Greasing the Wheel: Your CEO Wants to Differentiate, But How?
by Kim Proctor March/April 2019
In retail, they say the customer is always right, but how is that idea being translated into other industries? Is your company actively seeking out customer feedback or encouraging its leadership to sit in on discussions with current or potential clients? If not, you may be missing out on key customer priorities or making costly mistakes. Consultant Kim Proctor looks at some common customer experience pitfalls and offers advice on how to create a happier clientele.
Up until I spotted the iceberg looming ahead, it had been a perfectly nice voyage. The CEO and I were both excited to launch a new product in a growing field. However, after my repeated requests to find more beta testers to give us feedback went unfulfilled, I knew we could get off track. I seemed to be the only one to see the iceberg before we inevitably hit it.
While we were able to launch the product, it did not garner the short-term traction desired to help recoup product development costs. We missed out on customer validation of important product decisions and features.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Simply, the CEO had missed the opportunity to involve enough customers in the new product development process. He shaped the product to his vision with specifications that were largely of his design and preferences instead of in response to market and customer-driven needs. How often do you talk to your customers? What methods do you use to listen to them? Is it easy for them to share their ideas, insights and needs with you? Moreover, how are you driving your business based on what you hear?
One of the best ways to differentiate and grow your business is to use customer experience strategies that focus on listening to customers and collaborating with them.
Here are some tips on how to avoid making the same costly mistake as that CEO.
One, build a minimum viable product (called MVP, in the startup world) and test that with customers to get feedback and evolve the idea. The foundational point here is to build out a draft concept that you can discuss with customers. Involve them at various points as you continue to build and evolve your product until it’s ready for a larger launch. This way, you save time and money.
Two, begin and sustain a dialogue with customers to help shape and improve your offerings to meet their needs best.
Three, do not decide your product or service direction and offerings based on past assumptions about clients and their needs. No company can afford to lose time or money on efforts that aren’t a fit. There are too many competitors wanting to serve your customers.
To go back to my original example: after spending precious resources to build and launch a product, the company had to scramble quickly to gather customer feedback and spend additional time and money to adapt based on that feedback. As a result, they did not reach their immediate sales goals.
COMMUNICATE WITH CUSTOMERS
Let’s dive further into point two mentioned above.
Working closely with customers to both refine existing experiences and define new ones will help you navigate a path to success by investing in the right areas. This approach will also fuel valuable long-term relationships and business results.
For example, when I look at the many customer journey mapping sessions (a qualitative research approach) that I participated in, it was surprising to find that 60% to 70% of them included a pain point around billing. Invoices were often not clear enough. They lacked specific details about the services or products delivered. When a company hears this pain point from their customers, via journey mapping or other research, many companies immediately begin to “fix” bills. But is this the best way to start fixing your customer experience? No. Do not start working on any problem you hear about from customers without first checking two things.
First, do you know where this ranks as a priority issue for customers? You need to consider the wider context of other interactions customers have with your company and verify their top priorities. Until they tell you the highest priority touchpoints, you should not begin work. Without this step, there is no assurance that you will see metrics improve based on your actions, even if it is a customer pain point. You need to determine if the experience will make or break your business relationship with the customer. Imagine billing is item number twenty on the list of things they want you to fix; this tells you to focus elsewhere, on something that will move the needle.
Second, do you know how to address the issue the customer raised? How specifically should this issue be fixed? For instance, in this example, did you ask customers what their ideal billing scenario would be? Are you interacting with the customer representatives in roles that are most impacted by billing? Nine times out of ten, this step is skipped with the best of intentions to improve the customer experience. Unfortunately, rushing the process will again lead to disappointment for anyone watching to see how metrics such as retention rates or customer satisfaction may rise based on this “improved customer experience.”
AVOIDING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PITFALLS
Don’t worry. You going to avoid these problems, because you’re going to get close to your customers!
Let’s back up for a moment. An important passage from Deborah Reuben’s The Certified Leasing and Finance Professionals’ Handbook states, “Providing an excellent experience for the client begins during the sales and origination process for leasing and equipment finance transactions and continues through the entire lifecycle of the customer relationship.”
So think broadly. What does your customer experience include? How do you get started with these customer experience ideas?
Begin by gauging leadership buy-in. Do they understand the potential results you can garner from an increased focus on customer experience? Having their commitment to this work will help you go farther and faster.
The good news is that it’s possible that your CEO already realizes that a customer-centric approach is a powerful way to drive your business growth. A research report from Walker titled The CEO View of Customer Experience clearly shows that many CEOs know that differentiation is key and that a focus on improving the customer experience across all interaction points or touchpoints is a great way to get it done.
If they don’t already see the value in improving the customer experience, offer some facts and figures. Walker’s research reveals that companies that are effective at leveraging customer experience see growth of 76% vs. 24% growth for those that are not as effective with customer experience. That might get their attention!
WHEN YOUR CEO SEES THE POTENTIAL HERE, BEGIN TO INCREASE YOUR CUSTOMER LISTENING AND COLLABORATION
To get started, look at your schedule. Do you already have a customer event like a conference or meeting coming up? If so, add on a listening session. You can learn more about customers’ current experience — the positive elements as well as the challenges — and find out where their priorities lie.
Once you know the priority points, dive into one and find out how, ideally, they would like it to work. You aren’t promising you can fulfill their blue-sky ideas, but my experience shows that listening to customers’ challenges and moving onto how they wish things would work is powerful. It opens up a dialogue, shows you value customer feedback and provides you with insights to effectively drive your efforts.
If you don’t have an event coming up, focus on an audience segment. Next, develop a list of customers to invite to a convenient location to talk. Be sure to interview customers in advance to find those most willing to articulate details about their experiences. Hosting a group session for a few hours can be very illuminating.
The fact is, customers appreciate you listening. You only need about 15 customers to host a productive session, along with a handful of key internal stakeholders to listen in to the discussion and subsequently advocate for change or lead it. You should also videotape the session. The video recording is one of the most useful artifacts that will result from this work. It allows those not in attendance to see the animated feedback from customers and aids buy-in from your colleagues. Frankly, it helps advance the work in a way almost nothing else can. For example, in one session, company executives heard that if the company didn’t meet promised shipment dates, the customer would find another supplier. In reality, the company knew this feedback in theory but only realized the urgency once they saw the video.
Don’t forget to follow up with attendees to let them know what ideas you have considered and if any can be implemented (in the short or long term). This is an on-going dialogue with customers who care about your business growth. It’s dynamic and exciting.
It’s time to begin your work to improve the customer experience and differentiate your company. As Reuben’s The Certified Leasing and Finance Professionals’ Handbook says, “In today’s highly competitive marketplace, customer experience is key throughout the entire lifecycle. Each touchpoint ‘with a customer is another opportunity to provide a positive experience.’ ”
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