Customer experience, often abbreviated to “CX”, is often touted as the most important element of any business. It refers to the entire journey a customer makes from the moment they become aware of your business right up to today. The whole journey should be as effortless as possible and provide a happy experience that emotionally connects the customer to the brand.
In this post, we delve into what customer experience is, why it is so important, how to measure it and how to map it. We look at how to design an ideal customer experience. There are also 17 steps that may help you improve customer experience and boost business.
Table of Contents
- What is Customer Experience?
- Is Customer Experience the Same as Customer Service?
- Six Things That Cause Bad Customer Experiences
- How Important Is the Customer Experience?
- Why Is CX Important for Your Business?
- How to Measure and Analyze Customer Experience
What is Customer Experience?
So basically, Customer Experience is the combination of every interaction a customer has with your business. Being in business is sometimes like being in a rock and roll band; you are only as good as your last gig. Years and years of providing excellent customer experience and winning customer loyalty to your brand can be ruined with only one bad experience.
The customers’ first experience with your business often starts with some form of advertising. It might be a television advertisement, a banner on a website, an email, a message on a hot air balloon, or even better, word of mouth from a friend recommending your brand. From this moment, the customer is building a perception of your business.
They may next choose to get their phone out and Google your business name or look up your business number and give you a call. Being at the top of the search engine results page means they can easily find your site – excellent customer experience. Plus, they find your business before other similarly named ones. If they are looking for your number, it might mean you are a service provider (tree surgeon, mobile mechanic, carpet fitter, etc.) and they want to phone you to arrange a quote. Having your Google business page completed means your contact and other business details appear at the top of the page. Easy to find – easy to call – great customer experience.
So, you can see that the customer experience has started even before first contact. In fact, get this part of the experience wrong and there likely won’t be a first contact.
From that first contact, you must max out your customer experience. And this is where your customer service skills come in.
Is Customer Experience the Same as Customer Service?
No. Customer service is just one part of the customer experience. Imagine you call a hotel to make a reservation. The guy on the phone is great, he’s helpful, extra polite and he even tells you about a special promotion that saves you a few bucks on your booking and gives you a free scenic local train journey. You put the phone down feeling all rosy inside and happy you chose that hotel. This is customer service. The guy on the phone had great customer service skills.
The following week, the train tickets arrive in the mail two days early along with a thank-you message and a free complimentary sunset drink voucher for the hotel-exclusive rooftop garden bar. The day before you set out you receive a text message wishing you a safe and pleasant journey. It also includes reservation details and the phone number to call, should you have any problems on the way. This is customer experience. The hotel offers a great customer experience.
The hotel has exceeded customer expectations every step of the way, and the customer is feeling pleased, reassured, happy and confident that they are going to have a great time.
But just one bad experience can ruin all of this hard work instantly. You are only as good as your last gig. So, what can lead to a bad customer experience?
Six Things That Cause Bad Customer Experiences
The list is almost endless, and this is why customer experience is so tricky. Let’s look at some commonly recognized customer experience blunders.
Waiting for a long time
We all hate waiting for things; after all, our time is precious. The main gripes include:
- waiting for a few seconds longer than normal for a webpage to load
- waiting for someone to answer the phone (check out NetLines Auto-Attendant Service)
- waiting on hold when the call is transferred
- waiting for items to be delivered
- waiting for documents or paperwork
- waiting to be served in the shop
- waiting for an order
So, don’t keep your customers waiting!
Not Being Understood by Business Representatives
This is deeply annoying and frustrating. The person on the other end of the phone or the other side of the counter doesn’t know what you mean by “the blue widget thingy that goes in the what’s-it-called square thingy doodah,” so they sell you the wrong widget and you find it doesn’t fit the square thingy doodah. You must go back and try again to explain what you need. This time you take the doodah with you to show the idiots behind the counter.
Poor Handling of Issues or Queries
This is the chief role of your Customer Service team. They are there to answer any questions and handle any issues customers have. Having a problem with a product is never a good thing for a customer to have.
How you deal with this situation is critical. Handle it well and the customer can become a lifelong advocate for your business. Handle it poorly and they will ask for a refund, never shop with you again, and tell anyone who will listen (particularly on social media) how utterly terrible your business is.
