A satisfying customer experience is critical if we want to positively influence the way customers behave. Anything less — even if it’s just a neutral experience — is not sufficient to compel the behaviors we want. Customers that have a positive experience are three times more likely than customers with a neutral or negative experience to buy a product from the company that delivered the experience; four times more likely to recommend a company or renew an existing relationship (e.g., a service contract); and five times more likely to state that they are satisfied with the outcome of the interaction.
While companies generally agree that a good experience is something to strive for and a bad experience is something to avoid, they find it’s not always easy to provide the experience customers need or expect. The first step to creating a positive customer experience is to understand the critical elements that shape the experience. It is also imperative to recognize the phenomenal impact the web has on shaping customer experiences and the new challenges introduced as we move more customer interactions on-line.
Elements of a Successful Experience
Whether it’s delivered on-line, by phone or in person, the same basic principle should govern the customer experience: Customers have an objective in mind and want to achieve it quickly and efficiently. Their goal may be to purchase a new product or get help with something they already own. Regardless of the objective, there are four basic elements that define the experience customers have in driving towards their desired outcome. These elements are: Exploration, Formulation, Validation, and Action.
Exploration is the first step in the customer experience. At this stage, the customer is looking for the tools, resources and information that will help them chart a course to their final objective. In many cases, the customer does not know what the result will be and have only a general idea where to start their journey.
For example, when a customer is researching a product to purchase they may know that they want a wearable health device, but may not know which type, make or model is right for them. They may not know the price range of such products or where to buy one. Their experience begins by exploring the possible options, including available products, features, price, etc.
This exploration phase also applies to services. Customers may know that they have a problem but may have no idea what the underlying cause is or how to get it resolved. They begin their experience by searching for information to help them isolate and resolve the issue.
Initial discovery of possible options can often complicate a service or shopping experience. A process that began with a simple objective — to purchase wearable health device — has blossomed into a world of possible choices: customers find they can choose from dozens of manufacturers, all with models offering different features and price points. As the customer experience continues, the effort focuses on the formulation of a desired outcome. In product research and e-commerce scenarios, the customer begins to make decisions about what product features and price are of most interest.
The quality of a customer experience depends on more than whether the customer chose the right product to buy or figured out which solution would solve a problem. A complete customer experience requires that the course of action selected by the customer – deciding to buy a specific make and model of a wearable health device – is validated by objective evidence. Validation may come in the form of professional reviews, magazine articles, comments from peers, and other trusted sources.
The final stage of the customer experience is the action a customer takes to achieve their desired outcome. This action may take the form of a product purchase or the satisfactory resolution of a service issue.
The Journey vs. Outcome
The four elements described above define the stages of the journey towards a desired outcome. To be successful, a customer experience must have a satisfactory outcome. Moreover, the path to this outcome must be perceived to be productive, efficient, and even enjoyable.
Many factors affect the journey to a positive customer experience. While no two customers are alike, every customer experience shares basic characteristics that help to assure that the flow of the experience is positive, and the elements of the experience are fulfilled. Basic stages of the experience include:
- A Starting Point – Customers need to know how to begin their journey. Where should they start, what should they do first, and what information do they need to proceed.
- A Road Map – As customers navigate their way from exploration to action they need to know how to take each subsequent step in the process. Instructions, guides, and live assistance can all be used to keep the customer on the track to their desired outcome.
- A Destination – Every experience has a desired outcome. At the beginning of the journey the customer may be unsure of the outcome, but they at least have a direction in which to head. As the journey towards the destination progresses, a positive experience will help to refine the characteristics of the final goal (e.g., select a product to buy or receive an answer to a service issue).
The goal is to create a situation where customers feel that the journey to their desired outcome is easy and relevant to their needs. If a company can’t meet customers’ needs and provide a reasonably acceptable experience, then they will likely choose an alternative path to their destination.
Positive customer experiences do not happen by chance, they are created. Provide customers with the guidance they need to achieve the outcomes they want. This may include intuitive web sites that help guide customers to the information and resource they need; offer clear policies to describe the levels of service they can expect; and provide seamless access to live assistance to help customers when they are unclear of their next step achieve their desired outcomes.