Escape the Sea of Sameness with a Killer Customer Experience (Part 2)

Part 2 in our Creating a Killer Customer Experience Series

In Part 1 of this series, we defined customer experience as 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 a person’s collective experience throughout the entire ecosystem of being a customer

To create a killer customer experience, you need to take time to consider each of the sales channels as well as the various influences in each channel. The factors that influence each customer—and what constitutes a great experience—may vary greatly. Your task is to understand each customer’s consideration funnel so you can then begin to prioritize where you can make the biggest impact with your audience.

The ultimate goal

Customer loyalty is the ultimate goal of any customer interaction. Why? Because loyalty means the customer has an emotional connection with your company or brand and is invested in making the relationship work.

If that sounds a little too touchy-feely for you, rest assured there are plenty of quantifiable reasons to support your drive to develop a killer customer experience.

First, loyal customers are more profitable. According to Gallup, a fully engaged customer “represents an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth.”

Not only are loyal customers more likely to refer others. Those newly referred customers are then more profitable (up to 16%) than non-referred leads. That means every highly engaged customer helps to create a ripple effect of positive momentum, more leads and bigger sales and profits.

So how do we get started?

Start by changing your definition of “customer”

A customer, by the most common definition, is someone who buys the product or service you offer. But to be successful in this effort, we need to extend our definition beyond financial relationships.

In the building products industry, remember that your “customers” are not only those you invoice, but may include audiences like thought leaders, code officials, associations, shareholders, editors and bloggers, designers, installers, and of course, other homeowners who your end customers ask for advice. In fact, each of these “customers” has the potential to influence numerous paying customers over time.

We find that most companies have a general awareness of their many customer touchpoints, but few take the time to sit down and do a thorough audit of the entire consideration process, and what influences each decision along the way.

With our client partners, we use our MarketPath™ approach to map out the various channel audiences and influencers between the brand and its end users. Then we look at the touch points for each audience to understand that unique customer journey.

To map out your own customer touchpoints:

  • What stands between you and getting your product or service into a home or building?
  • Write down every kind of “customer” (paying or not) who plays a role in the consideration process.
  • Think about who or what influences their decision-making, and who they influence in turn.

Create audience profiles

Customer profiling tends to fall into two extremes. At one extreme is the overly vague generalization: “Our target customer is married homeowners, aged 35-49, with household income of $130,000 a year.” This basic demographic information isn’t enough to offer any real insights about the customers’ passions, priorities, purchasing habits or pain points.

At the other extreme is the elaborate marketing persona: “Karl is a divorced 42-year-old middle manager who lives in a house built in 1998, likes to fish on the weekends, shops at Eddie Bauer, Target and Bass Pro, drives a navy blue Jeep Grand Cherokee, and also enjoys running, reading legal novels and playing online poker. He has 2 girls, ages 4 and 7, who share a room and fight over who gets to be Elsa when they play Frozen…”

For many years, these detailed marketing personas were considered the gold standard. These, too, have some notable drawbacks. First, these kinds of personas can take weeks or months of research to do well. As a result, companies (or their agencies) may be tempted to either shortcut the process, making up details based on their own assumptions, rather than actual research. Second, marketing teams may also be tempted to enshrine these expensive creations as permanent artifacts—static and unchanging “truth.” But customers change over time, and so should audience profiles.

Then what’s the right approach?

A practical customer profile has 4 criteria

We believe a good customer profile should cover the 4 F’s:

Functional information – Start with your basic data points. For B2C customers this includes your standard demographics, such as age, income, location and marital status. For B2B customers this may include the type and size of the company, location and areas of focus.

Formative influences – Consider all the spheres of influence at play. Who or what shapes the customer’s decision-making? This may include both direct contact with your brand (touchpoints you control, like your website and advertising) as well as indirect contact (third-party touchpoints you don’t control, like online reviews and competitor messaging).

It can also be helpful to think about other brands the customer may identify with outside of your industry. What do those relationships say about the customer’s identity and priorities? And how do they carry over into the customer’s decision-making in other areas?

Feelings – Where does emotion come into play in the decision process? At what points along the way does your customer feel most excited and connected? When do they feel anxious or uncertain, and what can you do to pave the path to confidence? (We’ll talk about this more in part 3 of this series.)

Flexibility – A recent article in Chief Content Officer magazine points out, “Traditional fixed personas often make the assumption that we can know everything about our audience up front.” But we don’t—and they’re changing all the time.

Be wary of old assumptions and stay open to new information. Profiles shouldn’t be etched in stone, but rather ever-evolving sketches, informed by an ongoing feedback loop with real customers.

If all this sounds overwhelming, here’s some good news. A lot of the information you’re looking for is free and widely available.

Put your ear to the ground

It’s helpful to have some kind of VOC (Voice of Customer) program in place, whether that’s formal surveys or just regular sit-down conversations. But if you don’t (or even if you do), there’s plenty of information available for free, and you’re probably overlooking it.

Today’s customers aren’t shy about sharing their pain points. Start by searching your industry, your brand, and your competitors online, to see what people are saying. Customer reviews and complaint sites abound. Use this free (and often ample) method of market research to understand what the real customer experience is like.

Be willing to put aside any defensive reactions you may have in favor of understanding the larger opportunity it reveals. Complaints are the foundation of a killer customer experience, because they often tell us exactly what needs to be fixed (or at least refined).

As you review customer input, here are some questions to consider:

  • How does your actual customer experience differ from what you hoped or imagined it to be? How does it differ from the ideal experience?
  • Where are the breakdowns in delivering the right information and the best experience of your product or service?
  • What are the key factors that tip the scale in favor of one provider over another?
  • Have you uncovered any new significant influencers?
  • What are common complaints across the industry?
  • What customer needs does that uncover?
  • How can you begin to address those pain points and create an exceptional customer experience that sets you a league apart from your peers?
  • What traits or experiences are most commonly noted in positive comments or referrals?

Identify and profile 5 to 7 key customers

Through the process of deeply understanding your customers’ decision process and pain points, you’ll start to hone in on the areas of greatest need or greatest opportunity.

Your objective is to identify five to seven customers who are key to unlocking those opportunities, and create comprehensive profiles for those customers as part of your strategic planning process.

In identifying your key customer profiles, you may also want to consider the following:

  • What customers feel best-served right now?
  • What customers are not feeling well-served? Why not? Where are the breakdowns?
  • Given your business objectives and resources, is it better to focus on bringing low-performing areas up to par, or to double-down on becoming truly exceptional at what you do best?
  • What influencers have the most sway with your customers?
  • Are there any customer assumptions that are outdated or inaccurate and need to be addressed?
  • What customer or influencer has been most under-served to-date? What is the potential of upside of a better experience for that customer?

This process you use to identify and profile key customers should be similar to the approach you take for scenario planning each year during your strategic planning process.

Just as annual scenario planning gives you the deep and immediate knowledge of your competition to make better business decisions, the process of developing and refining your customer profiles give you the deep customer understanding needed to create and empower truly exceptional experiences.

Next time: Understanding the customer journey

In part 3, we’ll take a deeper look at understanding the customer journey and how to recognize pain points to help you prioritize key interactions. Then in future articles, we’ll cover how to embed a customer experience philosophy into your organization, as well as how to measure and optimize the experience.

Bottom line: Know thy customer

Your brand has more touchpoints than you imagine. But by taking the time to understand all the factors that influence each “customer” along the way (financial or not), you can make strategic choices about where to focus and what to strive for, to create the kind of killer customer experiences that drive your bottom line.

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