incorporate Both Sides of CX
  6. Make it Easy—and then even Easier!

Rise Above the Noise

Everything about the customer experience constantly evolves. So, how do you prevent getting left behind in a dynamic discipline?

Adhere to the fundamental principles of customer experience, and remember that CX is all about building great interactions with every individual. With these principles as your foundation, you’ll be prepared to build a CX practice that’s timeless – not trendy.

Looking for ways to apply these customer experience principles to your organization? Get in touch!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Martha Brooke
Martha Brooke, CCXP + Six Sigma Black Belt is Interaction Metrics’ Chief Customer Experience Analyst. Interaction Metrics offers workshops, customer service evaluations, and the widest range of surveys. Want some ideas for how to take your surveys to the next level? Contact us here.

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