When was your last terrible customer experience?
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t have to think for long. Unfortunately, bad customer experiences are all too common—and difficult to forget. Whether it’s a canceled flight that left you stranded the day before Christmas or an item you purchased that you later realized wasn’t eligible for returns, even small experiences and interactions can radically shape our experiences with the brands we shop at.
However, when you are the brand, customer experience can feel even more difficult to navigate. What do customers want, and how can you provide it for them?
Customer experiences are more important than ever—in fact, 84% of customers have said that a brand’s experience is just as important as their products or services! Yet, customer expectations aren’t always clear.
That’s why we created this comprehensive guide for brand leaders, customer experience managers and anyone who wants to improve customer experience at their company or organization. Our team has 40+ years of experience in customer support and satisfaction—here’s what you need to know to manage, plan, and execute your customer experience strategy.
What is Customer Experience?
Want to improve your customer experience? Let’s start by understanding what it is—and what it isn’t.
Customer experience is the sum total of all of your customers’ interactions with your brands, providing a holistic view of the customer’s feelings and perceptions of your brand. It stretches across the entire customer lifecycle and journey, from interactions with your website, social media, customer service team, in-store shopping and more. All of these small and seemingly isolated interactions add up to form the overall customer experience with your brand.
In short, you can think of customer experience as a high-level look at how your customers remember, think of, and have experienced your brand in their interactions with you. Customer experience asks, “What do customers remember from their interactions or experience with our brand, big or small?”
Customer experience isn’t:
- the same as customer service
- a short-term initiative
- aligned with a single internal team
Instead, customer experience is a long-term, relational initiative that relates to all aspects of your brand, and something that nearly every team has a hand in influencing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that customer experience is one-dimensional. A brand can be providing excellent customer experiences in one area and poor ones in another area.
Ideally, you’ll improve your customer experiences over time at every touchpoint to create an excellent customer experience of your brand on the whole. Each interaction with your customers should be convenient and simple for them, while also delivering delightful, engaging and helpful interactions and service.
Unfortunately, these sorts of experiences aren’t as common as customers would like. Instead, a plethora of negative customer experiences happen regularly, things like:
- long hold times with customer service
- apps crashing while browsing or checking in
- confusing checkout processes
- long shipping times or delays
- brands not accepting returns
- irrelevant or overwhelming marketing communications
The list could go on—and surely you have your own mental list of negative customer experiences you’ve had as well. However, the options for creating positive customer experiences are almost endless. For examples, companies have:
- sent coupons for loyal customers on their birthdays
- provided personalized recommendations, either online or in-store
- offered free shipping with orders over a certain dollar amount
- provided self-service options so customers can get service instantly, anytime
- prioritized fast and efficient customer service
- invested in seamless omnichannel journeys for reduced customer effort
But before we get too deep into how to create exceptional customer experiences, let’s take a look at why your organization should care. Whether you’re on the fence about how much to invest or are looking for data to present to your executive team, here’s what you need to know about the benefits and ROI of positive customer experiences.
Why Should Your Organization Care About Your Customer Experience?
Even though customer experience is generally a long-term initiative—representing the collective sum of their interactions with your brand—just one or two bad experiences can color a customer’s experience forever. Unfortunately, most customers aren’t willing to give second chances, either—92% of consumers will switch brands after three or less bad experiences.
It’s not just retention that’s impacted by customer experience, though. Positive customer experiences can influence a variety of metrics and profitability for your brand, including:
- improving customer lifetime value
- strengthening brand affinity
- growing customer loyalty
- increasing revenue and profitability
Do better customer experiences really lead to greater revenue and profitability? All the data says it does:
- 73% of customers say that customer experience is an important part of their purchasing decisions
- Companies with excellent customer service drive revenue 4-8% higher than that of their competitors.
- 68% of customers are willing to pay more for products when the company provides great customer service
So, not only does excellent customer experiences improve your customer experience metrics—obviously—but those improvements in customer loyalty, retention and trust directly translates to your bottom line. Which makes sense—without a solid foundation of excellent customer experiences, your brand will consistently lose customers, revenue and loyalty to your competitors. And when you consider that acquiring new customers can cost five times as much as retaining your existing audience, it quickly becomes clear that good customer experiences make for good business.