Impersonal or Automated Processes
You’ve pressed 1 for the Sales team, pressed 3 for the New Orders Department, pressed 7 for Oregon, pressed 2 for the downtown store and now have to enter your account number and date of birth. You are transferred to an answering machine that has a garbled message about placing your order along with the item number and quantity after the tone. You hang up wondering whatever happened to John who used to answer the phone and knew you liked Cherry Garcia ice cream!
Lack of Personalization
After spending what seems like the national debt of a small country with this company, you have received multiple orders over several years, but you still don’t know anyone’s name in the company. What’s even worse, after calling every Monday morning to place an order, they still ask your name, date of birth, customer reference number and delivery address. You feel undervalued and just part of a big machine. They wouldn’t notice if you shopped elsewhere because they don’t even know who you are.
The Business Representative is Rude, Inappropriate or Angry
Everyone has a bad day, but it’s not your fault that the guy on the end of the phone crashed his car on the way to work or has just had a pay cut. He takes your order for widgets and just hangs up at the end without so much as a “thank-you”. When your partner calls to add more widgets to the order, they are referred to as “sweet cheeks” as they hang up.
The following day the delivery driver is fuming mad with everyone because the traffic is so bad, and they slam the boxes down on your doorstep and storm off to the next delivery. When you open the box, all the widgets are smashed and useless. The following week you place your order with the other widget company who are grateful for your purchase.
How Important Is the Customer Experience?
Extremely. Any business needs customers to survive. This is why most businesses spend a good chunk on marketing. We all know that good marketing leads to a lot of customers. Each one of these customers costs you a pretty penny in marketing fees.
But the best customer in the world is the one who buys your products or services time and time again, year in, year out. Even better, if they love your business so much that they tell their friends and family about it! That’s free advertising of the highest quality– a personal recommendation from one friend to another.
This customer is likely to keep coming back for the rest of their life unless a bad experience changes their love for your brand. So, you have paid your marketing fees, attracted the customer, and sold to them (not just once but several times) AND they have done your advertising for you!
So how do you compete against your competition when your products or services are almost identical? Outperform the competition on the customer’s journey. Make the customer’s experience with you an absolute pleasure.
If your customers have a terrible experience with you, they are unlikely to use you again and very likely to tell everyone how bad it was. And that bad publicity cannot be countered easily by increasing the marketing budget. The damage to your brand is done.
Why Is CX Important for Your Business?
Because you want to hang on to your customers. You have spent all of that marketing budget on winning new customers; you don’t want them to be one-hit wonders, you want them to be serial purchasers. You want them to have your number on speed dial, your website in their bookmarks and your brand name etched into their memory in the way Hoover was with vacuum cleaners.
It is harder to sell new customers high-value goods. Most sales funnels include a first sale that is of low value and low (if any) profit. It’s easier to sell high-value items to customers that have already had an excellent buying experience. If you fail to impress on the first sale, you have likely lost the important high-value repeat purchases later down the funnel.
In the world of continuous customer reviews (think Trip Advisor or Google reviews), those five gold stars can be the make or break of a business. Do you book a hotel that has only one- or two-star reviews? I don’t! You might have millions of 5-star reviews, but new customers will always be curious why someone left the only one-star review. Most people read the poor reviews first, and if there are too many they simply bounce and look at the next search result.
You see, you cannot afford a poor or even mediocre customer experience. Otherwise, your marketing budget is going to be sky-high to continuously win new clients. Winning those clients is going to become increasingly harder as you receive only poor-to-average reviews. You are going to lose the opportunity for the high-valu, repeat sales that could follow.
How to Measure and Analyze Customer Experience
As with many things, one of the first steps towards improving your customers’ experience is to measure your existing performance. There are several metrics you can use, and it’s a good idea to look at more than one for a more holistic approach.
Customer Effort Score
After your customer has interacted with your business, send out a Customer Effort Survey. This is to measure how easy it was for your customer to achieve their goal. It might be making a purchase, returning an item, booking a room, taking delivery of a product etc.
Net Promoter Score
The Net Promoter Score reflects customer loyalty. Ask the question “How likely are you to recommend our business/products to a friend?” This metric measures the customers’ overall impression of your business.
Customer Satisfaction Score
This is used after a specific part of the sales process. It might be used after the order process has been completed or after a complaint has been dealt with.
