Many companies today are embracing digital solutions. They are finding ways to better serve their customers using digital tools. Self-service tools, for instance, give customers control over their experience. Investing in this type of technology can be financially beneficial to a company. It seems like a win-win for both the customer and the company, and it can be. Yet, it can also be a risk.
The risk of embracing technology is commoditization, becoming the same as everyone else. When that happens, there’s no true relationship between customers and brands. Technology can put up a digital wall between the customer and human-to-human interaction for example.
Sometimes, though, that can be fruitful. Consider how well the airlines have incorporated online reservations and check-in into their experience. It created a better experience for their customers. When online booking was first introduced, they offered incentives in the form of extra miles/points for customers to try it. Once customers discovered how easy it was, they went directly to the computer instead of calling the reservation number. That said, customers knew that if they struggled with booking a flight, they could always talk to an agent.
So, while companies are embracing technology, many are becoming enamored by it, to the point of putting too much distance between the customer and the company. And by company, I’m referring to the employees of the company, as they are the ones who create emotional connections between the customer and the company.
Is it Possible for Companies to Build an Authentic Connection Digitally?
“Achieving customer love is the single most important criteria for business success,” says Howard Tiersky, the bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. If your organization is going to embrace digital technology, you must ensure you don’t lose the personal connection, even if it is digital, with the customer. Tiersky identifies three strategies to achieve customer love.
The first is to meet the customer’s needs. That’s table stakes. If you don’t meet their needs, the customer won’t come back. It is that simple.
The second strategy is to periodically delight them. Delight doesn’t always mean going “over-the-top” with the customer experience. Just do what is expected and, most importantly, what has been promised. And make it easy. Sometimes just meeting expectations is what it takes to delight the customer.
The third strategy is to stand for something that resonates with their values. This is increasingly important for the younger generations. Does your company support a cause, give back to the community, and/or stand for something important? If this resonates with your customers, it may help create a deeper connection that goes beyond a simple business transaction.
Not focusing on Tiersky’s concept of customer love can cause a company to become, as mentioned, a commodity. By becoming a commodity, customers will find little or no differentiation from competitors. Another way of saying it is that the company becomes, in the customer’s eyes, irrelevant.
How to Make Your Digital Strategy Unique
For companies to succeed in this digital world, they must sustain or transform themselves into something that is far less transactional and more about the relationship. Tiersky created a five-step process to avoid risking irrelevance:
1. Understand Your Customer
Do the research necessary to understand who your customers are, where they experience “pain,” and what you can do to prevent that pain. Find out the ‘voids’ of the industry when it comes to the customer experience and find ways to transform it into an opportunity.
2. Create a Customer Journey Map for the Future
This starts with a typical journey map exercise – knowing and understanding what the customer experiences are throughout the different journeys they have with you. There are multiple customer journeys you can capitalize upon: first-time customers, repeat customers, customers seeking support, and more. Once you understand the current journey, develop a vision for the future journey – an ideal one. What would you like it to look like, and what do you have to do to get there?
3. Build the Future
Once you have that journey map for the future, turn that vision into reality by developing the products, services, and other experiences that are part of that future journey. This doesn’t happen in a meeting or two. It can take months—even years—for it to come to fruition.
4. Optimize the Short Term
As you’re working on the future, don’t forget about the current journey. Look for weak points along your current customer journey. Look to eliminate friction, which can include an outdated or cumbersome process. “Optimization is a process that should continue indefinitely,” says Tiersky. “There’s always opportunity to improve.”
5. Lead the Change
It is the leadership’s responsibility to lead this change—and the charge. Its vision must be communicated first to then be implemented. Employees need to know they are on track with the vision. It’s the leadership team that will keep everyone focused and keep the process moving forward.
Maybe the word love is just another way of describing the connection between a company and a customer. Can a customer really love doing business with a company? Even if a customer doesn’t use the word love to describe their experience, you can tell when they do. They do more than just come back to do more business. They also evangelize the company, sharing their experiences with their colleagues and friends. That translates into success.
Brands with high customer love experience more growth, profit, and a stronger valuation.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Shep Hyken’s Forbes’ article.
Shep Hyken is the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service and experience expert, Hyken helps organizations create amazing customer and employee experiences. His books have appeared on bestseller lists including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and others.