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News & Opinion

Outside In

August 15, 2012

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Customer experience is it. While it's increasingly difficult to set yourself apart from your competitors with regard to innovation or product offerings, there seems yet to be a huge opportunity for companies to excel in providing a superior customer experience. According to this new book from Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, there is a lot of money at stake in the customer experience game.

Customer experience is it. While it's increasingly difficult to set yourself apart from your competitors with regard to innovation or product offerings, there seems yet to be a huge opportunity for companies to excel in providing a superior customer experience. According to this new book from Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, there is a lot of money at stake in the customer experience game. Through the series of case studies they provide, they present a pretty compelling argument for their cause. The starting point is understanding exactly what customer experience is:
It's not customer service. People call customer service when they have a problem. So equating customer service with customer experience is like saying that a safety net is a trapeze act. It's not usability. Take your car, for example. Even if the steering wheel is easy to turn and the brake pedal feels just right, your driving experience will still be miserable if the car fails to meet your basic needs, like running reliably and stopping safely. It's what products and services your company offers, how you manage your business, and what your brand stands for. It's what your customers think happened when they tried to learn about and evaluate your product, tried to buy it, and maybe tried to get help with a problem. What's more, it's how they felt about those interactions: excited, happy, and reassured, or nervous, disappointed, and frustrated.
It's not difficult to agree with the authors when they state the importance of getting customer experience right. I can think of plenty of recent experiences in which I was the customer and I left with a feeling ranging between anger and disgust. Some companies take their customers for granted. According to an online survey conducted by Forrester Research in 2011, only 3% of the 160 brands surveyed were rated 'Excellent' (an equivalent of an A grade). Over 60% of these brands received the equivalent of a C grade or worse (10% received Fs!). If you've been on hold with your local ISP or cable company, or if you've fought to get your claim covered by your insurance company, these numbers will not surprise you. Manning and Bodine offer 'The Six Disciplines of Customer Experience', essentially a step-by-step guide to improving the customer experience at your organization. Using these key disciplines—strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance, and culture—we have a clear-cut guide to mastery of this increasingly-important aspect of our business. The result? We can reach what the book calls the 'systematic' adoption level. This is the point at which the company has a process that defines when to execute key customer experience practices. Here's a simple recommendation: if you have customers, you should read this book. I quickly thought of Gary Vaynerchuk's Thank You Economy while paging through this book, because Outside In offers an equally simple and compelling argument. Like Vaynerchuk's bottom line, Manning and Bodine's point can be reduced to the idea of systematic caring. If we care, and we make our customers feel like they're cared for, it will pay off. It's more than a nebulous, romantic notion, though. It requires a lot of planning, work, and application (notice that the most accomplished level of application of this discipline is called 'systematic'). But like Chapter 2 states: "Customer Experience Means Billions to Business".

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