Customer experience as a theory began back in the 60’s, and developed in the 90’s, but only really became a known quantity in most businesses within the past decade. From there, customer experience was often confused with customer service, and in some cases, it still is. So how can businesses be expected to master a process that they cannot define, and therefore, understand fully? In this article, we share the bigger picture of customer experience, so that any business, big or small, can grasp the concept and definition in order to master the process.

 

It Starts with the Customer

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, the experience of any brand actually starts before the interaction itself. It starts with the intent, or with the presentation of a need or want. Intent, for example, could look something like this: ‘I’m hungry. What do I want? I feel like a burger. Are there any burger places near me? What’s my preference?’ This moment of intent is an opportunity for a business in this space. Are customers aware of your existence? Do they know you sell burgers? Are you fairly priced? Are your burgers good? Has the customer bought from you before and enjoyed the experience? Have your burgers been recommended by friends? Simply put, a customer’s impression of you begins before purchase and is informed by prior interactions with your brand, both directly and indirectly. Considerations for this phase of the journey include your reputation as a business, public reviews, and advertising.

 

Manage Touchpoints on a CRM

Once you have understood how your business or brand is perceived or received in the market, it’s vital to map out all potential touchpoints with your customers. In order for this to become a central point of truth and not a series of dated and underused documents, this needs to be linked to an appropriate CRM system. This CRM must then become embedded in your business practice and understood and utilised by your employees. It represents the living, breathing blueprint for your customer experience at any given point in time. Considerations for this phase of the journey include which CRM to apply, how it is applied within the business, and how accurately it is being used and applied.

 

Become a Customer

The bulk of the customer experience occurs when a customer has engaged with the business and is in the process of a live transaction. For example, a customer has decided to buy a burger from you and is currently in the store going through the ordering and receiving of that purchase. The touchpoints that are involved in this part of the overall experience might include queueing, ordering, menu options, payment, wait times, table service or delivery, and consumption, for example. These touchpoints are in addition to pre- and post-sale touchpoints but constitute the bulk of the transactional experience. This tends to be the stage that more businesses are aware of and considerate of when it comes to their own customer experience. Where this phase of the overall experience can fail, is when a business is unable to appreciate the experience they provide to customers from the angle of a customer. In the case of the burger example, it’s relatively easy to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, to experience what buying from that business might be like. You could simply head into the store yourself, make a purchase, and appraise the situation yourself. But for larger, more complex businesses, it’s not always so easy to become a customer. Contract values may be worth millions, and you may be several steps removed from the product or service offering. In these cases, it is vital for businesses to use their customers to understand the joys and pains of the customer experience as it stands. Considerations for this phase of the journey include experiencing the customer perspective first-hand, where possible, and getting close to real customers to understand their honest feedback.

 

The Enduring Impression

If we get philosophical about it, the customer experience never really ends. However, this lack of definition only contributes to the confusion on the topic of customer experience overall. So to keep it simple, the end of the customer experience can be considered complete when the transaction is over, any relevant customer support after a purchase has been successfully concluded, and communications after the sale have ceased. With the burger example, this might be when the customer has eaten the burger and happily left the store. For another customer in the same store, this might be once they have received a refund for their burger that arrived cold. For another, it might be once they unsubscribe from weekly deals emails that they receive from the store. The point is, that the customer experience is different for every customer. It is not based on the business but on the individual customer. The endpoint of this journey will naturally be different for every customer. It also incorporates how the lasting impression of the brand is reached by each customer, for each interaction. Considerations for this phase of the journey include mapping out the potential outcomes for different customers, and how each of these might be managed. It also considers how even with the same customer, different transactions within a business might be experienced differently.

 

Summary

The customer experience journey is different across each business, each customer, and each individual transaction. This can make it very hard to fully understand what the customer experience really involves, how to define it, and therefore how to manage it. To simplify understanding, this article outlines the key phases for customer experiences at a high level and highlights the key considerations for each of these phases. These phases are 1) Starting with the customer 2) Managing touchpoints on a CRM system 3) Becoming a customer and 4) The enduring impression. Finally, it is important to remember that customer experiences and needs are constantly evolving. There is never truly the point of customer experience being complete. It is a constant, iterative work in progress. As long as you continue to take steps in the right direction, make improvements, and attempt to centralise the customer within your efforts, you are on the right path.