It's All About the Customer Experience
There is a significant issue that needs to be addressed for the online channel to be a consistent, relevant element of the corporate bottom line: the customer experience.
Posted May 3, 2004
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Despite recent widespread reports that e-commerce is growing rapidly, there is a significant issue that needs to be addressed for the online channel to be a consistent, relevant element of the corporate bottom line: the customer experience. Sales figures continue to soar and the adoption of multichannel strategies is increasing, but recent industry surveys reveal high levels of dissatisfaction among online consumers. And by consumers, I'm not just talking about the retail industry. The online channel has become a critical business component across many industries, from financial services, insurance, and entertainment, to the airline, automotive, hospitality, and healthcare industries. Far too many customers are frustrated by the lack of relevance with which companies present products and services online, and with the inability of search capabilities to deliver the most relevant answers and resources. Most businesses still fall short of expectations when it comes to online customer service. This failure can be detrimental to revenues: Winning customers and driving repeat business often depends on an organization's ability to provide great customer service, while maintaining one brand identity across multiple touch points. Maintaining both sales and loyalty momentum unquestionably begins and ends with the customer. To be more concise, organizations must be able to understand their customers and must possess the ability to adapt to long- and short-term behavior. Whether online, offline, or a blend of both, customers gravitate toward businesses that provide them with meaningful, rich user experiences that not only meet their needs, but also anticipate them. Think of it more as managing the customer experience. Customer experience management is the discipline of tracking customer contact across multiple interaction channels; the exploitation of customer knowledge and context to maximize customer service and convenience levels; and the provision to customers of a feel-good experience when dealing with a business. Without recognizing customer experience management as a discipline, self-service--regardless of how well implemented--would be little more than just another customer interaction initiative destined to be disconnected from everything else the business has to offer. In support of this notion Bruce Temkin of Forrester Research has carefully differentiated the management of the customer experience from its CRM "cousin." He describes it as "aligning executive involvement, operational process, organizational structure, and technology infrastructure to stimulate, anticipate, and satisfy customer needs." Good customer experiences that last the entire customer life cycle do not just happen, Temkin points out. Businesses need to put in place processes, organization, and technology, both to be effective and to foster a customer-centric attitude at every touch point. Today's sophisticated customers demand a meaningful experience regardless of point of contact. Across all industries there's a tendency to categorize customers based on when or where they shop, what they buy, and other basic historical and geographical information. Unfortunately, this idea of how to best serve customers is far too reactive. Ultimately it fails to provide the most relevant customer experiences. The maturation of online commerce and multichannel strategies is now beginning to break down those barriers as customers expect higher levels of customer service and satisfaction. Making sense of the customer experience and understanding its psychology means providing a relevant, useful, and convenient experience at any and all touch points. About the Author Cliff Conneighton is the senior vice president of marketing at Art Technology Group. Contact him at cconneighton@atg.com
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