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Exploring the Customer Experience In-Store & Online

The Importance of Customer Experience to Business and Inbound Marketing

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Sep 26, 2017 8:30:00 AM

This is a 10 minute read.

The Importance of Customer Experience to Business and Inbound Marketing

I bet you love your customers. After all, without them you wouldn't be in business. How much time, though, do you spend thinking about the importance of customer experience in your business? Is it something you consider for your inbound marketing? Is it something everyone in your organization considers regularly?

I ask because customer delight (aka customer experience) plays an integral role in the inbound marketing methodology

And with customers spending ever-increasing time online, waiting practically to the last minute before actually contacting you, if you've not made it part of your business strategy, you could be in trouble.

Ignore your customers' experiences at your own peril.

Customer Love Delivers

Those who actively manage it, as Why Customer Experience Is Important: 7 Reasons details, realize that customer love and delight: 

  1. Improve customer satisfaction
  2. Foster repeat customers and customer loyalty
  3. Increase customer advocacy and referrals
  4. Reduce customer churn
  5. Create a competitive advantage
  6. Increase revenue and sales
  7. Build stronger customer relationships

Definitely worth considering what deep love can do.

Depending on the complexity of your business, implementing a formal customer experience program may seem overwhelming. However, the sooner you get started thinking about it and how it manifests in your business, the closer you'll be to embracing small steps - as I outline at this end of the article, based on a 2011 article published in Hearst's Floor Covering Weekly - and big steps, too.

>> See Is Your Customer Experience Driven To Delight the Mercedes-Benz Way?

Is Your Customer Experience Driven To Delight the Mercedes-Benz Way?
 

Understanding the Customer Journey for your Business 

What helps is understanding the customer journey for your business. You see, customer experience is more than customer service and responding to issues customers may have. It involves every touch point - online, in real life, direct and indirect - you can imagine and need to detail.

As The Importance Of Customer Experience In The Age Of Instant Gratification explains,

"The journey of a customer begins in the foothills of the psyche. A "need" or "want" is crystallized inside the mind -- a vacation, an iPhone, maybe a piece of software. After a search on Google, sorting through a plethora of options and possibly more research, a choice and eventually a purchase or exchange are made. The product or service is received and used. If broken, a fix or refund can be sought in short order. If the experience is good, engagement with the brand continues, with or without feedback. If things go south, the customer may leave and make a fuss or disengage quite passively."

Yes, it can get complicated especially when you are constantly testing and trying to improve, and have the resources to do so.

"By definition, large corporations have figured out a working funnel to direct a customer from "need" to "purchase." The savvy ones devote a wealth of resources and manpower to optimizing every stage and process constantly -- from ads, sponsorships, SEO and social media, to CRMs, user interface (UI), user experience (UX) and APIs, and from sales scripts, retargeting, shopping carts and upsells to payment processing, onboarding, returns and exchanges."

However, it's possible - no, necessary - to spend time mapping out the steps in your customers' journey. Even if it's incomplete, it's a starting point. Think about what triggers awareness, and then the research process, the evaluation of options, the actual purchase decision and then the post-purchase experience with your product or service.

Understand what works, what causes friction and who in your business is most closely involved in each of those touchpoints. Get all of those experiential moments optimized before your competition does.

And realize that the journey can take a very long time depending on what industry your business is in. For my tile and flooring clients, it might take six or more months for customers to reach a buying decision.

>> See Data on Why 'Get Found Online' Matters in Marketing: ZMOT, Pew, GE Capital

Customer Love Delivers Results

The Importance of the Customer Experience to Business Competitiveness

Yes, customer delight represents a strong competitive advantage for your business. Interestingly, it expresses your own company's humanity and empathy. Caring for customers is intrinsically human and how you do it will not be how your competitors do.

However, the whole notion of who your competition is has gotten complicated. 

As The Rules of Competition Are Changing: Customer Experience is Becoming More Important Than Product states,

"The problem is that you aren’t competing only against businesses in your sector or industry anymore. In other words, consumer expectations are constantly changing and evolving based on their experiences with other companies, too. They don’t have different expectations for their interactions with their bank and different expectations for their experience with their dentist, for example. No, if they are constantly and consistently on the receiving end of an amazing customer experience from their dentist, they will eventually expect a similar experience from their bank. In fact, if a “small” service provider like a dentist can provide a great customer experience, they will expect even more from a large company, like a bank."

This quote from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says it all:

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.

You can easily imagine how important customer delight is at Amazon and how it's essentially always in beta and continuously evolving. That's what you should be striving for at your business. Ultimately, that remarkable Amazon experience is affecting the expectations of every single one of your customers, regardless of your business industry.

Employ Empathy

That same article recommends empathy when trying to understand customers:

"...In other words, businesses need to understand customers’ lives from their perspective or viewpoint. On top of that, they need to live the customer journey and not just understand it."

Combine it with Observation

With empathy in hand, commit to carefully observing your customers.

