Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz famously said the company’s success was not about its coffee, but rather, “It’s about the experience.” These simple words are profound. People (whether in the form of an individual consumer or a business) buy from companies that create a delightful experience. Schultz knew that in any given town or city there was little demand for another coffee shop. But he understood there was a demand for creating a community experience that involved coffee.
The recipe for Starbucks phenomenal growth was in large part due to its focus on the ingredients needed for delight: well-trained and personable staff, wi-fi, music, comfy chairs, attractive display cabinets with fresh food, consistent quality and seasonal menu offerings. Customers came, returned, and increased their spend across product lines – and bought gift cards for friends and family, increasing the number of delighted customers in the most organic way possible.
This experience-centric approach is not exclusive to the B2C world; B2B companies such as Salesforce.com, American Express and Constant Contact leverage customer experience for competitive advantage. They understand that robots aren’t making purchasing decisions in B2B, people are. The context of the company doesn’t eliminate the fact that emotion is a key buying factor.
But too few companies understand the importance of customer experience and its correlation to revenue generation. Companies focus on their sales team’s impact, but not on the myriad of other touch points their firms have with the customer, both pre- and post-sale. And often, when sales people bring back experience issues to operations, they’re met with deaf ears. Ignorance is not bliss, for when the customer experience is ho-hum, difficult, or blatantly negative, there is no incentive for their loyalty, much less to rave to their colleagues or friends about their experience. The door is open to a competitor who offers delight. As Gary Vaynerchuk drives home in his book The Thank You Economy, business leaders better “care – about your customers, about your employees, about your brand – with everything you’ve got.”
A few of my own recent vendor interactions illustrate what goes wrong when leadership forgets (or doesn’t care about) the customer experience:
- Landscape company’s voice mail greeting: “Your call is very important to us but we’re not in the office right now, so please call back tomorrow.”
- Empty restaurant at lunch time where the host seated me and my guest at a small table next to the wait staff’s station.
- Doctor’s office A/R voice mail greeting: “Sorry, the person who takes payment information is out this afternoon; please call back tomorrow.” That was after the invoice instructed me to, “Call the office to pay by credit card” instead of providing an easy mail in form or web payment option.
- Letter from my credit card company’s fraud department asked me to call but provided the wrong department’s phone number. For good measure, the person I reached gave me the correct number but couldn’t transfer me and said I must re-dial.
- Countless supplier websites where it’s difficult to find the information I seek.
These experiences send a variety of subliminal messages, among them:
- “You’re just not that important to us.”
- “We’re super sloppy about our work.”
- “Our financials are shaky and we had to cut back on staff.”
- “We run our business based on our needs not yours.”
A customer who experiences this lack of caring may stay on, but with few recurring transactions and no referrals. At worst, and more often, they run screaming to another provider who understands the power of customer experience.
CEO’s should be up at night with the fear that their customers and prospects are having these experiences. Excluded are companies with rock bottom pricing as their value proposition; the customer consented to give up service in exchange for price performance. But few businesses operate on that model and probably not yours. More likely, you couldn’t afford to sell your product at a price low enough for the customer to forgo the experience. The damage shows up as an inability to convert prospects, low customer retention, inability to upsell and negative reviews. It’s not too hard to find a new landscape company, doctor, restaurant or credit card provider. Or, accountant, cloud services provider, architect, IT consultant, etc. There’s always another game in town.
How do you solve? Begin with an audit of your organization, all departments included, not just those that are customer facing. After all, incorrect invoices reduce the quality of the customer experience. Scrutinize processes and systems to understand their impact on the customer. Review practices and scripts for all customer facing positions. Identify the customer experience you provide before the buyer has even converted from prospect to customer. Ask these questions:
- In what ways are we hard to do business with?
- How complicated is it to engage with our people, processes and materials (website, shopping carts, marketing collaterals, forms, etc.)?
- How closely do we fulfill on our promises? Are we saying we’re one thing but being another?
- Have we created a culture of caring and are we hiring people with the DNA to act accordingly?
- Is the customer experience integrated into our values statement?
- Does everyone in the organization understand their impact on the customer?
- Have we established and trained everyone in standards of performance?
- Does everyone that touches the customer have the training and the authority to solve a problem?
Get your entire workforce involved in this inquiry. Empower (and reward) teams to find the issues and solutions. Ask your customers for their perspectives. Make Schultz’s mantra, “It’s about the experience” a core element of your business strategy. You can close the gap between customer fail and customer delight. Revenue growth depends on it.