Customer experience is everything, they say. Experience determines whether or not a customer will seek you out and shop with you again.
But not everyone understands how to make it work for them.
How important is customer experience in 2020? Can businesses choose to ignore CX? What are the repercussions if they do?
We turn to Ethan Beute to answer these questions for us.
As the Chief Evangelist at BombBomb and host of the The Customer Experience Podcast, we figured Ethan is more than qualified to walk us through the perception surrounding CX and how businesses can make it work for them.
Ethan, can you explain why customer experience (CX) is so important in 2020?
Due to a variety of market factors including hyper competition, product parity, and customer control, customer experience is your best – and perhaps last – true differentiator.
Any niche where a business is seeing success will immediately see competitors. Any feature or benefit that seems unique will soon be knocked off. Any idea that your business gets to define truth and control the narrative has already been smashed. We have to think about what it feels like to work with our company – this is the essence of customer experience.
Can companies choose to ignore CX?
Yes, of course. But it’s unwise to do so. Your customers are having an experience regardless of whether or not the company is embracing or ignoring CX, so you should probably invest a little thought, time, and care into understanding how that experience can be improved.
How does a company implement a CX strategy?
This is a big question. Some people take on CX strategy and CX transformation as a massive investment and initiative. Others take it on less overtly – but sometimes more deeply – by making the removal of friction and maintaining tight customer feedback loops normal and natural aspects of operating the business. So I don’t have a singular definition for this.
In general, I’d offer that implementing a CX strategy involves a cross-functional effort to understand and improve the way you attract, serve, understand, retain, delight, and empower your customers.
I’d add that you can’t really take on a CX strategy seriously without addressing EX, or employee experience.
A great employee experience is a necessary precursor to a great customer experience. Engaged, equipped, and empowered employees make it all happen.
Do you need a big budget to implement CX strategies?
No, you don’t need a big budget to make improvements in creating and delivering a better experience for your customers.
You can take it on within the context of what you’re already doing. On the employee side, raise awareness about the importance of how you make customers feel.
Coach to it, train to it, and make it part of each team member’s decision-making filter.
On the customer side, you likely already have plenty to work with in terms of transaction history or subscription level, NPS feedback, cancellation feedback, online reviews, and other insights into how customers think, feel, and behave.
Customer interviews are incredibly valuable and not particularly costly.
How has CX strategies changed from 10 years ago to the present?
I think the rise of “CX” or “customer experience” in popular business culture and conversation is a positive thing, but I don’t think the substance of it is dramatically different from a human perspective.
We still have ancient brains. We’re still emotional in most of our decision-making. Our deep motivations and desires have not much changed.
The biggest shift over the past decade has been in technology. It allows us to collect and process more information more quickly. We can learn and iterate faster.
What’s the best way to connect with customers in 2020?
The more honest, transparent, and helpful you can be, the better.
This is fundamental to trust, rapport, relationships, and long-term success. The holy grail has always been something like this: being of highest service and value by making the exact right touch for the exact right person in the exact right place at the exact right time.
Smart deployment of tech and tools allows us to get closer and closer to this, but it must be deployed in a human-centric way.
What’s your advice on providing exceptional customer experience?
There’s an art to truly seeing and hearing every one of your customers and honoring their thoughts, feelings, and experiences while failing to overreact to or under appreciate any one person or perspective. Make use of all your customer feedback. Ask for it. Use it. Look for themes and trends.
Another thing I’d offer is that getting cross-functional, project-based teams together for defined period of time to address specific opportunities or solve specific problems is a winning approach.
Each person and each team interacts with, thinks about, views, and understands your customer differently. That’s to say, a salesperson has a different view of the customer than a customer care rep or a customer success manager does.
Be disciplined about who becomes a customer and who doesn’t. There’s a lot of pressure to take revenue when it’s available, but the long-term costs might not make that revenue profitable. We can’t deliver an exceptional experience for everyone.
You believe in using video to improve CX – can you explain this further?
Per William James, often described as the father of American psychology, said that “the deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.”
That’s all any of us needs and wants, even if we’re not conscious of it. Prospects and customers. Team members. Partners, vendors, and suppliers. Everyone.
When you can use a truly personal, one-to-one video message to connect and communicate with someone, it’s a gift of your time and attention. It’s a richer, clearer, and more human touch than another piece of faceless, digital communication.
Video includes your face, voice, personality, expertise, sincerity, gratitude, and all those other nonverbal cues that build connection and improve communication. Plain, typed-out text simply can’t deliver these things.
My vision is that sending a video in an email, text message, social message, Slack message, and all those other places we’re using plain black text on a plain white background becomes a common and useful a go-to for day-to-day business communication. Like picking up a phone, attending a meeting, or typing out a message.
Video messages give you a more effective and more satisfying way to work.
How can loyalty tools be used to deliver better CX?
We need to make it easier to identify successful and unsuccessful customers, to make unsuccessful customers successful, and to enable successful customers to advocate for us.
All kinds of tools and tech are available to help in this process. The easier we make it for satisfied customers to share their experiences, to write reviews, to make referrals, to connect with prospects or unsuccessful customers, the better off we all are.
Many of your customers would do more for you if you made it easier and more obvious.
What are some less-than-satisfactory experiences that you’ve had?
As a customer, I’ve experienced all kinds of clumsy things. In the past week, I’ve been asked to leave a review for a product that a) I’d not yet received and b) had no update on its arrival.
I’ve also been sent weekly and even daily sales offers for products that I wouldn’t buy again for months or even years. The main thing we can learn here: you have to be aware of and operate within your customers’ realities.
A lot of businesses have suffered because of the coronavirus and slowly trying to pick up again. How can CX help them bounce back?
Tighten your customer feedback loops. The world has changed. Your business has changed. And your customers’ lives have changed. You’re making adjustments, updating practices, policies, and procedures, and perhaps even modifying your product or service.
How are your customers reacting? Stay in touch with long-time customers. Get in touch with potential and new customers. Speed up your internal communication.
Final question, and only because we’ve been seeing a lot of this on the internet. Do you think CX is overrated?
I don’t think customer experience is overrated as a topic, conversation, investment, strategy, or practice.
I subscribe to the idea that the most important thing a business can do is to create and retain customers. We can have higher-level purposes, missions, visions, or values, but we don’t enjoy the privilege of getting up tomorrow and pursuing those things if we don’t create and retain customers.
The ideal situation, of course, is that the meaning and purpose we seek from our work and from our companies is completely aligned with customer value delivery. I’m in that fortunate situation right now – and have been for several years.