As more and more businesses begin focusing on customer experience as a way of developing a competitive advantage, the marketplace is becoming a friendlier place for consumers. But could 2018 be the year that everything falls into place?
Paving the Way for Better Customer Experiences
While there are a variety of definitions, customer experience is essentially the collection of moments and touchpoints a consumer has with a specific brand – digital and physical. It encompasses not only the interactions, but also the perceptions and feelings consumers have about the brand.
“Every company provides a customer experience. Your company does too, regardless of whether you create it consciously,” Adam Richardson writes for Harvard Business Review. “That experience may be good, bad or indifferent, but the very fact that you have customers, you interact with those customers in some manner, and provide them products and services, means that they have an experience with you and your brand. It’s up to you whether it’s superlative, awful or industry average.”
While customer experience has existed as long as there have been businesses in a free marketplace, it’s traditionally been something that only industry leading brands and savvy startups have focused on. That’s all changing, though.
Today’s customers have come to expect personalized experiences that are tailored to their preferences, needs, and pain points. The companies that don’t live up to these expectations are falling behind. The rest of the business world is placing an emphasis on customer experience management – which Gartner describes as “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.”
Customer Centricity Emerges
It’s an exciting time to be a consumer, and a challenging time to be a business. This year is already shaping up to be the year of customer experience, with businesses prioritizing strategies, initiatives, and methods that have generally been overlooked in the past. You could say that customer centricity is becoming a focal point.
Customer experience has become so important that many businesses are now scrutinizing every aspect of their brands – including the way they design their offices and storefronts. No longer are these physical locations only seen as workspaces – they’re actually extensions of the brand.
One way this has manifested is through custom signage. Companies like Lyft, Ferrari, Pepsi, The National Realtors Association, and the Brooklyn Nets have all recently invested in metal signage in their offices and headquarters. They’re not doing it for the sake of spending money – they’re doing it to enhance brand image and drive positive customer experiences.
On the digital side of things, there’s a huge shift occurring as well. Businesses are seeing themselves as selling more than just products and services. Instead, they’re realizing that they’re selling an experience. This is especially true in the Software as a Service (SaaS) niche.
For companies that sell SaaS products, there’s no room for error. Unlike the days where consumers paid for a software license upfront, today’s structure allows them to pay as they go. If the customer experience is bad, they’ll cancel their subscription and try something else. The key for SaaS businesses is to listen to what customers want and evolve according to their needs and preferences – just not too quickly.
As entrepreneur Niraj Ranjan Rout writes, “Do not try to introduce rapid 360-degree product changes. Instead, let it be a slow process. Allow customers to get used to your product and the various functionalities, and then bring in new features. Customers will find it easier to cope with these small tweaks and will see it as an easy add-on to their product experience.”
Closing the Gap
While businesses are beginning to focus on customer experience, there’s still a wide gap between the experiences they’re delivering and the experiences customers feel like they’re getting.
When management consulting firm Bain & Company asks organizations to rate their quality of customer experience, 80 percent feel like they’re delivering a superior experience. However, when customers are asked, just 8 percent feel like they’re receiving a great customer experience. That’s an alarming gap and shows just how much room there is to improve.
Growth is happening, though. The Temkin Group’s most recent Customer Experience Rating study shows that the number of companies scoring “good” or “excellent” ratings in this area increased from 18 percent in 2016 to 38 percent in 2017 – the highest rating since they began recording this information.
All signs indicate that 2018 will be the year that even more businesses place an appropriate emphasis on customer experience. Big businesses are leading the way and smaller companies are starting to follow. From the way they design their offices and storefronts to the value they offer customers alongside products and services, this is shaping up to be the year that execution matches expectations.
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