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At one point or another, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a bad customer experience.

Whether it was adding items to your online shopping cart and getting halfway through checkout before finding out there’s a shipping charge; booking a doctor’s appointment months in advance just to end up missing it because the office never sent you a reminder; or getting hit with unexpected fees on your cell phone bill only to call your service provider to find out there’s nothing they can do because apparently, it’s your fault you went over your data limit (seriously though, a warning would’ve been nice).

These experiences stand out, but not in a good way.

They’re the ones we complain to our friends about, leave negative reviews on the internet over, and the ones we aren’t going to want to put ourselves through again—meaning that company either lost an existing customer or the chance to gain a new one (several new ones actually—think: ripple effect).

The point? Customer experience is crucial for companies not only to acquire customers, but also to retain them, gain referrals, and ultimately grow as a business.

But having an effective customer experience strategy in place is a lot easier said than done. That’s where this blog post comes in.

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What is customer experience?

Put simply, customer experience is the impression people are left with when dealing with your company; it’s what they think of you afterward.

And it’s not exclusive to the times you actually speak with them either.

Think of every touchpoint a user comes across on your website, for example. Whether it be your navigation menu, sign-up process, available payment options, contact methods, wait times to talk to someone, ease of finding information, etc… each of these plays a role in a person’s impression of your company—and ultimately, whether or not their experience with you is a good one or not.

Customer experience vs. customer service.

Customer experience is a holistic term covering every aspect of a user’s journey with your company from discovery, to eventually becoming a customer, to sticking around as one.
Customer experience is made up of two primary factors:

People:

how satisfied is the user after speaking with a person from your company?

Product:

does the product meet (or better yet, exceed) their expectations?

Customer service is one component of this overall customer experience.
It’s the “people” factor.
It’s those few touchpoints where a rep is needed to provide assistance to the user. This includes phone calls, live chat, and email as well as any other sales engagement efforts your reps make to turn those users into customers.

For example, calling a company up because of a mischarge on your bill or to update your information on file is a customer service interaction.
Or, in the case of sales engagement, getting a lead or prospect to agree to set up a meeting time with you. (Hint: They’re not likely to agree if your customer service skills are off.)

Makes sense, right?
In the olden’ days, success in the sales department was determined by customer service things like the number of emails sent out or phone calls made in a day. But those days are behind us. Customer experience has added a whole new layer of requirements to the sales role.

Quality > quantity has never held more true.

Why is customer experience important?

Because the better your customer experience is, the more customers and repeat business you’ll get (and more $$$ you can make).

Today, consumers’ opinions matter more than ever. First off, because they have tons of options to choose from, so you actually need to be offering something your competitors aren’t. Then once you do get people on board, realize they can leave just as quickly if you’re not giving them the experience they want (and deserve!) so you’ve got to ensure the caliber of customer experience you’re providing is continuous, even after the sale.

Because the better your customer experience is, the more customers and repeat business you’ll get (and more $$$ you can make)

A good experience creates happy customers, which then leads to positive word-of-mouth, a boatload of referrals, and credibility-boosting reviews. In the case of SaaS companies that use a subscription-based revenue model, it creates repeat business, increases retention, and reduces churn.

If you’re not convinced yet, here are some more reasons why your company should care about customer experience:

Consumers aren’t just paying for products anymore—they’re paying for a positive experience.

Think investing in customer experience is a waste of money? Think again.

According to a survey by PwC, 73% of consumers say customer experience is a big part of their decision-making process; consumers also said they’re willing to pay for a good experience, with 43% saying they’ll pay more for convenience and 42% saying they’ll pay for warm, friendly customer service.

  • For Gen Z, convenience and customer appreciation rank highly on their list of customer experience expectations.
  • Nine in 10 millennials will take action after having a bad online customer experience, such as telling friends, stopping purchases from the company, and posting reviews on a review site or social media.
  • Boomers are 40% more likely to abandon their cart because they’re unhappy with the customer experience.

Well, it’s unanimous. Having a good product isn’t good enough anymore. Consumers are paying for a good experience too. #Facts

And that goes for all age groups.

Good customer experience can increase your customers’ lifetime value (LTV).

Customers want to feel heard and understood—before, during and after they’ve purchased from you. Achieve that, and you’ve maximized your chances of keeping those customers for life. Plus, they’ll be more likely to refer you to all their friends and colleagues in the industry. Score.

