July 16, 2021

What Makes a Great Customer Experience?

You know great customer experience when you see it.

We’re talking services that make you feel valued, products you’d think were designed just for you, and easy, enjoyable solutions that exceed expectations.

But let’s face it, defining precisely what it is that separates the “great” from everything else is harder than you might think.

In these next few sections, we’ll nail down what defines a good customer experience and share some examples of organizations getting it right.

Consistent, Cross-Channel Experiences

Consistency builds trust by demonstrating to customers that they can count on a brand to keep a promise, from providing great products/services to accurate information.

Established trust also makes it easier to launch new products and achieve market penetration. Customers are willing to try something new if they’ve had positive experiences with your brand in the past. Conversely, inconsistency across experiences and channels is a source of frustration for customers.

Take, for example, Hearst. You have this fabulous, high-end print magazine with top-tier editorial and beautiful photography. Visit the website, and you’ll have a completely different experience. Sure, you’ll still find good web design, but you’ll also see a ton of ill-timed popups, sponsored content, and low-quality ads.

The customer communications aren’t quite right. Their voice, content, and publishing cadence feel more tabloid than high-fashion. While it might not impact subscriptions or traffic, the disconnect between physical and digital isn’t a good look. Customers could get the impression the magazine is in trouble and subscribe to a different publication instead.

Great customer experiences start with a deep understanding of what customers need at different points in their journey. That way, brands can optimize each touchpoint by offering tailored, personalized experiences to get the desired emotional response.

To become a truly customer-centric company, you must intentionally design and define the emotional journey around your product/service as well as your entire brand. It’s when you’re able to gain that level of control that you’re able to make informed decisions and adapt to new needs—just as customers discover them.

But, before organizations can get to that point, they’ll need to start with a clean, connected data ecosystem. From there, they can begin mastering the multi-channel experience before tackling “omni.”

As more touchpoints and communications platforms enter the fold, it becomes harder to stay in control of the journey.

Relationships Come First

CX is measured against various KPIs, such as engagement, referrals, and conversions. But brand recognition and other intangibles shape customer perception. Organizations must focus on building a strong identity and managing their reputation to ensure a great CX. Perception is often more important than reality.

Many brands focus on managing their reputation via social listening, sentiment analysis, review generation, and customer support. But, often, that approach is more reactive than proactive.

The problem is, addressing problems as customers encounter them places the burden on the customer. Instead, try to focus on preventing problems and continuously delivering long-term value to consumers.

Look at Tesla. They’re constantly using customer feedback to create a safer, better car experience.

Improvements are then offered to all customers, not just the ones purchasing the latest model. For example, when the company changed the design of their seats, existing customers were given the option to upgrade at no extra cost.

Harmony Between Humans and Machines

AI and automation are meant to be used as tools for extending human capabilities—allowing them to save time and make fewer errors—to help customers solve problems and achieve goals.

Yet, companies often fail to consider how to use both types of talent best. Typically, this comes at the expense of the overall experience.

Chatbots are a perfect example. Generally, people like them—when they’re helpful. Meaning, they’re able to surface relevant answers using behavioral data/past interactions—and understand when it’s time to bring in human reinforcements. But, at the same time, chatbots have a bad rep for clunky, canned responses and an inability to understand users in context.

The problem isn’t the technology. It’s the misuse of that technology.

Say your customer service team is overwhelmed with requests. It’s dragging down your average resolution time, and frustrated customers are jumping ship. In this situation, you might automate low-value tasks so that agents have more time for more complex cases requiring soft skills AI hasn’t quite mastered yet.

Think—helping a customer behind on payments due to COVID or answering questions about a serious diagnosis—situations where a bot can’t provide what that person needs.

In this Amazon panel discussion, experts recommend starting with three basic use cases:

  • Processing information requests. Providing information like tracking numbers, account balance, or surfacing relevant content to guide customers through the sales cycle.
  • Efficient routing. Capturing the data that ensures requests are directed to the right person.
  • Task completion. Assisting customers with self-serve tasks like updating an address or booking an appointment.

From there, organizations can work toward automating more complex service tasks.

Great Employee Experiences (EX) and Great Customer Experiences Are Closely Connected

Zendesk and ESG recently published a joint report that looked at what CX leaders at top companies do to drive business success from inside their organizations.

Researchers found that “champions” consider CX a critical priority and invest heavily in ensuring that customer-centricity is embedded into every aspect of their business. That means not only customer service and sales but also product development, IT, and accounting.

According to CX expert, Shep Hyken, delivering a great customer experience is everyone’s job. Each role impacts the customer—whether we’re talking front-end support or back-end product development. So, it only makes sense that training should focus on how each person contributes to the same big-picture plan.

Hyken states that organizations often focus too much on developing CX on the front lines, at the expense of those working behind the scenes to design, build, and deliver solutions to end-consumers.

3Pillar Global’s Kathryn Rosaaen shares an example from a recent visit to a high-end retail store.

She says, “I witnessed a sales rep pre-emptively warn a customer that their system was so slow and outdated, it might take longer than expected.” She also added that the warning was delivered with no smile. Sure, it’s possible the salesperson isn’t especially friendly. But, it’s more likely that the rep has been worn down by interacting with angry customers because they don’t have the right tools. And in that case, the best solution is to be transparent about their shortcomings.

If you’re a high-end store, why wouldn’t you invest in a better service experience?

On the other hand, look at a company like Starbucks. Have you ever visited one of their stores and not received fast, friendly service? Part of it is, Starbucks invests in proper training and pays their employees fairly—meaning they end up with people who know how to make the drinks and feel invested in doing a good job. Additionally, they also understand that the technology is just as important—it allows them to move faster and ensure customers get what they ordered—no matter how many extra syrups they add to the mix.

Case in point: visit the Starbucks counter at your local grocery store, and you’ll see the same menu and merch, but the experience just isn’t the same. You might get a barista that hasn’t yet mastered certain drinks—and understandably, the wait is long, and the latte seems a bit… sloppy.

The difference is, these employees often work by themselves, use the store’s POS, and lack the ongoing training and support offered at the company-run locations. Ask Starbucks employees about the app they use to fulfill orders, and they’ll start gushing about the features that make their job SO much easier.

That investment has also paid off for Starbucks. The mobile app allows customers to earn and redeem loyalty points and is so successful that nearly half of all app users are part of the loyalty program, and at one point, it held more money than a lot of banks.

The point is, the employee experience is just as important as the customer experience.
It’s time to start thinking of front-line employees as brand ambassadors. Whether online or in-person, they have the power to lift your brand or take it down by sharing their opinion.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that great customer experiences drive loyalty, growth, and a big boost to the bottom line. But great CX doesn’t happen on its own.

3Pillar builds custom software products with a laser focus on customer outcomes. We’ll help you create value, boost revenue, and grow an army of customers that stick around for the long haul.
To learn more about our services, contact an expert today.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

LinkedIn Angel Almada

LinkedIn Kathryn Rosaaen

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.

Customer Experience (CX)
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