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When you think of customer experience, what are the few things that immediately come to your mind? Banks, airlines, hotels, DMV? (Ok, the DMV bit was a joke.) If I were to pick, based on my experience of having spent some of the best vacays in hotels, I would definitely say hotels take the entire cake when it comes to offering memorable customer experience.
But of late, the industry has taken a brutal hit despite their reputation for top-notch customer experience. Airbnb, the still-emerging online platform for travelers to rent rooms and houses across the world, has earned a valuation of $38 billion within a mere decade of its launch. It is offsetting the $550-billion global hotel market by offering better pricing, flexible locations, personalized accommodations, and an overall positive customer experience than mainstream hotels.
To be fair, Airbnb holds no candle to high-end hotels who ace the race of attending to the tiniest personal details of customers, ranging from fresh towels to someone else making their beds every day, or having a concierge attend to their whims at the ring of a bell. However, Airbnb is rapidly growing its market share by luring more business travelers to its fandom – and that’s a visible threat Marriotts and Ritz Carltons around the world should be wary of.
Creating a positive customer experience has become imperative not only for the hotel industry, but businesses of all shapes and sizes. According to a 2017 report by Walker, it’s as important for businesses as their product and pricing strategies.
But what is a positive customer experience? Is it the pleasantries that the frontline representatives exchange with the prospects? Is it limited to deals and discounts that make the customers come back for more? Or is it all of those things?
Forrester’s Customer Experience Index states that a positive CX spans beyond a one-time wow interaction; it includes all productive experience that leads to customer retention and loyalty. So it isn’t just confined to a customer’s interactions with a few teams or limited to factors like smooth UX or clean UI. It’s the full range of interaction that a customer has with a brand on a much broader level.
“Customer service is the new marketing.”
– Derek Sivers, founder & ex-president, CD Baby
When businesses optimize all of the buyer touchpoints to deliver a lasting customer satisfaction, they succeed in adding sugar to the cookie mix. Marketers personalize a customer’s journey, make them feel important, and deliver an overall pleasant experience to create an amazing customer experience. It takes just the right dose of a few special ingredients to sweeten the deal for them – to have them crave for more of such experience.
An actionable recipe for a great customer experience
There are three things your business can do to ace customer satisfaction, i.e. be empathetic, be helpful and be fast, and treat your employees the way you would treat your customers.
1. Put empathy at the heart of your customer service
Empathy helps businesses put themselves in customers’ shoes and understand their problems better. Marketers use session replay tools to see things from the users’ perspective, view heatmaps to understand what makes visitors drop off from or stay on a site, and run A/B tests to see what sticks with them. These are not just formulaic ways to view customer behavior as data or stats, but a genuine approach to understanding what bugs them or excites them, what are the end goal they are trying to solve.
Without empathy, businesses can’t build products and offer solutions that their customers want. Empathy can also be the differentiator in making your brand stand-out amid tough competition.
It’s very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy.
– Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack
Being empathetic becomes even more important in B2C sales because of how individual each buyer’s journey is. Online businesses try their best to personalize customer journey by greeting them with their names, using pop-ups to drive engagement, or offering live chat assistance to improve the user experience.
A modern messaging app that offers bot features for you to delegate the responsibility of engaging empathetically with prospects during offline business hours is a great example to this end. Yes, machines don’t have the inherent ability to be empathetic, but you can program these automated systems to mimic human emotions. Just look at Casper Mattress, for example, who developed a bot in 2016 that would talk to insomniac customers and keep them company through the lonely nights.
70% of buying decisions are based on how customers feel they are being treated.
– Simon Sinek, Author, Start With Why
Another great example of using empathy in selling is the growing use of emojis, GIFs, and memes, even in B2C communication. People with the most amusing GIFs and memes have the best party tricks in online communities to draw crowds. Researchers have found that emoji is the body English of the virtual world; interpreting emojis activates the same area of our brains that lights up when we read other people’s facial expressions in real life. And let’s be honest, we all have contributed our bit to make the ‘tears of joy’ ? as the most shared emotion in the history of emoji.
2. Ease their problems at speed
The follow-up to using empathy in business marketing is delivering convenience with speed. If empathy is about human emotions, solving customer problems faster is about using technology to help your customers reach their goals. If you have an e-commerce website, make sure your pages load fast, inventory is stocked well, and customers can get through the checkout without any hiccups. Use a modern messaging app to offer instant help and resolve their issues in real-time. If you run a SaaS business, make your discovery calls helpful, customize your product demos to customers’ use cases, and be responsive to their queries.
At Freshdesk Messaging, for instance, our sales representatives are very keen on sending hand-typed emails to customers soon after a call to discuss the key points of their talk and to keep the ball rolling.
Committing to deliver speedy customer experience often daisy chains into wholesome results. On an average, happy customers share their positive experience with a brand with nine other friends. But if their brand experience goes wrong, unhappy customers are likely to share their bad experience with ~16 people. This is the reason why many brands nowadays are very quick to handle customer complaints on Twitter – the Times Square of the online world where customers brand-shame and heckle at businesses that ignore their problems.
And it’s not necessarily a burden that weighs your business down. For every customer who complains, there are 26 customers who choose to steer away from your brand without saying a word. So while you might get business from happy customers, you will never know what caused the 26 people to isolate your brand. So the customer tirade that you get on Twitter is actually a golden feedback.
3. Employee experience is as important as customer experience
In 2000, three authors co-wrote a very lean book titled Fish: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. In the semi-fictionalized book, a mid-level manager takes inspiration from the Pike Fish Market – a real place in Seattle – to inspire her team to perform better. The core message of the book was how workplaces can create a fun-loving, merit-based work culture that will pay off in greater results with customers. The book received a roaring reception in the business management circles at the time and became a subject of many case studies and documentaries in the coming years.
The foundation of customer satisfaction is rooted deeply in how an organization thinks and feels. If you don’t treat your employees with respect and care, they will grow frustrated and that emotion will eventually trickle down to your customers. A great EX often leads to a great CX.
“Inspired employees deliver legendary experiences for customers,” says Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type A Communications.
Wegmans, a supermarket chain spread across the East Coast U.S., is a good example of how top employee morale leads to a great customer experience. Apart from being featured in the likes of Forbes and Fortune magazines for being one of best places to work for in the U.S., Wegmans was awarded the title of America’s #1 supermarket in 2016 by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Wegmans’ employee turnover rate is half than the industry average, they invest heavily to train their staff and help them specialize a work skill, and they have awarded employees with scholarships worth $4.5 million over the past years.
“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart; his heart is where his enthusiasm is. Treat employees as volunteers just as you treat customers as volunteers, because that’s what they are. They volunteer the best parts – their hearts and minds.”
– Stephen Covey, Author, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
When the happy staff at Wegmans generously add sugar to the end user experience, it yields greater customer satisfaction and happiness. From a business perspective, this investment leads Wegmans to accrue an average annual sales figure of $7 billion. Clearly, customers love Wegmans as much as their employees do.
How does your business sugar the deal?
In today’s age-of-the-customer economy, you can’t leave customer experience to chance. There are no hacks to help you create customer happiness; you have to constantly calibrate all of your interaction points to deliver customer satisfaction.
“It’s easier to love a brand when the brand loves you back.”
– Seth Godin, Author, Entrepreneur & Marketing Guru
With the right blend of empathy, speedy resolution time, and employee-centric approach, your business can create a brand differentiation it needs to succeed.
(Cover illustration and images by Karthikeyan Ganesh)