Get this: according to an Accenture Strategy’s 2016 report, “Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement,” poor customer service (one of the primary building blocks of customer experience) drove 52% of respondents to switch service providers, with 68% of those people saying they wouldn’t go back.

That report was based on responses from almost 25,000 customers in 11 industries across the globe. The importance of customer experience is a worldwide thing.

Customer experience gives you an edge over your competitors.

Fun fact: in the past five years alone, Google searches for the term “customer experience” has nearly doubled. In other words, more and more companies are seeing the importance of it.

Companies have doubled their interest in customer experienceSource

Another fact: if customer experience was easy, everyone would do it.

Putting in the effort to perfect your customer experience will set you apart from others in your industry.

That means it’s not enough to merely fulfill the minimum requirements of a sales call or just do whatever it takes to close a deal. Sales reps should be aiming to go above and beyond a customer’s expectations and working to make every experience a good one (more on how later).

How to measure where your customer experience level stands:

It’s important to measure your customer experience so you can track its improvement (or *gulp* discourse) over time. This metric will also tell you whether or not your efforts to improve it are successful or need tweaking.

Being that customer experience is a qualitative metric by nature, however, figuring out how to quantify it for the sake of measurement can be… challenging.
Luckily, customer experience pros over the years have figured it out for us. Here are four ways you can measure your customer experience:

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
  • Time to Resolution (TTR)
  • Customer Effort Score (CES)

Net Promoter Score (NPS)

How it works:
This customer experience scoring method is a quiz that asks users, “how likely are you to refer our brand to a friend or colleague?” then has them answer by selecting a number between 1 and 10 (or 1-5, 1-100, etc.).

When to use it:
When you want to gauge your customer experience as a whole; if the majority of your responses are in the top 90-100% “very likely to recommend” zone, it’s safe to assume your customers are pretty happy. Otherwise, something needs fixing.

Example:

Net promoter score is one of the methods to measure customer experience
Source

Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)

How it works:
CSAT works by asking customers to rate them on a point scale, with the lowest number equating to, “very unsatisfied” and the highest meaning, “very satisfied.” These surveys can also be as simple as asking the customer to select yes or no.

When to use it:
While NPS is used to get customers’ opinions on your brand as a whole (and how likely they are to recommend it), CSAT tests are used to get customer feedback on specific aspects of the customer experience.
For example, many FAQ articles have a CSAT survey at the bottom that looks something like this: “Did you find this article helpful? Select Yes or No.” This helps companies determine which FAQs are most helpful (so they can place them up higher on their Help page) and which ones need to be reworked.

Another example:

CSAT tests get customer feedback on their experienceSource

Time to Resolution (TTR)

How it works:
Time to Resolution—as you might’ve guessed by the name—is the average length of time it takes your customer service team to resolve an issue for a customer. The clock begins as soon as a customer first brings the issue to your attention and stops once it’s been solved and the customer’s been notified.

You can measure this in either business hours or days, depending on the complexity of your issues and your company’s typical service level agreement (SLA).

To average out your numbers and get your TTR score, add up all these times and divide them by the total number of issues solved.

When to use it:
Considering wait times have a heavy weighing on a customer’s experience with your brand, it’s definitely worth measuring this metric regularly and working to continuously improve it.

Example:

Time to resolution metric has direct influence on overall customer experience
Source

Customer Effort Score (CES)

How it works:
Similar to the CSAT, CES asks customers to rate on a 5 or a 7-point scale, but instead of rating their satisfaction, they’re rating how easy it was for them to solve their issues. So, 1 would mean “very difficult,” and 5 would mean “very easy.”

When to use it:
CES is great to implement after a customer service interaction. You’ve probably heard this type of survey used at the end of the phone call after calling your bank, for example. Another good time to use them is when you’ve launched a new product feature. Ask your customers to rate you both before and after the new feature launch to see if the CES improves post-launch.

Example:

CES is another great metric to implement after a customer service interaction
Source

How to improve your company’s customer experience:

Once you’ve benchmarked where your customer experience level stands, you’re probably going to want to know how to improve it. Here are five things you can start doing (mostly) right away.

1. Define your customer experience vision.

A customer experience vision is a statement that acts as a guide to how your business treats its prospects. Think of it as your “vows” to your customers.

Go ahead, write them down.

Then, once you’ve got your vision down, list some actions your employees can take to fulfill it. Here’s an example (you can check out the full deck here):

An example of customer experience vision.
Source

These vows should be integrated into your company’s culture—they’re not just for your CSRs. Product managers, marketing teams, sales managers, etc… everyone needs to know what the expectations are for how your company treats its customers.

