Building an Effective Customer Experience

The big catch phrase in almost any industry today is “customer experience”. Since the down-turn in the economy a few years ago we have been watching company after company succumb to bankruptcy-even large, well-entrenched companies are falling victim to reduced spending, down-sizing, and diminishing profits. In an effort to turn this trend around, companies have been trying everything they can think of to bring customers back to the cash registers-free shipping, percentage off coupons, gift cards, buy one get one free offers…none of which seems to be working long-term.

Some of the more astute CEO’s are now realizing that old-fashioned “customer first” logic has some merit. Customers want to shop where they feel they are more than a number. If a company can connect with its customers and earn their trust, it will build a groundswell of loyal customers that will not only return to that company to shop, they will also recommend it to their friends and families.

Building a solid customer experience can certainly set a company apart from the competition, but most managers don’t quite know where to start. While training is obviously called for, it isn’t as simple as throwing a little training at the employees and calling it good. Of course a good training design is the foundation for a successful shift in company policy and procedure, but before training design gets underway there is a lot of prep work to be done.

Building a great customer experience demands that you determine exactly what influences your customers to make that initial purchase and then what brings them back. First you have to identify every place and every way that your customers interacts with your company-and the best way to do that is to map a customer purchase from inception to satisfied delivery of goods or services.

Creating a customer experience map (mind map) with the customer at the center is a good way to start. The most effective way to create the full map is with a team of representatives from different parts of the company (this will give a broader perspective than will working with people from one area). Give each person a set of post-it notes and ask them to write down the places where the customer and the company come in contact (touch points)-one contact to a page-and post it on the wall. Next, spend some time organizing the notes into a logical order flow (affinity mapping). The finished product identifies the customer touch points and these are where your training should be focused.

Unfortunately, many companies mistakenly think that the clerk in the store or the phone operator in the call center is the only person that influences the customers’ buying patterns. The truth is, anyone in the chain that was identified in the customer experience map can affect the relationship with the customer. It might be that the vendor’s goods aren’t as advertized, or the price was incorrect in an ad, or the shipping company may have delivered the package to the wrong address-regardless of what caused the actual breakdown, the company as a whole takes the blame.