Customer Experience is maturing. I rarely hear the phrase “customer service” anymore, and most business leaders know what acronyms like CX and VoC mean—without even Googling them.
However, maturing is a verb that indicates a process; it doesn’t mean we’ve completely grown up. In fact, we’re probably somewhere in our teenage years, which, just like that stage of human development, can be awkward and painful.
Over the last year, I’ve seen an increasing number of news stories, blogs, and social posts recounting customer experience initiatives gone awry—from awkwardly executed campaigns to the imposition of “friendlier” lingo. Customers are rolling their eyes, posting comments of incredulity, and poking fun in live broadcasts.
Does the Shoe Fit Your Brand Experience?
While I won’t name names, this is happening to customer experience newbies and more seasoned brands alike. Why are these good intentions being questioned, begrudged, and even mocked?
Simple: Because in our rush to deliver great customer experiences, companies are designing experiences that simply don’t fit their brands. Normally, disconnects between expectation and execution present themselves in the form of a “bad” experience. But inappropriate experiences can come across as contrived, insincere, or just plain silly—and they can hurt a brand as much as those unpleasant ones.
When it comes to customer experience, it’s important that you don’t just try to be “the best,” but that you create and execute experiences that align with your customers’ best expectations. Following are a few important steps every company and CX professional should take to get, and stay, on the right path:
1. Know Who You Are
A brand isn’t just an image, a “look and feel,” or a catchy name. Your brand should capture the essence of who you are and the unique value you offer customers. Most importantly, your brand is a continual negotiation, a dance between your company and your customers. Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit, said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is; it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This doesn’t mean you can abdicate the responsibility of doing the hard work of distilling that unique value and communicating it out. But it does mean that you must know, without a doubt, whether your brand promise resonates with customers.
2. Know What Your Customers Expect
Customers expect different things from different brands. For some, it’s “fast and accurate.” For others, “friendly and helpful” is more appropriate. And for some, “luxury and exclusivity” are baseline expectations. Deviating from these core promises gets brands into trouble. For example, “friendly and helpful” can actually get in the way of “fast and accurate.” Stay focused on delivering what your customers value most.
3. Be Authentic
There is no single formula for CX success because each organization and its relationship with customers are different. Simply imposing another successful customer experience blueprint on your own organization won’t work. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the best, but, if you neglect the important step of adapting rules to the specific needs of your brand and your customers, you’re likely to stumble.
4. Be Deliberate
Great customer experience doesn’t just happen. Identify the “moments of truth” along your customers’ journey that are most critical to their experience, so you can draw them closer at each interaction. And pay special attention to the language you use. Even subtle-sounding misfires, like using the word “guest” instead of “customer” can indicate you don’t understand what customers value from their relationship with your brand. This is not simply a matter of being politically correct. Words matter, so choose wisely.
Listening to customers cannot be something that happens once a year, once a quarter, or even once a month. Set up listening posts at every important touchpoint, provide open forums for customers to share when and how they prefer, and be proactive by listening on social media and other online forums. It’s just as important that you have the right technology in place to make sense of the mountains of customer data—and the organizational commitment to act quickly.
In a blog post late last year, Gartner declared customer experience “the new competitive battleground.” As you embark upon the fight for market share, be wise in the strategies and tactics you deploy. While you should learn from the past, the only sure way to win and keep the hearts, minds and dollars of your customers is to take time to create an authentic environment: one made up of individual experiences that are true to the relationship you want with your customers. And then, push yourself elegantly beyond that goal.