Where does the customer experience begin?
This may seem like a simple question, but it can be deceptively complex. By definition, a customer’s experience would begin only after they become a customer–right?
While that may be technically correct, it ignores reality.
Customer experience isn’t just shaped by the product or service. It’s shaped by all of your communications—from marketing to sales to support–which means that the customer’s experience with your company begins well before an actual purchase takes place.
From the moment a customer sees an ad or reads your website, they’re beginning to assess their experience with your company.
What you say before the purchase may be just as important as what the customer experiences afterward. Their relationship with your company is a function of both expectations and reality.
If you promise someone a ribeye, they’ll probably be unhappy if you serve them a flank steak.
Too many companies do this (at least, hypothetically). They’re eager to win new customers, so they make promises they can’t deliver. Then they underdeliver when it comes time to eat. Marketing and sales teams get charged with polishing things up to make them look as good as possible. But they end up disconnected from reality—and that’s how poor customer experiences are made.
To fix this mismatch, we need to address the fundamental levers.
1. Overpromise and Overdeliver
Data shows that dissatisfied customers tell 9 to 15 people about a poor experience, on average. Meanwhile, satisfied ones tend to only tell about half as many. This means one negative experience has the potential to negate two positive ones.
An excellent customer experience often becomes its own sales and marketing strategy, driving word-of-mouth referrals and positive online reviews that lead to new customers. But the opposite isn’t true. Sales and marketing can’t fix a broken product or poor service.
Making the customer experience seem better than it is won’t do you any favors. It will backfire and lead to greater mismatch between customer expectations and reality.
The remedy is to overpromise and overdeliver.
Promise a great experience and provide an even better one. Charge sales and marketing teams with communicating the quality of the overall experience. And then empower product, support, or service teams to take it a step further.
- Amazon provides a free replacement if an item is lost or stolen; even if it’s not their fault
- Ritz-Carlton proactively returns forgotten items to guests before they even know they’re missing
- Warby Parker sends you 5 pairs of glasses to try on at home and often lets you extend your trial if you need more time to decide which pair you like best
Each of these examples shows how promising great service is important–but delivering on that service (and more) is even better.
This allows you to top the expectations that you’ve set for your customers and find opportunities to create “wow” moments where it’s clear that your company has gone above and beyond to exceed their expectations.
If you promise your customers a steak, they’ll probably be happy.
But if it turns out to be ribeye, they’ll probably be ecstatic.
2. Align Sales, Marketing, Product, Service, & Success
Even if you strive to be forthcoming, your company could be setting unfair customer expectations.
Many companies have misalignment between sales, marketing, product, and support/success teams. They’re siloed and fragmented–the teams don’t communicate or share insights about customers.
The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, and the result is setting customers up for a negative experience.
To remedy this, firms must take a holistic approach to customer experience management.
- Sales and marketing should share information freely; are customers entering into sales discussions with realistic expectations from web and marketing content?
- Sales must pass requests or promises to support/success teams to make sure that those expectations are met in implementation
- Support/success teams should be critical stakeholders in driving product decisions
- Product teams need to relay clear and accurate information to all teams about functionality and capabilities
Define process and operations that allow this information to flow from one team to the others.
One way to achieve this is to create a cross-functional task force that is charged with shaping the customer experience. This team can take ownership for developing processes and workflows that transfer knowledge between teams and stakeholders.
3. Build a Feedback Loop
Last but not least, you need a feedback loop.
Are the changes in communication and process leading to a better customer experience?
You can only know for sure if you have a clear way to measure and correlate the effects of the changes you’re making. This critical piece of the puzzle allows your company to understand the customer experience and pinpoint specific areas that are showing improvements.
Using technology like AI and machine learning, your support team can analyze issues to gain insight about opportunities for improvement
Then use this data to improve your customer experience or do a better job of setting and meeting customer expectations.
There’s no foolproof strategy for optimizing customer experience or aligning customer expectations with reality. Often times, it just boils down to the fundamentals–understanding your customer.
First, understand what your customers want and expect.
Then craft a customer experience that delivers that and more.