Time to Resolution
This is used to measure customer frustration levels when dealing with issues and complaints. The lower the average score the lower the frustration and the less chance of those damaging one-star reviews.
The most often forgotten question. “Why?” can be asked after all the previous questions. It’s open-ended and collects qualitative data that allows the customer to explain exactly how they feel and why they feel it. It can identify previously unconsidered issues and help greatly in honing your customer experience.
17 Steps to Improve Customer Experience (CX)
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to improve your customer experience. Some of these may not apply to your business model, others may need to be shifted up or down the list to suit your processes.
1. Determining Existing Customer Profile
You need to know who is already buying what you are selling. Profiling your customers will help you identify their needs.
For example, a tech-savvy millennial is likely to be fine watching a product tutorial video on TikTok whereas your grandad might need a traditional user manual. Addressing Grandad as a Sir or Mr might be more appropriate whereas a teenager could be more comfortable with their username or handle.
2. Mapping Existing Customer Journey
Hire someone to run some real purchases through your systems. Start at the very beginning of the process and map the experience right up to the end. Have them make complaints, return goods, change orders, cancel orders, ring your office, email you, write you a letter, go to your showroom etc. Get them to make records of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Talk to your staff. They will know the pinch points, the repeated complaints, the things that don’t work well and the things that do. Listen to them and record all of the information.
Think about all of the stakeholders involved. This includes your staff, third party couriers, suppliers, packagers, anyone who is involved in the customer experience. Ask how they impact the customer experience.
Then draw it all in a flowchart. Highlight the nasty bits and the best bits.
3. Envisioning the Ideal Customer Journey
Now draw the ideal customer journey flowchart. You might need to consult people in your customer demographic for their ideas and preferences.
Think about the different stages in the process and include things like repeat sales or upselling products. Post-sale experience is just as valuable as pre-sale experience. A great post-sale experience can lead to further sales. Sometimes a simple “thank you for your business” note is all it takes. Again, consider all the stakeholders and how they interact to deliver the perfect customer journey.
Also, consider how automation can help. Compare what you deliver with your competition. You might sell the exact same widget but having a better customer experience will win you the repeat sale.
4. Measuring Your Current Performance
Benchmark your current performance by collecting data using the customer experience metrics discussed above. Compile the data and use this as the baseline for minimum performance.
5. Setting Realistic Performance Goals
Now you know your current performance and you have a vision of your ideal customer experience. You can now begin to form a strategy to achieve your ideal. Break it down into small steps. Identify easy wins and major obstacles, and form a priorities list.
Some changes will be quick to implement, others will have a longer time frame. Set achievable goals and monitor performance regularly. Make sure you stay on track.
Also factor in things like new technology and scalability. If your customer experience improvements succeed, you need to be ready for a growth in business. Don’t let this expansion detract from customer experience.
6. Optimizing the CX
Now it’s time to start eliminating those pinch points, repeated complaints and the other bad and ugly bits identified in your customer experience mapping. The first thing is to cure the existing ills, as these are often quick wins or “low hanging fruit.” Once you’ve ironed out your existing process, you can start adding stages to the journey or introducing new procedures or technology to boost the customers’ experience.
7. Maintain Good Brand Message
Make sure everything your customers see carries the same brand message. Your message should convey your brand’s values and ethos. It should communicate your core services and products and their purpose and value. All of your copy should be customer-centric and about how you can help them improve their lives. You need to use language that’s appropriate for your target audience demographic.
8. Using Technology to Help
Some simple technology can help iron out those pinch points. For example, imagine your phone lines are often clogged up with people asking about your store opening hours. A simple Auto Attendant message at the start of the call answering process could give the opening times immediately before then asking them to select which department they want.
The customer has an immediate answer and is okay to hang up. Your virtual receptionists are free to help other customers with more pressing issues. Chatbots also provide a valuable service answering common questions. Just make sure a human is also on hand to help with advanced issues.
9. Team Training for Better Customer Support
Train your team. Once you have your ideal customer experience mapped out, you need to convey this to the team. Show them where you are now and where you need to go. Explain the benefits to them (job security, business growth, promotion, bonus etc.). Have them all learn your key company values and principles.
Omnichanneling involves combining all of your communication channels into one massive, unified customer experience. Think of how you communicate. It might include some or all the following:
- Social media
- Shop or retail outlet
- Online sales platforms like Amazon and eBay
- Local press
It’s likely you already have a multichannel experience. Each channel might have little or no connection with the other channels.
