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Experiencing What Our Customers Experience

by David Brock on July 24th, 2013

Too often, there’s a huge disconnect between our organizations and our customers.  Our customers and prospects are frustrated with us and we don’t understand the frustration.  We design our engagement processes, our support systems, our communications.  We create what we hope to be a great Customer Experience.  Yet the customer actually experiences something else.  They don’t get it, we don’t get it, there is a giant disconnect.

Let me step back a couple of decades.  I was heavily involved in the automotive industry at one point in my career.  At the time, customers were complaining about quality of US manufactured cars.  It was a few big things, and lots of little things—rattles, squeaks, , “fit and finish,” breakdowns, repairs, quality, and so forth.  I’d meet with the top executives of some of the US automotive manufacturers.  They were genuinely confused.  I remember one senior vice president saying, “I’m driving the same car our customers are driving, I don’t see any of the problems they are complaining about, my experience has been perfect, I don’t understand what their issues are!”  His peers echoed his views, all genuinely didn’t understand.

It didn’t take long to see the problem, I just watched them arriving at work in the mornings.  They would drive to the headquarters building, park their cars in the executive parking lot.  During the day, every day, their cars would be washed and inspected.  Anything that was a little off would be fixed.  If the guys taking care of the “executive cars” noticed anything just slightly off, any minor issue, it would be fixed by the company’s best mechanics.  Rattles fixed, squeaks eliminated, any little annoyance would be taken care of, without the executive even being aware — every day.

The problem is, the  execs didn’t really paid attention to this.  But since they never experienced any problems, they couldn’t understand why customers were complaining.

The execs were simply “unconscious” about what their customers were experiencing and were projecting their own experience as the customer’s experience.  Their cars never had problems, never had squeaks, rattles, fit or finish problems.  They couldn’t understand why their customers were complaining.  They had no ability to experience what their customers were experiencing.  They were seeing everything through their own eyes and experience.

Fast forward to today.  We see so much of the same thing, too often we don’t experience what our customers are experiencing.  We think we are, but we really aren’t.  We’re seeing things from our and our company’s points of view and not what the customer is seeing.  And then, we have our biases–we’ve drunk the Kool Aid and are looking at our own products and company through rose colored glasses.

 As a result, we have a complete disconnect–which impacts our ability to engage our customers on their terms and create experiences that drive their loyalty and grow our relationship with them.

Think about some of these simple things:

1.  How does a customer find out how to contact you?  Is it easy to find your contact info–for them to contact you via the channel of their preference–not your preference.  If they want to “talk” to someone, can they reach you by phone.  If they want to send you something, or know where you are located, do you have an address?  Can they find it in one or two clicks, or do they have to find it buried in some obscure corner of your web site?  If they have to work at it, you will probably lose them.

2.  When they call you, can they actually reach you?  When people use the phone, they expect, ultimately to speak with a human being.  That’s why they are calling in the first place.  Do you force them to navigate through endless phone tree to get to the right department–then how often does that department transfer them somewhere else?

People should be able to talk to the right department in within 2 transfers.  Customer are phoning you because they want to talk to you, they want to communicate, they have a question, they need information, they want a human being.  Phones were invented for people to talk to each other, not navigate phone trees and leave messages.

Even worse, too many companies will never let the customer get to a human being.  The customer is forced to leave a message and wait for a return call.  What you are communicating to the customer is, “We don’t care when you want to talk to us, we’ll talk to you when we want to or when we get to you.”  But the customer wants to talk to you when they want to talk to you.

3.  Do you answer your emails—autoresponders don’t count unless it’s communicating with your customer’s autoresponder.  Do you answer them on a timely basis?  What timely is, depends on your markets and how your customers want to be engaged.  In some a response in minutes is critical.  In some a response within 24 hours is satisfactory.  I can’t, however, think of a longer acceptable response time.  Do you actually “answer” them or do you respond with boiler plate, “Thank you for your email, we appreciate your business, please let us look at your issues and get back to you in a few days…………..”

4.  Have you ever actually read your content, collateral, case studies, other materials?  You should know what your customers are getting and reading.  Are you reading it with a “customer’s mindset,” or your mindset.  We know what we are intending to communicate, we can read between the lines, bridge the gap in communication, because we know what we intend to communicate.  The customer doesn’t, so they can’t read between the lines or bridge the gap, because they don’t know what you are trying to communicate.

5.  Have you read your proposals?  I mean read them through the customer’s eyes and point of view.  Again, we know what we are trying to communicate—even though it may not be explicit in the proposal.  But the customer can’t read our minds or know what we were intending to communicate, but didn’t write down.

6.  Have you gone through your manuals, your customer training programs?  I have a client that provides a lot of online training to their channel partners.  But none of the sales people have ever taken any of the training they expect their partners to take.  The channel support people–those who are responsible for supporting the online training system have never actually used it themselves.  They wonder why their customers are confused.  Take a course, it’s easy to see.

7.  Have you ever tried calling your customer support centers and gone through a problem resolution process to see what your customers are experiencing?

8.  Have you read your contracts, your terms and conditions?  Have you read your warranty’s?  Have you read an invoice?

No one would argue that creating great Customer Experiences through their entire life cycle — as prospects, buyers, users–is critical to the success of our own businesses.  But it is impossible to talk about customer experience until we actually see what they experience.

Too often, we forget that, rather than designing for a great Customer Experience, we are designing our own interpretation of the customer experience–as seen through our eyes and biases.  So we end up designing what works for us, not necessarily what works for the customer.

Until we experience what our customers experience, we can’t possibly begin to talk about customer experience.  The most effective customer experience design always is co-created with our customers.

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3 Comments
  1. David writes: “During the day, every day, their cars would be washed and inspected. Anything that was a little off would be fixed. If the guys taking care of the “executive cars” noticed anything just slightly off, any minor issue, it would be fixed by the company’s best mechanics. ”

    This is a brilliant example & I intend to steal it.

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