Who is the most important person in a company? The owner? The CEO? The employees? If you picked an answer from one of these three options, you need to think again. The customer is the most important person to every company.

Like Peter Drucker once said, the purpose of business is to create and keep customers. Without customers, you cannot be in business.

Because of this, you need to start thinking of your customers and their experience when interacting with your business. This is especially important today where customers, empowered by technology, are demanding more from the companies they do business with.

The problem is that most companies are leaving this important aspect of their business to staff who are in customer-facing positions, such as sales people and customer care representatives.

If you want to set your company apart from the competition, you need to make customer experience an integral part of your business, cutting across all sectors and departments within the company. You need to make customer experience a formal part of your company culture.

As a CEO, you need to start thinking about and to get involved in creating a culture of excellent customer experience. Question is, are you?

WHAT IS CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE?

Before we go any further, we first need to understand exactly what customer experience means.

In the simplest terms, customer experience can be defined as the customer’s perceptions and related feelings that are a direct result of the customer’s interactions with your employees, your products, your systems, your channels, and your company in general over the duration of their business relationship with your company.

These interactions include every step of their buyer journey, from awareness and discovery all through to purchases and services.

One thing I have noticed is that people often confuse between the terms customer service and customer experience. The two terms are not interchangeable. Customer service represents a single touchpoint between the customer and your brand.

Customer experience, on the other hand, encompasses the feelings and emotions of the customer throughout multiple touch points. In other words, customer service is just a single element of your entire customer experience.

To make this concept easier to understand, let’s use an example of someone ordering a product from an online store. The customer phones the store to place the order. The sales rep that takes the order is very friendly and helpful to the customer.

That is good customer service.

The customer experience, on the other hand, encompasses every interaction the customer has had with the online store, including browsing their website checking out products, talking to the staff on phone, payment for the order and receiving a high quality product on time.

If the sales rep was friendly and helpful (good customer service) but the customer’s order was botched, then their customer experience will be awful, regardless of the great customer service. Many companies do not bother creating any desired customer experience, which unfortunately leads to a negative customer experience.

You can compare a customer experience to a brand image. Whether you consciously cultivate a brand image or not, people will associate an image with your brand.

The secret, therefore, is to control what people think of your brand by intentionally shaping your brand image. The same applies to customer experience. Your company will have a customer experience whether you know it or not, whether you intentionally create it or not.

Therefore, you need to take action to shape your customer experience. Think of the companies that are well known for their excellent customer experience. I’m talking about companies like Apple, Amazon, Zappos, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Disney, Tesla, Nike, and so on.

It seems that a great customer experience is a natural part of these companies, like they were ‘born that way’. However, these companies didn’t just happen to have great customer experience.

Their great customer experience is a direct result of well thought out strategies.

The CEOs of these companies understand the importance of customer experience to the prosperity of their businesses and go out of their way to create their specific customer experience.

If you want to keep your business growing in these harsh economic times, you also need to consciously and intentionally create a great customer experience for your company. But is it really worth it?

IMPORTANCE OF GREAT CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Why should you spend time and effort creating a great customer experience? How does it help your business?

According to a recent survey by Customer Management IQ, customer experience is so important to a business that 75% of customer experience management executives gave it a rating of 5 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest level of importance.

Below are some reasons why great customer service is important to your company.

Cost Reduction

In order to create a customer experience, companies first need to understand every touchpoint that their customer go through. This is usually done using tools such as customer journey maps.

By analyzing and understanding each stage of a customer’s interaction with the company, companies can identify any problems and inefficiencies in each of these points, leading to a reduction in cost. According to a report by McKinsey, businesses that use tools like customer journey maps see a 15-20% reduction in their cost of service.

Impacts Your Company’s Reputation

What happens when a customer is delighted by their experience with your company? They will turn into brand ambassadors and start telling their friends about their great experience with your company. A happy customer will share their good experience with about 9 people on average.

On the other hand, unhappy customers will share their poor experiences with about 16 people on average. What this means is that if you want to boost your company’s reputation, you should try as much as possible to enhance your customer experience and minimize poor customer experiences.

Increases Customer Loyalty

Not only does great customer experience improve your brand’s reputation, but it also turns your customers into loyalists. Think about all the companies that have a cult-like loyalty from their customers.

