Why are companies in business? For customers, right? To create and to nurture a customer, to be specific. And, yet, we still see some dismal statistics about how many companies don’t focus on the customer experience or think they focus on the customer experience but really don’t. In research published by Bain, they reported that:
- only 50% of management teams tailor their products and services to the needs of customers
- only 30% organize the functions of their company to deliver superior customer experiences
- only 30% maintain effective customer feedback loops
Temkin Group recently reported that 67% of large companies rate themselves as being good at soliciting customer feedback, but only 26% rate themselves as being good about making changes based on the insights.
These are dismal statistics. How do we turn this around?
If you haven’t yet started to focus on the needs of the customer, where should you begin? What can you do to turn the tide?
First you must decide. And then, when you’re ready to put the customer at the center of all you do, there are six important steps to take to get started:
1. Identify the customer
2. Understand the customer
3. Outline the customer lifecycle
4. Map the customer journey
5. Listen to your customers
6. Socialize the insights/findings
Step 1: Identify the Customer
Knowing who the customer is seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many companies have never gone through the exercise of identifying the customer. In a B2B organization, for example, customers can be many and varied; look within each customer or partner organization at the people you interact with, e.g., purchasing, product, support, accounting, end-users, etc. to identify your customer. The company is not the customer; the people you interact with within the company are. Not having a clear understanding of who the customer is hampers any further steps in this process.
Step 2: Understand the Customer
Once you’ve identified who your customers are, you must understand them and their needs. How do they interact with your organization? Why do they buy products and services from you? What are their needs? What problems are they trying to solve? What are they trying to achieve?
A tool to use to answer all of these questions is personas. Personas are fictional characters created to describe your ideal prospect or actual customer. They are derived through primary research – research that can then also be used for your customer journey maps in Step 4. They are specific to your business, not to the industry. The descriptions include vivid narratives, images, and other items that help companies understand the needs of the customer (contextual insights) and outline feelings, motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying (or other) decisions. Each persona includes a human face and name. Used properly, personas keep the customer alive and front and center for the entire organization. They tie in nicely to your journey maps and are necessary to begin that exercise.
A hardware client of mine developed supplier personas in order to better understand the different supplier personnel with which they interact. Different supplier types and different roles within a supplier company have different needs and interact differently with your organization; understanding those then allows you to create a better experience for all involved. For their personas, we looked at the different roles within supplier companies and came up with six primary personas: operations management, logistics, production schedulers, inventory management, shipping, and accounting. A lot of research went into defining these personas, which were then used to develop journey maps that laid out the experience they had when trying to achieve whatever it was each did with the client. These personas were then used to better manage supplier relationships and to design a better supplier experience with the client, one more personalized to each specific role/persona. The client saw a remarkable uptick in supplier satisfaction, and hence retention, as a result of this increased understanding.
Step 3: Outline the Customer Lifecycle
The lifecycle map shows the phases of the customer’s relationship with your company. It’s high level and good for understanding the overall relationship the customer has with the organization, from before he’s even considered a customer through when he is no longer a customer. It typically includes these stages: Need, Awareness, Consideration, Selection/Purchase, Experience, Loyalty, Advocacy, Engagement, Raving Fans. And, unfortunately, Exit. It’s not necessarily linear and often circles back on itself.
It’s great to understand the lifecycle at this high level before moving on to the next step. Lifecycle maps, while important to nurturing the overall customer relationship, are a natural first step to identifying listening needs along the lifecycle; however, to get to the heart of the matter, to really understand when and where to listen and to really design a better customer experience, you must dive deeper into the lifecycle stages, inventory the touchpoints, and map the customer journey, which I’ll discuss further in Step 4.
Step 4: Map the Customer Journey
Journey mapping is a way to walk in your customer’s shoes and chart his course as he interacts with your organization (channels, departments, touchpoints, products, etc.) while trying to fulfill some need or do some job within each stage of the lifecycle. It allows you to identify key moments of truth and to ensure that those moments are executed smoothly. Maps are created from the customer’s viewpoint, not yours, and look at each and every step a customer takes in order to achieve some task, i.e., calling support, ordering a product, etc., with the company. They describe what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling at each step in the journey. They’re not linear either, nor are they static. They become the backbone of your customer experience management efforts.
