What’s the primary aim of your business? Is it delivering shareholder value? Or providing a climate of mutual respect for colleagues? Or is it satisfying your customers? While all are important, the most successful companies will be those which recognise that the critical success factor in the future will be to put customers first. And to put customer experience delivery front-and-centre within their business.
The reason? Customers provide every penny of the revenues that are earned by established businesses. And even though providing returns to shareholders and respect for all employees are important, they are secondary to the aim of getting customers to repeatedly buy the products or services that you sell.
However, to achieve commercially sustainable growth, there’s more to it than just selling a product or service.
Expectation of excitement
The launch of the first smartphone (the iPhone) in 2007 was a watershed moment in customer experience. It spawned a dramatic new level of delight in the way you could pinch, swipe and flick on a touchscreen with instantaneous results. The experience that customers had on these devices was nothing short of miraculous compared to what had been seen before – in any medium or industry. As mobile phones have one of the highest levels of ownership as a consumer product – this experience expectation engaged a large chunk of the population in a very short timeframe.
As touchscreens spread to other devices, and vast numbers of applications were developed that fully utilised the device capabilities, the on-screen experiences grew exponentially. The high quality of interaction offered by these small and portable devices set new standards of customer expectations for every interface they had with a company – and across all channels. The simultaneous and rapid rise of home computing, high-speed internet connectivity, the willingness of consumers to embrace the online capabilities, and more recently the proliferation of free public wifi, has elevated customer’s expectations. They demand everything, anywhere, anytime – and they also expect your experiences to match those they have with their touchscreen devices – across all your channels.
This has set a challenge for many businesses. Consider how much your service and the experiences you deliver to your customers have changed over the last five years. Probably quite significantly. But is this enough? Potentially, even including all your best efforts, you’re simply holding ground as your competitors also increase the level of their delivered service and experiences too.
Another issue to contend with is that the technology your customers use and the access they have through social media as to how well (or how badly) you interacted with other customers similar to themselves, is a great challenge to your ability to provide adequate customer service. Never mind trying to delight them. Their knowledge around their issue and their available technology is often superior to yours.
If you need to be doing so much more just to stay where you are – how are you going to get ahead? The answer is by out-thinking your competition! Especially in the area of greatest opportunity for you – the customer experiences you deliver. And this is where Active Thinking can help you. Active Thinking offers ways for you to think differently about your customer experiences and to do things within your business that will make significant difference at both the operational and strategic levels.
A NEW MODEL
First we need to construct a new model for customer experience that will lay out and identify areas where your business can deliver customer delight. Then we can apply the Active Thinking process to develop new opportunities that will deliver business growth for you.
Your Super-ordinate proposition
The only way in which any business can sustainably grow is to offer its customers an over-arching combination of quality products with a great service at a fair price. And the more effectively this is delivered, the better the experience that is delivered to the customer, and hence the more successful your business will be.
This over-arching combination of elements is called your Super-ordinate proposition, and the people who accept your Super-ordinate proposition are destined to become your long-term customers.
The four elements of a Super-ordinate proposition are:
- A valued transactional proposition
- Your service design
- Your service style
- Moments of Truth
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
A valued transactional proposition
Whatever you are selling, from Frosties to Ferraris, there needs to be perceived value in the money-for-goods transactional exchange in the eyes of the customer. If there isn’t a perceived fair value exchange, then the deal won’t take place – no matter how brilliant the other elements of your Super-ordinate proposition. A valued transactional proposition will always form the core of any business deal that you have with the customer.
Your service design
You need to be easy to do business with in whatever channel the customer prefers, and the way you design your service interactions defines this. Having a five-level interactive voice response system when customers phone in may help your call-centre to know the reason for an inbound call, but this isn’t what customers like to experience. Similarly, replacing it with a system where you simply speak what you want – but which can’t pick up the difference between a spoken ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ – isn’t good service design either.
You will invariably find that in most organisations, many of the services offered to customers haven’t been smartly designed – they have been iterated over time from a compromised initial solution. You need to look around to see what the best practices are in any given situation to see whether your service offers an appropriate level of ease to the customer in achieving their desired outcome.
Your service style
Your service style is the manner in which you engage with your customers. It’s the branded personality of the overall experience that you deliver. If you stripped away all the branding from (for example) your retail store and did the same for your competitor’s stores, would a customer be able to know which store experience was yours? When asked, would they be able to say it just ‘felt’ like what they’d expect from you?
