Does anyone really need to be convinced that we are surrounded by disruption? According to a recent McKinsey Quarterly, industry boundaries are now permeable and artificial intelligence is affecting the way we forecast and make decisions.
The collision of mobile technologies, the Internet, and numerous social platforms have created a whole new marketing landscape; a landscape where the customer experience can mean the difference between profitability and extinction.
While companies like Amazon are driving disruption, it is forcing everyone to look for ways to improve the customer experience. On recent trips to retailers like Nordstrom’s and Lowes, I have noticed new store layouts designed to make it easier for customers to connect with the retail store through the digital channel. They are working hard to try and make the experience personal and seamless.
As a result of this near-constant disruption, organizations are rethinking business models, tweaking and redesigning their organizations, adopting new management practices and employing design thinking. Companies are thinking about the workplace in new and different ways.
They are asking questions like:
- Does our culture support learning and growth?
- Is this the kind of environment that attracts employees?
- How engaged are our employees?
- Are we delivering a personalized experience for our customers?
In the current environment, creating engaging relationships with all stakeholders can add significant value to the bottom line. Creating a differentiating customer experience isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Questions are the fuel that drives insight and application along this path. While it may be a journey toward improved profitability, it might well be a journey of survival.
How can firms survive, or even thrive? By its very nature disruption creates uncertainty and ambiguity. Effective questions help probe for meaning and understanding.
Let’s explore some questions.
So Where Should One Begin?
We begin by thinking differently. Our mindset must be helping and serving; this applies to internal and external stakeholders. Sometimes this mindset requires that we radically rethink the challenges and problems in front of us. Most of the time we think about customer-centricity. While this is understandable, there is an emerging trend of thought to the contrary.
Although this post will focus on the customer experience, the first focus should be on employees. The customer experience will never be better than that customer’s interaction with your employees. We have all experienced the frustration of dealing with disengaged employees.
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Sir Richard Branson
Have you thought about your employee or colleague strategy? I addressed some specific questions addressing employees here.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to customers.
In order to know who we are helping we begin with basic questions:
- Who are our customers?
- Who are our best customers?
- Who are our prospects?
- How do we keep our customers?
- How do we sustain a relationship with our customers?
- How can we convert prospects to customers?
- What social platforms do they use?
- How do they want to interact with our brand?
Building a strong foundation
Segmentation allows us to know about our customers. In order to engage our customers, we have to know who they are. Creating personae based on the insight gleaned from data brings segments to life. Personae are fictitious representations of segments. You can read more about personae here.
The most effective personae provide a complete view of the entire customer experience. These profiles are built on the solid foundation of a data strategy. This data provides the raw materials for insights, answering the questions: what, why, how and when.
All too often companies don’t think through their data strategy. They simply collect data because someone thought it might be useful to have the data, or worse there is a proliferation of data and very little useful insight.
There are many ways to collect information from customers. Many firms invest a lot of resources hiring companies that specialize in market research, and there is definitely a role for specialists. However, in this current environment, there is no substitute for talking directly to customers. It’s important to identify the right customers, be sure you are talking to your ideal customers.
When talking to customers ask questions like:
- What data do we really need?
- How will we use this data?
- How will we ensure this data is useful?
- When and where will we collect the data?
- How will this data allow us to serve them?
- If you are already collecting data, have you created personae?
- Do you have a data strategy? How are we protecting this data?
Now that we have our focus on the customer, let’s move on to explore their experience.
The Customer Experience Dimension
Delivering value to empowered consumers requires a whole new set of questions. It isn’t enough to know who we are talking to, we must also know how to connect. We must approach customers are their terms, giving them as much control over the relationship as possible.
What kind of information, communication, and connection do they want? Increasingly customers and prospects want more control over the experience. They are demanding an experience that incorporates and respects their preferences.
Now we must move beyond the basics of identity and probe deeper to understand behaviors. A customer-centric view is the most effective approach.
Customer centricity begins with observing and listening. There are a number of free tools that allow brands to observe and listen to customers and prospects; you can read about listening here.
- Are we talking to customers who are focused on saving time?
- Are they asking questions? Complaining? Offering suggestions?
- How are we making it easier for customers to do business with us?
- Are we paying attention to what they are saying?
A Customer Journey map is one of the best tools for exploring, probing and understanding the customer experience.
Mapping the Customer Journey
A journey map is one of the most effective techniques for monitoring and connecting with prospects and customers throughout the entire experience. Here is more on the subject
The insights gleaned from the mapping process can guide content development strategies, expose process or product deficiencies, and illuminate product development opportunities, to name a few of the benefits.
Here are a few scenarios
As a marketer, think about the implications of who you are talking to in each of these scenarios. These are only sample questions, there are many other questions.
Do we know their preferences? Are we honoring them?
Are we acknowledging their status? For example, American Express has “member since XX” on the front of their cards.
- Can we coordinate their buying experience across all our platforms?
- How are we making it easier to buy and use our products/services?
- Are we effectively using what we already know about this customer?
- Have we asked for feedback?
Are we showing appreciation? Do we thank them? When is the last time we surprised and delighted them?
Do we make it easy for them to share their experience?
- Are we doing everything possible to welcome and encourage them to use our products/services?
- Are we following up to ensure they don’t have questions or comments?
- Is there a way to proactively answer key frequently asked questions?
- Are we sending a survey soon after their purchase?
- Is there a methodology in place to monitor early activation and usage?
- What about the other customers, those who may not be in the top 10%?
- Are there opportunities to provide more products or services?
- Are there questions or issues that need to be resolved?
- Is there a satisfaction survey plan in place?
- Why have they stopped interacting with our brand?
- Is there anything we can do to restart the relationship?
- What can we learn from this experience? Are there processes or service improvements we need to make?
- How can we help?
- Are offering education resources?
- Is our content available on the right social media platforms?
- Are we effectively using images and video to inform and educate?
So where is the best place to begin?
If you haven’t thought about employee engagement strategies, start now. I provided a few questions in the link earlier in this post.
I would suggest assembling a representative team of stakeholders from various functional areas in your company to create a customer journey map. Then identify a list of questions for some basic scenarios similar to those I described above; tailor these to your unique businesses.
Identify personae based on the insights extracted from the data you have. Most importantly, because the new landscape is rapidly evolving, continue to monitor and tweak the process as necessary. Delivering differentiating customer experiences requires collaboration and alignment across the organization.
Relevant and engaging customer connections don’t just happen; they grow when the right message reaches the right audience at the right time. Thinking about the audience and discussing their journey first, will move your brand toward deeper connections adding value and creating experiences worth sharing.
What are other ways to know who you are talking to?