Delivering an outstanding CX across the Customer Lifecycle
Delivering value to a customer is all about giving them an outstanding experience, delighting them to the point that they become loyal advocates, and building long-lasting relationships with them.
A key to providing a world-class customer experience (CX) is closing the gap between the experiences you provide your customer; and what they expect to receive. But, where should you begin to understand exactly how well (or not) you are doing in terms of delivering value?
We’ve found it helpful to evaluate the experience we’re delivering, comparing it to what our competitors are doing, and ultimately comparing ourselves to the experiences delivered by best in class companies.
This is a broad challenge, so we broke it down to examine our performance at each stage of the customer lifecycle.
Our CX Improvement Process
If you run a search on customer lifecycle, you’ll get over 100 million hits. No need to sift through all of that! Simply put, the lifecycle describes the discrete stages your customers go through from the moment they become aware of your solution through the end of their relationship with you.
There are as many definitions of the stages of the lifecycle as there are authors, ranging from 4 stages to over 10. The lifecycle can be linear, circular, or even drawn as a web.
We used a 6 stage model over our career as a standard to compare the customer experience we wanted to deliver to the actual experience we were delivering.
Our first step is to dive into the details in each stage. We start by analyzing how we’re doing in a number of key aspects under each stage. We outline the various steps our customers tell us they go through at each stage, and add in what we know from our own experiences and knowledge.
We give ourselves a grade from 1 to 10 reflecting the satisfaction and experiences at each stage. This isn’t necessarily an objective score, but it is more directional in nature. We use it to give us a relative score under each category to better see where we need to prioritize.
In addition to our own assessment, we also compare our performance to our competitors at each stage. Much of this competitive information is guess-work, but you might be surprised what your customers will tell you about how much easier or more difficult your company is to work with vis-a-vis your competitors. This also helps inform us of where our biggest gaps are.
Our last step is to look at companies across all industries who we think are amazing innovators and true leaders in each stage. We consider companies across all walks of life that delight and surprise us, and how we might be able to incorporate any of their best practices.
CX > Features and Pricing
CX is more than a buzzword. It truly is the differentiator you provide to your customers. Companies would do well to focus on experience over price and feature sets.
Many purchasing decisions are not made on price, rather they are made on value. Additionally, we’ve seen price be a race to the bottom; as soon as one company says they’ll sell their solution for a lower price, their competitor undercuts them.
We’ve seen similar challenges when competing on features. Sure, features are important, but just as with price, features can be leap-frogged.
We saw this firsthand a few years ago when we introduced a new product that wasn’t selling as well as our competitors. We didn’t spend time analyzing the price or features, but instead dove into the CX across the entire lifecycle.
Here’s what we found.
CX at the Awareness Stage
At this first stage, the goal is to make sure your solution is in the awareness pool of your target customers. Are you a known quantity to your prospects? Can they find out information about your company, your products, and your solutions quickly and easily? Is your information written in terms that are relevant to your prospective customers? Are you posting your information where your target customers expect to find it?
After evaluating the awareness experience your target customers go through, you should compare them to the experience that your closest competitors are delivering. Are their marketing messages more relevant to your prospects? Is it easier to find pertinent information on their solutions? You can find most of this information by searching on the internet. Your customers may also tell you how you compare.
The third step in the Awareness stage is to brainstorm which company you believe creates the most amazing awareness experience, in any industry from retail to entertainment to technology. Ask yourself why. What they are doing at this step that you could consider, modify, or replicate.
In our case, we found:
Our customers wanted to know if and how other companies have used our solutions to solve problems similar to the ones they were facing, so we created a set of searchable customer use cases by customer size and industry.
Our customers were active on Twitter and LinkedIn, so we made it easy for our sales team to post relevant articles on those properties.
CX at the Purchase Stage
Purchasing covers multiple aspects from the actual transaction to contracts to product selection and configuration (am I buying the right thing and will it work). In the purchase stage, you want to create an experience that your customers expect. Your processes must be “right sized” for your customers and your solutions.
Therefore, a few questions to evaluate include how simple it is to configure a solution, are click-through contracts standard, and how easy is it to get assistance at this stage of the life cycle. A few pricing considerations at this stage including knowing if your customer expects you to offer financing or volume discounts, and how easy is to understand your pricing model.
