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Building an Effective Customer Experience

The big catch phrase in almost any industry today is “customer experience”. Since the down-turn in the economy a few years ago we have been watching company after company succumb to bankruptcy—even large, well-entrenched companies are falling victim to reduced spending, down-sizing, and diminishing profits. In an effort to turn this trend around, companies have been trying everything they can think of to bring customers back to the cash registers—free shipping, percentage off coupons, gift cards, buy one get one free offers…none of which seems to be working long-term.

Some of the more astute CEO’s are now realizing that old-fashioned “customer first” logic has some merit. Customers want to shop where they feel they are more than a number. If a company can connect with its customers and earn their trust, it will build a groundswell of loyal customers that will not only return to that company to shop, they will also recommend it to their friends and families.

Building a solid customer experience can certainly set a company apart from the competition, but most managers don’t quite know where to start. While training is obviously called for, it isn’t as simple as throwing a little training at the employees and calling it good. Of course a good training design is the foundation for a successful shift in company policy and procedure, but before training design gets underway there is a lot of prep work to be done.

Building a great customer experience demands that you determine exactly what influences your customers to make that initial purchase and then what brings them back. First you have to identify every place and every way that your customers interacts with your company—and the best way to do that is to map a customer purchase from inception to satisfied delivery of goods or services.

Creating a customer experience map (mind map) with the customer at the center is a good way to start. The most effective way to create the full map is with a team of representatives from different parts of the company (this will give a broader perspective than will working with people from one area). Give each person a set of post-it notes® and ask them to write down the places where the customer and the company come in contact (touch points)—one contact to a page—and post it on the wall. Next, spend some time organizing the notes into a logical order flow (affinity mapping). The finished product identifies the customer touch points and these are where your training should be focused.

Unfortunately, many companies mistakenly think that the clerk in the store or the phone operator in the call center is the only person that influences the customers’ buying patterns. The truth is, anyone in the chain that was identified in the customer experience map can affect the relationship with the customer. It might be that the vendor’s goods aren’t as advertized, or the price was incorrect in an ad, or the shipping company may have delivered the package to the wrong address—regardless of what caused the actual breakdown, the company as a whole takes the blame.

The training designer needs to take all of these touch points into consideration in order to build a comprehensive and effective training program for the company. The training design needs to have multiple iterations tailored to each department, but it also needs to make it clear how each of these departments depends on one another to create that special customer experience.

While the actual policy and procedure design may focus on ways to improve service to the customer at the line level, it is absolutely critical to recognize that the employees make it all work. They need to feel that there is support for their efforts at every level in the organization starting with the Office of the President. Line workers need clear expectations about what they can and can’t do for a customer in order to execute their work with confidence. They also need on-going feedback about what they’re doing well, and how they can improve if they are to grow in their jobs.

It’s important to recognize that no matter how well you plan or how good your design may be, there will be times when things breakdown. Most customers will let you know when things go wrong if their delivery was impacted—if they got the wrong item, it was late, or it didn’t arrive at all. When something like that happens, go back to your map to determine where things went wrong and then take steps to correct the problem. The solution may be as simple as giving an employee individual remedial training or as complex as finding and repairing a flaw in the work process.

A more difficult problem is customer discontent with some element of the experience that didn’t actually impact the delivery. This might be because a phone rep was rude, a store clerk was too pushy, or a facility was too hot or too cold. In these instances customers may not be moved to say anything, but it may influence their opinions of your business. To be sure these problems don’t go unnoticed some customer research is necessary (e.g., customer survey cards in the store, online feedback forms, phone surveys conducted by independent, professional survey companies, etc.). As this data is collected, review your training materials with the results in mind. Make adjustments as needed, and be sure to provide appropriate feedback where it is indicated.

Your customers are your business. No one department or individual can make it or break it—but collectively, your employees are the corporate machine that can make things happen. If you are attentive to your customers’ needs—both internally and externally—and treat them well, your business can’t help but succeed, and when the whole company works together to get things right the first time, the customer experience will be memorable.

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About the Author

Ronald Foster, Consumer Opinion Solutions
22815 Bainbridge Drive
Elkhart, IN 46514

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