Are you experienced? Apologies to the memory of Jimi Hendrix, but I ask the question to make a point. Because the answer is: Of course, you are. We are all creatures of experience who love to reflect on, recount, relive and learn from our experiences and do so as a matter of daily effort. What that means is that whether we’re falling in love or heading to the store to buy groceries, everything we do shapes us each day. Which one is more important to you or your superego, I’ll leave to you and Freud.
But there is more than just a sum total set of experiences in the hand played by all human beings. We are not only creatures of self-interest but also creatures of “control your own” self-interest. Note that I did not say, “selfishness.” I said “self-interest.” We want to each have control of our hopes, dreams and ambitions. Know anyone who doesn’t?
It’s no different whether we’re customers or business people providing for customers. The way we conduct ourselves is emotionally behaviorally and intellectually the same. Our ethical and moral actions typically are consistent.
There is one other thing to remember. The current business ecosystem is one that has a highly volatile, empowered customer at its center. In 2005, customers demand collaboration in crafting their own experience with their chosen vendors–whether the company wants it or not.
That experience is now paramount. The increasingly similar look, feel and content of product and service offerings are no longer value differentiators. The only true differentiator in this era of customer-centricity is the experience the customer has with the company, good or bad. The more convenient, comfortable, collaborative, transparent and omnipresent the experience, the more likely you are to create an advocate.
But why an advocate and not just a satisfied or loyal customer? The short answer is: Satisfied customers leave companies almost as frequently as dissatisfied ones. A Harvard Business Review study showed that 65 percent to 85 percent of the customers polled were satisfied before they left their vendor. Loyal customers, while better to have than satisfied ones, aren’t necessarily profitable. They know the system and can maneuver through it to optimize their return against the best interests of the company. But advocates provide an extended sales force that brings in new customers–a qualitative step-up, indeed.
To create that comfortable, emotionally powerful experience and relationship, it takes both art and science. This artistic and scientific congress is usually labeled Customer Experience Management (CEM), a concept echoing across boardrooms more and more frequently these days.
CEM maps and then identifies the crucial moments that can make or break a relationship between the customer and the company he or she is collaborating with. Those key identified moments of the experience are enhanced so that the moment meets or exceeds the expectations of the customer in a positive way. This is no easy task. You tell me how often it is that you and a friend disagree on an outcome’s positive benefit or negative effect. I have several friends (not too many) who are Red Sox fans. I’m a Yankees fan. If the Yankees win a game, our views of the experience vastly differ.
Think about your experiences at the grocery store. Do you care whether they have self-checkout, wide aisles, well organized shelving, space between food items so none falls off, good prices, credit card machines that work well, coupons, good customer service, friendly people, high-quality food, loyalty programs, etc. etc. ad infinitum? The answer could be any sequence of yes and nos. Add about 100 other “experiential moments” for that one trip to the store. Imagine now that you are a corporate magnate and have 5 million identifiable store shoppers, each with his or her own sequence of yes and nos. Whoa. That’s heavy lifting.
So what are you supposed to do about this? Here are the broad brush strokes (if you want finer tuning, hire someone to help you).
- Give customers visibility into your organization so that the choices they have are clear. Then they can make decisions based on those choices. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to purchase a product or service without all the information you need to make a good decision.
- Take advantage of current technologies. It’s no coincidence that Skype, the Voice over IP peer-to-peer technology is being adopted at record rates (more than 100 million downloads in about 18 months, according to Skype’s web site) because the paradigm for VoIP is the computer, not the phone, and the technology relies on the social networks of the Gen Xers and Yers, which are extensive, indeed.
- Work with the customer to design the experience. Get feedback from the high-value customers about the points of the experience and their expectations at each point. Then bolster, diminish, add or subtract the appropriate processes to make that “make or break” point a “make only” point.
- Remember that you are aiming at creating advocates, not loyal customers or satisfied ones. Advocacy is a necessary feature of a business world in which satisfaction is about as permanent as satiation on Thanksgiving and loyalty has nothing to do with familial or patriotic emotional depth but, instead, is a condition of customers who “loyally” squeeze the company’s system that they know and love for every possible advantage.
- Recognize there is nothing wrong with marshalling an extended value chain that involves collaboration with other companies in conjunction with the multi-channel communications and multi-modal technologies to create that advocate for you.
So I’ll ask again: Are you experienced?
You’d better be.