Why You Should Design Your Customer Experience (and How to Start)
Whether you are a running a product or service based business, are bricks and mortar or online - chances are you are competing with someone. Competing for attention, competing for customers and competing for sales. So what are you doing in your business to set yourself apart? What’s your competitive advantage?
Back in the 1980s, business guru Michael Porter coined his theory around competitive advantage - the nuts and bolts of which were that a business can choose a strategy of cost leadership, differentiation or focus (kind of like having a niche).
If you want to try and get ahead with cost leadership, you basically need to do what you do cheaper, or at lower cost to everyone else you are competing with. In my opinion, this is just hard and probably not appropriate for the large majority of businesses - particularly small businesses or solo entrepreneurs.
As for focus (which should really be combined with cost leadership or differentiation anyway), I don’t know many people in business these days who are not thinking about narrowing and providing services for some form of niche. It’s just something you need to do and not really something to write home about.
So what are we left with? Differentiation. Yep. To get ahead, you have to do something others don’t. Something special. Something so people talk about how amazing you and your products or services are. And one way you can do this, is by providing an exceptional customer experience.
So what is an experience?
A great way to think of an experience is as a journey. It generally has a beginning, a middle and an end (sometimes) and is made up of all the things we see, hear, smell, taste, say, do, use, think and feel along the way.
Every product or service is part of an experience. That experience may begin and end outside of your interaction with your customer. It can start the moment the spark of a thought about a need or a desire enters your customers head and can in some cases end years after the product or service has reached the end of its lifespan.
An experience in some ways can live on forever in our customers thoughts and feelings, not to mention what they pass on about their experience to others. Which highlights the importance of making that experience a good one. If there is an everlasting memory of your product or service, you want it to be positive.
Designing the experience
What is one to do then? Not all aspects of a customer’s experience will be within your control - but those that are, you can design. It’s about being intentional about every aspect of what you create and provide for your customers.
A great way to start thinking about this is to map out your end to end customer journey from their perspective. The absolute best way to do this is with your customers, but doing it yourself is better than nothing.
You want to map out the different steps they go through from the moment they are triggered to think about their need or desire for a product or service, to the point where the interaction with your product or service comes to an end. There can be many steps in this journey so it can be a good idea to roll these steps up into higher level phases. This could look something like: Find, Buy, Use, Get Help, End. Within the first phase of ‘Find, you might have something like: Become Aware of Need, Explore, Research, Observe. This will be different for every product or service however.
Once you have your phases and steps laid out, map out all the different channels customers are using throughout their experience and the activities they are performing via each channel. A channel might be telephone, Facebook, your website, your email list, TV, word of mouth, an affiliate - any medium via which your customer has an interaction related to your product or service or their wider experience.
So if your service for example is health coaching, a customer’s ‘Research’ step in the ‘Find’ phase might include:
- Check out different health coach sites (activity) on the net (channel)
- Ask questions about healthy eating (activity) in some different health related Facebook groups (Channel)
There are many deeper layers you can dig into at each step (I will write about this at a later date), but in beginning to think about a person’s experience and your role in designing it intentionally, ask yourself:
- Do I provide something for this step/activity on this channel?
- Do I want to/need to provide something here?
- What is the basic expectation of the customer at that point? (This might be set by you or someone/something else).
- Am I meeting that expectation?
- If no, what can I do to meet that expectation?
- If yes, what can I do to exceed it?
Meeting and Exceeding Expectations
In order to create a competitive advantage, at the very least you want to ensure you are meeting someone’s expectations at each interaction you have with them. I can tell you now, many businesses struggle to do even this - so you will already be ahead.
Once you are meeting expectations - you can then think about exceeding them. It is when you are exceeding expectations you will really start to see the benefits. People don’t talk about an experience if you merely meet the baseline. They talk about it if you get it wrong, or you get it more than right. You are aiming for delightful surprise - delivering value beyond what was expected.
Crafting ways to exceed expectations is of course the tricky part - but until you have it all mapped out, it’s hard to even know where to begin. So I encourage you to go out and give this exercise a shot. To begin with, maybe just see if you can write all the steps, phases and activities out yourself. You will be amazed at the complexity of the experience you are providing. It may seem daunting at first, but remember - each phase, each step, each activity, each channel is an opportunity for you to delight a customer. And delighting customers will help you gain attention, gain more customers and make more sales.
Have you mapped out your customer experience? I’d love to hear about it? What did you find easy? What was difficult? What did you learn? If you’d like to know more or need some help, head over and leave a comment or ask a question on my Facebook page.