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Where experience counts

Customer experience management is a vital undertaking for any brand that cares what its users think - and say - about its products and services. Follow these six steps to putting the customer first.

Putting customers at the heart of a business is the central tenet of marketing. To be 'in tune' with their needs, a company must ensure that the voice of the customer is integral to the company strategy, and that they are considered and discussed at boardroom level, not solely by customer-facing staff and departments.

The evidence for this approach is strong:

- Two-thirds of customers say a positive experience caused them to spend more.

- Eight out of ten customers would pay up to 25% more for better service.

- Three-quarters of those who switch suppliers/brands relate this to a poor customer experience.

- More than half of those who recommend a company base this on the customer experience, rather than factors such as price or product.

- Almost all of those who have had a bad customer experience tell others about it.

Only 12% of companies surveyed in 2009 had a disciplined approach to the customer experience, yet savvy companies are delving further into this area, placing it at the heart of everything they do.

So, what is customer experience management? Bernd Schmitt, renowned consultant and marketing thinker, defined customer experience management in 2003 as 'the process of strategically managing a customer's entire experience with a product or company'.

A typical approach for a customer experience strategy involves the following steps:

STEP ONE: Needs assessment and segmentation

The starting point is to understand the needs of customers and what drives them. Coupled with this is the segmentation of customers into various groupings that enable us to serve them more specifically.

This can be based on 'firmographics' (which could include factors such as geography and company size), behaviours (what, when and where customers buy), or needs (what they want and what their drivers are).

The latter is the most discriminating and requires a deeper understanding of customers.

STEP TWO: Customer journey mapping

This involves the construction of a detailed map of the customer journey for each segment, detailing the customer's touchpoints with the supplier.

This starts from the customer's first awareness of a brand or product through to their use of it and, if appropriate, termination of use.

STEP THREE: Identify the desired experience

By reflecting on the journey map and comparing the actual experience with the internally perceived one, we can streamline our processes to make the customer experience more effective, efficient and enjoyable - one that customers will want to repeat and tell others about.

STEP FOUR: Design the brand experience

This stage is about emotion, addressing the feelings that we want to evoke in customers through their experiences with the brand. It is important to have a clear vision of the brand's identity and values.

This stage also involves looking at the people who deliver the experience, their attitudes and how much they reflect what the brand represents when working with customers.

STEP FIVE: Structure the customer touchpoints

Here the various touchpoints are structured to ensure that the processes are in place to deliver the experience for the customer, and that these generate the desired emotions to deliver long-term brand loyalty. This stage is often process-driven, looking at ownership of the touchpoints and ensuring that the experience is seamless.

STEP SIX: Measure and develop

The closing of the loop is measuring performance. There are several approaches to evaluating the customer experience, not least the measurement of ROI in financial terms. Common customer-survey measures are:

- The periodic customer satisfaction survey - the 'deep dive' considered overview.

- The event-based satisfaction survey, centred on a specific interaction, delivered very shortly after the interaction.

- The tracking survey - a regular random survey of customers, tracking perceptions and performance based on key measures.

This data is used strategically and operationally to make improvements in the customer experience.

Customer experience management programmes raise the customer's profile and recognise them as an asset. As such, they increasingly offer a means of differentiation through the way the customer and their experience are managed. The approach combines customer research in the form of needs assessment, customer segmentation, customer journey mapping, brand identity and perceptions, and satisfaction and loyalty measurements.

Carol-Ann Morgan is director of B2B International. Contact her at carol-ann@b2binternational.com

From Marketing's greater insight supplement, July 2012

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