(This post was originally published on January 13, 2015. We’ve updated it for accuracy and completeness.)
Customers don’t just buy products anymore. They buy experiences. They buy communities. They buy identity.
That means trying to sell anything less than “wow” (to borrow from Michael Hyatt) will not work. In a market where your customers have all the power, you cannot afford to under-deliver on customer experience.
You need to understand what makes up an exceptional customer experience. You need to understand how to deliver them. Let this post be your guide.
Impact of Customer Experience
The impact of positive customer experience is clear. Customers buy from companies that provide one. Customers abandon companies that do not.
Research conducted by NewVoiceMedia showed that 70% of customers would be more loyal after receiving good customer service (one part of the overall customer experience). 42% even said they would spend more money as a result.
Data from Forrester’s Business Impact of Customer Experience tells a similar story. The leaders, according to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index (CXi), showed a 43% gain in performance from 2007-2013. Compare that to a 33.9% loss for CXi laggards over the same period.
Or, how about some of these stats from Help Scout:
- 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction because of poor customer experience
- Loyal customers are worth up to 10 times the value of their first purchase
- 59% of Americans would try a new brand for a better service experience
- 7 out of 10 Americans said they’d spend more with someone who provides excellent customer service
I don’t need to go on (but that link has plenty more).
What makes an exceptional customer experience?
It’s one thing to wax poetic about the value of good customer experience. Actually delivering these experiences is something else. But, to understand how to deliver exceptional customer experiences, you need to know what defines one.
The following are some important ideas you must consider.
Endless Aisle: Never Out of Stock
You should not be restricted by the size of your store shelves. That was a problem for the 1950’s appliance store owner–not one for a modern, multichannel seller.
The “endless aisle” is accomplished by selling online and managing your inventory and fulfillment dynamically. With the ability to shift inventory from store to store (if you have them) or to drop ship orders to suppliers, you never have to post “out of stock” on your webstore or marketplace account.
Companies who master the art of drop shipping manage to build successful businesses without ever holding any inventory! They are always out of stock, but never to the customer.
Every time someone sees the words “out of stock”, it’s a customer whose expectations were not met. It’s a missed opportunity for a sale. It’s a bad customer experience, and you may lose that customer forever.
Aseem Chandra, a vice president at Adobe, explains on Forbes why personalization is the key to the future of marketing. His words couldn’t be more true. (By the way, the same applies to selling.)
A one-size-fits-all approach to customer experience is, built to be best as possible for as many people as possible, will usually just be forgettable for everyone. Today’s consumer demands a personal experience, tailored to their exact needs. You could blame their egos, or you could meet their expectations.
The home page for Lowe’s home improvement stores is a great example. They personalize product recommendations based on your location, purchase history, and customer profile.
If you live in Ohio, you’ll see snow blowers in September and lawn mowers in March. If you live in southern California, your recommendations will be different. They use whatever data they can collect about a customer to make sure they are selling relevant products.
You may not have the infrastructure that Lowe’s does, but personalization can be simple (it can even be offline). The key centralize your data about customers. Then unify it with any other data you have available.
Consistency Between Online and Offline
Retailers, big and small, often struggle to create consistent customer experiences between their online and offline channels. You shouldn’t have a stellar in-store experience and a terrible website. You shouldn’t be timely and personable behind your register and blow off your Amazon customers. Exceptional customer experience requires consistency.
This consistency is especially important for retailers who sell products with longer buying cycles. Customers may use your webstore to educate themselves or to note their options. Then they may come into your store to make a purchase.
They view your website (or any online channel) and your store as one person. They don’t care that your website is managed across the country. They see you as one brand. If the messaging, price and inventory info aren’t consistent between your webstore and brick-and-mortar store, you will disappoint.
Consistency between online and offline also means providing options like “buy online, pick up in store“. A customer may prefer to buy online, but would rather swing by your store to pick it up than ship from your warehouse. Without unifying your online and offline channels, offering that option is difficult-to-impossible.
Timely and Accurate Shipping Updates
When a customer buys something that must be shipped or backordered, they want to know when they’ll receive it. Many customers even want to be notified along the way.
This kind of transparency builds trust. It ensures the customer is comfortable with the business they’ve shared with you. Trust is a pretty important part of the customer experience.
In order to provide timely and accurate shipping information, you must unify your supplier, inventory, and logistics data. Shipping has a lot of moving parts. It’s your job to tie them together–to draw one picture.
Shipping info may seem like a small detail. It’s not. Don’t believe me? Ask Amazon.
Delivering Exceptional Customer Experiences
There’s a common thread running through all of these tactical ways to create exceptional customer experiences. You must unify the different systems that operate your business.
Some of those systems live within your walls (like your POS). Some of them live in the cloud (like your webstore and marketplaces). Some of them live with someone else (like supplier systems). It’s up to you to integrate them into one customer experience platform.