The word “customer” has become a key term in business meetings across the globe, the topic for many published books, and a focal point for wise leaders ready to lead their businesses into the future. While there are numerous ways to think of customers, for the sake of this conversation, let’s simply define the term as any person or entity receiving, consuming, or experiencing an organization’s products or services. We could also discuss both internal and external customers, but for now we will focus on the external customer of a business organization.
The fact is… no organization can survive, let alone thrive, without customers.
Why Customer Experience Matters
Since we know that businesses are dependent on customers consuming products and services, we must realize that the experiences a customer has with a business matter tremendously.
Take a moment and remember the last time you ate at a restaurant. Remember the experience of arriving at the restaurant, being greeted (or not) by a host/hostess, interacting with your waiter/waitress, receiving and eating the food, paying the bill, and leaving the restaurant. Which parts of that experience are easiest to remember?
My guess is that the best and worst parts of that experience are your clearest memories. Maybe you had a fabulous server who predicted your every need, but the food was cold. Maybe the host/hostess was rude, but you were given chocolate or mints with your bill. Each of these individual situations contributes to your total experience at the restaurant and determines how you would rate your overall experience and form an opinion about this restaurant.
Can you see how your personal interactions with the business directly influenced your opinions about it? You’ve made conclusions about the restaurant based on your experience with the facility, people, and product. This is important because you may share these opinions and conclusions with others and ultimately influence their opinions about that business.
A customer’s experience with an organization helps to determine whether they will return to buy again and whether they will persuade others to interact with or steer clear of that organization.
How Customer Expectations are Changing
At the same time, we must recognize that the customer’s expectations are constantly evolving. Once upon a time, when customers interacted with organizations, their expectations were relatively simple. This is no longer the case.
Let’s break down the example of going to a restaurant to eat. Customers of the past would have expected to enter a moderately clean facility, be taken to their seat by a host/hostess, have their order taken, receive their food exactly as they ordered it, pay their bill, and leave. While this doesn’t seem too far from the expectations of today’s customers, let’s look closer.
Today, customers would expect to enter a very clean facility, be greeted happily by a host/hostess who would accommodate their seating requests, meet their server who would remarkably remember their order and anticipate their every need, receive their food order exactly as they ordered it, receive their bill and thank you gift (chocolate, mints, etc.), and be thanked for coming as they walk out the door. While some of these expectations may seem excessive, if they weren’t met, customers would very likely be less than impressed with their experience.
Customer expectations go beyond the basics. People want an experience that is simple and memorable. This may look a bit different for each business, but the bottom line is that people want to be the center of the story – to be valued, heard, taken care of, respected, etc.
Why Every Customer Impression Matters
If we dissect the concept of customer experience through the lens of human behavior, we notice that when people first interact with or are introduced to your brand, they form an impression about it. First impressions are critical for setting the tone for the rest of their experience with your business. From those impressions, people will form opinions or patterns of belief that determine what conclusions they will eventually make about your business.
Given the quality of their experience, the customer will draw concluding thoughts about what the business does, who they are, and ultimately if they are a business worthy of supporting.
Through the impression and opinion stages, the business’ goal must be to shed a positive light on itself by helping the customer find success. Whether that success is having a pleasant experience while eating a good meal, finding all the items they need in the store, or getting a good deal on a new car. The better the business supports the customer and informs them of the “goodness” of the organization, the more likely they will be satisfied and walk away with positive conclusions about the business.
How Customer Experience Drives Business Growth
One of the most important aspects to your business’ growth is the experience that customers have with your brand. Their experience will determine their opinions, whether they return and continue to engage, and whether they encourage or discourage others from engaging with your business. Customers who have their needs and expectations met by your organization will become loyal and help drive growth for your business by returning and referring their friends.
The reality is that “customer experience” is happening even if we are not aware of it, and whether or not we are being intentional about designing it well. It can contribute to repeat and referral business if designed well, or it can cause customer fall-off and poor reviews if not done with intention.
Once you understand the mindset of the customer and cater your business’ interactions with them to reflect what the customer wants and expects, you have a much better chance of meeting and exceeding their expectations and gaining loyal customers… and we know that loyal customers who become raving “fans” of your business will help to drive growth for your business.
How to Design Customer Experience
A common way of thinking about customer experience is to consider how presentable and polite your employees are to customers. Please realize that customer experience goes far beyond the concepts of customer service. Customer experience begins the first moment an individual becomes aware of your organization and continues to expand as they personally interact with your organization.
Their experience is not about one single interaction, but rather many smaller contacts, interactions, and moments of exposure to your business, which informs their thoughts about who you are, what you do, and how well you do it.
This experience must not be left to chance, which is why we must be intentional about designing it. To design something is to create with purpose (my definition for the sake of this discussion).
When we look at your customer’s experience with your business, we must create each step with intention and purpose, with the goal of making their experience positively memorable.
In its simplest form, designing your customer’s experience requires mapping out all the moments where that customer will likely interact with your brand, identifying the key moments from that experience, and working to make each critical point in the customer journey impactful.
For more information or help on this and other topics, contact our team.