It’s probably safe to assume that we all understand what the customer experience refers to: how a business engages with its customers.
But the critical part of the definition is that customer experience, or CX, refers to engagement at every touch point in the buying journey, whether it’s an interaction with marketing, sales, drivers, or customer service.
CX also includes personal relationships and trust. It’s the total of all interactions a customer has with your brand.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for the customer to be taken for granted. Maybe you thought, “I have excellent products and customer service, and no one is calling to complain.” Makes sense: If no one is complaining, then there must not be a problem. However, that is probably not the case.
Now more than ever, the customer experience can make or break a company. We live in a world filled with options, and customers can easily go online to compare products that meet their needs faster, easier and cheaper. Gartner found that companies who create complex, nonlinear paths for buyers create uncertainty during the buying process, resulting in a 30% decrease in purchasing.
The companies that will succeed are the ones who are starting to take a closer look at the customer experience and buying journey to better understand how customers view and interact with them.
It’s time to do something different to support your customers, and the first step to enhancing the customer experience is to map it out. Clearly define steps and actions to take to better the buying journey.
Creating a good CX strategy requires a well-thought-out program, but there are a few things you can do right away for immediate results:
- Add more staff to do daily pre expedites
- Show customers how to order earlier to improve their fill rates
- Provide substitutions, including selling products sourced from competitors
- Allocate hard to get product to good – not big – customers
- And most importantly, create an ongoing program focused on the customer experience
Remember, CX is also about building strong relationships and trust with customers. If you must market a competitors’ product to secure a customer’s regular order, it’s worth it. You’re now seen as reliable – a company they can trust and turn to, even when the supply chain threatens their order.
How to Create a Program that Focuses on the Customer Experience
Enhancing your customer experience requires you to go directly to the source: the customers. Don’t involve your sales team in this process. Although they’re great at their jobs, salespeople are trained to listen and respond rather than listening to understand.
Set a Goal and Make a Plan
What are you hoping to learn from conversations with customers? Define a goal. This is not about how you sell them more, rather it is understanding their life and their challenges. How do they spend a typical day, what are their responsibilities, what are the resources they have available to do their jobs, where do things go wrong, what drives them up a wall, what brings them joy, and what are their goals and what would they like to change?
Once you’ve determined your goal, identify the people to interview. The people you target should align with the goal of your program. For example, if you want to learn more about the perceptions of your company, talk to newer customers about how they found you and what they think thus far in the relationship.
Create an Interview Guide
Create an interview guide and design the interview questions around behavioral segmentation, which just means group customers by what they’re searching for and what they value. Keep the list of questions short; your customers are doing you a favor by being interviewed, and their time is valuable.
Some questions to include could be:
- We’re trying to improve our customer experience. Can you describe the challenges and frustrations that exist in your role today?
- Without naming names, how does your preferred supplier hep you deal with those challenges?
- What would help you the most in services or support that you can’t find in any of your suppliers today?
Interview customers with non-sales staff, such as operations, human resources or finance folks, and don’t go in blind. Prepare for the interviews by building rapport with the customers willing to participate, pick the best time that works for their busy schedule, ensure you have a reliable way to record the conversation and practice the interview first.
While in the interview, focus on self-reporting. The conversation should be all about the customer – not your company.
The notes your team collects will help later on, and they’re critical in the ongoing evolution of the interview guide. The interview questions will likely go through multiple versions, and that’s okay. You want to optimize your guide: Delete questions if you already know the answer and add questions gained from new insight.
The result of the adaptive interviews is that you have a better understanding of each customer segment, including how they interact with your company and what your value proposition is to them.
Map the Key Customer Touch Points
Build a list of pain points from the customer interview insights, focusing on the biggest areas of friction first. These could be things like order-to-cash process, the order fulfillment process for standard products versus custom products, demand forecasting or getting a quick answer without having to search through the company website.
Add context from your customer-facing team to this map, then validate all the gathered information in a focus group of customers. We recently completed a customer journey map for an industrial distributor and it was six feet long to provide readability. The executive team has already made major reductions in the number of steps.
In a McKinsey study about CX, almost two-thirds of their respondents cited “the ability to act on CX issues in near-real-time” was a top priority.”
Armed with a detailed understanding of your customers’ pain, frustration and/or unmet needs, your next step becomes clear.
Map the Steps for Each Process
Design your own buyers’ journey map using a flow chart. (Gartner goes into detail about the new customer journey map, and this resource offers a step-by-step guide.) Start with existing customers. The majority of a distributors’ revenue comes from flow business, or repurchases of product, so create different maps for flow and projects. Don’t forget to factor in the less-predictable human element (e.g. is there a bottleneck in the flow due to one person’s manual processes).
Implement Solutions for Each Mapped Process
Digitize everything possible, starting with your customers’ largest friction points. The ideal is to automate 20% of the events that create 80% of their friction. What tools can you implement to smooth those out? Understand that speed – and anything else that makes your customers’ lives easier – are weapons. Use them.
And reduce the steps. Shift from a go/ no-go approval process that can delay service to a customer to post-action controls and conduct a LEAN analysis to eliminate waste and artifacts from the past.
Recognize That This Is an Ongoing Process – Not a One-and-Done Project
Much like the interview guide, the close attention to your customer experience shouldn’t be a one-and-done project. You want to ensure the buying journey is simple and the customer is happy, so build a data-driven performance feedback loop.
- Create a place to store and integrate data from multiple sources
- Use predictive analytics, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to anticipate customer needs earlier
- Conduct regular data reviews in scheduled meetings with defined actions
By consistently setting aside time to identify pain points, you can ensure your customer experience is always improving.
And don’t forget: If you want to succeed at this, you must get out of your echo chamber and separate the message from the messenger.
Annette Franz, a customer experience thought leader, said: “You can’t transform something you don’t understand. If you don’t know and (don’t) understand what the current state of the customer experience is, how can you possibly design the desired future state?”
Operating in your echo chamber gets you nowhere fast. Talk to your customers, get to know their struggles and learn how you can be a better partner for them, and your company’s profit margins and reputation will benefit.