Each year, the Tempkin Group surveys 10,000 U.S. consumers to find out which industries have the best—and the worst—customer experience. The survey is conducted annually, but the results don’t vary much from one year to the next. This year was no exception.
Up Close—and Personal
Of the 20 industries rated, three came out on top, achieving the highest ratings: supermarkets, fast food chains and retailers, the same as the previous year. Three once again scored the lowest ratings: health plans, TV service providers and internet service providers.
So, what is it that separates those at the top of the list from those at the bottom? Those at the top can’t hide. They can’t disguise their mistakes—their inability to give consumers what they want—with glitzy ad campaigns, or automated messaging, or anonymous call center representatives half a continent away. When you walk into a grocery store or a fast food establishment, you see people, right there, face-to-face, either meeting your needs or not. For those at the top, customer experience, in other words, is up close and personal. To survive, they have to get it right, every time. They have to know who their customers are and give them what they want, not theoretically, but in the present moment, right now.
The Stakes Couldn’t Be Higher
According to Brian Solis writing for Forbes, the stakes couldn’t be higher for American business. Those companies which attempt to build their brands without delivering outstanding customer experience are simply unsustainable over the long haul:
“Customer experience is the next battlefield for brands. Those that get it right, will not only create long-lasting customer relationships but will also earn a significant competitive advantage over those that solely compete on product, price or promotion. On the other hand, companies that do not master the art of customer experience will lose relevance and market share over time.”
Solis has some persuasive research and head-turning metrics to back up that claim. For example:
- 89% of consumers say they’ve switched brands because of inadequate customer experience
- 93% of senior executives agree that improving customer experience is among their top three priorities over the next two years
- Only 37% of those same executives have created a formal plan to achieve that goal
That means, of course, that the industries noted by Tempkin as providing the weakest customer experience are at greatest risk of losing customers and hurting sales—and that the lion’s share of senior leaders in those industries, while understanding how imperative it is to improve customer experience, are doing almost nothing to achieve that goal.
What Is Customer Experience?
Outstanding customer experience means two things: first, understanding who your customers are, what needs they have and what’s important to them. Second, it means giving your customers what they want every time you interact with them—in person, on the phone, online, in the products you manufacture, and in the way you contextualize the totality of their interactions with your business:
“(Customer experience) is the sum of all the moments and interactions a customer has with a company, either directly or indirectly, not any one thing. It’s the company’s promise, brand, partners, products and everything and every person who touches the customer in some way.”
The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
For some companies, customer experience is about delivering a positive experience at each defined touch point—like successfully resolving a complaint by phone or delivering an ecommerce product on time—that’s a mistake. What if an internet service provider’s call center rep, to cite one example, helps a customer restore internet service on Tuesday?
Many companies score that as a win for their customer experience efforts—but what if that customer had the same problem the previous Wednesday, and what if this is the fifth time that customer has lost internet service in the past two months? Each time, the problem was resolved—but is that customer satisfied?
Context is critical to outstanding customer experience. It’s not about fixing this or that problem on a given occasion, but the totality of service provided over time, and across all devices and channels. The simplistic models which track customer experience along a linear path of discrete touch points, ignoring the invisible lines which connect those experiences, miss the mark—and lose valued customers.
Try Walking in My Shoes for a While
If you own a business—small or large—you won’t find superior customer experience in market research reports, or the logs of your call center reps, or the predictive models of your financial forecasters. You won’t, in fact, find it anywhere other than in the actual experience of your customers. You’ll find it when you stop measuring success based on your own experience, and learn to empathize with the experience of those you’re committed to serving.
Solis correctly argues that you can only do that by becoming “completely customer-obsessed:”
“The key to customer obsession is understanding what is important to your customers’ whole lives, not just the narrow slice of life your brand exists in. It is more than simply being customer-focused. True customer obsession requires a mind shift, a proactive perspective that incorporates the consumer’s point of view at every stage of the design and level of the organization. That type of understanding is only possible through genuine empathy, and it’s the secret ingredient of meaningful, holistic customer experiences.”
The “mind shift” to which Solis refers can be daunting, especially if you attempt it without getting the wider perspective of someone who can bring objectivity and deep experience to the task. Learn more about the ways our CRM software and services can help you build your brand and grow your business.