The latest battleground in business is customer experience. Quite simply, consumers are disrupting business at greater rates than technology. And the stakes are higher than ever; research shows 57 percent of customers have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.
“Customers are saying that they want something different from brands they know. Their expectations are different from where they were five years ago, and we’re all taking a page from our lives as consumers,” says Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, a YPO Global Strategic Partner, and author of the newly published book, “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business.”
Bova points to innovative leaders, such as former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, to stress how crucial customer experience is to competing, winning and growing in today’s marketplace. “Jobs said that businesses need to ‘start with the customer experience and then work back toward the technology, not the other way around,’” says Bova.
To thrive in this age of disruption, Bova says, business leaders should follow these six practices.
Being customer obsessed
Your true north should be “prioritizing people over technology.” The goal is to welcome your customers when they arrive, which means you need to stay ahead of their expectations. You don’t need to be Steve Jobs and be years, or even decades ahead, but you want to be far enough ahead that they feel like you’re paying attention to their changing needs.
While you can’t do all of the things the customer wants, you have to find a way to let them know you are listening and make changes where you can. For example, today your customers may want to communicate with you via phone and email only, but you know “chat” or Facebook messenger is right around the corner. Do you build those capabilities today in anticipation of the shift? Or do you wait until they are complaining that you don’t have another way for them to communicate with you outside of phone and email? The former puts you ahead of expectations. These kinds of incremental changes help provide a better overall customer experience and can equate to big payoffs over time.
Experiencing memorable customer service is key
Your brand is the sum of all your touch points. The value of your product or service is measured by how you treat your customer, how timely the service is and how useful, but more importantly, how they feel when they engage with your brand. That can distinguish one brand over another and even allow you to charge a premium. Recent research shows that 80 percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services. “Customers will remember the service long before they remember the price,” explains Bova.
Empowering employees leads to better business
Customer-facing groups such as sales, customer service and marketing must be empowered to do what is best for your customers. They need to understand how their job plays a part in delivering a memorable customer experience. First and foremost, they must believe in the company vision and understand what is expected of them. Teams that work directly with customers must feel engaged and empowered by your corporate culture. Never forget that they are the heartbeat of your business. Your customers will only be as happy as your employees. “When people in your organizations are committed to the excellence and service side, then good things can happen,” says Bova.
Working in silos is counterproductive
Unfortunately, the reality is most customer-facing teams work in silos. When teams are disconnected, metrics are disconnected, and the result is a disconnected customer experience. Customers want to feel like they’re engaged with one company, not separate divisions of the same company. This is completely in the control of the leadership team. You must find a way to connect teams either via reporting structure, key performance indicators (KPIs) or a shared set of customer metrics (such as NPS, CSAT or churn). The best way to collapse the silos is to experience what the other customer-facing teams have to do each day. Take a day per month and sit in on customer service calls. Go out on a sales call and meet clients. Attend a marketing-promotions meeting.
Unlikely partnerships can be way to stimulate innovative ways to engage with customers. Case in point is a new relationship between Amazon, Ford and Starbucks: Recent data shows Starbucks customers use the drive-through more often than going into the storefront for their order. And Alexa, Amazon’s virtual voice assistant, is increasingly becoming a part of many consumer’s lives with daily communication with the device being the norm. With this in mind, Ford is creating a user-faced dashboard in their vehicles equipped with voice-activated technology, so the customer can simply say while driving, “Alexa, ask Starbucks to start my order.” Technology enhances the personal experience with multiple brands in new and unique ways.
Disrupting starts with you
Reset your thinking. It is easy to revert back to old habits but even the smallest pivot can have a huge customer experience impact. But you can’t expect to disrupt the business if you aren’t willing to disrupt yourself. Start with something as simple as moving your Monday meetings to a different day. Or invite someone new to the team meeting to eliminate “group think.” This will bring a unique perspective and you might get one nugget of information from that person you would not get otherwise.