The deeper I get into the research concerning customer loyalty and engagement, the more it is pounded into me that it centers on Customer Experience (CX for short). The kicker about CX is that, while there are certain common factors and processes that carry across most customers and audiences, it really is an individual experience with you and your business. What does this mean?
First let’s look at the percentage of Loyal customers / audience you already have. Recent studies propose that you may have between 8%-15% customers that can be considered Loyal (your mileage may vary, especially given the differences in businesses: e.g. a coffee shop may have a greater opportunity for “regular” loyalty than a real estate office…). Let’s posit that your customers (a) DO have the opportunity, given your product / service, to purchase from you again within 12 months (and can certainly REFER you at any time!), and (b) this product /service is of value to them and at a fair price. The end-to-end CX for them has been better-than-just-positive overall, hence their loyalty. Their post-purchase experience has also been “positive+” (better than just OK…).
As it turns out, that bit is very important!
A customer may have a flawless experience up to and through purchase, but if their post-purchase experience is rocky, the CX nose-dives and drops them from (potentially) Loyal to at least Neutral and possibly Vulnerable. Let’s divide these experiences: pre- and post-.
So, this is the track many businesses focus on. Attracting customers to the purchase point is what so many hunger and strive for. (“Got Customers?”) It is what your marketing is all about. Untold amounts of ink, both real and virtual, have been spilled over this. While not pretending to comprehensively roll this up for you, suffice it to say that your marketing is comprised of:
- brand awareness (getting discovered / found)
- gaining consideration and credibility (via reputation, both of the product / service and you – the business), and
- the move toward the “BUY NOW!” button (:)) that turns a potential into a customer
The BUY NOW bit can be an actual button, like on any good ecommerce site, or the CALL NOW Call To Action (CTA, so you have another acronym to keep track of…) that engages them with you in that “last mile” attribution. Regardless of how it is actuated, their experience was relevant and compelling enough to get them there.
What did that?
One interesting proposal is what Ger Van Den Buijs, in his book “Forget Reach, Start Selling“, has called “In Action Interaction“. What this entails is someone virtually “walking alongside” the customer through the site’s path to the CTA. This someone can be a business’s customer service team member, available to ask questions and assist….it can also be a fellow customer / community member, not an employee. The upside of the latter is the 3rd party validation of the entire CX. Being a fellow traveler, if you will, can create a camaraderie surrounding your offering that can be particularly helpful.
This is a risk, of course.
First, there is the “annoyance” factor. You may have experienced this. Here is the scenario: you land on a site’s home page with the intent of researching (and maybe purchasing…) a product or service. The site is constructed in such a way that the only way to REALLY get to the information that you want, whether you are ready to purchase now or not, is to add the item to your shopping cart to see the resulting package cost, delivery options, warranties, etc. Unfortunately, while you are doing this, a chat window pops up with a “Can I Help you with anything?” message and smiling little avatar with a headset. You may just dismiss the window, or you may type “No, Thanks”…..or it may annoy you just that littlest bit and you decide to either come back later, or abandon the process. There is no guarantee that the site’s offer of helpful assistance will be received positively. While a greater average of customers in this scenario are at least neutral (and a good number are positive) about the offer for help, the risk remains that you could lose, or at least postpone, some sales.
Back to the “fellow traveler”: If either of these customers hits a snag or starts comparing notes on a less-than-stellar component of their CX with your business, it can go South in a big way, and they will abandon you, not carry through with the sale (of course…) and may even begin spreading Word Of Mouth digitally about it. Hence the work you need to be doing to make sure that never becomes an issue…if they DO hit a road bump, and it’s not something you have control over (Internet hiccup, web site kludge, any number of ill-timed screw-ups that can happen…), you must make it right. This takes vigilance and particular commitment to CX on behalf of your customers. If they find that you are committed to making their needs your needs, and figuring out how best to enable those to be met, they will come away with a stellar CX, and a high regard of your business, despite the foul-up. This is why there is growing awareness that customer service / support is the new marketing ( see “Hug your Haters” by Jay Baer).
Post-purchase service and support is considered by most businesses to be an annoying cost center to be optimized by how little time can be spent per contact. Needless to say, not a lot of empathy or customer advocacy can be expressed or built if the team member on the business end is busy looking at the clock and a script, with the goal of packing as many “touches” into an hour as possible. Establishing rapport and communicating real customer care takes some better-than-average skills in communication, dialogue and listening that can be a challenge to demonstrate as authentic. Customers are remarkably in tune to a lack of sincerity and empathy in support scenarios. This can be even more difficult, given the remote nature of most of these encounters. While a sizable portion of support and service is still performed by phone, more and more it is being handled by email, chat, and, in some cases, remote video. If there are technical issues (bad connections, for example…) in real-time communication, that can seriously impact CX (despite the fact that your business may not be responsible for it). The total experience is what the customer will get and come away from either happy or not.
Looking at this, combining the pre- and post- components, what basic conclusions can we come to?
- CX is what drives your company’s performance. Not Sales. Not Revenue. Not Reach. Not “Likes” or “Follows”. If you customers’ CX is regularly landing them in the Neutral or Vulnerable categories, you are in trouble.
- Obtaining a clear view of your customers’ CX is time consuming. Regardless, it is Extremely Valuable. Don’t do it just once. It has to be at least consistently regular, if not an ongoing process.
- Implementing the RIGHT SOLUTION for your business is going to take resources you might not have considered. With Loyalty as the goal for these CX efforts (and costs), though, the value if far higher than the cost of the resources (time, treasure, personnel). It is much easier to keep a Loyal customer than obtain a new one, AND Loyal customers with spend more with you.
- Get expert help. As a small business, you likely focus on the business of delivery today. Something as comprehensive and far-reaching as creating and implementing a viable and appropriate CX strategy and plan requires experience and wisdom in the area. Again, like investing in the RIGHT SOLUTION, designing the RIGHT SOLUTION by leveraging real expertise will be more cost-effective for your business than trying to “keep it on the cheap”, but losing time and other resources because you are unable to put it together and get it to work right.
CX will literally make or break your business. Start working on it, and don’t stop. The Loyalty of your customers / audience is at stake.