I am talking about brands like Southwest Airlines, Apple, IKEA, Dollar Shave Club, Zapos, and so on. What do they have in common? All of them offer excellent customer experience.

Actually, this should be obvious. After all, you are unlikely to leave a brand if you are happy with them. Don’t just take my word for it.

According to a Temkin Group Insight Report, brands with a great customer experience are also more likely to experience customer loyalty indicators such as repurchasing, forgiving mistakes by the company, trying new products by the company and recommending the brand to their friends and colleagues.

Reduce Customer Churn And Increase Profits

It is a lot cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new customer. Actually, acquiring a new customer can be 5 times more costly than retaining an existing customer. Happy customers will stay with your company for longer, thereby increasing your customer lifetime value.

Customer service statistics show that loyal customers are worth up to 10 times their first purchase, on average. In addition, research shows that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by to 25-95%.

WHY THE CEO NEEDS TO BE INVOLVED IN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

For a company to successfully implement a customer experience strategy, the change has to start from the top. Implementing a customer experience strategy is not easy. There will be tons of challenges and obstacles.

One factor that can greatly help to overcome these challenges and successfully implement the transformation is a deeply involved CEO.

Below are some reasons why the CEO needs to be involved in customer experience:

Ensure the Transformation Permeates Across the Whole Company

Like I mentioned at the start of this article, customer experience is more than a strategy. It should be a formal part of the company culture. What better way to instill a new company culture than to have it driven by the CEO?

The CEO is the most influential person within the company, and the chances of any significant change being successfully effected within the company will be higher when the CEO puts his weight behind the change.

In addition, creating a customer experience requires different departments and teams to work together towards a unified goal. Many customer experience initiatives will involve customer service, sales, operations, marketing, and other departments. Without top down leadership, getting such an initiative to work can be quite a challenge.

The CEO has to be involved to make this vision clear to everyone and to lead the cooperation between different teams.

Bring Key Stakeholders on Board

Sometimes, coming up with a customer experience initiative is an expensive affair. Spending huge amounts of money on such an intangible initiative might not augur well with some key stakeholders, such as the board and other executives.

Without a convincing CEO, these stakeholders can keep the program from taking off. A good example of this is what Domino’s Pizza did. In order to implement a customer experience initiative, Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle had to convince the 1100 franchisees who owned 90% of the restaurant chain at the time.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

One of the factors that often leads to poor customer experiences is inconsistence. Once again, I want you to think about the companies that are known for excellent customer experience.

If you visit an Apple store, it doesn’t matter whether you are in New York, London or Rome. Your experience inside the Apple store will be the same.

If you walk into a Starbucks, the taste of your latte will be the same, regardless of where you are. In order to achieve such consistency, everyone has to be on the same page.

It would be very difficult to create such a consistent customer experience if the initiative did not start at the top of each of these companies.

Put the Customer in the Boardroom

For companies that have great customer experience, the customer is their number one consideration. Before thinking about competitors or the sales targets for the next quarter, these companies first focus on their customers’ needs. Every decision is made with the customer in mind.

Steve Jobs once said that Apple’s guiding principle was to first think about the experience they wanted for their customers and then build the technology backwards from this desired experience.

In order for decisions to be made with the customer in mind, the CEO needs to be the customer’s advocate in every meeting.

If the CEO doesn’t care about customer experience, there is a high likelihood that the customer will be forgotten. Jeff Bezos is a good example of CEOs who put the customer in the boardroom, quite literally. During Amazon’s early days, Bezos would place an empty chair in every meeting to represent the customer.

This ensured that every decision in a meeting was made with the customer in mind.

If You Lead, Others Will Follow

Virgin Founder Richard Branson is very passionate about customer experience. He is obsessed with ensuring that customers get a pleasant experience whenever they interact with Virgin. He has written and spoken severally about the importance of customer experience. As you might expect, Virgin is known for excellent customer experience. Branson knew that if he led the customer experience initiative, everyone else would follow.

His strategy works for two reasons. First, he knows that when he displays his passion for customer experience, it will encourage others within the organization to become passionate as well. Second, he knows that if he plays a key role in customer experience, the executive charged with the daily oversight of customer experience will have to up his or her game. The point here is that if the CEO shows commitment to customer experience, it is inevitable that the rest of the organization will follow.

