Apples to Apples?

Businesses share core principles of business that are common and integral regardless of product, service and industry. These same principles when adjusted for variation in size, logistics, and offerings become essential to the overall success of a business whether delivering a load of stone or a pair of designer jeans.  Considerations for supply and demand, cost to price, solutions to needs, and delivering on customer’s expectations are found across business and industry vertical.

However, in this fractured marketing environment, identifying customers and defining their wants, needs and expectations in product and service is anything but the same.  It is critical to develop a customized strategy to support effective customer experience consistent across multiple communication channels that is cost efficient and designed to consistently communicate and interact at every touch point.  An effective customer experience strategy will include key elements such as:

Consolidation

With consumers being deluged with communications through every channel, targeting only those customers for whom a message is relevant and important, brands will communicate more effectively and enjoy higher returns on the efforts.

Personalization

Few consumers look forward to receiving messages that are obviously mass produced and designed to reach broad segments of a market.  Because of the new delivery methods, businesses are able to personalize the experiences of each individual customer, identify patterns and pinpoint preferences.

Optimize In-Store

A recent study by Venuelabs reveals major brands are missing as much as 86 percent of local consumer sentiment about their in-store experiences and even when brands are employing best-of-breed social media and brand monitoring technologies and strategies, local consumer activity will be lost because of what the study calls “the missing link of location.”  “Fundamentally, location is the new keyword,” said Venuelabs CEO Neil Crist. “The gap of current monitoring technologies is being felt today by brands large and small.”  Consumers are using mobile devices to interact with brands in new ways, sharing in-store experiences beyond social to include mobile- and location-based services like Foursquare and Instagram, according to the findings. Pete Mannix, co-founder and CTO of Venuelabs, said that mobile Internet usage has skyrocketed.  “Considering that nearly 40 percent of Internet usage is from a mobile device, implied user context, particularly location has become far more critical to understanding the customer,” he said.  E-commerce, expected to rise by 13% this coming year, already accounts for about 8 percent of total retail sales in the U.S. and is expected to outpace sales growth at bricks-and-mortar stores over the next five years, according to a Mashable post on the research, reaching $370 billion in sales by 2017 — or a full tenth of all retail sales in the United States.  Establishing a successful customer experience is imperative to achieving success and sustaining market share.

Internal Focus

A great customer experience starts with treating your employees well.  Employee’s attitudes will transfer through to the customer.  Jonathan Clarkson, Director of Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards loyalty program recently commented, “We put a very high premium on how we treat our people,” said Clarkson. “It’s all predicated on the belief that when you make your employees happy, they will transfer that attitude to the customers. It’s one of the reasons we think our customers keep coming back.”  “You want to communicate to your employees the general sense of trying to follow the golden rule,” said Clarkson. “At the end of the day, our people have multiple jobs so we don’t want to load them up with details and minutia. Instead, we just want to make sure they help our customers. When it comes to delayed flights, there’s a big difference between an airline employee telling a customer ‘There’s nothing I can do,” vs. “I’ll do what I can.”  Empower your employee’s with the tools and the authority to solve problems and complaints that endanger desirable consumer interactions at all touch points.  Passing the decision up the ladder only slows the solution process and frustrates the consumer. Positive employee attitude and responsiveness to customer concerns go a long way toward creating a positive customer experience.

Monitor and Measure

Consistently monitor your customer experience strategy to measure and verify its effectiveness.  Tracking customer feedback allows managers to monitor how their teams are performing on a day to day basis and keep a pulse on what customers are saying and thinking about the company.

Communication

With many operations scattered over large geographic areas, it is important to communicate the strategy internally, and empower employees to take action in achieving customer satisfaction.  An aggressive email system and internal communication pipeline will advance the strategic process and ensure its implementation across the organization.

Commitment

Establishing an effective customer experience requires commitment of capital, human resources and targeted actions now and extended over time.

Although the core principles are valuable for every business, every customer experience is different.  In this new economy, it’s not apples to apples.  After all, there is more than one way to make an apple pie.

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