How To Create a Great Customer Experience
Customer experiences are obviously essential for modern-day organizations to pay attention to—but how can brands create great customer experiences at every touchpoint? These eight practical tips will give you a framework to follow as your company improves or implements your customer experience strategy.
Understand the customer journey
This is the foundational step of great customer experiences. While you might think you understand the customer journey, it’s essential to keep in mind that customer journeys in a digital world can be almost as unique as each customer. As such, understanding the customer journey isn’t as straightforward as it once was. Now, you’ll need to:
- understand and create target user personas
- determine your touch points across the entire customer journey
- determine how different customer personas move through your touchpoints
- track how important different touchpoints are for different personas
Once you do this, you can get a clearer sense of the variety and commonalities of different customer journeys and how they impact the customer lifecycle. For example, where do customers tend to interact with your brand first? What are the most pivotal steps in their customer journey? Understanding the customer journey can give you invaluable insights into how and where to invest in customer experience improvements.
Know what your customer wants and needs
Alongside understanding your customer journey(s), it’s essential to know what your customers want and need. Customers today have more preferences than ever—and they expect that companies will understand them and cater to them.
- 76% of consumers want companies to “remember who they are, and their history with the company.”
- 66% of customers expect brands to understand their unique needs and preferences, but only 34% of consumers feel that this generally happens.
- Similarly, 69% of customers expect seamless, connected experiences, but 78% feel that omnichannel support rarely, if ever, happens.
As the data suggests, customers not only expect companies to understand their needs and preferences, but also to provide connected experiences that take into account those preferences at every turn. While this is the expectation, you can also see from the data that it isn’t often the reality for consumers. This is where brands have the opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition—by making consumer expectations a given when shopping with your brand.
For example, if a customer has indicated that he prefers to sit in the window seat on his flight, and calls your customer service team to change or book an upcoming reservation, the agent on the phone should be able to see that this customer prefers window seats and attempt to place them in one for their upcoming itinerary.
Listen to your customers and implement feedback
One of the clearest and most straightforward ways to understand your customers’ needs and preferences is to simply ask them! Gathering feedback from customers directly is a must for customer-focused brands in 2023—and there are a variety of ways to do so effectively. For example, many brands track customer experience metrics that measure customer satisfaction with their experiences across different touchpoints. CSAT, NPS and CES are all good CX metrics to start with.
In addition, gathering feedback from customers directly—through online reviews, user surveys, focus groups, product testing or other means—can provide valuable voice of the customer data, that is, data that comes directly from the customers’ themselves.
However, once you’ve engaged the customer and gathered feedback, you’ll need to eventually action items and implement that feedback directly in order to improve. (Does that seem obvious? It is, but consider that less than half of customers feel that companies adequately cater to their needs and preferences, and you’ll see there’s plenty of room to set yourself apart here!)
Improve customer personalization
Once you’ve understood your customers’ preferences, journeys and feedback, one of the best ways to improve the customer experience is to improve your personalization across the customer journey. Personalization is—perhaps not surprisingly—one of the most important elements of customer experiences today.
Ready to perfect your CX?
Take a look at the recent data:
- 71% of customers are frustrated by impersonal or generic customer experiences.
- 76% of consumers expect some level of personalization throughout the purchase process.
- 49% of buyers have made impulse purchases after receiving personalized recommendations or another personalized experience
- 59% of customers see personalization as “very important” in the customer experience (even more than the 53% who ranked speed as “very important”)
As the data demonstrates, personalization is an important value for consumers, and a must when it comes to customer experience. Personalization isn’t just relevant for the customer experience either—it also directly impacts your success and profitability as a business. Did you know that enhancing your personalization can make your marketing up to 30% more effective and increase revenue by 15%?
There are an infinite number of ways to customer customer experiences, depending on your audience, product and goals. Two simple ways to improve your customer personalization:
- Build customer profiles, personas or segments, and target customers accordingly. For example, you might notice that customers who live in the Northeast and are under 30 years old are more likely to buy snowshoes during your Black Friday sales. As a result, you can send personalized marketing to anyone with these user details highlighting your snowshoes and other relevant gear prior to those sales.