A service style is the tangible manifestation of a company’s brand values and culture through all the various ways that employees interact with customers. As it’s a representation of your brand, it allows you to differentiate the experiences you deliver from that of your competition – for their brand values will invariably be different to yours.
Your service style may not be identical across your various channels due to the dissimilar nature of the interactions in these different channels. Each channel experience will dial-up or dial-down specific aspects of your service style as appropriate. This ensures that your distinctly branded experiences are delivered to your customers consistently, everywhere – and always.
Moments of truth
Moments of truth are the attention-getters where you have the opportunity to make a big impact on the customer and to significantly influence their behaviour or state of mind. These are the moments where you persuade them that you are the best company to buy from; to convert a complaint into a compliment; or to do something that will turn the customer into an advocate for your business.
Some examples of moments of truth are:
- When an online customer watches a video about your company or reads reviews of your service
- When a customer dials into a call centre and is answered immediately by a real person asking what they want rather than having to work through several layers of an interactive voice response system
- When a customer first walks into one of your stores and has their initial experience of who you are as a business
Super-ordinate proposition summary
If a customer embraces only one element of your proposition and you fail to deliver on that specific element, then the whole relationship with you is at risk. However, customers who embrace your Super-ordinate proposition have a deeper level of engagement with you and are more willing to forgive you if any one element fails them in some way. Developing this willingness in a customer to forgive a transgression is the ultimate goal of any Super-ordinate proposition.
Appealing to customers – your Business Intent
The four elements of the Super-ordinate proposition come together to form your Business Intent – the aim of what you strive to achieve with your customers. This can be manifested in a statement of intent which identifies the overall guiding principles of the way you want to portray your customer experiences as a business. This is the master plan of the experienced feel of the output of all your efforts at doing business, and it should also show what ‘great’ looks and feels like for you.
The other side of the interaction is the customer’s experience – how the customer actually experiences your Business Intent.
This model shows how your business needs to be set up to deliver your desired level and style of customer experiences. But it isn’t yet complete, for although your offer to your customers may stay relatively static, the customer’s needs change frequently, and often rapidly, depending of what their specific aim is with you at any point in time.
The customer lifecycle
To make the model complete we need to overlay the different need-states of the customer, and this is represented by the customer’s lifecycle with you. Unfortunately (from a commercial perspective) it isn’t always about customers buying things from you. Even though this is the primary goal of your business, the customer has other aims in their dealings with you, and their need is represented by the stage of the lifecycle they are at with you.
The customer lifecycle identifies the various life-stages of the relationship they have with you, and every industry has a different way of dealing with their customers. A basic seven-stage customer lifecycle is shown below:
AWARE: the various ways that the customer may become aware of your company, service or product.
INTEREST: when the customer begins to show an active interest in what you have to offer.
BUY: the point at which the customer purchases your product or service.
USE: the stage when the customer uses your product. This may be several years in the case of durable goods or a matter of minutes if it’s a bar of chocolate.
SERVICE: the customer may have a complaint about some aspect of your product or may need a relevant support service of some kind.
RE-COMMIT: when the customer returns to buy another product from you.
LEAVE: the point at which a customer ceases to be a customer.
These different life-stages can last for moments or years – and the customer will jump around the lifecycle depending on their needs. They rarely, if ever, progress linearly along it.
For example if the lifecycle refers to a car, then the customer will spend a relatively short period in the AWARE, INTEREST and BUY stages but will spend years in the USE stage, while spending a day every six-months in the SERVICE stage when the car receives its routine maintenance service. When the owner feels it’s time for a new car, they may RE-COMMIT and buy another from you, or they may sell the car and buy another model from a competitor. At this point they LEAVE the relationship they have with you to start another lifecycle with your competitor.
The key understanding is that the customer is only ever in one of these stages at any moment in time. The lifecycle model sits over the point at which the delivered customer interactions and the experience of the customer meet in the Super-ordinate proposition model.
As the customer moves through the lifecycle model, the delivered interaction and the experience had by the customer can meet around only one stage at any time. The aim of the delivered customer experience is to be appropriate to the stage in the lifecycle at which it is occurring. In this example below it is when they BUY from you.
This model is likely to look similar to that of your competitors. In any industry the customer lifecycle model tends to be the same, so you need to make it ‘practically different’ wherever you can. Your service style is based on your company’s brand values and culture and so this will be one differentiator for you. But we now need to look at ways to lift the experience to a much higher level than that of your competition.
