Chris Wallace is the President of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in internal brand alignment.
In a recent article, I shared a vision of what the new customer experience demands will be on consumer businesses. As with most things in 2020, we are watching customer experience demands change in real time, and I have had the opportunity to see some of the trends I highlight playing out in my everyday life as a consumer.
It isn’t pretty. The idea that the modern customer experience (CX) is a mandate for all businesses will likely be a hard road for many companies, big and small.
Here’s a story that illustrates how this could take shape:
I need to have my driveway repaved. It is annoying, expensive and something I would rather not deal with right now. However, I was pleased when I visited the website of a local paving company. They prominently featured that they could conduct virtual estimates via Zoom or FaceTime. Great — that way I wouldn’t have to wait too long to get their assessment of the job and a quote on price. To me, this is the modern customer experience being embraced by a small business. It is designed to make the customer’s life easier and the purchase simpler.
Here’s what that “virtual consultation” looked like. The estimator did not call at the specified time. Twenty minutes later, I called their office. The person answering the phones apologized and said I should hear from them shortly. A few minutes later, I received a call from the estimator apologizing for the miscommunication and indicating that it was still a good time. We were back on track.
I hung up and called the estimator back using video chat (the one he preferred, not the one I preferred) and we were connected. One problem: He was behind the wheel of a moving truck. Not parked, not pulled over. Driving down the road. Despite my pleas for him to pull over or reschedule, he insisted he could get what he needed. After 15 minutes of awkward back-and-forth discussion, he shared his conclusion. He could not assess the full scope of the job and would need to find time to come look in person. At that point, he could give me a quote. One month later, no return call. No estimate.
I think this example will be all too common across a lot of different consumer categories. All brands, whether local contractors or major logos, are trying to serve customers in new ways. But this experience highlights the real risks of not thinking through what the right experience is and whether or not a company is prepared to deliver it.
There is almost nothing more destructive to a customer relationship than overpromising and under-delivering. As you assess your customer experience plan, consider the following five tips.
1. Don’t Fake It
If you can’t deliver on the experience, don’t offer it. This includes video consultations, curbside pickup, same-day delivery or any other promise you are making to meet new customer demands. Again, one of the worst customer experience mistakes is to come up short on what you promise.
2. Don’t Copy Others
Stay focused on your brand and who you want to be when examining your customer experience. If you compete on low prices, make your customer experience all about efficiency. If you are all about service, use things like video to provide your customers with an expanding list of options to interact with you.
3. Make It Easier
The one single truth across customer experience, regardless of brand, is that any adjustments to the process must make buying easier. Adding options is great, but those service options should not make the process longer or harder.
4. Check Your Tech
The pandemic is accelerating tech adoption, which is great. However, companies can easily get tricked into thinking technology is the only path to meeting customer needs. Who has heard “e-commerce is our future” recently? Technology can be a great enabler, but remember what it is enabling: human beings. The ones who work for you and the ones who buy from you. Make sure you consider the capabilities and limitations of both the machines and the people before pouring your CX budget into a chatbot.
5. Make It Better Than Before
The word “before” should now universally mean “prior to Covid-19.” As you are reimagining how you serve and interact with customers, think beyond just the pandemic realities. The stress test of good customer experience innovation is asking the question, “Would this have been better for customers even before the pandemic?” If the answer is no, you are not likely to make a lasting or meaningful improvement. Hand sanitizer on your counter is not a CX breakthrough.
The future of customer experience has arrived for all, but the path each company takes needs to be different. You might be tempted to hurry up and meet customers’ demands now for fear of losing out on business. While that impulse makes sense, it is important to remember that CX improvements take time. The brands that take a more thoughtful, measured approach are more likely to win and keep more customers in the long run. Unfortunately, my driveway still won’t be paved by then.
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