- Use customer analytics. Customer analytics can not only help you uncover the customer data needed for customer profiling and targeted marketing, but can allow you to create predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics to better personalize customer experiences. In addition, tracking customer data carefully can allow you to make personalized recommendations and personalized online and in-app experiences for regular customers.
Prioritize empathy and relational customer service
There are many reasons why customers want personalized customer experiences, but feeling known by a company and feeling like more than just a number are just two of them.
Since these are important priorities for customers, prioritizing empathetic and relational customer experiences similarly improves customer experiences by making customers feel heard, understood and supported by your brand. In addition, more than two thirds (68%) of customers have come to expect empathetic customer service from brands.
What does this look like? For example:
- prioritizing effective and accurate service across channels (76% of customers have experienced the frustration of receiving conflicting answers)
- training agents to respond empathetically and prioritize active listening
- collaborating across departments and synthesizing customer data so customers don’t have to repeat themselves (87% of customers feel frustrated by having to repeat their issue to multiple agents)
- empower your agents to provide personalized solutions for customers
Ultimately, hiring and training agents and in-store employees that can prioritize relational, empathetic service goes a long way toward creating excellent customer experiences.
Create seamless, omnichannel experiences
As discussed briefly above, customers are coming to expect seamless, connected experiences throughout their customer journey.
According to a Google study, the average number of customer touchpoints prior to purchasing ranges from around 20 touchpoints to over 500 (more common with big-ticket purchases such as travel). Not to mention that the average consumer uses at least three different channels to interact with customer service when they have a problem. So how can you possibly maintain consistency with so many channels and touchpoints?
The key is in customer data and omnichannel solutions. With carefully tracked and managed customer data, you can keep your customer profiles up-to-date with the past purchase and browsing history, customer preferences, previous interactions, store visits and more. From this data, you can carry over their browsing and purchase history—among other data for personalization and ease—across any channel or company touchpoint.
To do so, you’ll need an omnichannel strategy and software that can collate and carry data across all touchpoints. For many companies, such omnichannel management is beyond the scope of an internal team and is covered by outsourcing. An outsourced customer experience team, such as Global Response, can give your team the support you need to create excellent customer experiences through omnichannel support services.
Provide consistent and ongoing agent training
Although the majority of business leaders agree that their customer support representatives are essential for customer retention, less than 30% of customer service agents “feel empowered to do their jobs well.” Most agents say they need more training to do their job effectively, yet investing in internal agent training, upskilling and ongoing support is often not prioritized by companies.
However, investing in your customer service agents is a direct investment in customer experience. As such, companies who provide their agents with standout training will be able to provide exceptional service—and elevated customer experiences—that set them apart from the competition.
Reduce customer effort
Great customer experiences almost always have at least one thing in common: they’re easy for the customer. When you’re looking to improve or create customer experiences that go above and beyond, reducing customer friction and effort is essential.
For a quantitative approach to customer effort, you can measure Customer Effort Score (CES). CES is typically measured on a scale of 1-10, by asking customers to rate how difficult it was to get their concern resolved.
Once you have a baseline metric for CES, you can start to make measurable improvements for reducing the friction customers experience when interacting with your brand. For example:
- be available on the channels your customers are
- offer self-service options for simple, effortless service
- create omnichannel experiences so customers don’t have to repeat themselves
- avoid allowing long hold times or backlogs to build up
In short, make it easy for customers to get their needs met. By meeting customers where they are, empowering your agents to solve problems for your customers and streamlining customer interactions, you can make your brand experience effortless for customers, no matter what touchpoint they’re connecting with.
How to Manage and Improve Your Customer Experience Process
Customer experience management (CXM) involves creating a strategy for maintaining and managing customer experiences. Many brands make the mistake of assuming that customer experience is mostly out of their control—after all, how can we control how others think of us?
