Customer Experience – What exactly is it?

In the software world, all vendors love to talk about how their product is easy to use, how user friendly it is and other combinations of words to describe product usability. But, does product usability equate to customer experience? No. Product usability is necessary but not sufficient for a good customer experience. In fact, good products can still deliver awful customer experience. Read about Apple below.

Customer experience encompasses every interaction your customer has with your product AND your company. Everything from the initial sales call, product evaluation, buying process, product packaging, product usage, calling your customer support, product upgrade and everything else the user experiences as long as he is a customer of your company. It starts from the very first phone conversation and never ends as long as the user remains your customer.

What this means is that there is a lot more to customer experience than just your product. It is a lot more emotional than physical. If your customer support person does not solve the customer’s problem, it equates to bad customer experience. If your product does not work as intended, it is bad customer experience. If you try to charge unjustifiable fees to allow the customer to upgrade, it is bad customer experience. If your install is complicated, it is bad customer experience. Surprising the customer with hidden charges (example, high shipping costs on eCommerce site) equates to bad customer experience. If your customer has to deal with long hold times when they try to reach your customer support, it is bad customer experience. And bad customer experience is what makes customers bolt to your competitor’s products.

Thus, it is very obvious that customer experience is a cross functional effort and to do this right, you need executive mandate. Such a mandate should come right from the top – from  the CEO of the company. It should permeate across the organization. To get this right, it needs to be part of the employee training, it should be drilled into new employees. I would go as far as saying that you should not hire a candidate if you feel that he does not have the personality or will not be able to commit to delivering good experience to your customers. This is easier said than done. It takes a lot of effort and just talk is not going to work.

Now, what companies deliver such great customer experience? Southwest Airlines comes to mind because of all the positive things I have read about them. Their ads about bags fly free resonates so much with me. Does Apple deliver a good customer experience? NO! They deliver an awesome product experience for sure with their awesome products. But have you worked with their customer support? You will feel that you are dealing with a different company that is arrogant and does not care about you.

I try my best to keep my employer out of my blog posts. But in this particular post, I am going to break this rule. I work at Gazelle.com and to deliver what we call “crazy awesome experience” is our core value #1. We track and watch NPS scores like hawks. We measure everything related to customer touch points. We are paranoid about it. We have an executive level position whose title is Vice President of Customer Experience.  Are we perfect? Absolutely not. We still have a long way to go. Do we work hard at it – absolutely. Believe it or not, our NPS scores are comparable to some of the well established eCommerce giants that are considered standards for their customer experience. But we want our customers to keep us honest. We do occasionally screw up, but we expect our customers to call us on it so that we can continue to improve what we do.

What do you think about customer experience? Do you agree with my definition? Please share your perspective via comments.

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Image: Courtesy of SmartFinds Internet Marketing

Related Posts:

  1. Apple is all about sales. Customer Service Sucks!
  2. Love the customers who hate you
  3. Passion vs. decibels – How to listen to vociferous customers

Death by a thousand paper cuts ….

In my last post, I discussed the benefits of doing an on-site customer visit where you get to observe customers/prospects use your product or competitive products to get their job done. In my experience doing these visits, I often discover what I call “death by a thousand paper cuts” issues. These issues are essentially annoyances that your users have to put up with when using your product. By itself, each of these issues will sound trivial. If your users call you up to complain about any one of these issues or to propose a solution, you could easily laugh it off as trivial.

But when you are on-site observing these customers, you will notice that these trivial issues quickly add up to cause significant loss of productivity for your users, especially when your users have to encounter them each and every time they use your product. But these to me are the slam dunk features – they are so trivial and hence are usually very easy to fix, but when you fix them you will be able to significantly improve the user experience. Your customers will notice these small improvements because they will reap significant benefits especially if these issues were in the way of a frequently performed task.

I have had many instances where such simple fixes have generated the loudest applause from the audience where as the big feature we were so proud of was met with very muted applause (to our chagrin, if I may add). Have you experienced something similar?

Thoughts?

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Understand the reason for the madness, before you imitate it

Have you had the instance where someone in your product development team says during a product discussion – make it like the Google home page, or make it work like Amazon does it, or see how well IBM’s website does it. If they are doing it, they should be right.

It is easy to fall into this trap – because it is easy to look at someone else’s art work and try to imitate it. But resist the temptation. Take a long breath, step back and ask your selves the following questions:

1) Are my users the same as Google, Amazon, IBM,…..?

2) Are my users trying to achieve the same objectives on my website as the shoppers are on Amazon?

3) Do I have the same web authority as these sites that I am being referenced to? For example, Google does not have to worry about Search Engine Optimization, they are the search engine. They can afford to have a simple white home page with a few minimal links and a large search box. If you or I do this for our home pages, we will not exist as far as search engines are concerned and hence for our prospects and customers.

So before you copy or imitate someone else’s madness, make sure you find out if the madness even applies to you and even if it does,  do you understand the reason behind the madness? Why are they doing what they are doing? Do you really know if it will work for your users? And then after all this, if you think what the Googles or the Amazons or the IBM’s of the world are doing is what will work best for your users, go for it, imitate it (as long as you don’t violate patents and copyright laws – remember the Amazon lawsuit about 1-click ordering?).

All these personal opinions can be put to rest by doing a simple usability testing on these reference sites with a small sample of your users (say 5-10). Or mockup your site using the UI principles shown on these sites and then see if it will work – data will not lie. And people with strong personal opinions often disappear when presented with real user data.

