The Customer Experience

Where does your customer experience start and stop?

This is one of the most important questions any organization needs to answer in order to be successful. The reality is your Customer Experience begins long before the customer directly interacts with you and it finishes long after you have left. For example, a Customer who books a hotel will talk with friends and probably head online and read customer reviews about the hotel. When they hit the hotel’s website, part of their subconscious judgement of what the hotel is like will be formed by the quality and functionality of its website. Every interaction they then have from the time they decide to go on vacation until a few days after their return will be part of a complete and cohesive experience, including the Customer feedback received by email after the vacation.

Part of the problem organizations face is they think their processes are their Customer Experience. They are not. There is a very big difference between a Customer Experience and a process. I outlined this in a recent blog called ‘Why Journey Mapping Sucks’. For example; a hotel may think of the Customer Experience starting only when a hotel guest hauls their bags to the front desk in the lobby and receives the key cards to their room. This far more limited definition can leave organizations out in the cold when it comes to winning repeat customers as they are only focussed on one small component of their experience.

So, Where Does the Customer Experience Begin?

The best way to think about customer experiences is to think of them as a series of moments that begin well before the customer has made a hotel or flight reservation, and long before you drive to the local grocery store. An experience begins when the customer considers doing those things. For example; when you think, I need more washing powder for the house; I am feeling hungry; I need to travel to Atlanta, etc. In the case of a grocery store experience this may start by you creating a list of what you need over a period of days. Your experience could include making sure you pack bags in your car so you can save the planet and not use plastic bags – something we always forget to do and kick ourselves when we get to the store! Other experiences could start by instinctively going online, to look for special deals, customer reviews and relevant websites. Bad reviews set the stage for the customer to choose another company, or to at least view their time with the reviewed company sceptically.

To win the customer over from the moment a thought process begins gravitating toward a given company, it’s important to create a smooth transition from a thought process to the purchase process. Create a great website that welcomes customers and guides you through every step you’ll need to pursue in order to have a great time. In the case of a hotel, spotlight hotel resources and local amenities that will help to speed their decision-making process and give you confidence about the reservation. By creating a warm, cohesive customer experience even at the very beginning, the stage will be set for more confident and optimistic interactions with staff members later on.

Enhance the Direct Customer Experience with Extra Services

Once a customer has arrived at their destination, you’ll hope the company will go out of its way to court their business and win a positive review. This is one area where companies have a great degree of control over how they’re perceived by customers.

In an attempt to differentiate themselves, organizations are extending where their experience traditionally starts and stops. For example; grocery stores rental car companies like Enterprise that proudly say “We pick you up”, have extended their Customer Experience for competitive advantage.

These services provide extra value to the customer experience, but they also add an element of caring and convenience that shows how much the company ‘gets it’. They make things just a bit easier and, when customers can breathe easier and enjoy themselves more, both sides of the equation are bound to win.

But when does a complimentary service become business as usual?

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that any complimentary services should be offered to customers without catches or drawbacks. The other week I got off a train and decided to call the hotel shuttle to pick me up. 60 minutes later I was still waiting! I was furious but the hotels attitude was ‘we are doing you a favour by picking you up’. I am sorry but you are not. If this is a service you choose to provide it needs to meet my expectations as the Customer. This clouded the remainder of my experience at the hotel.

These extensions of your experience can be pivotal moments of your Customer Experience. If the complimentary grocery store extension of their service is to take the bags to my car and this is undertaken by a friendly associate who really seems to care, then customers are likely to see that as really great service and potentially the highlight of their experience.

This makes it absolutely essential to map out the customer experience from the first moment customers even think about using an organization’s services until the very last time they think of it. Knowing fully what the company provides to consumers, and documenting exactly what they should expect, will allow things to run a bit more smoothly and predictably.

Creating a map of the customer experience also involves accommodating errors and unforeseen circumstances. What if the rental car agent can’t find the customer’s home and ends up being late? What if a shuttle is down for maintenance or is running behind schedule? Things like this are bound to happen, and companies that plan accordingly will be able to manage unforeseen circumstances without sacrificing a customer, or their overall positive experience, in the process.

Use a Moment Mapping Tool to Plot the Perfect Customer Experience

For the best results with new and existing customers, companies should use a service like Moment Mapping. It’s designed to help create a robust and emotionally engaging customer experience from start to finish, with an abundance of complimentary services, friendly faces, and the kinds of things that create positive memories for customers as they head out into the world to tell others about their stay at a hotel, their rental of a car or their preferred local retail store.

Understanding where your Customer Experience starts and stops is essential to designing a great Customer Experience. Where does your experience start and stop?

Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books & recognized Business Influencer by LinkedIn. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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