If you believe, as I do, that the customer experience was once great, read on to learn how we got off track and what we must do to make the customer experience great again.
Long, long ago the customer experience was great – out of necessity. Imagine you were alive for the “commerce big bang.” Put yourself in the time when humankind first realized that different people have unique skills or assets which allow them to make products and services valued by others. What would the customer experience have been then? In a world of sole proprietors, the business owner would be more successful if they:
- Listened to what their customer(s) were trying to accomplish
- Developed solutions to meet their needs
- Communicated clearly about what their product or service did (or didn’t do)
- Helped customers if the product didn’t do what was promised
For proprietors who didn’t follow these maxims it is easy to imagine a scenario where a sufficiently disgruntled customer inflicted bodily harm on the owner. For example, “the spear you made broke while I was hunting a lion resulting in my inability to fend off said lion so that I am now without an arm.” No doubt the response to such a situation would have been much different than today’s “after I lost my left arm I must tell you I’m not 100% satisfied so I’m going to give you a zero (0) on the NPS survey.”
In addition to the immediate and possibly painful personal feedback, a poor product or a lackluster experience would be known throughout the community very quickly and the business owner could expect to lose customers and possibly the business. Because of the need to thrive in a community, the products developed by proprietors would have to be excellent quality supported by a great customer experience.
So what changed?
[Dis]connectedness – We began to sell outside of our “community” and lost our sense of obligation to provide quality products and excellent service. Customers who used to be “one of us” became “one of them.” As companies grew larger, the distance from the seller to the user grew too and the sense of personal commitment and obligation lessened. In effect the customer ceased to exist as a person trying to do a job, and started to exist as a company tied to revenue or profitability.
Product over-reach (and under-reach) – Long ago, I imagine the process of sole proprietors selling shoes (couldn’t resist the pun) was straight-forward. Now we sell things like SaaS solutions which meet say 75% of a customer’s needs but miss the other 25% (under-reach). Or, the product we sell may be built to do more than a customer wants so they may feel as if they are over-paying for functionality they don’t need/want (over-reach).
Complex organizational relationships – Today, when we say “customer” we often mean more than one person. At my company, 3 key stakeholders care about the features, functions and cost of the CRM platform we use and each of us has distinct though complimentary needs. Selling these types of products to multiple constituents makes things complex. And with complexity comes misunderstanding. Misunderstanding breeds missed expectations, implies poor experiences.
Of these three changes, connectedness is the most important and the most straight-forward to address. The simple (but not easy) solution is to reconnect with customers. One of the best ways to advocate for customers is to meet them, which personalizes them, which makes us part of the same community.
Matching customer objectives with product capabilities is tough work but is essential to ensuring a positive customer experience. Companies will do well to explore what customers are trying to accomplish (vs. asking what they want). (Joellyn Sargent wrote a fantastic article on why this is true.)
You may never resolve complex organizational relationships, but you can hope to create greater alignment by investing resources to obtain a deep understanding of customers’ use cases. Yes, this will elongate the sales cycle. And yes, your sales teams will need to know more about customer processes than they do. However, when this happens your value to the customer grows and together you experience mutual benefits.
Indeed, the customer experience is broken throughout much of the world. The people and companies that deliver exceptional experiences are those that have learned that the pivot point to delivering a great experience is to reconnect with customers. Reconnecting is the first step towards regaining trust and earning customer loyalty. The other steps follow from the first.