It’s about Customer Delight, not Customer Satisfaction
The typical way of measuring how a customer feels about an interaction with you is to measure the level of their customer satisfaction. This is unfortunate terminology – for it totally underplays what is aiming to be achieved. Customer satisfaction is the base-level of what you should be aiming for. If you fail to provide the agreed base-level of service then you are immediately creating dis-satisfaction in your customers.
In your home you expect a continuous supply of electricity at the correct voltage and clean water at an appropriate pressure. You expect your mobile phone to work all the time. You expect your newspaper to be delivered each day. You expect your bank to account for every penny in your cheque account. You expect your cleaning products to do what is said on the side of the bottle. Your core-service should ideally not instil any levels of dis-satisfaction. If it does, then the elements that caused the dis-satisfaction are called pain points and are the areas that you need to improve on immediately.
Don’t be a commodity
The vast bulk of the resources in your company are applied to the delivery of the base-level of service. This is customer satisfaction – just getting your basics right. Customers expect this – and woe-betide you if you fail to deliver. It’s a disappointing thing for any business to realise – but often your base service or product has become (or is close to being) commoditised. That there’s not much difference between what you sell and what your competitors sell.
Think about the attributes of smart phones today. In the few years since their launch, they are looking very much the same in appearance – both physically as devices and how you interact with them on the screen. They may not be commoditised items yet, but they aren’t far from it.
The way you need to prevent yourself from being in a commoditised environment is through the experience you deliver to your customers. With mobile devices for example, the experience that you have with the companies that provide network services on these devices is vastly different. And this is where the differentiator lies – the revenues and profits that a company can achieve as a differential over the competition will be based primarily on the service experience that the company offers and provides. This is the aspect that every business needs to think differently about.
Delight & Advocacy
Your goal needs to be on delighting customers – but more particularly, knowing when, where, and how to delight them. This is your real opportunity for future growth – how you will achieve your own brand of customer delight. Offering the kinds of experience that surprise and impress the customer and which cause them to become advocates of your service and your business.
Advocacy is one of the most aspired-to statuses in the relationship that a business has with their customers – and it is the one frequently deemed too hard to achieve. But not so when you delight customers with amazing experiences. In today’s socially-networked world people want to have things to talk about and share – and their experience of your business is the one personal aspect that they can talk about.
Any great product can be copied relatively quickly – however, a great service experience is harder to replicate. Just as there are design teams at work on new products, so there needs to be a similar focus on the way a business services its customers and the resultant experience that this delivers.
The people responsible for designing the customer services and experiences often aren’t as formalised in a team structure as the product development team are. They frequently lack the depth of resources that the product design team has. So they need to make up for this in their ingenuity and ability to identify new and innovative ways to offer better services and experiences. And this requires better thinking than is currently being done in organisations.
Your products may be standard for every customer but the service you deliver to a customer is unique to them by their very nature of having unique circumstances that you have met. Delivering this perceived unique and personal experience is the one true way to deliver customer delight – and hence advocacy. This is what you need to strive to achieve.
Identifying customer touchpoints
At every lifecycle stage there are many different touchpoints that the customer could experience. For example in the BUY stage, your in-store touchpoints with the customer may include:
- Browsing your shelves
- Watching a demonstration screen of the product
- Reading the box
- Using a display model
- Interacting with a salesperson
- Carrying the product to the payment point
- Paying for the item
- Being offered an extended warranty
- Being given their purchase in a carrier bag
- Receiving a receipt
- Being offered a discount off a next purchase
However, there are potentially many other BUY touchpoints in other channels too. Can your customers buy from you online, or on their mobiles, or through a call-centre? There may even be other retailers that sell your products, and the customer’s touchpoints in those stores will be different to the ones in your own retail channel.
Mulberry Consulting are rated as the leaders in their field for customer journey mapping by Forrester Research. [Note: Mulberry Consulting has recently been bought by CustomersFirst Now]. They use their proprietary Ci Map software to map out the entire touchpoint terrain for a business’s interactions with their customers.
Plotted customer journey maps showing the route a customer takes in their dealings with you are idealised – and by default are therefore nearly always wrong! They represent the journey that the typical customer will take – but the typical customer never exists. Everyone is an individual with their own needs and preferences and they will follow some variation of any plotted customer journey. Customers have objectives they desire to achieve – they don’t actually plan to go on a journey with you to buy your product.
