As a new year is upon us, companies are getting ready for the next round of strategic and operation planning. On the horizon are more aggressive sales targets and expectations of growth and profitability. Costs will be attacked with a vengeance in the name of ultimate efficiency. Racing toward the ultimate competitive organisation, the optimistic state of mind that is dawning on businesses around the world will be translated primarily into aggressive growth demands rather than planning for success.
In the process of the planning, there is one neglected question. There is one area of the business that is taken for granted and assumed to be working well. This area is the value proposition for the customer: The core of the customer experience. The crucial question is What else will we do to keep our customer experience relevant and exciting?
It is easy to assume that your products and services are doing well out there. It is also the preferred assumption. Companies prefer dealing with the mechanisms of selling and marketing over questioning their value proposition and its relevance. There are many reasons why this matter is not being dealt with regularly and consistently.
None of those reasons however provides a justification, rather they provide an excuse. First, companies would like to maximise their previous investments in products and services. Raising the core question may entail change and further investment: an investment they would prefer to avoid, if possible.
There is also the notion of greatness that blinds executives eyes. Companies would always favour their babies (a.k.a. products or services) and will never challenge the notion that they are perfect. (It is too painful to expose yourself to the question). But mostly, companies are simply afraid of what they will find if they question their own self worth and relevance in the marketplace (as is the case sometimes with many people in their personal lives.)
The customer experience is the basic building block of the companys business. It is the core, complete value proposition they offer in return for the customers money. Sales, marketing and customer relationships are all based on experiences. If your experiences are not strong, the rest will not matter. Your business is as strong as the weakest customer experience that you deliver.
Customer experiences are dynamic and not static. Although once very appealing, they may decline and become undifferentiated and even unappealing. By not planning and evolving their experiences, companies are leaving room for business decline and the rise of upcoming competitors with more exciting experiences.
The Concorde experience was once the most desirable flying experience for which passengers paid a high premium. It represented excellence and glamour. The Concorde inspired customers and turned them into advocates of the experience.
However, as the flying experience improved through the improvement of first and business classes, the increase in variety of airlines and greater scheduling flexibility, the Concorde experience declined in value and became unprofitable. It took a tragic crash for the airlines to consider an experience redefinition. By that time the experience redefinition was a decade too late.
When addressing the question of customer experience, you must measure your position across multiple dimensions. You must take into account the following questions
· What were the customers taste changes recently?
· What were the changes in customer income and spending?
· What were the changes in the competitive landscape?
· What are the changes in your companys abilities and core competence?
· What are the customers alternatives, if he will not use our products?
· What are the changes of emotions and aspirations of your customers?
· What are the changes in channels and distribution?
After identifying the changes across the different factors, you should discuss the relevance and impact of each on your customers experience. Do these changes enhance or detract from the relevance and excitement level? The answer to this question is directly linked to your ability to command the price point you want and attract a maximum pool of customers who will pay that price.
Based on the described analysis, you need to decide if your experience is still relevant – simply requiring nurturing and refreshing. You may find that the experience requires some growth work in the form of major experience enhancement. If you have not conducted this work for quite sometime, you may need to invent an all-new experience as the old one no longer relates to the wishes and aspirations of todays customer.
Whatever choice you make, you will need to define a roadmap for experience evolution in the next year and identify the steps needed to ensure that your experience is staying ahead and in the top mindshare of the customers.
Do not avoid the most existential question as you are planning for the coming years success! Avoiding the question will not make it go away. It will not even delay the inevitable. Avoiding it will simply open the door for others to come and claim the customer experience leadership.
Face the question upfront and ask yourself, what else can we do to enhance/grow/nurture/redefine the customer experience and keep it relevant and exciting? This is the most critical question you must face. If the answer to this question is indeed powerful, the rest will fall into place.
Marketing will have an easier and more affordable way to generate interest and prospects. Sales people will be able to close business faster and more profitably. And most importantly, your overall costs should be reduced due to less effort required to attract and retain customers.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, and the author of The Experience! (CMPBooks 2002) He can be reached at [email protected]
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