The competitive landscape is changing dramatically, as companies realize that customers really are the center of their universe. With the days of M&A and massive cost-cutting behind us (for the moment), organic growth—also known as creating value by acquiring more customers and keeping them longer—is again in vogue. While I understand that this may not sound very insightful or fresh, it’s important to state for several reasons. The truth is, many companies are inflexible in the ways they interact with their customers. Especially in this environment, that’s not an approach that will win, or keep, customers.
As customer needs evolve, and as their understanding of the competitive landscape expands, companies need to rethink many of the systems and processes that have been set over the years, driven primarily by the needs of the company rather than by the desires of the customer. With increased competition from an array of sources in virtually every industry, and significantly increased customer expectations for service, it’s time for companies to take a step back and reorganize around the needs of their customers.
The key word here is “reorganize.” That’s because the delivery of customer experience cuts across the many silos that exist within any company of size. In brief, this is not an issue just for the marketing department or for human resources. The process of creating and delivering a consistent, differentiated and branded customer experience will affect almost every aspect of a company’s operations.
Let’s look at the handoff between sales and operations as one example. In recent work with a major distributor, the one-on-one relationships developed during the sales process were found to be a key component of the decision to enter a business relationship. For sales, you get there by building trust, establishing a strong relationship, and identifying—then dismantling—barriers.
Following a letter agreement and “post deal” dinner and congratulations, the prospective client is handed off to the next stage of the onboarding process; the formality of finalizing a contract. For Legal, the process is (and clearly I’m oversimplifying here) about “winning.” While the deals were closed for the most part, the process was a negative experience for new customers, in no small part because it was unexpected and inconsistent with their prior experience. Why? The goals for sales and legal aren’t in alignment.
IT wasn’t operating from the same playbook as either legal or sales, though that’s a slightly longer story. What’s important to understand is that the lack of a defined customer experience strategy across these critical functions created perceptual issues that in some cases never went away. The long-term results were lower levels of initial satisfaction, and the creation of an “us vs. them” perception that colored the relationship for some time.
While organizational goals for customer experience in the pre-purchase and post-purchase phases of a customer relationship are different, understanding all customer-facing functions is critical for driving a customer experience that also delivers desired business results. In some companies, we’ve encountered the perception that experience = cost. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite. Good customer experience = profit. Of course, the usual caveats apply. For example, an “ideal experience” is different for different customers. And a focus on the “right” customers delivers the “right” results.
Moving away from the process-driven approach of interacting with customers based on a structured, “this is how we do it” model to a more flexible, customer-focused perspective based on the question, “how should we do it?,” aligns customer needs with business realities.
This isn’t a process that can typically be done quickly or easily. Nor is it a process that can be handled by a single group. The cross-functional nature of delivering experience dictates a cross-functional approach to defining and implementing it. In short, customer experience isn’t a function or a department—it should become the center of everything you do.