So, for example, a customer looks at the website, finds a product and locates the nearest store. They trip into town to visit the store and see if the product fits. The product is out of stock and is an end of the line product. The store in the next city has one left but that’s 55 miles away. The customer leaves the store without purchasing, can’t be bothered to drive another 55 miles, goes home and never looks at the site again as “they never have anything I want in stock.”
If the website was connected to the store’s stock inventory, it would have recommended visiting the other store and a sale is more likely to have occurred.
11. Listening to Staff Feedback
No one likes dealing with angry or frustrated customers. It makes for a bad day at work. Your staff will know the cause of most complaints. Listening to their problems will help you identify sticking points in the customer experience and make the staff feel valued. Don’t just do this once a year like you might for an employee review. Do it all the time. Have a facility to enable all employees to feedback problems and possible solutions.
This also enables you to monitor how staff feel towards the business. Happy employees = happy customers and vice-versa.
12. Actively Hunting Customer Feedback
Your customers will not tell you about your mediocre service or products. They will tell you about their terrible experiences with your company. This is very useful as you can ensure it doesn’t happen again.
They might tell you about the excellent customer experience they had with you. This is very rewarding, and all compliments should be shared with the whole team.
Not many people, however, leave a review for something average. It doesn’t warrant their time to tell you that you scored 6 out of 10 with them. But this is the feedback that you need. You cannot afford to be average because your competition will out-experience you and win your customers for themselves.
You must actively seek customer feedback at all parts of the customer journey. Listen to them, understand them and act on their ideas. And then show them that you acted on their ideas. Suddenly they have been listened to, feel valued and have some emotional connection.
13. Create Emotional Connection with Customers
The best customer experiences involve the customer making an emotional connection with the business. Emotionally engaged customers are three times more likely to repeat-buy, three times more likely to advocate your business, twice as likely to stay loyal and one third would need a 20% discount to switch brands. So, tap into those emotions and win a customer for life. It could be as simple as sending them a birthday card.
14. Research Competitors to Assess Their Customer Care and Out Care Them
This isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how many businesses don’t do competitor research. Buy something from your direct opposition. Map your customer journey with them. What do they do better than you? What do you do better than them? Now aim to “out care” them.
15. Regularly Monitor Performance
Keep regular tabs on your performance. Build a review process into your operations playbook. Make sure you use the results of the reviews. Compile the data and analyze it. Find patterns and trends, and use that knowledge to enhance your customer journey.
16. Review Performance and Further Adjust the Customer Journey
Go back to the goals you set and review the changes made in the customer experience.
- What feedback have you received about the changes?
- Do you need to review the experience?
- Has there been an external influence or natural progression that means you need to shift the focus of the experience?
Maybe you have a new product with a different target audience demographic or maybe technology has improved, and it offers you a chance to exploit the development.
17. Regularly Assess Your Customer Demographics to Identify Any Changes
It is a part of natural development that people change with age. Your business will also change with time.
For example, it’s now common to find 40-year-old online gamers, a demographic that barely existed 10 years ago. Even more surprising, the percentage of gamers aged 55 – 64 grew by 32% from 2019 to 2021. So, if you don’t keep tabs on your customer demographic you could miss out on a massive share of the pie.
Last Thoughts About Ways to Improve Customer Experience
On July 5th, 1994, some guy started selling books from a garage in Washington. On July 21st, 2021, Jeff Bezos blasted off into space aboard his own rocket and had his “best day ever.” On landing, Bezos thanked “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer. Because you guys paid for all this.”
Love him or hate him, Bezos has got to where he is today by focusing on customer experience. He started with a mission to deliver “any book, anywhere on earth.” He patented the “1-Click” technology that lets customers purchase online with one mouse button click. His loyalty program includes two-day free shipping on any order. His “Prime” now has 100 million members. Amazon now delivers on Sundays so you can be home to take the delivery. During the pandemic, Amazon said its sales grew 37% compared to the same period in 2019, to $96.1 billion, and profit increased 197% to $6.3 billion.
Throughout all this Amazon has been driven by Bezos’s intense focus on the customers’ experience. As he said:
“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer. Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company.” – Jeff Bezos
Well, it seems to have worked alright for Jeff!