"...Observation is extremely powerful because it can uncover hidden needs, desires and even problems, many of which the consumers themselves aren’t aware of."

Spend time truly walking in their shoes to better understand their world and their expectations so you can not only meet them, but exceed them.

>> See Gazing into the Future of the Customer Experience: 11 Observations

Here's additional advice from Why the customer experience matters on how to tackle customer perceptions:

"Then you... start looking at what are the most important customer journeys. Often the first step is to take one customer journey, think about how you can work on this customer journey from an internal perspective, and then play toward what would be the expectation from the customer side.

Then you get an understanding of where you are, what the aspiration level can and should be.

Then come to a joint understanding, that’s often not so nice, but it’s a little painful problem that you accept.

When you understand where you are in terms of customers and satisfaction, what is the expectation of your customers? Where are you in your current performance?

Organizing Around the Customer Experience

Critical to making customer delight an important part of your business is ensuring that top management is on board, involved and fully committed.

Next, thoroughly analyze the customer journey touchpoints to identify improvement opportunities, cost savings, and new priorities.

Finally, create a feedback loop system so you can communicate progress internally, generate enthusiasm for success and curiosity around continuous improvements.

>> See Customer Satisfaction: Do You Assume or Have you Asked? for just such a process.

The Importance of the Customer Experience to Business Competitiveness

Here is my article published in the August 22/29, 2011 issue of Floor Covering Weekly which includes suggestions on how to communicate the importance of delighting customers in your business.
 

Connecting with Customers as People

By Christine B. Whittemore

Have you noticed a change in how people become customers and how we, as salespeople, connect with them? 

It used to be that potential customers would start the knowledge or discovery process with us, in our stores. We educated them, provided them with resources and guided them through the process that our store or showroom offered.

Now, they have become self-guided, starting at an Internet search window and gathering information from friends, wikis and websites.  When ready for a real-life experience, they come armed with resources – often NOT from our sites. Because those resources have nothing to do with us, the in-store relationship building automatically starts out rocky, with customers feeling suspicious and on the defensive. How can they trust us when we can’t even document for them what to expect from doing business with us? Aren’t we experts? What are we hiding?

Imagine instead if they came to our doorstep wanting to discuss their floor covering project with us, eager for our perspective, demanding suggestions and already trusting us.

It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s quite possible.

Particularly if you consider how your online presence helps you connect with customers -as people - who are looking for solutions that you can help them with. If you do so convincingly, not only does your website work 24/7 for you, but potential customers come to your store prequalified, they don’t doubt your expertise, and are ready to talk to, and buy, from you. You immediately understand where they are in the buying process - thanks to the materials and resources you created for them and referred them to – and you proactively provide them with relevant FAQ answers. From your testimonials and online reviews they know you are reputable and well established in the community. They trust you!

Six Steps that Say 'I love you' and Communicate the Importance of Customer Experience in your Business

Six Steps that Say 'I love you' and Communicate the Importance of Customer Experience in your Business 

Here are six steps for getting started in connecting with customers as people.

1. Listen to your customers.

Listen intensely in-store and online to what customers say about you, your product category and your products. (Understand the problems they worry about and may encounter so you can help them avoid those issues.)  Don’t forget to check forums or online discussion groups for perspective.

2. Rewrite your website content.

Rewrite the content on your website so it speaks to your potential customers as if you were speaking with them face-to-face and responding to their specific questions and needs.  Use the language they use. Think conversation and offer solutions.

3. Include on your website pictures of your people.

As social animals, we like to interact with people rather than faceless entities. Flaunt your people! Identify them, explain their role, and include their contact information. (This goes to the empathy observations above.)

4. Be sure to answer your customers’ questions in FAQs or blog posts.

Blog posts and FAQs are extremely effective for responding to customer questions. How best to show love than by listening and providing value in response?

And, then, anticipate what they haven’t asked so you can be prepared with responses. Have a tip sheet on how to make a kitchen flooring installation pain-free and another on how to take care of the floor.

5. Obtain testimonials.

As a matter of course, invite reviews and testimonials and add them to your site. Testimonials offer ‘social proof’ that we are valued and worth doing business with. Invite satisfied customers to rate you on Yelp or on your Google My Business page. Don't ignore this. Don't wait for a bad review to do something. 

6. Hang out where your customers might be.

You have many options: Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, the local soccer match, the Chamber of Commerce meeting, Angie’s List. If you aren’t sure, ask. Be sure you’re hanging out with them to be helpful and responsive, to listen and observe rather than to immediately make a pitch.

Your goal in all of this is to connect with customers as people and build relationships with them first so you can sell later. The more you understand your customers and their world, and reflect that in your online presence and content, they better you will be able to create that connection that brings them into your store pre-qualified and wanting to do business with you.

Think ‘winning friends and influencing people’.

How Important is the Customer Experience to your Business?

What's your response to the importance of customer experience? How do you generate commitment within your organization? How do you integrate it with your inbound marketing? What successes have you seen?

Thanks for reading!

Christine B. Whittemore

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Topics: customer experience

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