Make your products easy to buy

If your company sells products in different tiers (Basic, Professional, Premium etc.) how easy is it for your prospects to understand the difference in the tiers both in terms of functionality and price? If you put on the hat of a prospect, how easy will it be for you to figure this out. Have you done usability testing to determine if this is easy for a prospect to figure it out? If not, you have created a big stumbling block preventing your prospects from giving you money. Coin Jar

Here is one from my experience last night. I am a Dish Network customer. I am also a Charter Communications customer for my internet and phone. Charter offers a nice bundle if I buy cable, internet and phone – sweet – but this is the good news and the bad news.

I currently have a HD DVR. When I ask them about it, all the options kick in and there is a myriad of options – for HD it is $5/month, for DVR it is $15/month but then they have a promotion where if you buy another couple of options, they give you HD for free and the DVR for $8/month. I had a headache listening to all of this. It was so complicated that after couple of attempts to understand this, I decided not to switch.

Think about this – I initiated the call to find out how to buy – the prospect walked in and said this is my need. You had everything that your prospect needed, but your pricing was so complex to understand, your prospect just walked away. You essentially created a huge stumbling block that you lost the money that the prospect was about to hand over.

Does your product pricing have the same problem? If you do, stop all those feature enhancements you are working on, stop all those marketing campaigns you are working on to create awareness and bring more prospects into the funnel and fix this leaky bucket right now – you are essentially TURNING YOUR BUYERS AWAY.

Image: Courtesy of Triangle.com

Companies ignore social media at their own peril

Last month, I slammed Infusionsoft when they started spamming me with email after I had downloaded an eBook from their website.

The very next day, CEO of Infusionsoft Clate Mask apologized via comments to that blog post. Here was his comment:

“Gopal–very fair point. We should have had the language on there that communicates we will send follow-up messages when you hit submit. My bad. We will change that. I complete agree with you about permission marketing. And I admit that sometimes we get going too fast and make mistakes that result in unwanted messages. But believe me: we do want to send value, build a relationship and become a trusted advisor to folks who want to know how to build their businesses more quickly and effectively. Thanks for your comment. It will cause me to examine things and see if we’ve been too heavy on promotion and light on valuable content to our prospects. BTW, I really appreciate your perspectives and am a little embarassed to be called out by you.”

I was impressed – a CEO was reading what was being said about his company on my blog and he took the time to admit the mistake, apologize and promise that the issue will be fixed. However, I was not going to be convinced until I saw that changes were made.

I went to their website last week to see if anything had changed and nothing had. Then I received another comment from Clate last night about this same issue.

Hi Gopal, I just want to thank you for your “criticism” a few weeks ago about our opt-in and follow-up marketing practices. Your post resulted in a meeting between me and our marketing director. We have already changed a couple of things in order to be more transparent to folks who opt in to my eBook and various white papers. And we are revising some other things we are doing–toning down the frequency of communications, etc. As our company has grown, I think we have gone a little overboard with the amount and frequency of email communications we send. Again, thanks for the nudge in a better direction.

Clate had kept his word, made the easy fix and is now working on fixing his messaging problem.

Think about it – how many CEOs or others in companies are paying attention to what is being said about their products/companies in the social media, how many of them take the time to correspond with this new media, admit that a mistake has been made and then make sure it gets fixed.

I have to applaud Clate for doing this. All of us make mistakes, what takes effort is the willingness to admit that it was wrong and then take the time to fix it. I am not a customer of InfusionSoft, but people who could be their customers may be reading my blog.

Clate – you are way ahead of your CEO peers. I have to say I am impressed.

Folks, if your organization is not paying attention to social media, you are digging a big hole for yourselves. Your existence is threatened and you should be worried.

Why customers walk away?

Kristin Zhivago has an awesome post on her blog titled Gone! The reason customers leave. I would strongly recommend that anyone who touches a customer (sales, tech support, product management, professional services, executives) read it.

I had written last year about how customers are lot more tolerant of a vendor’s mistakes or shortcomings if the vendor keeps them informed. It is nothing but courtesy, professionalism and respect. One of the companies that I respect a whole lot in this regard is CitiCards. Twice in the last 5 years, my credit card has been compromised because of data theft at two retail stores. They proactively called me up, put my account on hold so that no fraudulent charges get made using my credit card. Do I sleep well that they are looking out for me? – oh ya ! Do you think I will ever switch credit card vendors? – oh No! Do you think I will talk great about them and recommend them? – you know the answer to that.

Doing this takes a whole lot of effort and the will to make it happen. Unfortunately companies are busy chasing new dollars, that they forget the adage “Bird in hand is worth two in the bush!”.

Product Management lessons from the latest iPhone debacle

The media (social and real) is abuzz with how Apple botched the launch of the 3G iPhone last Friday. Yes, they could have done it a whole lot better but I don’t think it is going to make much of a dent on the how many of these phones Apple will sell.

Seth Godin in his blog writes about the concept of scarcity that is written around this misstep by Apple and AT&T. It is a very fascinating read and has a lot of lessons for product managers in how creating a product experience and how treating your higher spend customers differently is crucial to eventual success of a product. Apple is likely to get away with this misstep because their product truly has a great product experience and they have the world beating to their door and hence willing to give them a longer leash.

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