Unpacking the customer experience

How many times have you heard a start-up, or for that matter any organization, say “We are focused on providing the best customer experience”? It’s one of those cool things to say these days – understood in very few cases, and actually followed in even fewer. Which is unfortunate, because a focus on stellar customer experience is the one thing that can really differentiate a product or a service in a competitive market. Think about it – there are very few organizations providing a product or service that is truly unique today, chiefly because information is so commoditized in this digital age. So then the only thing that can set you apart in the mind of consumers and keep them coming back to you is how they feel when interacting with your organization – their experience.

In order to “provide the best customer experience”, we need to first figure out how customers currently experience us. This is where a customer experience map comes in handy (lots of literature online on customer experience maps; here’s one I liked). Building a good customer experience map is no simple exercise. It requires getting your hands dirty, so to speak, and really immersing yourself in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The best and most straightforward way to do this is to become the customer! But there are practical difficulties in this method. If you’re someone senior in your org (which is quite likely, if you’re undertaking this exercise) then it will be hard for you to get an unbiased and unpolished view of the service customers receive when they interact with your org. There are two ways to get around this. First, speak to your customers. Talk to them about their experience at different stages. Be careful to use a wide pool of diverse customers. Also, it is important to have specific questions ready for them if you don’t want the discussion to get sidetracked or be too generic. Second, use a mystery shopper. This is just a fancy term for an unknown outsider who uses your services and then reports back on the experience. Use a trained person for this as it’s not as simple as it sounds, and you need someone who knows what to look for.

A good customer experience map highlights what you’re doing wrong, where you’re alienating the customer, and this information is a crucial starting point in developing a stellar experience. But remember that it’s not just about where you’re screwing up. You will also find out what you’re doing right! And this is important – this tells you why your loyal customers are loyal, and why some people are coming back to you despite the screw ups. This is powerful information – to talk about in your brand communication, and to inspire and rally the team around.

Once you’ve mapped your experience, you’re ready to start working towards making it the best one and the reason that you will be chosen over all others. This is not an easy journey to embark on. It is especially difficult because both marketing and operations need to have joint ownership over this objective – both teams must work hand in hand. And that is never easy 🙂 But if the objectives are clear and the goals of all teams are aligned, the customer experience journey can show remarkable results for the organization.

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