My 12 golden guidelines for your Customer Experience Strategy

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As you all know, I’ve been focusing on helping out companies create a fantastic customer experience for these past few years with my keynotes and books. There are many ‘roads’ leading to a great cx, obviously, but there also are some essential ingredients that – if executed well – will help you achieve an offer and level of service that your customers will truly love. So here are my 12 golden guidelines that will help your company build a powerful vision about customer experience. Enjoy!

This is one of the biggest pitfalls for organizations: I’ve seen too many of them develop this huge idea and strategy around customer experience. Their vision becomes so big and complex that it’s almost monstrous. Most of the time, however, the result is that the execution fails just as monstrously.

What I always tell the organizations that come to me for help, is to make a list of many small improvements that they can solve for their customers. I have seen this time and again: the execution of 100 small items that improve the service for customers will always trump the one of a huge project. And, above all, the impact will be a lot more significant. I love Shep Hyken’s example of his friend Jason Bradshaw of Volkswagen in Australia, who was tasked with improving the customer experience for the VW dealerships. He made enormous improvements over the course of just two years. Not with big sweeping changes but by accumulating little ones. Even “tiny” ones that he referred to as 1% differences.

Another true basic of cx is to figure out a way how you can improve the level of human service with technology. When I was still giving live international keynotes, pre-pandemic, I often had to spend the night at a hotel, some of which I revisited many times. And so I would find myself checking in at a lobby desk with a friendly human, only to be asked this truly superfluous question “Welcome, Mr. Van Belleghem, is this your first time here?” And then I had to answer them sometimes that it was about my 20th time there, which was always an embarrassing moment.

Did I blame this friendly employee? Of course not. But I did blame the organization. You cannot expect that the employee recognizes everyone. But you can expect that a hotel chain has a system in line that shows the employee the customer history when (s)he types in a name. That is what I call IA (intelligence augmented). And it’s all about using simple technologies to make sure that your ‘humans’ say the right thing at the right moment.

Very often, I see a disconnect between the vision and the enthusiasm from the top management about customer experience and the rest of the organization. That’s really nefarious. It’s crucial that you figure out a way how you can translate your high-level strategy to the life and the context of every last employee. Your goal should be that every employee knows what their contribution will be to this customer relationship strategy. This gives them a sense a purpose and a strong connection to your vision. I’ll be honest: there is no shortcut to achieve that. There’s no secret ingredient. You will have to find a way to literally convince all your employees one by one.

Matthias De Clercq, former Country Manager Belgium at Coolblue, and now my Business Partner at nexxworks told me this great story of how they did this at CoolblueBezorgt, which takes care of delivery all of its packages. Not only was the vision of customer experience shared at every major meeting – Pieter Zwart (CEO), for instance, started every presentation with the Net Promoter Score – but the mission was also integrated in the average working day. Every morning, the delivery (wo)men at Coolblue were shown their NPS-scores of the day before. If they were good, they were celebrated – never cash, but fun things like wearing a crown to work. If they were less so, they were empowered to explain (internally, not to the customer) what they think went wrong and how they could react better the next time. This is how you get employees to share in the vision: by involving and empowering them every step of the way.

Many companies never seem happy with what they achieve for their customers. I find this so incredibly sad. They seem to be waiting in this ‘not good enough limbo’, until they have reached perfection – which will of course never be reached – before they celebrate.

It’s fantastic to have a perspective on how to improve and a steady view on your journey. But it’s also so important for the mood of your team to celebrate your small successes in improving your customer experience. You will notice right away that this will give a boost of energy to everyone. The really cool thing is that when you have 10 celebrations, you will be able to look back and just enjoy the fact that you have done so much already. And your employees, too, will have the feeling that things are moving if you celebrate the success. Even it’s just a seemingly small thing like a great personal NPS at Coolbluebezorgt.

Have you seen some of those soccer games that were played in empty stadiums? It’s extremely depressing. The statistics also show that many soccer teams are suffering from that. And the reason is energy: soccer players are used to getting direct feedback from their customers, the fans. They absorb the cries of joy and encouragement, the “oohs” and the “ahs”, and pick up steam again. It gives them an urgency to do better. And when they score, they enjoy this huge celebration.

I think we need the same approach in every organization. If you work in a company where many employees don’t receive the direct feedback from customers, then that’s a missed opportunity. Every employee should be able to feel the “oohs” and the “ahs” from the customers directly. It will create urgency and a higher level of commitment towards the customer. And it certainly will make for smarter decisions, as Duncan Wardle, who used to be the Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney explained in my podcast conversation with him: “I would advise to make it mandatory for everybody in your organization who’s not in direct contact with the consumer to go spend a day per year in their living room.” (Check my favourite insights from that conversation here.) It seems a bit extreme, but it’s probably also the reason why Disney is so exceptional at cx.

I’ve played the fiction hunter game so many times with customers. It’s one of my favorites. Basically, you turn every employee into a friction hunter and invite them to look for any type of irritation or unpleasantness in the customer journey. I also tell them not to focus on big things, but to look for details: a list of small annoyances that are easy to solve. And then you put a name next to each friction and you give that person four weeks to solve it. When that time has passed, you bring the team back together, discuss what worked and what not, and improve what needs improving. And you play that game again and again. Like I said, these don’t need to be big changes (they can be, but they must not be), it could just be something really small like changing the place of a registration button on your website so that it’s a lot easier to find and access.

After a while, you will have a culture where people are really sensitive for the details in the customer journey, and that will increase the overall quality towards your customers.