Mulberry Consulting create a model where they identify every touchpoint that a company has with its customers under each stage of the customer lifecycle. Each touchpoint is mapped on their Ci Map software to create the touchpoint terrain that the business has with its customers. This ensures that every possible interaction the company can have with a customer is identified. This also ensures that whatever the objective or need of the customer – they are guaranteed to be somewhere on that terrain map at any given time. The insightful aspect is that there will only be one touchpoint active at any moment in time – but there will always be a touchpoint active at every moment in time.
The Mulberry Ci Map approach to identifying every customer touchpoint is an ideal mechanism to become a source of customer activity data – and the target for the subsequent re-application of derived customer experience analytics and insights.
Because you can only influence customers at touchpoints, it’s important for businesses to realise that your customers actually live on your touchpoint map! A well-developed (and used) touchpoint map helps you influence the behaviour of customers through the experiences you deliver at each touchpoint.
Each touchpoint needs to be owned by a specific person in the business who is responsible for the development and improvement of the customer’s interaction and experience at that touchpoint. Mulberry’s findings over many years is that frequently there is no specific and responsible owner for each touchpoint – which means the manner in which a company interacts with their customer at that point isn’t being shaped to be the best that it can be.
Developing the touch points
Once every touchpoint has a specific owner, then that person is responsible for boosting that touchpoint to deliver as much customer delight – and business value – from it as is practically possible. Each touchpoint is assessed for the experience it delivers to a customer. Some touchpoints can be identified as problematic areas where the customer’s experience is below the desired standard. These are pain points and need to be addressed and corrected as a matter of urgency.
Other touchpoints may be recognised as times where a significant impact can be made on the customer. These are the moments of truth (mentioned earlier) and are the defining moments in your relationship with the customer where you have the opportunity to influence them significantly. These touchpoints are your prized possessions and you need to protect and develop them as far as is practical.
Thinking about touchpoints
Every touchpoint owner has the responsibility of boosting their own touchpoints in a way that is (ideally) different and better than anything the competition can offer. This can be achieved through the process of Active Thinking.
For each touchpoint there are a number of questions that can be asked. These need to be hard questions as they are the key to the advancement of your touchpoints – and subsequently yourself as a business. Hard questions are the key to achieving a greater differential for you over your competition. Anyone can ask and answer easy questions, but it takes courage to pose yourself hard questions to answer.
These hard questions will become the Killer Questions that you’ll ask when you apply your Active Thinking. Some examples might be:
- What things can only we do at this touchpoint that our competition can’t copy?
- What is the current way we and our competitors interact with our customers at this touchpoint and what will be a bold way to do something different that will be of great value to us?
- How can I convert this touchpoint into a moment of truth?
How are you going to answer these Killer Questions on developing your customer experiences? And how are they going to change to be different from those of your competition? I’ve covered that in two other posts. Read Why you shouldn’t waste your time brainstorming any more. And then Learn how to undertake an Active Thinking exercise on your customer touchpoints and customer experience design here.
Summarising the steps to your New Model for Customer Experience
1. Create your Super-ordinate proposition by:
- Ensuring you have a valued transactional proposition
- Designing your service interactions to make you easy to do business with
- Creating your own service style based on your brand values
- Knowing where your moments of truth are where you can significantly influence the customer
- Define your overall business intent
2. Identify your customer lifecycle model and overlay your Super-ordinate proposition onto each life stage
3. Create a touchpoint terrain map of every single touchpoint that exists in your business and allocate an owner to each one
4. Apply Active Thinking to each touchpoint to:
- Make it a moment of truth for your customer
- Identify ingenious ways to differentiate it from the competition, and
- Explore ways to extend it into being a new revenue growth opportunity
If you need more information on how you can transform your customer experiences then either contact Ingenious Growth here or Mulberry Consulting (CustomersFirst Now) here. We have offices in London, New York and Toronto.
Try the new Active Thinking project workbook
You may want to consider buying one of our Active Thinking project workbooks. The workbook contains a fully-worked through demonstration project that explains how to lead a team through an Active Thinking exercise. The workbook also contains five blank team-thinking project templates and five blank individual-thinking project templates for you to use.
The Active Thinking project workbooks are available here or online from your local Amazon store.
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Chris Thomason is Managing Director of Ingenious Growth, a business growth design company. He is also the author of The Delicate Force which explains what drives our ideas, inspiration and creativity. The Delicate Force is available from the Amazon online bookstore.