– by Anil Balan
Customer Experience (CEx) is the sum of all interactions between a brand and a customer over the duration of their relationship.
The need for delivering a great experience in customer servicing is very well understood – 35% of Amazon’s revenue is driven by recommendations; 75% of users select movies based on Netflix’s recommendations; UBER has extended its “anywhere, anytime” customer experience by integrating with Google Maps and Airline apps to improve customer engagement; BigBasket.com has “No questions asked” return policy etc.
All these companies place a premium on giving their customers a great experience and thereby build their own company. Lest it be considered a purely “new age” company phenomenon, Nieman Marcus’s customer experience is legendary, and has been great for over 2 decades.
Very often customer experience is misunderstood and gets entangled with customer service, which is a very different animal. CEx includes lot of elements that influence your perception of the brand and is always proactive; customer service is reactive by nature.
CEx is the interplay between two key elements – the brand and the customer.
CEx is a perception about the brand that is cumulated over time, across multiple interactions with the company. While the brand promise is the start point, if the customer’s experienced reality is different, then her customer experience is not what the brand intended. Therefore, when you take on a CEx goal for your brand, every interaction with the customer has to be managed both for the actual experience and the perceived experience, so that she remains engaged with the product or brand.
The key questions that animate a typical CEx implementation are:
- How do the customers perceive the brand?
- How is the brand promise communicated to them?
- What are the messages that the brand uses?
- How are is the product-service bundle sold?
- What happens after they are sold?
- It also involves ancilliary questions such as: “How is the product engineered?” or “How do the organization’s staff perceive the brand – is it at variance with the brand promise to the customer?”
Customer service, in contrast, is transactional and centres around addressing concerns or queries effectively.
The importance of satisfying CEx
Today, customers are highly demanding and are firmly on top.
In each interaction, the customers choose how, when, and through which channels they will interact with the brand. They also decide when, in the buying process, they will contact the brand. And when they do hit the “Contact Us” button, they want the interactions to be simple, seamless, and secure. They expect to be treated as individuals (No two customers’ buying journeys will ever be exactly the same) but still want the interaction with the brand to be predictable. (How many tourists from America heave a sigh of relief when they see the familiar McDonald’s Golden Arches?)
The problem is that while the control is entirely in the customer’s hands but the brand has to meet or beat their expectations for them to build a relationship with it.
CEx, put another way, is the way the brand makes the customers feel about themselves before, during and after they interact with the brand.
Thus, the key insight in understanding CEx is that all processes of the brand, both backend and front-end, have to be geared towards ensuring that the customer interaction is as per their expectation. All the data that the organization has gatered about the customer, about the interactions, about their typical purchase behaviour, about their standard traversal path thru the product lifecycle, have to serve this objective: to improve the customer’s perception of the brand.
The testing strategy for CEx implementations, therefore, has to holistic and synergistic. It is not enough to look only at transactional correctness. It is not enough to validate the software (or even software + hardware) components of the customer journey. An effective test strategy should test the customer journeys end to end, focusing on every component’s impact on each customer touch points, in the order of importance to the customer first, and then to the brand.
The other challenge with testing for CEx is that it is closely tied to emotions of the customer. Emotions are notoriously difficult to measure in any valid fashion; there are no numbers that can show how happy you are! A number of proxies, that can be measured, are normally used for measuring the emotional content of the customer interaction.
A few of metrics that proxy for customer emotions in the industry should be familiar to most readers:
- Click through rate
- Cycle Time
- Search to Purchase Ratio
- Average Order Value
- Upsell / Cross sell Effectiveness
- Customer Lifetime Value
- Social Media Sentiment Analysis
- Right First Time etc.
There is no one silver bullet that will, by itself, improve the overall customer experience. It is but the combination of activities, implemented well, that can cumulatively contribute towards the success and improvement of the brand CEx. Similarly, there is no one test strategy that can validate that CEx goals have been met; but a judicious mix of strategies targeting components, interactions, sampling and good old fashioned testing nous can help identify gaps in successful implementations.
Until psychologists figure out a way to simultaneously press the “Buy” and “Happy” buttons in a customer’s brain, this is the best testing strategy we have for ensuring that the customer experience is memorable.