You think you have the customer experience nailed, then BAM! Customers complain that you missed the mark by a mile. Why?
Call it the expectation gap.
“… Expectations about what happens during each stage (of the experience) and through various touch points can be vastly different amongst the executive suite, management, front-facing staff and even your customers,” says Noah Fleming, author of The Customer Loyalty Loop: Why People Buy, Buy More and Buy Again.
In other words, you can tell customers what to expect — like a time frame, quality standard or level of personalization — and they still might expect something different. They don’t envision what you believe your words describe.
Plus, customer expectations are a moving target. Every experience they have with a company in and out of your industry sets up a new expectation of how things should (or shouldn’t) be handled.
So how can you bridge the gap? Then keep expectations and delivery aligned?
Try Fleming’s Evergreen Experience Audit. In six steps, you can look at your customer experience and uncover expectations, shortfalls and opportunities to line up what you can realistically do with what customers want.
Here’s how to do the audit and what you can gain from each step:
1. Diagnose the process
The customer journey is much bigger than a sales cycle, and every company’s journey is different. It might move across divisions or through individual people. It might be a circle, or a start-to-end journey.
Break yours into the stages customers typically go through. For instance, it might start online or with some other marketing material and end with a service call or reboot with a new request. Recognize that not every customer’s journey is that same.
You want to talk about what’s ideally happening at each stage. This is a cursory step, and the others will help you diagnose in detail.
2. Test employees
Before you “test” employees, make sure they understand that there’s no pass or fail in this step.
Ask them to describe the customer journey and what’s expected of them in that. Ask them to write down your customer touch points and what, if anything, is expected of them at each one.
This will help you see if everyone understands the intent of your customer experience and knows their part in it. Many companies uncover breakdowns here because employees aren’t totally familiar with their role in it.
3. Get customers’ stories
You want to talk with customers in this step. Surveys won’t likely get you the depth of information you need at this stage.
Talk to at least a dozen customers who will take the time to tell you about their experiences. Record what they say and share it with others involved in your audit. When they describe the experience, get more details on how they felt at each touch point they mention. Say, “What were you thinking then?” or “How did that make you feel?”
You can supplement this information with reviews and stories that your front-line sales and customer service professionals receive.
This helps everyone recognize that their intentions for how they want to make customers feel are often not the reality.
4. Go undercover
The next step — experiencing the customer experience first-hand — often serves as a big eye opener for top leaders.
Fleming suggests you answer customer inquiries, visit the shop floor, make some deliveries — or anything that puts you on the front line where employees interact with customers.
This is an opportunity to recognize how your experience stacks up to the best and worst you know.
5. Build a hierarchy of horrors
Take the information you gathered from the first four stages to create an action plan. Fleming suggests these four steps:
- List the eight places where you’re failing customers.
- Measure the mistake for the next 30 days. (Consider what goes wrong and how it affects customers’ decisions to continue to do business with you.)
- Look at your results (perhaps lost or reduced sales, bad reviews, decreased loyalty and/or increased complaints) and list the horrors from bad to worst.
- Start working backward, taking measures to improve the areas where you’re worst.
6. Do it again
The audit is an ongoing process. Ideally, companies (or at least leadership in the customer experience) should get in touch with employees and customers, then review the journey, four times a year, Fleming says.