Holistic View of Customer Experience

“Customer experience is the new advertising department.” – Max Kalehoff

In the last exposition, we spoke about the importance of customer-centricity and strategies around this approach. The reason such a mind-set has gained popularity is that the customer’s view of customer experience has undergone a major and significant shift. They expect and demand that every interaction and experience they have with a company is top class, free from unpleasant surprises, and speedy enough to meet their dynamic needs. Any business today has a wide ‘variety’ of customers – employers, stakeholders, buyers, and even the suppliers and vendors of the company. A holistic view of customer experience would therefore, entail the company’s ability to engage, serve, and empower each of these ‘customer groups’ such that they would play a key role in shaping the growth and future success of a business. Every part of a company must work towards this view of customer experience and optimize it such that it drives revenue, profitability, and sustained growth.

Since the view of customer experience has undergone a change – turning to being more focused and centralized on the customer, means that companies are becoming increasingly aware of its importance and are willing to alter their processes and strategies to accommodate this ‘new view’ of customers. In addition, this view of customer experience means that companies are applying this ‘learning’ to real life and everyday happenings – they starting to  understand the importance of putting their customers at the centre of everything. The meaning of a customer and their expectations has changed today, which naturally means that a company’s view of customer experience must change too, since this is crucial for the success of current and future of business. The empowered customers of today have higher expectations, which companies cannot afford to ignore – customer experience has become the single most important factor for the success of any business today.

The true meaning of the holistic view of customer experience is the sum total of all experiences that customers have with a company / brand through face-to-face contacts, interactions on the various communication channels, email and phone ‘conversations’, the products and services a company offers. Even one poor experience can lead to customer dissatisfaction, resulting in possible churn. However, the view of customer experience a company has should be influenced directly by what customers would want – sometimes they would choose speed and ease over a wow or delightful experience. They expect to be in control of the experiences they have with a company and would want to decide whether the experience they had with a company warrants sharing with others, or keeping it confined to themselves, waiting for the next few experiences to decide in the company’s favour. From the customer’s perspective, the view of customer experience is a highly individualized, emotional, personal, and subjective one.

Just as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, in the realm of business, value is in the eyes of the one experiencing it – in this case, the customer. Going by this logic, customer experience management would seem moot, and a wasteful activity on the part of a company. At best, a company can manipulate the view of customer experience by creating conducive conditions for customers to have pleasant experiences. The quality of its products and customer service, the agility and response times of the customer service centres, politeness and empathy of the service representatives, the quality of content and messaging – all factors would contribute towards the kind of experiences customers have with a company. Despite a company trying to have all the aspects in place, the view customers have of them would differ based on their needs, expectations, feelings, and emotions at each interaction. The other part of the holistic view of customer experience therefore, would be that a company can only provide stimulus, but it is customers, who shape and manage their experiences with a company.

Another view of customer experience is that every customer is an individual – each one is different, and would have their unique needs and expectations. An experience with a company can be highly emotional (especially for customers with a long history with a company) or completely lacking any feeling as in the case of a transaction-based relationship. This highly subjective nature of customer experience and the lack of understanding on the part of companies are what creates, the infamous customer experience gap, which often is a cause of ‘separation’ between a company and its customers. The view of customer experience that companies should have is actually none – instead the experiences must be viewed from the customer’s perspective, as in what they value and want. This could vary from the most obvious products and customer service, to the emotional and sometimes irrational needs and wants of customers. Looking this view of customer experience, what can be said however, is that even though individual emotions and criteria may differ, there would still be some commonalities in the way customers associate value to an experience.

For companies to understand the view of customer experience from the customer perspective, they must design interactions and techniques, and control interactions through various touch-points, to ensure that customers leave every interaction feeling happy and pleased. The endeavour should be that every interaction must go beyond ‘satisfactory’ – possible through a complete understanding of the customer psyche. A company can gain a holistic view of customer experience by putting itself in the shoes of its customers, acquiring and tracking data, gaining feedback directly and indirectly from customers, and active listening – listening beyond just the words of customers by taking emotions and feelings into account as well.

A company that lacks an overall view of customer experience would find it tough to create happy interactions for its customers. It would be unable to approach every customer as a unique individual given the lack of understanding of what customers would really want. As mentioned above, this creates the experience gap – a company considers its business to be valuable to its customers, while customers disagree on that value and instead harbour resentment for a company that is unable to comply with what they want. The customer experience gap tends to exist in companies, and has been so for a while. The only difference being, that in some companies this gap is wider. Research too corroborates the fact of the varying view of customer experience that customers and companies hold to be true. While the responses from companies (80% of the companies) show that they rate their customer experiences highly, customers on the other hand, disagreed by saying that the experiences they had were not up to their expectations on several occasions. Closing this gap is certainly no mean task and unless a company has a robust strategy in place, the view of customer experience will always remain imbalanced.

Given, that the customer’s view of customer experience is what matters, it becomes the onus of a company to do whatever possible to enable and ensure top class customer experiences. The fact is that this enablement and ensuring are not one-off or one-time – rather it is an on-going endeavour since customer expectations change continually, the employees at companies may not always do what is expected, the situation of a company could change, and several other reasons contributing to the continuous nature of the efforts required. What is your company’s view of customer experience, what can you do to ensure that your customers feel like the centre of your universe, and how will customers know that you care?

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