When you think about recent holiday shopping experiences, what comes to mind? Did a retailer create a positive, friendly customer experience that left you wanting to buy from them again? Did another company leave you feeling frustrated, angry, and wondering why some businesses just don’t get it?
How One Retailer Does It Right
My favorite blue jeans ever were purchased in 2016 from a national shopping mall clothing chain. Those jeans looked good (in my opinion!) and felt good and have been worn again and again, to the point that I even had a large rip repaired rather than throwing them out. With the life expectancy of my jeans in its last days, I went to one of the same retailer’s stores during the holidays to see if I could replace them.
When I walked in, I was greeted by a team of friendly employees who were eager to help, much like the employees at the other store back in 2016. They checked their computer system and readily found the record of my 2016 purchase, along with a picture of my jeans; unfortunately, they also discovered that the jeans were no longer being produced. Their computer system was, however, equipped with AI that could locate the jeans most like mine in cut, style, and color and could determine which location had the new jeans in inventory. In only a few minutes, I was able to purchase the replacement jeans and have them shipped for free to arrive at my home within a couple of days.
Yes, I will buy from that retailer whenever possible in the future.
Winning in the Marketplace
One way that an organization can “win” in its competitive marketplace is through a differentiated customer experience. It is the reason buying a shirt at a high-end department store feels different than purchasing the same shirt at a discount outlet. The successful creation of a differentiated customer experience can set an organization apart from its competitors in the marketplace and can keep customers loyal.
With more metrics and data available now than ever before, business leaders faced with organizational choices typically have the information necessary to guide decisions and increase the speed of implementing those decisions. However, leaders who desire to create a differentiated customer experience still need to determine what organizing choices are needed to effectuate their strategic initiative(s). In the retailer example mentioned above, it is likely that many organizing choices were deliberately made and built into the organization to deliver such a pleasant and differentiated customer experience.
As we explain in our book, “Mastering the Cube: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks and Building an Organization that Works,” understanding the gap between your current capabilities and the needed capabilities is the crux of organizational design. Our Cube Model can be used to guide the development of the capabilities for a differentiated customer experience or any other value proposition around all the systems of your organization.
How to Succeed with a Differentiated Customer Experience
The following suggestions explain how certain organizing choices can impact your goal of a differentiated customer experience – as well as a few dos and don’ts that should be considered as you plan your strategy:
Work Processes: Have you ever tried to get assistance or questions answered by employees in a big box store who are seemingly engaged only in getting more stuff on the shelves? Have you wondered whether the store cares about helping customers find what they need?
- DO scrutinize the work done by your employees and discern which activities and customer touch points can create value for your customers.
- DO categorize work activities based on the strategic impact to your customers.
- DON’T prioritize work activities exclusively based on what those activities have previously contributed to the organization’s success.
Information and Metrics: In just a few seconds, an Apple retailer can retrieve detailed information about a customer’s purchases. Not sure which model your Apple Watch is? They can tell you what model you have, when you bought it, and what, if any, upgrades are available. I would argue that providing a differentiating customer experience in today’s world requires the level of technology of the clothing retailer mentioned above or an Apple store.
- DO look out 5-10 years into the future and make the best possible hypotheses as to what your customers will need and want.
- DO make the necessary commitment to use new technologies to improve the actionability of your frontline workforce that manages the relationship with your customers and has the greatest direct impact on the customer experience.
- DON’T wait to see what the competition is doing before making changes to how you integrate data and other digital capabilities.
Leadership and Culture: One of the keys to the tremendous success of Starbucks has been a company-wide commitment to promoting values and modeling behaviors that support the strategy of developing an inviting, friendly store atmosphere.
- DO develop business values that will clearly define expectations for the customer experience. For example, one of Starbucks’ business values is “Be personally accountable and responsible for the outcome of every single customer interaction.”
- DO identify positive sentiments that already exist in your organization’s current culture and use these to support the creation of positive customer experiences.
- DO reinforce desired behaviors through appropriate recognition and rewards.
- DON’T assume that your organization’s culture can change by simply directing people to change the way they think and function.
Providing an exceptional customer experience is a moving target, requiring commitment and communication throughout all aspects of your organization. If done right, distinguishing your business to your customers via a company-wide commitment to a differentiated customer experience is a strategy that can be difficult for competitors to emulate. This strategy will also generate increased customer loyalty and benefit your company’s position in the marketplace.