The Customer Experience Cycle
By understanding your customers' needs throughout all their interactions with your company, you can build loyal relationships and stand out from your competition.
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In an increasingly competitive "bricks and clicks" economy, all enterprises are in a race to improve customer interactions continually. As the current conventional wisdom goes, in a Web world, your customer is only one click away from the nearest competitor. In order to maximize customer satisfaction, loyalty and
value, enterprises need an in-depth understanding of how customers experience their products and services. This understanding must span the entire range of interactions from the first encounter through the transaction and fulfillment stages and throughout the ongoing service and support stages. Defining a customer experience cycle can be a practical means of identifying and prioritizing each of the opportunities enterprises have to develop relationships with their customers and ensuring that these relationships remain effective.

Understand Your Customer

Many enterprises are seriously lacking in their understanding of customer characteristics, behaviors and preferences. This puts them at risk of failing to make the most of each interaction and allows a competitor to disrupt the relationship. Organizations need to gain a much deeper understanding of who their customers really are.

To gain this understanding, you should use detailed customer profiling, segmentation and segment analysis to help answer such questions as:

• What are your customers' characteristics? Preferences?

• What is the history of your relationship with them? How do they interact with you?

• What are your customers' purchase and related spending patterns? What is their current and potential value to your organization?

• What customer needs are you currently fulfilling? What needs aren't you fulfilling?

• Why did your customers choose you over your competitors? How do your customers differ from your competitors' customers?

• What are your customers' overall satisfaction levels with various aspects of your organization and offerings?

• Based on these factors, what are your unique customer segments? Which segments are most important to your organization today and tomorrow?

Answers to these essential issues will drive all of your enterprise's CRM efforts. While much attention is given to exploring how and why customers purchase, the untapped opportunity is in examining how to keep the ongoing interactions effective after the customer makes the buy decision. Most clients we speak with are so focused on spending money for customer acquisition that they forget to address customer retention.

Enterprises truly concerned with keeping their most valuable customers will expand segment intelligence by identifying customer needs at each stage of their interaction. They will likely find that each segment has different needs, and may have an entirely different pattern of interaction throughout the cycle of evaluation, purchase, fulfillment and service.

Note that these needs may relate to unique purchase drivers, specific purchasing situations and channels or desired channels for information. It is important to understand these needs in the context of the customer's purchase cycle and their related interactions with your organization.

Untapped Interaction Opportunities

A comprehensive audit of current interactions can provide a baseline measure of current activity. The key, however, is in identifying untapped interaction opportunities that are driven by customer behavior over time. The next step then involves "building out" each of the high-priority interaction opportunities. Enterprises need to have a plan to address issues such as:

• What should happen when a customer calls customer service three times within a month?

• What should happen when a customer doesn't renew a policy or subscription and becomes inactive?

• What should happen when a customer receives an initial sales visit?

• What should happen when a customer attends a training seminar?

• Where is the data required to support the experience we want?

Of course, the answers to these questions will vary based on segment-specific behaviors and needs, as well as each unique interaction cycle. Itemizing the activity around each of the high-priority opportunities will drive data, systems and business process requirements, as well as resources, staffing and infrastructure investments.

For instance, it might be very useful to know that the third call waiting in the customer service hotline queue is your largest customer. The technology exists to recognize such callers by telephone number and automatically increase their priority in the queue. The enterprise must make a decision about the usefulness of this capability and balance the cost against the return. It may not make sense to prioritize calls if the average wait in the queue is only a few seconds, but it could be a good business practice to route all calls consistently to a single customer service representative.

Another important consideration is how information regarding individual customer interactions can be integrated across all channels. While it is challenging to share this level of detailed customer information within the enterprise, imagine how the complexity increases if the interaction cycle includes partners such as retailers and resellers.

Leverage Your Understanding

Once the enterprise increases its customer awareness quotient, it is poised to act on these findings. The next steps should be to:

• Develop systems and processes to better support and optimize the high-priority opportunities.

• Modify overall contact strategies and communications based on understanding customer needs across the purchase cycle.

• Measure the impact of each of these efforts and the cumulative impact of customer experience-based CRM on customer satisfaction and value.

Tapping into the potential of customer interaction information is one of the essential components of successful CRM initiatives. Experience shows that customers make the decision to do business with one organization over another based on more than just product or price- -they make their decisions based on their overall experience, which includes sales, service, recognition and support. Organizations with successful CRM initiatives realize that customer retention involves getting it right, not just on the first interaction, but on an ongoing basis. They know it is based on their ability to deliver on three principles constantly and consistently:

• Maintain interaction- -never stop listening.

• Continue to deliver on the customer's definition of value.

• Remember that customers change as they move through various stages of interaction- -be alert to the changes and prepared to modify service as they change.

Successful organizations make managing the complete customer experience cycle a priority, and therefore it becomes a competitive differentiator. These organizations have fewer dissatisfied customers, and ultimately will gain business from their competitors.

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