Are There Holes in Your Customer Experience

The marketplace is evolving. A toilet brush doesn’t have to be a plain, unattractive thing. Inexpensive clothes can wear well, and we can enjoy the experience of shopping for them. Target showed us that. More and more mass merchant and mid-tier discount and department stores are catching on. And it doesn’t stop there. A positive customer experience extends to B-to-B and service companies as well.

Merchants realize we want the products we buy to not only be functional and priced well, but also represent our lifestyle. We want the whole experience to work for us, from the moment we learn about the product or service to the moment we benefit from it. That’s what keeps us coming back for more.

So why is this so difficult to pull off?

Take Wal-Mart for example. It hired top designers to develop more fashion-forward clothes for a younger buyer; it advertised in the same magazines as Manolo Blahnik and Armani; it took its fashions to the catwalk in Paris. But still. The clothes didn’t sell.

That may be because Wal-Mart didn’t commit to the lifestyle. It didn’t extend the new hip vibe through all their media or right into the store itself. The shopping experience wasn’t a catwalk, it was a chore.

Are you thinking your whole customer or client experience through? Or are there holes in your shopping experience where potential buyers fall through? Vistage talked to Vistage trusted advisor Kit Lofgren, and Vistage speakers Rob Engelman andThomas Young, people who develop and determine strong, user-friendly experiences–and strong sales–from beginning to end. Here are their insights.

Meet your customer’s (not your own) expectations. 
“Talking to customers involves more than satisfaction surveys and 1-5 scales, Kit Lofgren advises. “Exploring and truly understanding expectations involves observing shopping habits of customers (and non-purchasers) in your store. In the case of Web sites, usage analytics tell this story.”

What do your customers expect from you? Are you making it easy for them to attain it?

Create consistency in all mediums, online and offline.
Think of how you’d like your customer to describe you in 8-12 words. According to Thomas Young, this description or tagline should “leave no doubt in the mind of your target market about what you are offering and how you can meet their needs.” This is a familiar branding strategy. Now take that description and apply it to all areas of business that carry your brand. Does it fit every time? If you’re not sure, ask your customers for their description of your business. Also, ask your employees how they would describe the company in just one sentence. Is it the same as your description?

Once you have your description, Lofgren says to “involve cross functional teams in the development and execution of new products or services. This will help create a coherent, consistent experience. For example, the team that develops new product features should be in direct contact with the customer service team that supports older products.”

Make it simple and easy.
Do your customers struggle to reach their goals? Could you eliminate barriers to make it easier? Watch your customer interact with your store, site, and staff. Are there physical or emotional barriers? At what point do people leave without doing what they came to do? Also observe other telltale signs, Rob Engelman suggests, such as abandoned shopping carts (online and off) and customer service complaints. Track new customers or clients to see if they become repeaters. If not, survey them to find out what kept them away. Track best customers and be alarmed if their usual activities start to slide.

Grow a friendly, knowledgeable staff.
Your staff are your eyes in the field. Do they think the experience you are trying to convey is getting across to the client or customer? If not, what do they suggest? Lofgren insists that “the first-hand knowledge of employees on the front lines will show you how to improve the experience. They observe customer behavior daily. They carry a wealth of information about what works and what doesn’t.

“Harness this understanding,” she continues, “to develop policies to empower employees to solve customer issues with the minimum of escalation to more senior staff members. This also leaves the front line employees feeling empowered, which helps both to retain them and motivate them to further understand the customer.”

Staff training and communication is key to maintaining high-quality service and consistency of message.

Check out your successful competitors.
Are there standards already in place that make a user experience familiar and less of a learning challenge? What is it about your competitors’ experience that makes buying easier or more compelling?

A “lifestyle” approach to the customer experience encompasses all of your senses, in all of the places you are, from work to your car to your patio. What does your customer see, smell, hear, feel, taste, touch? Are they drawn to all parts of the experience? Are there portions of your user experience that don’t reflect the lifestyle you are trying to project?

And, remember, an easy user experience isn’t limited to retail. “The person or organization providing your revenue stream (directly or indirectly) is your customer,” Lofgren says. “At a core level in any interaction–B-to-C or B-to-B–there are people who have the decision-making authority to judge whether or not the experience you are providing matches their expectations.”

Target showed us that shopping doesn’t have to be a chore, and clothes and household products don’t have to look ugly or cheap. The best news is, neither does your customer experience.

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