Why do you need a customer journey map? Journey maps provide clarity for the entire organization, helping to provide that clear line of sight to customers and ensuring that each employee understands how he impacts the customer experience.
Step 5: Listen to Your Customers
While VoC stands for “voice of the customer,” I like to use it to refer to “voice of the constituents” because there are so many voices that companies should be listening to as part of their efforts to improve the customer experience: voice of the customer, voice of the employee, voice of the partner, voice of the market, voice of the business, and the list goes on.
Traditionally, most of these voices have been captured through surveys or some other structured form that was initiated by the company, i.e., companies asked customers to provide feedback. Today, listening has become a better term to use, as customers also provide feedback on their terms, in their preferred modes, typically initiated by them in response to some stimulus or interaction. While asking puts the onus on the customer to respond, listening puts the onus on the company to be wherever customers voice their opinions. Examples of listening posts include things like social media (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.), customer immersion, customer advisory councils, voice of the customer through the employee (sales, customer service, etc.), CRM data, and more.
It’s important to listen to customers, but equally or more important are the actions you take on what you hear because, when you do, the benefits to the company – as a result of an improved experience for the customer – include:
• A reduction in churn
• An increase in saved customers
• Stronger customer relationships
• Potential new business from existing customers
• Process improvements
• New features and product enhancements
• New product ideas
• Recommendations or referrals from existing customers
Harvey Mackay says: You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen – not just money, but respect. I can’t argue with that. If you listen to your customers, if you use their feedback to not only make fundamental improvements to the experience but also to innovate, if you deliver a great customer experience – then the business, and the profits, will come.
Step 6: Socialize the Insights/Findings
You’ve done the work to understand the customer; now it’s time to ensure that he’s front and center. It’s time to socialize the feedback and findings so that the right people act on the right insights at the right time.
Here are just a few things you can do to infuse the customer into everything the organization does. Key to this is to start at the beginning, i.e., start with the first day an employee starts working for your company. (Even better: start with the first day you start your company.)
- Onboarding: Showcase your customer-centric culture during the onboarding process so that new employees knows what that means. This is a great time for them to learn what it means to be a part of your organization, i.e., knowing your brand promise, values and commitment, what it means to live the brand, where the priorities lie, and how to deliver a great customer experience. Don’t have a formal onboarding process? It’s time to get one! This is a great time to set the tone for employees.
- Ongoing training: You can’t expect that, as both the business and customer expectations evolve, employees will automatically know what to do and adapt/evolve, too. You need to train employees regularly to ensure they are kept abreast of new customer insights and new approaches to delivering a great experience. Be sure to provide refreshers and reinforcement of anything you’ve learned about customers, the jobs they are trying to do, and their expectations.
- Communication: What gets shared and communicated regularly is viewed as important to your employees. Not only does communication lend clarity, it is critical to a clear line of sight to the goal. Communication needs to be open and ongoing. Share customer feedback with employees; don’t keep it from them. Tell customer stories and stories of great experiences to teach and to inspire employees to deliver the experience they need to deliver.
- Rewards and recognition: When you recognize and reward those who consistently delight customers, you are reinforcing the behavior you expect from your employees, further confirming and solidifying the importance of putting the customer at the center of all you do.
For a list of tools to put the customer at the center of the organization, check out Tools to Put the Customer at the Center of All You Do. I outline six tools that will absolutely help you put the customer front and center for the business.
My favorite? I’m a fan of having a chair for the customer in all key decision-making meetings. There’s no better way to draw attention to the customer and to ensure that all decisions made and actions taken are done so with the customer in mind. Try it for a while and see if it makes a difference in your company.
Are you using some of these steps? All of them? If not, when will you get started?
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