Ask CEO’s what is their most effective method for creating a competitive advantage and 39% will say Customer Experience. That answer 10 years ago was more likely to be product and price. Indeed, many companies still think that selling a decent product or service at a good price is all that matters. But it’s not. Why? Because in today’s digital economy, consumers have more choices than ever.
The factors influencing consumer brand loyalty has also changed drastically. Just because customers bought your product today, that doesn’t mean they’ll buy it again tomorrow. These days most organizations do not effectively leverage their customer data to make better decisions on who and how they target, from acquisition through loyalty. For example, most consumers rely on social proof—or the opinions of others—rather than their own sense of entrenched brand loyalty. They won’t buy any product that has less than a four-star review on the internet, even if it’s from a brand they know well.
And that’s causing the C-suite to toss and turn at night.
The good news is that there is a solution. If you can no longer rely as much on your brand equity, you can still truly distinguish your business by creating an outstanding, end-to-end customer experience. Here are three ways to deliver an experience that delights your customers, builds that all-important social proof and drives your business forward.
1: Stand for something bigger than the products and services you sell
Take a company like Patagonia. It’s in the business of selling outdoor clothing and gear but it also makes clear that its larger mission is saving the planet. Since 1985, the company has pledged 1% of its sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Yes, Patagonia makes great products. But it is also purpose-driven—and that makes customers feel good about wearing Patagonia products.
Facebook, whose stated mission is to empower communities and bring the world closer together, certainly has an inspirational reason for being. In many ways it lives up to that mission. But people are also getting disheartened at the potential spread of misinformation, which threatens the positive impact and sentiment they can have with their users.
All C-suite executives need to take a close look at their business and ask themselves what it really stands for and whether those values are being made clear to consumers. This need has become much more acute as the millennials and Gen Z cohorts and their increased focus on ethics and sustainability become a much larger force in our economy. If you’re an executive, ask yourself: Are you simply meeting basic needs or are you delivering a higher level of inclusivity, joy and fulfillment?
Any business can be authentically mission-driven if it has a clear purpose and reason for existence—and if it measures success not purely by revenue and profit but also by customer engagement.
2: Become a listening organization
Every business these days talks about the importance of customer-centricity. But are you really putting your customer at the heart of what you do? Customers are giving you important information about your business every day—but if you don’t listen closely you won’t hear what they’re saying.
Every day, customers are telling you what they think through their online reviews, their interactions with your various channels and content including your support team and, of course, their purchases. But if you’re not diving deep into that data, you might be missing important clues and signals about what customers want and need from you—and how you can go about providing it.
It’s still a surprise to me that, with so much data and information available, many businesses continue to make decisions based on the HiPPO, an acronym that represents the highest-paid person’s opinion coined by Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business. Lower-paid employees defer to higher-paid employees. Instead, businesses should be listening to the “geeks”, who have the hard data needed to tap into customer sentiment and make the very best decisions for the company.
3: Innovate on the customer journey, not on customer touchpoints
Businesses have focused much time and energy on trying to optimize customer touchpoints like landing pages and shopping cart interfaces. But these touchpoints, for the most part, have become commoditized. We as consumers and businesses know what good likes like, so trying to reinvent them and create a better mousetrap is largely a wasted effort or at a minimum, it’s an effort not proportional to its return.
Today, many businesses still spend 80% of their time and budget trying to innovate on touchpoints that have been optimized a thousand times over and are the least likely to be differentiated. Instead, businesses should be thinking about innovating across the entire customer journey. Your customers will be much happier and with more needs satisfied when you find the valuable connections between the touchpoints over a longer lifecycle of interactions. In striving for these valuable unlocks, you are more likely to uncover real opportunities for improved customer experience and innovation and the resulting growth for your business.
It’s not good enough to have a customer experience team that is separate from the rest of your business. Or have that UX “Department” that acts as a Center of Excellence or embeds people into other functional teams to add their expertise and craft. Every business leader in the organization, in some way or other, needs to be accountable for the customer experience. You need to ingrain CX capabilities, thinking and excellence across the board—rather than simply hand off the responsibility to a single person or department.
In today’s digital economy, businesses that excel at customer experience will be best positioned to overcome any challenge and conquer the competition.