In an era where brand identity and reputation are so important to a company’s success, building a quality customer experience (CX) is more critical than ever. With so many options to choose from when it comes to products and services, consumers are treating CX as a key market differentiator. The shift hasn’t been lost on companies, with many of them coming to see the way they interact with customers as a potential competitive advantage both today and in the future.
Customer experience refers broadly to the interaction between a brand and a customer across all touch points throughout the course of their relationship. If those experiences are positive and facilitate a smooth customer journey, people are more likely to become repeat customers and eventually advocates. Poor, unsatisfying, or frustrating experiences can not only cause customers to walk away, but also turn them into vocal critics of a company, undermining the strength of its brand.
But CX is more than just an interaction between the consumer and the brand. Products and services don’t exist in a vacuum, and the world around them can have a significant impact on the overall CX quality. By expanding the range of possible CX touchpoints, companies can create a holistic view of the customer’s journey that allows them to deliver a better overall experience and stand apart from their competitors.
Reframe Your Customers’ Journey
Catering to the needs of the customer and crafting a better experience for them often requires a reframing of their typical journey. Take, for instance, an airline. It’s easy to think of the airline CX beginning the moment a person checks in for their flight, but this is actually a narrow way of framing the experience of flying. For the customer, their experience begins when they make arrangements to travel to the airport. While the airline itself is not involved in this part of this experience, it’s still affected by it. If a customer has a stressful experience getting to the check-in counter, their state of mind is going to impact their CX with the airline.
Minor issues that might otherwise be insignificant can suddenly become huge annoyances in this situation (which, given the airline industry’s rather notorious CX issues, is quite a problem). It may not be the airline’s fault that the customer had difficulty getting to the airport, but it certainly has the potential to get their relationship off to a rocky start all the same.
Reframing the customer’s journey can help companies identify the opportunity to establish new touchpoints that can improve the overall CX. By thinking of the customer’s journey beginning with the moment they decide to buy a ticket, an airline can construct an experience that reduces the potential for friction and frustration. They could, for instance, offer free or inexpensive transportation to and from the airport or allow them to check-in automatically through mobile GPS when they arrive. Thinking beyond the direct interaction with the customer opens up numerous creative opportunities for CX designers to meet people’s actual needs.
Build a Relationship
Companies often forget that people don’t generally set out to buy products or services themselves for the sake of buying them. They buy them in order to facilitate some other need. Products and services are a means to an end, not the end themselves. Understanding this distinction can help companies reframe their CX to build a relationship with their customers, allowing them to meet people where they are and helping them get to where they want to be.
Capital One’s recent efforts to appeal to younger customers with their innovative “Capital One Cafe” initiative is a good example of how companies can reframe their relationship with customers. While Capital One is still primarily interested in selling financial products and services, creating a space where people can buy coffee, sit and work, conduct meetings, and access free wi-fi is tremendously valuable for establishing a relationship with people who could eventually become customers. The cafes offer free money counseling services and provide “ambassadors” who can assist customers with a variety of bank-related services (opening accounts, applying for loans, etc). By reframing the role a bank can play in a community, Capital One is attempting to create a new range of touchpoints that will allow them to address the needs of existing and potential customers.
As CX becomes a more important form of brand differentiation, companies must think about how they can make themselves more integral to the customer’s journey and build a better relationship with them throughout that process. By learning more about their customers’ actual needs and understanding what they want, companies can better position themselves to provide products and services that create value and turn those customers into brand advocates.