Friday, September 1, 2023

6 Steps To Providing Exceptional Customer Experiences

exceptional-customer-experienceHaving the best solution is a good start these days, but a solution alone is no longer enough to keep customer attention and loyalty. They expect to be surprised and delighted as well by their pre-purchase experience and post-purchase interactions. The most memorable businesses, like Starbucks and Apple, no longer sell products, they sell ‘experiences’ with a product at the center.

The challenge is to transform and hardwire your entire team to think in these terms, rather than the default focus on distinct towers of product quality, closing the sale, or fixing a complaint. I remember the classic book, “Driven to Delight,” by Joseph A. Michelli, with inspiring stories on how one well-known company, Mercedes-Benz, made the transition and is profiting as a result.

It’s a tough transformation for an existing business, requiring a strong leader and lots of effort. For new entrepreneurs and startups, I recommend an initial focus on these six steps from the very beginning to set the right culture and save the tremendous cost of a transformation and risky competitive catch-up later:

  1. Start with an overriding top-down focus on customer experience. The right message must be delivered from the top, by your words and your actions. Start with feedback from real customers, set measurable objectives, and make sure rewards and incentives are tempered by customer experiences, rather than only internal thresholds.
  1. Find the best of the best models, and aim even higher. Look inside and outside your industry for role models, and apply some innovative thinking to put you ahead of the game tomorrow, rather than yesterday. Your competition is global, so today’s customers are demanding world-class service. Set the expectation for continuous improvement.
  1. Make sure the team understands the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ will follow. Since customer experience is not a fixed process, it’s most important to get buy-in on the ‘why’ first. The ‘how’ will follow as each team defines how their processes intersect with those of others. Your objective should be for everyone to look for opportunities to say yes rather than no.
  1. Tie customer experience to all compensation and recognition. Customer-driven compensation is now the norm in most industries, not just consumer-facing ones. You see the exceptions being ridiculed daily in online media – employees getting bonuses despite customer pain and bailouts. Strive for customer visibility on the positive side.
  1. Practice is better than training on what saying ‘yes’ looks like. Give your front-line people the mission and freedom to practice delighting customers. Providing scripts and reading manuals won’t do it. Ask key team members to step outside the company and record their experience as a customer looking in. Then let them apply their own input.
  1. Collect and publish compelling stories of customer delight. Real stories are inspiring and more powerful than any executive or marketing messages, both for team members and potential new customers. Stories illustrate concepts and evoke emotions in a way that even the best facts and figures can’t. They highlight the impact of ‘yes’ to all.

A culture of providing great customer experiences doesn’t happen by chance, and it requires more than just excellent operational procedures. Surprising and delighting customers as the new norm requires a backdrop of strong leadership, deliberate planning, and integrity in execution. It requires brand-building at its best.

According to a recent customer satisfaction survey, more than 70 percent of customers say they have spent more with a company and recommended it to friends because of a history of positive experiences. If you surveyed your customers today, what percent of your customers would put you in the winning category?

Marty Zwilling



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