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Customer experience, via Ciboodle

[Disclaimer: Sword Ciboodle is a client of mine, and I’m posting this in response to a request from my liaison and friend Mitch Lieberman. While that’s the motivation, the opinions in this post are my own, and I have editorial control.]

Customer experience is a term that covers a lot of ground. Some get into the meta-experience of being a customer in a world where businesses compete loudly and intrusively for attention. Others use it to describe the look and feel of a brand when customers interact with it—what it means and how it feels to be a customer of that company.

I’m on board with those, but I am an especial fan of a third idea (imagine that!) related more to the second than to the first. Customer experience in this case is what a customer must go through to be your customer. Practically speaking, what happens when they have a question or comment? How often do you expect them to want to hear from you, or to reach out to you? What do your customers say about you to each other? Most importantly, what do they want from the relationship?

The good people at Sword Ciboodle have turned out a white paper on the topic of Total Customer Experience. You can see the paper on their site at the previous link, or here on Customerthink. Not surprisingly, Ciboodle gets it right.

The paper leads with an important figure: 86 percent of consumers quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, up from 59 percent four years ago. That’s taken from the Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact Report, an important study that I and many of my colleagues refer to each year it comes out. Customers are getting more frustrated with companies’ attempts to get and hold their attention, and are less forgiving than ever.

Why, you may ask? The old standard from Cool Hand Luke: failure to communicate.Another telling figure, this one from the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, is that 88 percent of CEOs said “Getting closer to customers” is their top priority for their business over the next five years. As the following chart from that study shows, this is probably a Bad Idea.

Customers and businesses are different animals. As much as we talk about community, co-creation of value, and relationships, the fact remains that there is a power imbalance. Customers hold all the power; they do not want you to get closer to them unless it is to give them what they want. And the bad-experience figure quoted above shows that customers are readier than ever to drop you like a wet hairball if you cross them.

The Ciboodle paper goes on to discuss how to allow for the disparity in customer and executive priorities—how to get closer by giving customers what they want, how they want it. I won’t spoil it for you—it’s twelve pages of good work, and I want you to read the whole thing, not just my opinion of it—but there are some key points to consider.

Be sure you know where your customers are and what they value;

Be sure that your infrastructure is in place and your fundamentals are sound; and

Be cautious of the shiny new objects which can distract you from youre core customer service focus.

The bit about shiny new objects is especially important. Of course the other two points are as well, because if you don’t know your customers and have the means to serve them, you’re in more trouble than a white paper can solve. But we have all fallen in love with the possibilities of social CRM, and what we can do with the technology that enables it. Those tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves; if they don’t first answer the core need of serving customers, they have no place in your company. Integrating new tools with your existing CRM approach must be done in a way that doesn’t annoy your customers, or they won’t be your customers anymore.