The reality is that there’s much within your control, and managing the customer experience process should be a key focus for brands wanting to improve their customer experiences. But how? CXM software can be a big help in managing the entire customer journey and aligning touchpoints with your brand. A CXM partner, like Global Response, can also provide the needed support to develop, manage and continually improve your customer experience process.
Whatever tools or partners help you with CXM, managing your CX process requires at least four components:
Strategy involves both the overall strategy for CXM as a whole, as well as more detailed CX processes and initiatives. In addition, this element includes structuring your team, workflows and so on. Once you’ve devised a process, you’ll need to begin measuring your results—finding the right metrics for your goals, implementing software that tracks and measures appropriate customer data and operational metrics, and putting a team in place to analyze and action the results.
You’ll also want to focus on engagement, which can involve a variety of tactics. Of course, you want to improve customer engagement generally, but you also want customers to engage with your brand by providing feedback, interacting with your brand organically and so on. Finally, you’ll need to continue to respond to what engagement and metrics you’re seeing—taking action based on the feedback and data, implementing ongoing improvements, developing new initiatives and more.
There’s obviously a lot that goes into CXM, which is why many brands are choosing to outsource their CXM to an experienced CX partner. By outsourcing, not only do you free up time for your internal team to focus on core initiatives, but you also loop in a team of experts that can provide valuable expertise and experience within your industry. Outsourcing customer experience management is also a straightforward way to improve your CX and scale your team affordably, allowing you to make quick gains in a much shorter period of time.
Whether you’re managing in-house or working with a partner, here are four tactics for improving your customer experience process:
First things first
First things first: get the basics right. When you’re implementing new processes and focusing on customer experience, it can be tempting to try to do everything at once, or to focus on new, high-tech advances in CX. However, focusing on the highest value-adds first—as well as getting the basics like speed, accuracy and convenience nailed down—will deliver the most value.
Research shows that while many companies have to focus on new technology and high-tech experiences to delight or “wow” customers, such tactics fall flat when not accompanied by basics like friendly service or an easy-to-use website. So when it comes to CXM, ensure you’re prioritizing the right things by focusing on the most essential values and qualities of a good customer experience first.
Follow up on customer feedback
Feedback processes should, as much as possible, be closed loops. For example, closed feedback loops might look like:
- Gathering feedback from customers—directly in surveys, via product reviews, on social media, or otherwise.
- Creating a plan to action the most crucial customer feedback and implementing it into your product
- Letting customers know when feedback has been implemented, i.e. through a features update newsletter or other outbound communication. Even including notices like, “We implemented three new features this month based on customer feedback…” can help close the loop for customers.
When customers know their feedback is likely to be taken into account, they’re more likely to share their feedback with your brand. And when you take customer feedback into account, you not only make better customer experiences and happy customers—you make a better product with a stronger product-market fit that helps your audience achieve their goals.
Keep your eye on the data
The foundation of most great customer experiences are relational, but in order to measure and improve customer experiences at scale, you need to be able to measure it quantitatively. Customer data and analytics allow your team to track sentiment, trends and customer satisfaction over time. In addition, you can measure sentiment and satisfaction across different customer personas, demographics, touchpoints and more.
This level of data analysis will allow your team to understand which areas of the customer journey aren’t landing well with customers. Once you know that, you can implement targeted improvement on the highest-value areas (see step #1) to improve the journey holistically. Remember that the customer experience isn’t—or shouldn’t be—a series of one-off touchpoints or interactions. Rather, great customer experiences involve streamlined customer experiences that connect across the entire customer journey.
Find expert support
If you’re looking around at your internal team wondering, “how in the world are we supposed to manage all of this?,” you’re far from alone.
Most companies—especially ones with robust customer experience strategies and departments—outsource some or all of that process to provide support for their internal team as well as to bring in additional expertise. Trusted partners can provide strategy, best-in-class technology, and expert leaders and customer service agents. Alternatively, a customer experience partner can offer additional call center or omnichannel support to let your internal team focus on developing and implementing high-level strategy.
Looking for an expert to guide you through the customer experience and CXM process? Our team at Global Response is here to help. With 40+ years of customer experience, we know customers—and your industry. Connect with an expert today to kickstart your customer experience.