Five Experience Fundamentals

Let's face it - we're all sweating a little: Product and service commoditization are forcing strong price competition - squeezing margins and motivating us to tigthen our belts. In the midst of "the squeeze", it's harder than ever before to deliver increased value to customers and build differentiating customer experiences. We often have fewer resources to draw upon, and we want to be wise about how we invest them.

Even so, in times like this, most successful business leaders understand the importance of investing back into the business. The most successful customer experience leaders follow this principle, as well: investing in ways to innovate and improve customer experience. It's important to note, however, that the most successful leaders in customer experience never favor "flash over substance" approaches to experience innovation. Experience Leaders understand the critical need to deliver innovation from a foundation of "experience fundamentals," outlined below:

#1. Deliver the Basics.

If innovative experience is the hook, the line is delivering what we know all customers want:

- A pleasing, safe, functional environment
- Knowledgeable, professional help
- Fast, reliable service
- Selection and availability
- Reasonable, competitive pricing

The sinker balances the delivery of these elements effectively – in and across a variety of media and channels. Without the basics, investment in innovation is the equivilant of putting lipstick on a pig: You're not fooling anyone.

#2. Diversify with Discipline

Experience Leaders consistently innovate within a core area of expertise, rather than trying to “be all things to all people.”

- Starbucks brings us coffee culture
- Amazon sets the standard for online retail
- REI delivers recreation and adventure
- Best Buy offers electronics and entertainment
- Great Harvest warms us with local baked goods
- Progressive innovates insurance
- Coca-Cola brings us liquid refreshment
- Disney entertains us with innovative story telling

It takes discipline, focus and dedication deliver one thing better than anyone else. As a litmus test, try to articulate what you deliver - in three words or less.

#3. Wear the Customer's Shoes

Experience leaders are deeply interested and thoroughly immersed in evaluating and improving customer experience. They dedicate time, attention and resources to:

Regularly test purchasing and interaction within every channel:
--> Personal engagement is key - click, call and walk-in on a regular basis!
--> Utilize third-parties: Secret shoppers, experience architects, usability experts
--> Run test cases that utilize profiling and variables to uncover gaps and trends
--> Work across functional groups to streamline and perfect experience

Understand and address customer needs and desires
--> Talk to customers and non-customers
--> Understand market, demographic, behavioral, contextual, intent & timing dynamics
--> Look for hidden opportunities: Customers don't always know what they want
--> Review incoming data and customer feedback to identify issues, trends, causes and effects

Thoroughly test and review experiences offered by competitors
--> Always wearing the customer's shoes
--> Acknowledge the elements what work - and better them
--> Pinpoint weaknesses - and exploit them

#4. Create and Engage in Ritual

Experience Leaders understand that predictability, order and routine contribute to a sense of security for customers. They work to incorporate “positive predictability” into experiences, ensuring customers can reliably:

- Access the company (McDonald’s; 1-800-FLOWERS)
- Locate products (Nordstrom; Netflix)
- Engage in transaction (Starbucks; Amazon)
- Find help (Radio Shack; Target)
- Predict selection / price (7-11; Staples)
- Anticipate timing / delivery (Fedex; Dominoes)
- Anticipate quality (Marriott; Papa John's)

Brands that successfully mesh their experiences with behavioral customer patterns can successfully make their brands a part of the customer ritual. They can even introduce new ritual: Picture Starbucks; McDonald's; 7-11...

#5. Authentically Humanize the Brand

Today’s culture is short on trust and shy on human touch. Experience leaders work to incorporate personal relationship and reinforce trust by ensuring all agents of customer experience:

- Believe in / use / show passion for products and services
- Exhibit personal dedication to customer satisfaction
- Honor commitments to reliability, quality and service
- Demonstrate ownership and personal accountability
- Establish positive customer relationships

Reinforcing this with effective marketing and branding results in the creation of legitimately humanized brands that connect with their target markets in more memorable and personable ways: Think Apple; Nike; You?

Parting Shots...

Deliver the foundational elements well, and the rest will be icing on your very appealing cake: You'll develop a new understanding, appreciation and passion for customers; attract better employees because of your authentic focus on the things people most care about; and your influx of innovative ideas will become more relevant, actionable and customer-centric.

Experience Leaders never forget that beyond bells and whistles, it's the cumulative experience that people remember. Making sure innovation is delivered from a foundation of excellence will help ensure innovatiion dollars do not go to waste. This is how experience leaders are creating brand equity, today: You can do it, too.


Anonymous said...

Combine this with the piec you wrote called "Get some healing" and it all makes sense to me. Easier said than done but good advice.

Anonymous said...

Right now I am so disgusted with American(?)business, I could scream!
I remarried,retired and moved within the past 2 years; all of these were happy events UNTIL I had to deal with retail,insurance & utility companies,as well as Social Security & DMV...what a nightmare! I am not going to go into the whole scenario (it is lengthy,maddening and frustrating) but I do want to ask, "Do business owners/managers care anything about the consumer? Are they aware of the extreme level of incompetence and indifference exhibited by their employees? Do they realize the effect this cavalier attitude has on the buying public? What happened to the quaint concept that personnel should be trained to be problem solvers rather than reference manual readers? That a wise use of people's skills is to match them with customers in the same region or of the same culture? That someone sitting in an office in New Delhi cannot pickup on the subtle (or not so subtle!)nuances of frustrated American speech? That by putting already upset
customers into a telephonic maze ("For m to z, press #4852")you are inviting bull-headed behavior?

With manufacturing off shore and service out-sourced, what is American industry, public and private, doing at home and does anybody care?

Have we become so politically correct that the exercise of common sense is considered discrimanatory?

Diane Court said...

These fundamentals should be "common sense," It can be/has been done, though it isn't common enough. As customers we all experience the fallout.

I would love to read your take on "Experience Fundamentals" for within the organization. Can we deliver the basics to our consumer without a coherent, aligned internal strategy? It seems that buy-in and aligned performance cross-function and cross-department has to happen first.

Your computer buying experience (I had the same, possibly the same retailer) offers evidence that most employees, especially frontline, intuitively "get it". Internal customers are our first brand advocates. How do we empower them to facilitate their success?

Unknown said...

Hey there,

They should be common sense but they often are not.

I'm doing a webinar on this April 30th at 11 am CST with marketingprofs.

We WILL be talking about some of the operational challenges that subvert customer centricity - INCLUDING the signficant changes businesses are going through.

DMC I do believe that resolving the issue of how to capture frontline knowledge and integrate it within the organization is ESSENTIAL. Best Buy is doing a great job of harnessing that input, and training its employees well to meet the needs of WELL articulated customer segments. Furthermore, they provide 2 weeks training to frontline employees (Blue Shirts) compared to the 2-3 DAYS that are the industry average.

Awesome comments. Keep them coming! Thanks!

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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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