"Creating the customer experience edge is most definitely a journey, not a destination," write Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer, and Volker G. Hildebrand, Ph.D., in their book The Customer Experience Edge: Technology and Techniques for Delivering an Enduring, Profitable and Positive Experience to Your Customers. In fact, the authors argue, customer experience should not be considered as an end goal, but as a moving target that is driven by "changing customer behaviors and needs, constant technological improvements, and ever-improving insights culled from analysis of information."
The authors say that while it is imperative to have long-term goals, there are actions that companies can take to get relatively quick results. These are their 10 recommended tactics:
- Kill a stupid rule: Get rid of any processes that hurt customers. "Getting rid of one or more of these rules can quickly and cost-efficiently increase satisfaction immeasurably," the authors say. For example, some years ago Missouri's Commerce Bank of St. Louis adopted this approach, starting with removing the chains on the pens that are provided for customers, making it easier for customers to fill out deposit and withdrawal slips.
- Inject the unexpected: "Adding whimsy is a simple and inexpensive way to give your customer experience a positive vibe," say Soudagar, Iyler, and Hildebrand. They argue that an imaginatively differentiated product or service can be an engaging element of the customer experience-and can encourage recommendations.
- Make a connection: A personal connection creates an emotional bond, regardless of the channel the customer is using. For example, Sports Authority's employees are trained to greet customers within 15 seconds and engage those who would like to have a dialogue about their interests.
- Monitor online sentiment-and respond: Companies should employ a social media analysis platform to monitor what customers are saying about their brands. But they should not stop there. Instead, when they discover an unhappy customer, companies should help him as quickly as possible. "This will go far toward staving off a groundswell of negative opinion," the authors say.
- Think "community": Online communities and forums are invaluable sources of insight. It's essential today to listen to customers' conversations there to gain a better understanding of customers' behaviors, needs, and preferences. Then, companies should make a "cautious foray" into the community, Soudagar, Iyler, and Hildebrand recommend. "Ask if you can help, especially if the group is providing useful peer-to-peer support that would otherwise fall to you. Be prepared to pull back if the group does not welcome corporate participation," they say.
- Source passion internally: The authors recommend mining the organization for customer champions rather than relying on outside experts. "The best data and the insights that you need to carry out customer experience activities are right within your own organization," the authors write. They recommend appointing a customer experience leader and designating him to form and lead a centralized customer experience team.
- Venture outside your industry: "Some of the best innovations in one industry are inspired by ideas from completely different industries," the authors write. They give the example of Ven Bontha, customer experience management director for cement company CEMEX USA, who believes in borrowing ideas about customer experience from consumer-oriented industries like financial services and applying them to his company.
- Conduct frequent customer surveys: Surveying customers they complete a transaction is one way to get more targeted feedback. Quoting Patricia Seybold Group CEO Patricia Seybold, the authors say a great time to ask for feedback is when a customer has just bought something from a company's website. "Customers who are happy with the service provided are likely to decline to participate in a transactional survey. Not so if they are unhappy-they will seize the opportunity to tell you just what the problem was," the authors write.
- Don't reinvent the wheel: Companies are realizing that when it comes to the Web, social media, and online technology, they should take an "if you can't beat them, join them" approach and go where customers already are. For example, Texas electricity provider Reliant Energy established a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Flickr, then anchored these efforts on a centralized website that adds company-generated content and user-generated discussions on topics like energy innovation and energy-saving tips. "This way, customer discussions across multiple social networks are centralized in a single searchable space. In practice, this means that a user-submitted comment or an article on Reliant's Facebook page or Twitter feed becomes available to Reliant users on the energyinyourlife.com site, as well," say Soudagar, Iyler, and Hildebrand.
- Leverage analytics and reporting tools: The authors point out that most companies have "stockpiled" a lot of information in their CRM system. "A quick way to gain a strong lead in customer experience is to use analytics and reporting tools to look at these data," they say, adding that this can be done in a matter of months at a reasonably low cost, but have a real business impact. For example, Best Buy deployed a rapid-results tool early on in the economic downturn because it felt the need to understand why more customers were applying for financing for their purchases, but there also was a drop in purchases costing more than $1,000.
According to Soudagar, Iyer, and Hildebrand, customer experience initiatives are an "ongoing expedition," and the more customer experience victories that a company can score for a small amount of money over a short period of time, the more successful it will be. Moreover, quick-result initiatives will allow employees to see and believe in the benefits of creating a great customer experience, they say.