One of my absolute favorite movies is “Inside Out” from Disney, which shows you how the human brain – and thus the customer brain – works. The movie shows that we have five basic emotions driving us, of which four – sadness, anger, disgust, and fear – are negative. We only have one positive basic emotion which is Joy, also the star of the movie. So when you realize that 80% of the emotions in our minds are negative, you’ll understand why we complain so much or why our customers complain so much. We can’t help that, because that is the way that are brains are wired.

So my invitation to you is this: if you have a meeting tomorrow about your customers and you have the feeling that negative emotions are taking over, stand up and ask “What would Joy do?”. And let her take the decisions in your company. Let positive emotions take the decisions. And you will see that that will create a boost of happy customers. An example would be to focus your online return policy on all of those honest customers that you cater to, rather than to the 10% that might take advantage of you. If you don’t, the other 90% are punished for something they would never do, and feel unhappy. Always put Joy in charge.

If something goes wrong during a transaction between you and your customer, do not waste your time looking for the person who made the mistake: an employee or the customer. It’s a waste of energy, time and of a good relationship.

Just focus on one thing only, which is fixing the problem as soon as you can. If you don’t, the customer will have to wait too long for the issue to get resolved and (s)he will be extremely annoyed by the finger pointing. You know, and I know that you will end up fixing what happened anyway, so why not do it immediately, and not risk blow up a perfectly fine and loyal relationship with a good customer. If you don’t, Joy will have left the building. Always focus on customer happiness and skip the annoying part.

Obviously, it’s always valuable to check later on what happened and how – without involving the customer – and then fix that process too, so it won’t happen again. Even when the customer did something wrong, try to find out why, and if you could have avoided it yourself by making your website more clear or communicating in a better way. But remember: always fix it.

This one will truly be difficult for many organizations because of the tyranny of the Return On Investment (ROI). Does your organization need a return on its investments? Obviously! But I also strongly believe that you need to figure out a customer expectations approach that has a long term vision as well as a short term one. Example: if you perform a random act of kindness, don’t expect customers to buy more because of that. If you did something nice, if you’ve created a great campaign, if you’ve sent them a gift, don’t expect them to do something back instantly. Just believe that that is how you build a solid and honest long term relationship. And keep on doing that without looking for a short-term impact.

It’s like going to the gym, really. When you go to the gym for four weeks, you’ll notice no results when you look in the mirror. If you go for eight weeks: same. The conclusion would seem that it doesn’t work, right? That is why a lot of people stop going to the gym after two months because it seems to have zero impact. Whereas we all know that if you want to have a noticeable result, you need to make that investment for a couple of years. Well, it’s the very same with customer experience. For some endeavors, you will not see the difference after two months. Don’t conclude that they don’t work. See them as a long term investment.

This is one of the pieces of advice that I’ve been giving so much. It’s very simple. If you want to be successful, make sure you are fast, easy, and fun. I see a lot of organizations working on the fast and easy part, but they forget the fun fact. People like to be entertained, to be wowed, to be surprised. Invest in that. I will always remember sitting in this brainstorm with Smartphoto and there was this one enthusiastic lady that suggested to send gifts to people who had photographed weddings, anniversaries and all kinds of happy celebrations. Immediately the room buzzed with concerns of privacy, but the manager responded in the best possible way: “Let’s just test it: you have a gift budget of 500 euros per month and you’ll tell us what happened after three months.” Three months later, that lady entered the room with the biggest smile I have ever seen in my life and a huge stack of emails from customers thanking her. Happy customers make happy employees and the cool thing is that this was not some complex or big change. They just decided to focus on offering fun to their customers.

Over the last 10 years, we have been focusing a lot on transactional perfection and digital convenience for offering a better experience. But this digital convenience has become a commodity. It’s just what people expect today and it certainly no longer makes you special or give you an edge. The challenge today is to create what I call “emotional convenience”. What I mean by that is that you have to understand the human behind the customer: what is the movie that they have in their head about their future? What are their hopes, dreams, ambitions and fears? Try to play an active role in that as an organization. Make sure you help them emotionally to create more value in their life. This part is about helping the human behind the customer.

For instance, most of the concerns of new and inexperienced parents center on the basic aspects of life: is our baby eating enough, is he or she sleeping enough, is he or she breathing while asleep or are we changing nappies often enough? Lumi, a sub-brand of Pampers, found a way to respond to parental worries of this kind in a smart way. It has mapped them out and developed a solution with a smart nappy, a sleep tracker, a smart camera and an app, which together provide anxious mums and dads with all the information they need in a clear manner. The concept is clearly a win-win situation. The consumer benefits from greater peace of mind. P&G can benefit from increased direct sales and greater operational efficiency, thanks to the data it collects. That’s a fantastic example of creating emotional convenience.

Now, this last one is crucial. If you really want to have a great impact in cx, make sure that your frontline staff is empowered to take decisions on their own in favor of the customer. When something goes wrong, make sure that they don’t say something like “I will ask my boss how to solve this”. Instead, empower them to solve the problem fast and efficiently on their own, without having them to worry about the cost or the implications. For me, that is absolutely key. Offer them that freedom, that empowerment and support them in that process. And that will make a tremendous impact on how your customers are treated and on how they perceive the culture in your organization.

I love this story from the Capital One bank: one of their customers had spilled orange juice over his keyboard, which resulted in a “2” key that failed to work. Now, this number 2 key was part of his account number which made logging into his banking account impossible. Having posted his problem on social media, a member of the Capital One support team saw it and decided to send him a brand new keyboard. Because they were empowered to solve a problem that many banks would not have seen as their responsibility, Janeth and Adam made one customer extremely happy and they went viral with the story. Giving the freedom to act to employees really works.

So, that’s it. These are my 12 guidelines which I believe are crucial to create a fantastic customer experience in coming years.

Oh, and here is the video with some more details about these 12 customer experience guidelines.

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