The above are some of the reasons why the CEO needs to be involved in their company’s customer experience initiatives. Not convinced yet? Well, according to a research by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Genesys, CEO leadership of customer experience initiatives usually leads to better business performance.

The report states that 59% of companies where the CEOs are involved in customer experience show higher revenue growth while 64% believe they are more profitable than their competitors, compared to 40% and 47% respectively for companies whose CEOs are not involved in customer experience.

HOW TO CREATE A CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE STRATEGY

You already know the importance of customer experience and why you, as the CEO, should get involved in your company’s customer experience initiative. Question is, how do you come up with a customer experience strategy?

Below are some tips on how to create a customer experience strategy.

Know Your Customers

This is a very crucial element of your customer experience strategy. How can you give your customers a great experience when you don’t even know who they are? To thoroughly understand your customers, you need to create a buyer persona. When creating a buyer persona, among the questions you need to answer include:

  • Who is your customer?
  • What are his or her demographics (age, gender, location, etc.?)
  • What is their level of education?
  • What is their occupation?
  • What are their goals and motivations?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?
  • What are their challenges?

Once you gain a deep understanding of your customers, it will be easier to figure out what makes them happy and what pain points you need to eliminate from their interactions with your company.

Create Service Design

Service design is a process through which the company focuses on creating optimal experiences for the customer. In order to come up with a service design, the company needs to take into account all the interactions the customer has with the company, as well as all the related actors, infrastructure and supporting materials that the customer interacts with.

Customer journey maps and value network maps can be very important at this stage.

Taking an in-depth look at the process your customers go through while interacting with the company can help you identify any gaps that might be affecting your customer experience.

Engage Your Customers

The best way to know what your customers want and the challenges they face when interacting with your company is to engage them and collect feedback from them.

Luckily, with the internet and social media, getting feedback from your customers is easier than ever before.

Go through the feedback and review your customers leave on your website and on your social media pages. Send post-interaction surveys to customers to find out what they think of their experience with your company.

Ask them what they liked about their interaction with the company and what they feel should be made better. Use this information to figure out what you are doing right and what needs improvement.

By continually engaging your customers, you can incrementally improve your customer experience to the best possible level.

Come Up With A Customer Experience Vision

Now that you have a clear understanding of who your customers are and the process they go through while interacting with your company, it is time to come up with a customer experience vision.

What do you want your customers to experience whenever they interact with your company?

Of course, this vision should be aligned with the needs of your customers as well as with your company’s corporate vision.

Define your customer experience vision as a set of statements that will act as guiding principles for behavior within the organization. These statements should be shared with and adhered to by all members of the organization.

When coming up with a customer experience vision, it is important to create an emotional connection with your customers. A good customer experience is less about what the customer experiences and more about how it makes them feel.

Customers don’t become loyal to your brand because your products are priced cheaply or designed well. They become loyal because they are emotionally attached to your brand and because using your products or services makes them feel a certain way.

Businesses that focus on providing an emotional connection to customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%. In addition, according to recent study, customers who are emotionally connected to a brand are three times more likely to re-purchase from the brand, at least three times more likely to recommend the brand’s products or services, less likely to look around before purchasing and less sensitive to price.

Involve Your Employees

In order to create an exceptional customer experience, you need to involve your employees. Remember, your employees are one of the touchpoints through which customers interact with your brand.

Talk to your employees, listen to their suggestions and ask them for feedback.

Doing so shows them that they actually matter to the company and motivates them to give their best, which in turn enhances your customer experience.

Monitor and Optimize

A customer experience initiative is not something you do once and forget. It is a continuous process. Customer expectations are constantly changing, and your competitors are constantly innovating in a bid to steal your customers.

If you stagnate, customers will quickly move to competitors who are offering a better experience. To avoid this, you need to continuously monitor and find ways of improving your customer experience. Regularly seek for feedback from your customers and keep an eye on trends and innovations within your industry.

WRAPPING UP

Today, customer are demanding more and more from the companies they interact with, and if you want to remain in business, you cannot afford to ignore the customer experience.

You need to ensure that every interaction a customer has with your business leads to a positive perception and feeling. You also need to realize that, in order for your customer experience initiative to be successful, it has to come from the top.

You, as the CEO, have to get involved and make customer experience a formal part of your company’s culture.

The CEO Guide to Customer Experience

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