Like it or not, we’re all service businesses and reputation is everything. There are three truths about a company’s reputation which mean you’re only as good as your last customer’s experience.

Every business, no matter what, has customers who have needs and expectations to be met. McKinsey say over 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they’re treated – customer experience is the ultimate driver of business success.

The new challenges

However, gone are the days when delivering service was a one-to-one affair. The ever-expanding range of sharing platforms – comparison sites, customer reviews, social media – means word spreads quickly. What customers say about the experiences you provide can be accessed instantly. The impact can be global.

To make things more challenging, customers expect to engage spontaneously across a number of channels: online, on the move, at retail or by phone. This is often hindered by out-dated procedures, infrastructures and systems struggling to keep pace with what’s expected.

Also, customers don’t discern by sector when judging experiences – their benchmark of service excellence may have been set by best practice in other sectors. Thus, the three truths are:

  1. Your reputation precedes you
  2. You’ll thrive or fail because of it
  3. It’s becoming harder to maintain or improve every day

So, what can you do?
There are a number of things you can do to prepare for and put in place a better customer experience to protect and improve your reputation.

The first thing is to know yourself – how customer-centric is your organisation? Does your culture and management support this approach? If you don’t know, you must conduct an assessment of your organisation’s customer-centricity.

Virgin Media, for example, on doing this implemented a programme called Voice of Our Brand which consists of behavioural frameworks and coaching materials to support staff in delivering perfect customer interactions. Since implementation, 10,000 frontline staff in call centres, retail stores and installation teams have been trained. The result? A 400% ROI and a 28 point increase in transactional NPS.

Then it’s a case of knowing your customer. Conduct qualitative and quantitative research to better understand the emotional needs of your customers. What are their drivers, behaviours and challenges? What do they value? What will win their loyalty, satisfaction and praise?

Philips identified a need, then created a Retail Service Platform of rich tools and services for retailers to effectively manage their assets and customer touch-points to deliver an enhanced and profitable in-store experience for their customers. The result? A 100% increase in retail sales.

After this, map out the existing customer journey – what we call an As-Is Journey Map. Examine the current journey customers take across your service. What are the steps they take, specifically where are the pain points/moments of delight? Knowing where these are will allow you to identify opportunities to ideate solutions that make the experience more valuable for both parties.

Mercedes Benz, for example, identified and, consequently, substantially differentiated their after-sales service offering to create compelling reasons for customers to choose, remain loyal to, and recommend them. All this whilst ensuring the change was desirable and achievable for the franchise network. An indication of this is that the programme has been successfully rolled out in over 40 countries worldwide.

Virgin Atlantic improved the customer journey by envisaging and building the future Terminal 3 experience for each class at Heathrow. The result was a 75% reduction in check-in times.

This exercise will undoubtedly reveal the key issues. Customers’ experiences are, ultimately, governed by a whole host of factors ‘behind the scenes’ such as your platform of resources, technology, policies, procedures, behaviours and cultures. It’s important to pin point the root because any of these may have on the frontline effects you see.

In terms of effect, sometimes improving the customer experience can bring softer improvements such as overall satisfaction, NPS, staff morale, industry awards or a change in a company’s culture towards being more customer-centred. Heathrow Airport, for example saw a 45% increase in passenger satisfaction as result of completely remodelling the premium passenger security experience, which has created a distinct and appealing brand for the service.

It’s important to know where you’re going. Create a view of your ideal customer experience for different customers and get the organisation excited about it. ‘Future Customer Journey Maps’ are key here.

Finally, it’s about knowing how to change. Assess your organisation’s readiness to change and get the right people on board. Don’t try and do it all at once, instead, break things down into structured programmes of work.

It’s not always about doing something new, it can often be about stopping something you are already doing. Finally, it’s vital, but often overlooked, to make sure you have the right methods for measuring success.

A take-away

The key thing to remember is every touch-point your customer interacts with during their journey with your brand – each one is a mini-experience in itself. Cisco estimates, that depending on the product or service, consumers touch your brand an average of 56 times between inspiration and transaction. This means you must ensure that each one fulfils your customer’s expectations and contributes positively to the overall experience.

Potential benefits await through increased revenue, reduced costs, improved efficiencies, increased customer traffic, greater spend per transaction and improved lifetime value.

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