Customer Experience Optimization

Customer Experience can be defined as "the quality of the experience as apprehended by a customer resulting from direct or indirect contact with any touch point of a company".

In other words, the customer experience is the impression created on the customer as the results of contact with a company through any touch point, whether through marketing, branding, customer service, support, in-store experience, usage of a product, service or Web site, etc. Customer experience in this broader sense also includes "User Experience", which as the name suggests, is concerned with, and limited to, direct usage of a product.

What is important to note is that customers, humans, are emotional, and experience creates emotions. People tend to remember companies much more for how they made them feel than anything else. And unfortunately for companies, people remember, and talk about, bad experiences more than they do good ones…

The quality of the customer experience at any touch point individually can affect the overall relationship a customer has with a company. For example, a customer with a very high opinion of a company and its products may have a complete turn-around after a negative post-sales service customer experience. Or a company with an otherwise fine track record at many customer touch-points may create a negative experience through a poorly executed marketing communication piece or practice.

More than Customer Satisfaction

While our definition of Customer Experience could be related to customer satisfaction, customer experience optimization projects are not only about increasing customer satisfaction. They are strategic in nature and are based on building positive customer experiences where doing so will provide business profit.

Increasing customer satisfaction doesn’t necessarily always provide something in itself to a company. For example, giving away freebies to potential customer in a store may create a bunch of happy people but it will not necessarily result in increased sales. Customer experience optimization projects on the other hand can achieve business goals.

How it Works

Although customer experience optimization projects can vary greatly in size, scope and methods used, they are based on the same basic principles of establishing business goals, researching the customer and making sound strategies based on an understanding of both.

Set Business and Experience Goals

To provide optimal, measurable results, customer experience optimization projects first require the company to have a desire to improve business, and measurement mechanisms to be in place.

The decision to start a customer experience optimization project often comes itself from market metrics. For example numbers are showing a decline in customer acquisition rates, low customer satisfaction ratings, etc. But they don’t have to be initiated in response to an issue; they can also be exploratory. For example a company might want to look at different opportunities to get ahead of the competition instead of simply reacting to it. Most innovative companies are pro-active in optimizing the customer experience.

Especially when the customer experience project is part of a company-wide effort to provide a consistent customer experience across channels, companies have to relate their business and experience goals with their positioning statements. What does the company stand for and what does it want to come across as to customers?

Customer Research

Proper customer research is then conducted to identify improvement opportunities or to validate any assumptions. In a store for example it might be looking at sources of customer disconnect. Another project may look at a company’s marketing practices to evaluate the experience they create. An exploratory research might be an ethnographic study of how people use a certain product in their home, to discover new product or product improvement opportunities.

Again, as experience is emotional, customer research part of an optimization project will most often be qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) and tend to explore attitudes, perceptions and motivations in depth. Research methods must be carefully selected, planned and carried out according to the context and type of information desired.

Developing Experience Strategies

Research findings are then analyzed, and experience improvement opportunities are prioritized in terms of feasibility, projected return-on-investment and time to market (which can be critical in highly competitive industries).

Because customer experience optimization strategies are based on both a better understanding of the customer experience and of business profitability, they are much more likely to provide lasting returns and sustainable relationship with customers.

Multi-point Customer Experience

Customer experience optimization projects can be applied to numerous different touch points and can help achieve business goals in innumerable measurable ways, from subtle brand perception enhancements to conversion rates in stores or market share.

The best implementations of customer experience optimization programs are those that aim at creating a consistently good customer experience through all company touch-points. Companies doing so proactively look at multiple touch-points that cover the entire customer experience lifecycle. This could be called a company-wide, or holistic, customer experience approach.

But because different touch-points are managed by different departments that often work independently (and sometimes in opposition) such as Sales, Marketing, R&D, Customer Service, IT, etc., company-wide customer experience optimization projects can be difficult to implement.

Such company-wide customer experience programs have to be initiated and backed by senior management, and require the institution of a department or a role that will champion and measure the customer experience optimization practice across the organization.

To stimulate efforts by departments independently, incentives should be provided to middle management for initiating customer experience optimization projects and rewards provided for successfully implementing them. But again, individual projects should occur within a framework that enables to clearly measure results.

If your company has not yet initiated any customer experience optimization project at any scale, then now is probably a good time to start. Although a sound and basic concept, many companies are only starting now to implement such initiatives. And you might just see your customers move over to those companies who offer a better customer experience.

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David Jacques is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. He has created the first Framework that brings together cohesively every aspect of Customer Experience Management. He is also passionate about having an in-depth understanding customer values to create emotionally-engaging customer experiences not only at individual interactions but also seamlessly between them.

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