Three Ways to Improve the Customer Experience

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
MBA student Breanna Vanstrom offers a fresh perspective on customer experience issues.

The goal of CRM should be to make business more relevant to consumers. So says Breanna Vanstrom in her research paper, Utilizing Customer Experience Management to Build Stronger Customer Relationships. "So many companies say they're providing a good experience, but many aren't," says Vanstrom, an MBA student in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. "If you're not meeting customer expectations, you're breaking down trust and the relationship. Companies need to honestly take a look at the customer experience they provide, and not just look at survey data. They need to take the time to understand what [customers] want."

Vanstrom's research paper was an assignment in the University's Customer Relationship Marketing course, taught by Peppers & Rogers Group's 1to1 Faculty member Tom Lacki, Ph.D. In it, she focuses on three tactical areas to improve the customer experience: touchmaps, service blueprints, and the role of employees. Below are some excerpts:

The touchmap will document the entire scope of the consumer lifecycle - awareness; information gathering; analysis and preference; purchase and consumption; follow-up; and, repeat business - and what the customer experiences in each step of the cycle. This includes the setting, the information collected, the services delivered, and any sequencing or cross-functional steps. Organizations can also create touchmaps of competitors' services to identify opportunities for competitive advantage and differentiation.

Managers must also design service clues, both tangible and intangible, for customers to experience at each touchpoint. Clues can be tangible and intangible, and are the nuances that make up the customer's experience. They are classified as functional, mechanic, or humanic. Functional clues concern the technical quality of the offering, or the "what" of the experience; mechanic clues come from the objects or the environments involved with the experience; and, humanic clues emerge from the behavior and appearance of the service provider (Berry, Wall and Carbone, 2006).

Service blueprints
Once the touchmap and clues have been completed, organizations must figure out how to execute that plan through their systems; this is where service blueprints can be used. This blueprint allows an organization to explore all the issues inherent in creating or managing a service, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the customer.

The process of designing a blueprint involves the consideration of several issues (Shostack, 1984):

  • Identify and map the process that constitute the service (reveals the inputs and actions needed to complete each step)
  • Isolate fail points and build in sub-processes to correct possible error
  • Establish a time frame or acceptable standard of execution time
  • Analyze profitability (or lack of) if the system goes off track (e.g., what are the costs of a delay if customers wait more than the allotted time?)
  • Weigh any alternative options for executing the service or steps within the service to enhance value, productivity and profit margins
  • Modify the service and integrate clues to create a premium experience, possibly for a premium price

The service blueprint is then broken down into five components: customer actions; visible employee actions; invisible employee actions; support processes; and, physical evidence.

The role of the employee
Once the full CEM initiative has been researched, designed, and then finally put into practice, customers will expect and rely on the promised experience, but over time, will expect more and more. This is where the main idea of CRM - "treating different customers differently" - becomes so important.

Today's CRM technologies and sophisticated databases provide real-time access to information, making personalized service easier than ever to deliver. But employees must believe that they have the ability to customize the experience for individual customers, be motivated to do so, and understand how to utilize the available information and tools. The touchmap and service blueprint will provide a common base from which managers and employees can understand the flow of the service (Bitner, Ostrom, and Morgan, 2008) that customers will expect. Without this, employees may be providing what they feel is a great experience, but it's not what the customer was promised.

"[Touchmaps and service blueprints] help employees understand how the pieces fit together and what's expected of them to deliver on the customer promise," Vanstrom says. "A lot of times the experience breaks down because employees don't understand the consequences of their actions on customers."

These strategies and tactics can lead companies on a journey toward a one-to-one goal, she says. "CRM is about having the right tools in place to give the individual what he or she needs. And that means having a better awareness of the whole organization."

Read the entire report, Utilizing Customer Experience Management to Build Stronger Customer Relationships.