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Where Innovation Meets Customer Experience

thumbs usWe are all spoiled by the pace of innovation and the lengths to which companies go to meet, delight and serve us online and offline.    Amazon, for example, listens to customer behavior and makes up to 8,000 iterative adjustments to the customer experience every day.

“Most organizations today have some form of customer experience program underway,” said behavior profiling expert Frank Capek of Customer Innovations, a partner of TopRight, in a recent presentation with our team.  “While it’s often easy to identify what customers desire and to create a vision for a more fundamentally transformed experience, it’s very difficult to get the organization out of its own way to implement and consistently deliver that experience.”

There really is only one thing that makes customer experience investment worthwhile, he said, and that is your ability to influence buying behavior.   To get traction on those behavioral outcomes, we need to identify the small number of customer actions that dominate the influence on buying behavior, Frank said.  They are the actions that help consumers associate value with the things they buy or the satisfaction they have with quotidian occurrences (like our commute or government services).

We then must innovate our customer programs and services to improve experience through a structured, iterative design and development project, he advises.   “Applying this approach, and successfully delivering this kind of Next Generation Experience, almost always requires a substantial shift in organizational behavior as well.”

For example, Frank and his firm worked with a leading insurance firm to focus on how to transform customer-facing processes and programs that were truly “signature” – differentiated by experience and not just by design.   This goes beyond service levels – this firm actually had really high scores in service.  It was more about creating a customer experience that was different, motivating, and consistent with the brand.

Being honest about your brand attributes is key to this work.  TopRight COO Bill Fasig often speaks of brand identity as the “own-able message that is the truth of the brand,” and must permeate every aspect of the organization’s offerings, messaging, culture, service, programs, advertising and marketing.  “Living the brand message is not the job of just the marketing department,” Bill says.

“When the electric company calls you to tell you why the power is out, gives an estimate of repair and offers to send a text message when it’s fixed…that represents a huge shift in attitude and program delivery for the organization.  It’s certainly not a leading edge technological innovation, but it is an enormous improvement in customer experience and satisfaction,” Frank said.

One interesting way to improve customer experience is not about changing the actual experience, but removing negative emotions around the experience.   Frank tells a story about a building that received a lot of complaints about the long wait for an elevator during peak periods.  Installing additional elevators would be a multi-million dollar investment.  Instead, the firm installed mirrors in the lobby and other waiting areas.  This improved the “wait” experience so much, that complaints plummeted, even though the actual wait time did not change.

“There are a lot of things you can do to improve the ‘wait’ experience which can have a material impact on the overall customer experience,” Frank said.   “For example, unoccupied wait feels longer than occupied waits, solo waits feel longer than group waits, and uncertain waits feel longer than known, finite waits.”  Many of us have worked with our colleagues in customer service to apply these principles to the call center experience.

“There are all sorts of things that people do that there is no explanation for – and we’ve found that people usually change their behavior before they can explain why they made the change.   People are very busy and they have to rely on shortcuts to make choices,” Frank said.

Unless it is made by habit or recognition, people make buying decisions by choosing between alternates.  This is why testing the pricing, the combinations and the webpage location/physical placement of options has long dominated web design, direct marketing offers and product shelf placement.   That of course is also why emotion is so powerful in marketing – because it helps people associate values and ideas to what would otherwise be intellectual choices.

Changes you make to the customer experience always have to be in the best interest of the customer, Frank said.  What people are able to tell you about their behavioral norms is only the tip of the iceberg – much of our behavior is driven by subconscious knowledge that is hard to articulate.    Innovation in customer experience is both a qualitative and quantitative exercise that goes beyond listening.  “We often don’t even use an interview script,” Frank said.  “We use metaphor tools to help us dig into the subconscious and make sense of people’s actions.”

Influencing behavior that will drive revenue in the long term is a significant part of the Customer BuyWay, the process that TopRight uses to help marketers understand and map their customers’ journey.  The Customer Innovations approach is a great complement to dig deeply and understand what could  enable customers to achieve their desired states – and help brands to produce experiences that are both true to the brand and highly valued by customers.

“The purpose of business is to create and keep customers.”  That is a Customer Innovations mantra.  Satisfying customers time and time again is the only way to bring your business to the #TopRight.

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