Incorporate it into your organization’s onboarding plan as well as ongoing training and hang it up somewhere your whole team can see it.

2. Know who your customers are.

You can’t even begin to design a customer experience if you don’t know who you’re designing it for. To make a good customer experience, you’ll need to define the following first:

  • Buyer persona(s)
  • A customer journey map

Buyer persona.
Buyer personas are stereotyped profiles of your average customer. They include demographic and psychographic information that marketing and sales teams can use to better cater their collateral and service toward.

An example of customer persona.
An example of a personalized email
Source

Customer journey map
A customer journey map is a visual representation of all the interactions a user makes with your brand. The point is to find out what that user’s end goal is and whether or not your product or service can or will help them achieve it.

An example of a customer journey map
An example of a customer journey map
Source

3. Personalize touchpoints to your customers.

Today, you can’t even go on social media without seeing ads laser-targeted to your browsing history. At the same time, Amazon is sending you emails telling you it’s time to order more toothpaste and Spotify is recommending new music based on what you’ve been listening to.

Personalization is great because it makes customers feel special (albeit can get a bit creepy at times when that shirt you looked at once keeps popping up everywhere). According to a survey by Evergage, 88% of companies that incorporate personalization in their sales strategy “realized a measurable lift in business results” and 61% said they saw “improved overall customer experience.”
There are so many different ways to personalize things, and it makes a drastic improvement to customer experience and helps you build relationships with your customers as well, they see you more as a business partner than just a service provider.

Personalization doesn’t have to be scary, cost a bunch of money, or require crazy equipment either. For example, with the right tools, email personalization can make a significant impact on a customer’s experience.

An example of a personalized email
An example of a personalized email
Source

4. Create an emotional connection with your customers.

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, emotionally engaged customers are three times more likely to buy from you again, and at least three times more likely to recommend your company to others.

Emotional engagement of customers is a big part of their experience with your product and will directly influence their decisions.
Source

So how does one create an emotional connection with their customers, exactly? Here are some pointers:

Be human.
When you speak with dozens of customers daily, it can be easy to become almost robotic when speaking with them. Don’t do that. Remember you’re talking to real people, so talk to them like you would a friend—don’t just read off scripts and canned responses.

Be empathetic.
When customers are talking to you about the issues they’re facing, whether it’s with your product or other business problems, listen to them actively. Read their body language or tone of voice if you’re on the phone to pick up on what emotions they’re going through, and aim to truly understand what it is they’re feeling rather than merely waiting for them to finish talking so you can insert your sales pitch.

Keep your promises.
Relationships are built on trust, and your relationships with your customers are no different. Whether it’s honoring your return policy, agreeing to waive a fee, or just telling a customer you’ll call them back in an hour, stick to it.

A great example of a company that created an emotional connection strong enough to last a lifetime is the tale of Joshie the Giraffe and the Ritz Carlton. If you haven’t read it, you need to. Here’s the link.

An example of establishing a great emotional connection with a customer
Trust us, just read the story
Source

5. When customers do complain, hear them out.

Last but most certainly not least, the single most important thing you can do to improve your customer experience is…

Ready for it?

Listen to your customers.

While the customer experience scoring methods we mentioned earlier are great for quantifying data, the qualitative data you get from direct feedback from customers is where you’ll find the most accurate, actionable advice.

Chances are, your sales reps are hearing feedback—both positive and negative—from customers on the regular, but there’s no process in place to get that feedback to the people who can do something about them.

For example, if a customer is complaining about a broken web page, there isn’t much your front-line staff can do, but your developers will definitely want to know about it. Or, say you’re getting lots of complaints about a specific product feature; best believe there’s a product manager who would pay money for information like that—and your company already has it, for free.

So, if you don’t already, put together a process for your front-line staff to pass along feedback to the appropriate channels.
Here are some ideas:

  • An internal social media account (like Facebook)
  • Slack channel
  • Ticketing system (like ZenDesk)

Outstanding customer service is rooted in an exceptional customer experience.

Okay, we established what customer experience is, why it matters now more than ever, and how to improve the experience you offer your customers.

It isn’t something you’ll master in one day. Customer experience is a continuous process of constantly measuring, analyzing, and improving things over time.

The good news? The reduced churn, increased customer loyalty and referrals and, of course, increased revenue will be worth it.