We’ve been researching customer experience on our own and for clients for a number of years now. We’ve done customer satisfactions surveys, probing interviews with customers and prospects, intercept surveys with Joe Public and all types of focus groups. We’ve read dozens of articles, blog posts and research from other researchers. We’ve even conducted our own independent research on the topic. And we’ve noticed a pattern. There are four areas that companies need to pay attention to if they’re going to improve experiences along their customers’ journeys.
- Get on customers’ initial consideration list
Most companies do not dedicate sufficient resources to ensuring that customers consider them in the first place. Whenever we’ve mentioned that to our clients they automatically push back, pointing out that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising. True. Advertising helps with making sure your company/product stays top of mind. But that only deals with awareness. We all know that a customer could know that you exist; i.e. they definitely remember your name if asked to name companies offering x product or service. But you still don’t make it to their initial consideration list, and they bluntly state that they would never do business with you. Why, you ask. Because awareness does not equal consideration, regardless of how big your budget is.
To understand this, let’s take a step back to the customer journey itself. Companies seeking to provide truly memorable customer experiences understand that customers start forming opinions of you long before they need your products and services. This is the awareness phase. From the awareness phase, customers move on to the consideration phase. During this phase, companies focus on touting the features and benefits of their fabulous product. The logic is that if the customer only knew how great this product was, purchasing it would be a no brainer. But we’ve found that consideration has two sub-phases: forming the initial consideration list and actually comparing companies and products on that initial consideration list. The missing link, we’ve found, is that companies zoom past getting on the initial consideration list and focus on the comparison only.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine you work for a company selling wrinkle prevention cream. The first stage – Awareness – can happen from as early as your prospect’s childhood, years before the customer would need to purchase your wrinkle cream. They might remember their mother applying your product and raving about its effectiveness, or their father muttering under his breath about ‘wasting money on vanity’. Your company was not directly involved in either of these memories, but they matter nonetheless. As a mature woman considering buying her first wrinkle cream, these memories remind her that your company sells, or used to sell, what she’s looking for. She’s aware. And, she already might be thinking that even though it works, it’s a lot of money to pay for vanity. So she’s aware, and she has an opinion.
Over the years, she would have fine-tuned her opinion about your company and your wrinkle cream. She might have seen your wrinkle cream’s previous advertisements, passively read reviews in popular magazines, overheard others commenting on the product, passed it on the shelf in the drugstore, heard health warnings about one of your cream’s ingredients (as well as gotten confused when these warnings were later refuted by another credible source), watched your former CEO on the news getting arrested for insider trading, and the list goes on. All of these touchpoints determine whether she adds your wrinkle cream to her initial consideration list. And all of this is done subconsciously. When you interview her after purchase, she completely omits any mention of how she curated her initial consideration list in the first place, because she doesn’t know!
Every company we’ve worked with that excels at this stage of the customer experience journey is consistently on their target customers’ initial consideration list. And very seldom do any of these customers mention a specific ad or can list off the features and benefits of the product or service as touted by the company.
- Meet them where they are
We do not mean on Facebook or on the radio or one of the dozens of marketing channels available to companies these days. It goes without saying that your messages should be placed wherever your clients go for information. If you don’t know where they go for information, give us a call.
We’re referring to providing what the client needs exactly when they need it. One of the most frustrating – yet weirdly enjoyable – conversations we have with clients typically starts when they get annoyed that customers complain about the company not providing sufficient information about x, y or z when the company has an entire brochure or web page or video providing that exact information. They admonish the customers: didn’t you read our brochure? It’s right there! No. Actually it’s not. If your customers can’t find it, or didn’t recognise it for what it was, then it’s as good as invisible and non-existent.
It also may not be information that the client needs. It may be information that the company wants to get from prospects that prospects are just not ready to share. They’re not there yet. It’s like when the sales associate in a clothing store asks you what size you’re looking for and you were just looking at the dress. You’re not yet even close to being ready to try it on. Or when you fill out a seemingly generic form online, and when you hit submit they ask for your name and email address so they can send you the results. Most of us just forget about the form altogether at that point. We’re just not ready.
Once you fail to meet customers where they are, their experience with you is ruined.
- Make a good sales impression
It’s hard to make a good first impression when they’ve been forming impressions long before interacting with you. But customers can be forgiving about first, second or even third impressions, once their impressions were not formed when interacting with your company during a sales transaction. If you mess up a sales transaction, though, customers can be brutally unforgiving. They expect you to be at your best when they’re handing over money. Customers at this stage have an uncanny ability to tell what is broken. They know when you have hired the wrong people for the job; when your technology is inefficient or ineffective; when your processes are focused on making it easier for you and not them; when your people do not know enough about what they’re selling; when your risk management team is really a risk avoidance team; and the list goes on.
We’re no longer surprised when we’re researching for clients and their customers tell us exactly what is wrong in the operations of the company that led to the poor experience they had when trying to make a purchase.
You simply cannot mess up a sales transaction!
- Treat them like they matter
Customers know that you have hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of customers just like them that you have to serve. They know that when they leave your checkout line, there are ten other people behind them. They know that their customer support email is not the first in the queue. They know that they want more than they can afford to pay for. They just don’t care! They want to feel, in the moment when they’re interacting with you, that they’re the only customer that matters. It’s why they take offense at companies that are stingy with their promotional giveaways, and complain about not being offered coffee while they waited, and protest that your women’s only fashion boutique doesn’t also offer children’s clothing.
The most loyal customers always tell us that their favourite company responded to their unique needs and circumstances. They always give us stories about how their situation or request or complaint was dealt with in a manner that made them feel like their favourite company cared about them and that they mattered.