Customer Experience News & Trends

How diapers, broken windshields and organic meats get the ‘new’ customer experience right

Yellow Page ads, handshakes and service calls used to account for much of the customer experience. Today, it’s a different game that’s based mostly online — and some companies are way ahead of the curve. Here’s what you can learn from those trailblazers.

Gone are the days of leafing through a book for a product or service. And few people personally interact when they agree to terms and sign contracts these days.

Looking for products has been replaced by an Internet search. Recommendations come from pages of review sites, blogs and social media sites. Handshakes have been replaced by clicking on “agree to terms” buttons.

A new game

The customer experience has changed so much so that younger generations who have serious buying power and influence over others’ buying decisions probably don’t even know what the Yellow Pages are.

You’ve probably adapted, too — increasing information online, and offering customers an array of channels to make purchases and get help from customer service professionals.

Now it’s time to consider how today’s changes can work best in the six main stages of the customer lifecycle (fortunately, the stages haven’t changed).

Here are the six stages, what used to work in them to capture and retain customers, and proven ideas on what’s working in these stages now:

1. Discovery

In the discovery stage, potential customers realize they have a need for a product or service — hopefully one you sell. But they may not be aware your company even exists.

It used to be that potential customers turned to phone books, newspapers and other print media to start their search. Or they told friends, colleagues and family about their new need and asked if those people could recommend anyone.

Yes, these discovery-stage searches still exist, but on a much smaller scale. Now customers pull up Google, type in a few keywords and discover a bevy of providers. The key here is search engine optimization (SEO). When customers are trying to uncover the right company to fit their needs, the higher up and more frequently a business shows up in their searches, the more likely it is they’ll look deeper into it.

When it comes to SEO, community conversations — whether they take place on Facebook, Twitter or other blogs maintained by the company — pack a heavy punch, according to experts at Get Satisfaction, an SEO optimization company. When those conversations are embedded in company web pages, potential customers quickly find details on products.

Pampers does a good job getting potential customers to discover the company. Many moms search for ways to get their babies to be Pampers models. So that question and subject sits high on the company’s community topic page, the site’s FAQ page and its blog posts. Result: Pampers’ site pops up when moms conduct searches on that topic. It makes it easy for potential customers to quickly discover and engage with the company.

2. Evaluate

Customers used to have a different approach to evaluating the companies, products and services they discovered: They talked to friends, families and colleagues, or read articles in Consumer Reports.

Now they rely on the experiences and honesty of total strangers online. Customers turn to independent review sites, distributors and blog posts to evaluate the products they may buy.

Although research has shown that they still trust the opinions of those they know, customers at least consider what’s online and posted by people they don’t know.

There are two things companies must do in the evaluation stage of the customer lifecycle:

  • Manage their reputation by knowing what’s being said, and
  • encourage current customers to speak out.

Even small businesses are using software these days to keep an eye on how and where their company names, products and services are mentioned online. When those mentions occur on social media sites or any platform that allows for a response, they make it a point to either thank customers for the positive remarks or reach out to customers who’ve made disparaging comments and try to fix issues.

Many more businesses ask customers to get involved in social media and communities by inviting them to be champions of products by writing reviews. Some even incentivize their advocates — but it’s important that the community at large is told when advocates are given something for their words.

Potential Nice ‘n Easy customers can rely on existing customers to decide what will work best for them. The Clairol site allows customers to register, start or join in conversations on their experiences, and answer the questions of people who’ve never used the products.

3. Buy

When customers hit this stage, it’s a win. They’ve discovered you and like what they heard in their evaluation. And the deal used to be sealed with a handshake or a page of terms and a signature.

Now, they agree to terms online they probably didn’t read.

One of the best ways to move more potential customers into this stage is to show them happy customers. You can do this by inviting prospects to interact with customers through your social media sites. And be sure to ask happy customers if they’d be willing to interact with potential customers.

You’ll also want make it easy to finish a purchase. If purchases are done online, ask customers to fill in as few fields as possible. If you’re doing it over the phone, have sales or service reps enter all the order entry details. Then send an email confirming everything is right, rather than making the customer wait on the line.

Amazon’s one-click purchase is the Holy Grail in ease-of-purchase, allowing customers to order anything from socks to speakers within seconds.

One final step: Retain customers’ personal and payment information, preferences and any other details that will make future purchases as streamlined as possible.

4. Experience

Every interaction with your company, products and people is important. But the first experience is especially critical. It used to be that an employee was there to help customers through the first purchase, use, assembly or installation. They talked customers through what would happen next or what customers needed to do going forward.

But because so much purchasing is done online, customers often have that first experience alone — and it likely involves some instructions, assembly or installation. So they rely on manuals, online tools or videos, apps or the help of those who’ve done it before — but not on company reps.

That’s why it’s vital your online tools — from YouTube videos explaining assembly, to FAQ instructions on making returns — are current and clear. Customers need to be able to access the right information quickly without having to wade through irrelevant details.

Koodo, a Canadian mobile brand, uses software that searches archives of existing conversations in its online community when a customer asks a question. That way, if the answer already exists — and in most cases, it does — customers are directed quickly to it for a self-serve answer.

5. Bond

First-time customers can become loyal customers relatively quickly if companies do things that build a bond early in the relationship. That used to mean doing things such as having the sales or service manager conduct a personal visit or follow-up call.

Today’s business world moves at a different rate, and bonding has taken on a new meaning. Speed is the key in the bonding phase. Customers need to know you care and want to maintain a relationship (that benefits them). So immediate thanks after a purchase — a personalized email can fit the bill — is the first step. An invoice that includes a personal message helps, too. A call or handwritten note shortly after customers experience the products, services, company and employees also help.

Access to experts and decision makers, plus quick responses with reliable, accurate and encouraging information when customers reach out with questions or issues will build a bond. If support isn’t available immediately, customers will jump back to the discovery stage, looking for a company that does better. So service and sales reps must be ready to help. That means keeping staffing levels up so inquires are answered immediately, having a person is available to speak on the phone within 30 seconds if customers call, answering emails within an hour of receipt and acknowledging visitors when they walk in the door.

Safelite AutoGlass gives customers direct access to decision makers and experts with regular posts on its blog authored by anyone from the CEO to the VP of Operations. Local store owners get involved, too. Safelite also includes a customer feedback question that’s regularly updated, proving to customers that their opinion matters.

At Applegate, an organic meats company, 35% of the discussions on its customer community website are conducted in the boding stage. Customers already had the answers they wanted to make their purchase decisions. So company gave them a platform on which to build relationships with employees, the brand and other customers who share a passion for Applegate’s products.

6. Advocate

When customers become advocates or champions of your company, they’ve come full circle in the lifecycle.

Now that fewer people ask in person for recommendations, the older ways to advocate are used less and less.

Today, when customers become champions of companies and their offerings, they tend to advocate online. They like companies on Facebook and tweet kind words. They take time to review products and places on referral sites.

And the good news is, you can get them to do it for you. Let them click through from email and your homepage to your Facebook page, Twitter site and industry blogs to leave a review. Remind them in correspondence to share their feelings. Regularly survey them, and more importantly, tell them and post online what you heard and what you’ll do with the feedback.

J&P Cycles used customer feedback in less-than-perfect circumstances to build advocacy and keep the customer lifecycle going. When a company-wide software change caused major order glitches — and customer service was down for some time — complaints started to grow on social media. Service reps then responded with heartfelt apologies, explaining what happened and asking for customer patience. The quick and honest response garnered more support from customers.

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