Escape the Sea of Sameness with a Killer Customer Experience

Part 1 in our Creating a Killer Customer Experience Series

The experience begins the moment the box arrives on your doorstep. Disney’s MagicBands are delivered to your home, each rubbery bracelet personalized with the color, name and character of your choice.

They really do seem like magic

MagicBands are your paperless ticket for the airport shuttle and the keyless entry to your hotel room. At each theme park, touch your bracelet to Mickey’s image on a metallic post and it glows green to grant entry. Inside the park, MagicBands let you get snacks and souvenirs without cash, access express lanes for rides reserved in advance, and in some eateries, allow pre-ordered food to appear magically at your table. Behind the scenes, the bands enable park operators to monitor park traffic in real time, and ease congested areas with a spontaneous event.

It’s all seamless and amazing. And yet it was a huge risk

This was unprecedented technology. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of ways it could go wrong. It was going to cost a billion dollars to implement. And it’s not like Disney was hurting for name recognition.

Why would one of the most iconic brands on the planet spend $1 billion to fix what didn’t seem to be broken? two words: Customer Experience.

Customer experience—more than characters, theme parks or merchandise—lies at the center of the Disney mystique, and its success.

Every business creates a “customer experience” whether intentional or not. Some, like Disney, choose to make it a priority to make theirs exceptional.

Today, the most successful companies are increasingly aware of the importance of a complete customer experience to drive and differentiate their business. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a small local business, a great experience, delivered consistently, is the most powerful way to drive customer loyalty. And customer loyalty is the most impactful way to drive profitability. (It’s worth noting that Disney boasts a 70% return rate for first-time visitors.)

So then, why are so many companies still stuck in the sea of sameness?

Despite their best efforts, why do so many companies find themselves delivering the same products, with the same service platform, the same marketing approaches, the same value proposition and hiring the same type of sales reps as the competition?

Frankly, it can be hard to know where to start

Because the customer experience is so all-encompassing, it can be difficult to find even a standard definition of it, much less a systematic process for knocking it out of the park. So let’s start with the definition.

What exactly is customer experience?

Despite how often we hear the term customer experience today, it’s hard to find a precise and commonly accepted definition. For some, “customer experience” implies face-to-face interactions while others use it to refer to the user experience across a brands’ digital properties. These definitions aren’t incorrect. But they are incomplete. Both of those elements are parts of a larger, more comprehensive experience.

Customer Experience is the comprehensive experience a customer (B2B or B2C) has with your brand

It is the sum-total of every conceivable touchpoint where a customer may engage with your company and brand. It is not just one point in time, but rather their experience throughout the entire ecosystem of being a customer.

You are creating a customer experience today whether you know it or not

If it is not purposeful or if you aren’t setting expectations of your organization, the experience is probably very different at multiple touchpoints inside and outside your organization. This different execution drives confusion and doubt, which ultimately can cause abandonment, either of the purchase all-together, or at least of your brand being the one purchased.

Every time a customer encounters your brand, it creates an impression

What does a customer experience when he visits your website? Sees an ad? Reads a customer review? How does she feel after visiting a showroom or talking to a sales rep? After talking to other customers? What’s it like to shop for, buy, install and use your products? What’s it like for the customer when there’s a question or a problem?

Every one of those impressions has the potential to satisfy, to disappoint or to delight your customer

And all those impressions add up to an overall feeling about your brand that has a direct impact on how that customer will act when it’s time to review your company, refer others and return (or not) to work with you again.

But chances are you know this part already

You don’t need a fancy term to describe it, it’s just good business. Of course you don’t want to disappoint your customers. Of course you want to over-deliver and delight them so they become loyal customers and enthusiastic advocates for your brand. So why isn’t it happening?

You just don’t know how to do it any differently

Because you can’t be everywhere at once. You can’t exceed expectations all the time. Heck, a lot times it’s hard enough just to meet customer expectations, much less surprise and delight them, given how fast everything is changing around you.

And that’s why we get stuck muddling in the middle

If you’re trying to be exceptional everywhere, chances are you won’t be exceptional anywhere. When you’re trying to do everything, you’re spread too thin. It’s all you can do to maintain parity, or, if you’re really good, to make some incremental gains. You get stuck in that sea of sameness—working hard and doing good work, but constantly struggling to create a really memorable, and measurable, distinction from the competition.

Fortunately, you don’t need Disney’s business model, or its deep pockets, to create a magical customer experience of your own, and set your business apart.

You just need to know what to focus on—how to use the resources you have to improve your customer experience in a way that helps you outperform your industry. And that’s where the real magic happens.

Over the course of this series, we’ll cover the 4 parts of creating a killer customer experience:

  • Define and profile the customers you want to engage.
    Take the time to understand how your product moves through the sales channel. Identify the customers and influencers at each step along the way. Then evaluate and prioritize those audiences.
  • Understand their journey and pain points to prioritize key interactions.
    Walk in their shoes. Get an accurate baseline of what it’s really like to be your customer. Then zero in on key opportunities where you can really shine.
  • Embed the philosophy into your organization.
    Customer experience extends well beyond sales and so must your philosophy. You can only deliver on a truly differentiated experience when it’s fully ingrained into your company culture.
  • Measure and optimize the experience.
    Now that you have a baseline, keep measuring. Listen frequently and carefully to feedback. You’ll find opportunities to remove friction, and to surprise and delight your customers.

Ready? Let’s make some magic

Companies that successfully create an extraordinary customer experience will see dramatic business results, not only for themselves, but also for their suppliers and the customers they serve. As Disney’s enduring example demonstrates, delivering on this promise requires a sustained, specific focus.

With the right approach, you can prioritize key touchpoints to create deep engagement with your team, your suppliers and your customers. In future articles, we’ll discuss these topics in more detail, sharing simple, actionable insights you can use to move the needle for your business.

Originally published in Remodeling online October 5, 2016.

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