June 23, 2016
The internet has provided modern businesses and consumers with a wealth of opportunities. Businesses can now easily and quickly expand their reach to the entire country, or the world, with a simple website. At the same time, consumer access to products and services has expanded into a global marketplace.
The opportunities for success and exposure are wonderful. The problem now is that it has also expanded the competitive landscape for every industry. Take, for example, the pizza industry. When a customer seeks to order a pizza online, they are immediately presented with every possible option all at
once and in a list. The dynamics of business have changed forever.
In this competitive landscape, businesses must find a way to break through the noise and distinguish themselves from the competition. While there are many traditional strategies to do so, the single most important aspect of any business is its customer experience.
The Customer Experience vs. Customer Service
Not all of us may be familiar with the term customer experience, and it is often mistakenly conflated with customer service. The distinction, however, is clear.
Customer service refers to the customer’s interaction with live representatives of your organization. It could be the candor of your agents in the contact/call center, or the willingness of your team to find resolutions to customer conflicts. Generally speaking, customer service happens at a micro level.
At the macro level, you’ll find the customer experience, of which customer service is only a part. The customer experience involves a holistic opinion of how a customer interacts with the brand.
What’s at Stake?
In the battle for a superior customer experience, the goal is more than a lead, a sale, or even a repeat customer. The prize at stake is customer loyalty. A positive customer experience can and will translate into sales and leads, but in the internet age, brand evangelists can be much more powerful. An exceptional customer experience creates the kind of loyal customers that not only choose your services but also encourage their friends, family, and the wide internet to do the same.
Beyond tearing down barriers of competition in business, the internet gives us unlimited access to the thoughts and opinions of our peers. Review sites like Angie’s List, Yelp, and Clutch.co empower consumers to share their story and impact the thoughts and buying decisions of others.
Ask yourself. How likely are you to choose a company with only one star on Yelp?
Factors Impacting Your Customer Experience
It is important to recognize that not every consumer will care about the same things when dealing with a company. Some consumers are more than willing to pay a slight premium if the product quality is better. Take an inventory of where your customer experience may be weakest, and strive to strengthen those areas.
Here are the seven areas most crucial to a positive customer experience:
- Price: As expected, one of the top influencers to your customer experience is price. If your price is too high, customers will refuse to pay it. Drop the price too low, and the product could be interpreted as cheap.
- Availability: Availability refers to the company’s ability to meet consumer demand. If you cannot provide the product to everyone who wants it or consumers are left on long waiting lists, frustration is sure to follow.
- Convenience: Convenience takes many forms. In the Age of the Customer, consumers expect the option to contact a company in numerous ways. Whether through online forms, social media, voice, or in person, each consumer has their own preferred method of communication. It is the company’s responsibility to provide the consumer with these methods.
- Service/Support: Here is where the traditional term “customer service” falls. To start, train your contact/call center agents to be courteous and disciplined on the phones. From there, map the customer’s journey from initial research of the company to final sale. You should be then able to identify the bottle necks of customer service and devise solutions to speed the process along.
- Quality: Consumers expect the best, and they expect an excellent value. More important than the actual quality of your product is its perceived quality. If a customer believes that it is not worth the price, then it isn’t—plain and simple.
- Cool Factor: There are some products so undeniably cool that they make up for other shortcomings in design and price. For example, Apple products are generally perceived to be more expensive than other competing developers. Yet, when the new iPhone is released, there is, without fail, a line out the door. Apple has an undeniable cool factor, and it creates some of the most loyal customers in business.
- Social Responsibility: Customers want to feel like their money is going to good people. They want to feel like the dollars they spend aren’t just ending up in some executive’s bank account or supporting, for lack of a better word, evil. Some companies have managed to gain a reputation for treating their employees well, donating to charity, or funding social outreach programs. It pays dividends from a positive public perception.
Think Outside of the Box: The OnePlus One Smartphone
Some companies are simply incapable of perfecting each aspect of the customer experience, but that doesn’t mean they cannot still create a connection with their customers. Think outside the box to turn one of your weaknesses into a strength.
A perfect example of this is the OnePlus smartphone developer and manufacturer out of China. Their first phone, the OnePlus One, found tremendous success and penetrated an already crowded market with a completely unknown brand.
Yes, their phones were significantly cheaper than competitors. While that price point did wonders to attract attention, they were handicapped by an insurmountable problem. They were a very small company entering a very large market. There was no possible way they could meet the global demand for the phone. Their response, however, saved the experience.
Instead of a failed wide release, consumers could only purchase the phone if they were invited to do so by the company or someone else who already owned the phone. If a consumer regularly contributed to their online forum, they might earn the opportunity to purchase one. This strategy was then supplemented by the occasional single day open releases of the phone where anyone could order it.
This strategy turned poor availability in exclusivity. An allure began to surround the product. OnePlus successfully inverted their weakness (Availability) into a strength (Cool Factor).
To prove its success, OnePlus recently launched the OnePlus Three, their third phone. Since the initial release, the company has grown large enough to meet the demand, and anyone can now purchase the OnePlus Three without invitation.
This anecdote demonstrates how an interesting maneuver can compensate for any shortcomings an organization may have on paper. A positive customer experience isn’t about hard numbers and statistics. It’s about the customer’s perception of the company. If you can find some way, any way to appeal to your customer base, the rest will fall into place.
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For Further Reading:
[Infographic] Cold Hard Numbers: Social Media Stats on the Customer Experience