In 2020, the world had to adjust and adapt to new ways of living. “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” In the UK, each national lockdown resulted in non-essential businesses shutting their doors, forcing people to rely heavily on online services. The pandemic ultimately changed society’s behaviour in the way we shop, work, socialise and learn.
Businesses and designers need to cater to these changes and assess the customer experience strategy. This article outlines some simple steps that can help promote a better customer experience, boost customer-centred culture and provide a financial return.
If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends."
Who are your customers?
It’s easy for a business to turn around and declare they know the customer like the back of their hand. The coronavirus pandemic has caused a shift in customer needs and expectations, therefore, there’s a duty to revisit our understanding by speaking to current and past customers – who they are, what motivates them, and what makes them tick. Set up one-to-one interviews, shadow conversations in the customer support team, or hold group workshops (virtually for now).
Some simple steps when learning about your customers are:
- Observe: See how a customer navigates a website; look at their facial expressions for emotions. Observe how they solve problems, digitally or physically.
- Actively listen: Concentrate on what the customer is saying; try not to question or think about solutions at the same time the customer is speaking.
- Build rapport: Make customers feel comfortable; make small talk which builds trust and encourages the customer to give honest feedback.
- Put a face to the stats: We can all get carried away with statistics, so speak to real people to make sense of the numbers and recognise that people are behind the decisions.
Understand the customer journey
It’s paramount to start with creating personas. A persona is a representation of customers based on their needs, goals, frustrations, and behaviours. Personas aid businesses to empathise with their customers, understand their scenario coming into the service, and gauge what is important to their experience to ensure loyalty. Indi Young published a fantastic article about Describing Personas – a great starting point for persona creation.
To fully comprehend the customer experience, a tool called ‘customer journey mapping’ allows you to think about the customer steps, how the customer interacts with the business, and walks through how the customer gets to their end goal.
This is a fundamental activity that enables businesses to gain perspective and analyse customer tasks. Start with a particular persona and scenario to map against the service. Follow this simple structure to create a customer journey map:
- Phases: At what point is the customer in the journey? For example, exploring, purchasing, or returning.
- Interactions: What steps does the customer follow? For example, buying online, calling a help desk, or going to the post office to drop off a return parcel.
- Emotions: How does the customer feel? How does this change when a situation alters from a bad to a good experience?
- Delights and pain points: What steps in the journey cause the customer frustration? What is the reaction? Is there anything that excites them or brings them joy?
To form a highly effective journey map we need to look beyond the constraints of the product or particular service; to ask the question:
- Decision: What’s the customer’s reasoning to engage with the business? What other businesses did they consider?
- Motivation: What helps the customer make their decision? What do they value?
- Influence: Who or what has influenced the customer’s decision? Social or political? Reputation or friends?
- Habits and behaviours: What are the customers typical behaviours? Does the customer react with delight or frustration? What technology does the customer use?
- Social impacts: Is the customer impacted by social media? Where do they typically go to compare companies? How do they share experiences, through word of mouth, or social media?
Of course, as a business, you can look at these interactions in isolation to the brand, but to take customer experience to the next level, we need to understand the whole customer journey before and after they reach the service. Researchers and designers call this ‘pre-service’ and ‘post service’, each of these can have a monumental impact on returning customers and loyalty.
The journey map can be shared across the business; from marketing to design, customer support to engineering. Each department will look at the map in slightly different ways, to gauge what the customer is experiencing and how they can support it to make positive changes. For example, a design and engineering team might focus on a specific phase within the journey that carries multiple pain points. Each pain point would be populated into a backlog ready for design, testing, and technical implementation.
Create a clear customer vision
A customer experience vision is a blend of a business vision and a mission statement with a clear focus on the customer. A successful business shapes the vision based on the customer experience, to create an authentic, inspiring, and mobilising proposition. IKEA provides a great example of its statement, ‘Create a better everyday life for the many people’. If we break this down, it presents a vision for ‘many people’ to create a ‘better everyday life’ which allows IKEA to see how many customers it has affected, and if it has increased a better way of living.
A vision statement shouldn’t be conjured up in isolation, this is a process. A process that is best executed with collaboration, active listening, and iteration. Don’t be afraid to test out draft vision statements with colleagues, ask for feedback, and capture their opinion on who the customer is.
As humans we want to see the value in our work, to do this we need to see evidence. Capturing qualitative and quantitative data will help see how certain activities have contributed to the customer experience strategy. Anyone can begin to collect data, although it’s useful to have a springboard to work from.
The following diagram describes a variety of research activities that aid metric.
If we take an online car retailer as a use case example, we may ask the following questions to gather customer metrics:
- What percentage of customers click on the additional warranty cover button of the website? (Quantitative)
- How does a customer feel when going through the loan application process and the reasons for this emotion? (Qualitative)
- How are customers navigating through the website? (Behavioural)
- What are customers telling us in their survey responses? (Attitudinal)
Once the business has a clear baseline understanding of the customer experience, it allows for any improvements to be measured and analysed to validate success. Strengthen this investigation by discovering how many customers would a change affect? How much revenue do you get from each customer? And what is the customer retention rate?
Further reading on ‘defining your data strategy’ elaborates how to solve challenges with data and deliver value from the data.
Design the right thing
According to a study by Barclays, a third (33%) of retailers have had website upgrades, 32% have started to accept new payment methods, and one in four (26%) have embraced data analytics for the first time.
As a consequence of the pandemic, there has been a surge in e-commerce and online transformation which means that businesses need to focus on the user experience (UX) design of their online services to keep up with demands. Expectations of fast loading time, intuitive functionality and seamless experiences across multiple devices will distinguish if a customer returns or explores alternative services.
For a great customer experience, it’s worth investing time to create design principles. Design principles help guide your design decisions and focus on customer needs and behaviours.
- Consistency: Ensure the customer has the same experience across all platforms and service interactions.
- Simplicity: Remove any irrelevant steps in the customer journey.
- Ease: Make it easy for customers to achieve their goal without complicated interactions.
- Autonomy: Give customers the freedom to feel in control of their journey.
- Accessibility: Make your product easily accessible to as many customers as possible.
Tell a compelling return on investment story
It’s important to build a compelling case that gains stakeholder buy-in and trust, a good story inspires action. Customer experience initiatives have business benefits, which can increase customer retention, higher cross-sell and upsell potential, invite new customers, and decrease cost to serve.
The best way to tell a compelling story is to appeal to both logic and emotion; numbers and spreadsheets can only do much. A proven method is to focus on one story.
Use the customer journey maps and evidence gathered prior to forming the story, describe the customer, with background information, characteristics, and hobbies. This will help form a connection and relationship with the customer, and ultimately care whether they have a good experience with the business.
Be creative, engaging, and memorable. Try using videos and audio evidence to really put this customer in the room. Heck, why not bring the customer to the presentation! For customer experience strategy, you want to bring a S.T.A.R moment – Something They’ll Always Remember. Bill Gates demonstrates a truly memorable experience to help his audience identify with people who suffer from the mosquito-spread disease Malaria.