Thinking About Consistent Customer Experiences (Karrh On Marketing)

by Jim Karrh  on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 12:00 am  

Jim Karrh

We have all heard about the increasingly critical role "customer experience" plays in marketing success. If you're managing a business, then you know how a great customer experience can head off commoditization, tighter margins and slower growth.

As a reminder, take careful mental notes the next time you or your family takes on a major buying decision. I did.

More on that in a moment. The managerial challenge you likely face in your business is to get high-quality feedback from customers and prospects, understand consumers' priorities (so you can focus your efforts on a good experience in areas that really matter), and keep some consistency of execution across the ever-increasing number of customer touchpoints.

Your customers' experiences might encompass a number of different areas and metrics, including the usability of websites or apps, efficiency or problem-resolution results in a call center, or the friendliness and helpfulness shown in a retail location. It is a complicated set of interactions to master.

Almost every company leader wants the most positive customer experience possible (or at least the most positive and affordable one). Yet things can slide over time to the detriment of the business.

One notable example of shifts in the customer experience has been in the market for vehicles. The car business has changed dramatically in a rather short period of time. Shoppers enter the buying process with more information, more power and higher expectations than was the case half a generation ago. According to Capgemini, in 2002 19 percent of car shoppers used the Internet to research vehicle models; today the figure is 94 percent.

Because information on dealer costs is so widespread, and with the multitude of review sites available, dealers have to bring their A games to the face-to-face interaction.

Dealers have also placed increasing emphasis on service, accessory sales and other revenue sources apart from margins from vehicle sales. All told, the onsite customer experience is necessarily a big deal.

Back to our family's recent shopping experience for - you guessed it - a new family vehicle. Following conversations with friends and some online homework, we narrowed our consideration set then made our way to two area dealerships for conversations and test drives.

The two experiences could not have been much different. At Dealer A, the vehicle offered up for a test drive was a bit dirty and unfinished (one of our boys said he "could see wires hanging out"). The sales person was friendly and enthusiastic, but could not address a couple of our questions about available options; he either had not been fully trained on the vehicle or couldn't remember some of the details.

At Dealer B, we were introduced to an experienced sales person who clearly knew his stuff. He made sure that every vehicle we drove (or even looked inside) was immaculate. He wasn't pushy, but instead patiently answered our questions and showed us options. We checked out the service department and were satisfied with what we saw.

The vehicle we considered from Dealer B was a little pricier. However, it was much easier for us to imagine a great customer experience one, two or five years down the road with Dealer B.

What are the important elements of the customer experience at your organization?

Think of those critical customer decision points and concentrate your detective work there.

Research - including customer surveys, mystery shopping or analyses of online commentary - can certainly pay for itself many times over. One note of caution, however: If you need to manage the way small details are executed, then your detective work will necessarily need to include the small stuff. Companies that rely solely upon aggregated customer satisfaction survey results to manage their customers' experiences tend to miss the occasional exposed wires that might steer customers off track.

(Jim Karrh, Ph.D., of Little Rock is a marketing consultant, researcher, speaker and author. See or email him at



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