After determining where you can simplify at the Purchase stage, take a look at the experience your competitors are providing. This information may come from customers, you may need to make assumptions, or you may hear anecdotes. Are there any other improvements you can make to meet or exceed the experience they are providing?
Just as in the Awareness stage, the next step is to think about companies who make the purchasing experience simple and delightful. Ask yourself why you feel they are best in class, and what are they doing that you could introduce into your purchasing experience.
Again in our example, we evaluated the CX we were providing in the Purchasing stage and found a few red flags:
We had multiple products, each with its own contract, which we consolidated into one single contract.
We had a 100+ page contract for a $5K solution, which we cut down to 2 pages.
Several customers were confused on what to order, or were purchasing the incorrect configuration, so we created a simple online configuration tool.
CX at the Deployment Stage
Once your customer has purchased your products, they next need to get them into the hands of their users. Can they do that easily without draining company resources? Is your deployment experience simple, logical, and intuitive?
As expected, our customers told us a few areas they wanted to see improved, especially as related to how they deployed products from one of our competitors. And again, the last step to take here is to think about how you implemented or deployed any other device in your personal or business life. What did that company do that exceeded your expectations? What could you take from that experience and integrate into your own?
In our Deployment stage analysis, we discovered several improvement opportunities:
Some customers were hesitant to upgrade from a prior model due to all of the business and personal information they had on their device, so we offered a solution that made the porting process simple.
Our “out of the box” experience was not the same as our competitors. One was not necessarily better or worse than the other, the steps were simply different. So, we included a welcome letter to our users with the phone number to our help line. This way users who were switching to our products could receive personal assistance in getting up and running if needed.
Many large customers needed “mass customization” of a single configuration on multiple units, so one of our engineers created a process to make it simple for the customer to replicate the same image across hundreds of devices.
CX at the Use Stage
Now that your customers’ users have your devices, products, or solutions in their hands, it’s time to evaluate the use stage of their experience. How satisfied are they with your company’s solution? Do they look forward to using it or do they dread it? Would they recommend your solution to a friend? These are a few questions to ask in the Use stage.
Using a device can be personal, and some people prefer one brand over another. So this isn’t necessarily a stage where one company’s Use stage is objectively better than another, it may be more of a case of what people are used to using. But, don’t use this as an excuse. I bet there are areas where you can simplify and streamline at least a few aspects of the Use stage.
In our example, there were a few areas we needed to improve in the Use stage:
Customers didn’t know all of the available functionality, so we created a video to highlight a few key features.
Customers demanded industry-specific solutions, so we created industry bundles with partners.
Customers needed a ruggedized device, so we worked with headquarters to get one manufactured.
CX at the Support Stage
Everything seems to work fine… until it doesn’t. The Support stage encompasses the experience your customer has when they run into an issue. Is it easy to reach a support team member? Do you offer live chat? Is your warranty appropriate? Do you offer loaner units if a device has to be shipped out for repair?
As with the other stages, who do you think does support better than anyone else? What elements of their secret sauce can you incorporate?
Customers told us where we had to improve in the Support stage as well:
Customers didn’t know who to call for support, so we included a welcome letter with support numbers with each device.
B2B customers were getting a B2C support experience, so we created a business support team and process discrete from consumer.
Large customers with technical issues didn’t know when their problem would be solved, so we assigned a support engineer to each customer who was responsible for providing a daily update until the issue was closed out.
CX at the End of Life Stage
The goal at the End of Life stage is to dispose of your customer’s existing device(s) in a sustainable manner, and ideally have the next generation of solutions ready to deploy thereby keeping the customer productive, satisfied, and loyal to you.
Questions to ask at this stage might include the following: Do you offer trade in programs? Do you recycle devices? How long after a product goes End Of Life will you still support the product? What happens at the end of a lease?
Asking and answering these questions from your customer’s point of view can ensure that you are thinking through the end to end experience with them in mind.
Going through this exercise will uncover several areas that will need improvement. Don’t get discouraged! This is to be expected since customer expectations are always rising.
My advice is to tackle only one or two of the most pressing items first. These should be in the areas where you have the biggest gap between your current CX and what your customers expect AND where you have the ability to make the biggest impact. This will generate momentum and demonstrate your commitment to improving your customer experience.