Defining the ‘Customer Experience’

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 06-02-2007

Ask any seasoned sales rep what they think the customer experience is and you will get all kinds of wisdom and solutions.  But if all those “pearls of wisdom” were worth the time to explain then why do we hear daily about how annoyed and irritated customers, including you and I, are getting at the lack of a genuine meaningful ‘customer experience’. 

Let’s look a a couple of examples.  If you place a call to your utility company and they answer the phone with “Blah, Blah Energy Company, what is your problem or trouble ticket number?”  The first thing I want to say is “Good-Bye!”  I don’t know about you but that doesn’t give me warm and happy thoughts every month when I write them a considerable sum of money in the form of payment for services rendered. 

Here’s another example.  Nearly everyone knows or has heard of Cabela’s.  They are a large fishing and hunting outfitter that inventories over 280,000 items.  Years ago they made a decision that in order for their customer service/sales people to be effective in selling their products they had to have a thorough knowledge of the product.  Therefore, they make  every item in their catalog available to their employees to test and use.  When you call their sales department you talk to someone who has touched and seen and tried that item and can give you a first hand personal viewpoint.  I buy from Cabela’s and for over 20 years have never had a bad experience!  That speaks volumes about their commitment to the customer experience.

Reality check.  You think you know what the customer experience is.  My question is what does the customer really want that will guarantee them a meaningful ‘experience’ that will give you lasting loyalty?  I posed that question to myself and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t readily have the answer, so I decided it was time to define these customer benchmarks.  After some considerable reading and commiting serious grey matter to that task let’s look at the following factors.  There is a physical and emotional need and thought process that comes into play.  The only thing that will corrupt these factors is those who are dogmatic price-cutters.  In my opinion, the customer who is constantly beating me up over price is better off taking their business elsewhere and stop wasting my time.  My time would be best spent with the customer who has genuine need of my experience, knowledge and capabilities.  I’m going to present you with some general considerations, seven of them to be precise, so take the time to commit serious attention to the details of your individual customer interactions and see how these apply to you.

  1. Product Returns - Understand how your customer uses your products and services and what specific support you need to provide them in order to show your “genuine concern” for their well being.  The art is in knowing your customer.  Make it easy and effortless to send wrongly ordered and damaged products back to your office.  Take personal responsibility to follow-up with the customer and assure they get exactly what they need when they need it.  You have a huge advantage over the non-existent rep from the “Big Box” competition and their call centers.  USE IT!
  2. Problem Solver - I detest waiting and I don’t have time for problems.  I am a typical consumer.  We are rushed all day, every day.  So is your customer!  They want someone they can count on to solve their problems.  Become the problem solver!  Customers want support, advice and solutions.  What problems do your customers have?  Have you taken the time to sit and listen to them, to ask them specifically how you can help them run a better business?  Cut costs?  When was the last time you did a business review with them?  I still hate problems but I love to be the ‘fixer’ when it comes to solutions to ‘fix’ my customers problems because I become the hero!  Take the time to carefully examine how you can become a valued partner in their business and you will have a customer for life.
  3. Convenience - How easy is it to do business with you?  When the customer calls do they get a live person on the phone or do they get an auto-attendant?  Do you use or abuse voice mail?  If convenience isn’t important why do ‘convenience stores’ thrive and historically charge much higher prices?  Customers are willing to pay more for convenience and capabilities.  Customers want it quick, easy and a ‘feel good’ experience to satisfy their emotional and physical needs.  They want personal contact and to feel appreciated.  Any fool can offer a transaction but only you can offer the experience. 
  4. Reduce the Complexity - I don’t want 33 or 53 flavors of ice cream, I only want two or three.  Don’t get burdened by offering such a wide array of products and/or services that you can’t know them all or effectively sell them.  In the office products industry there are so many products that I can sell it is mind bending.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t offer a wide variety of products and service designed to meet your customer needs.  Warehouse supplies, Jan-San, printing and furniture are enough in themselves to stay abreast of, throw in machines and equipment and you have a lot to learn and a lot to sell!  If your customer is shopping for a new printer, examine their needs and allow for sufficient future growth and recommend two printers that will do the job, not just the one you make the most commission on and let them make a well informed decision.  The customer wants dependable information from a reliable source, someone they can trust.  They need information that is easy to understand and concise.  Not complicated and techie.
  5. Community – Customers like to feel connected to you and your company.  They want to be a part of your community.  Some of the best feedback I ever received to an e-mail newsletter I write each month was regarding a piece I wrote on the company employees in a costume contest we had at halloween.  I had photos and humerous captions of everyone involved and the customers responded with phone calls and e-mails about how much they enjoyed them.  My open and click-through rates more than doubled!
  6. Respect – Trust, security, value for the money, humililty and brand values are components of respect.  What do your customers expect from you?  What are your business values?  Does your customer experience these values when they deal with you?  What do you and your company do to earn their respect?  Does your customer consider you an expert in your industry?  They should.
  7. Customer Involvement – Customers want to be heard, their opinions noted and ideas acted upon.  You don’t want them to refer to you as “the office supply guy”, you want to be “my office supply guy” or “my supplier”.  This creates a sense of connection and direct involvement.  In sales, referrals are the sincerest form of flattery!  These are the people using your products and services expressing their personal confidence and trust that you can give someone else that same experience.  Ask questions, seek advice and listen to the response.  Create engaging conversations and you are likely to find they have innovative answers!

There you have it.  These are some impressions of where we start creating the experience.   Look at it from the customers perspective and you will understand these benchmarks and perhaps can add a few of your own.  Create the experience and culture the relationship and you will reap the rewards for years to come.

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