Living the Ethos of Customer Experience

I design user interfaces & workflows, communications, perform marketing analysis, and I work on developing brand identity.  It is easy to get disconnected from your customers when you’re interacting over a virtual medium of a website.

And when I ask friends in my field questions about the specific pain points, desires & needs of their customers (as they relate to the website), I almost always get a blank stare.  So it appears I am not alone in seeing the potential disconnect.

So, through mistakes and successes, I’ve jotted down a few things I’ve learned about the ethos of customer experience management:

  • Get Your Hands Dirty with Deep Customer Analysis – Without acute segment analysis, you might not even notice you have a customer retention issue. The inflow of new customer revenue sometimes covers up the loss of revenue from recently departed veteran customers.
  • Welcome Feedback – Provide ongoing platforms for direct customer feedback within your inbound channels of communication. Encourage honest feedback and continually reiterate and demonstrate a commitment to acting on customer feedback.  It builds trust, reduces customer frustration and feelings of alienation, demonstrates transparency and seriously contains issues from exploding into PR disasters so you don’t need to worry about reputation management on communication channels over which you have very little control.
  • Initiate One-to-One Contact  – Marketers shouldn’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to individual customers.   To improve customer retention, throwing out blanket apology emails can help, surveys can help, offering refunds through customer service channels can help, but it means a lot more to customers when marketers and other managers of customer experience proactively contact them with the express purpose of fixing their pain.
  • Create a Culture of Perpetually Re-evaluating Customer Experience – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the antithesis of a customer-centric mindset.  There is always room for improvement in customer experience, so build a culture of ongoing revision and enhancement.  You’ll do a much better job of preempting customer service, satisfaction & retention issues. Rain or shine, evaluate retention.  Just because customers stopped complaining doesn’t mean the problem is fixed – it might mean they’ve given up and left already.

I fight for the end user. – Tron

You walk into a clothing department store and are bombarded by a sales clerk demanding you be helped find what you’re looking for. Startled, you reply that you’re “just looking around”. Then you find something you like, but you don’t know where to go to learn more it and try it on. And suddenly help is nowhere to be found. Do you return to the greeter all the way at the front of the store? Maybe just pick up the phone and scream frantically for help? You try to find your way to the dressing room, but you just keep running into nooks of the building that only have bathrooms, doors to the managers office, the maintenance closet, the elevators, etc. You think about trying the clothes on in the bathroom, but then angst over being arrested for attempted shop-lifting destroy that plan. At this point, maybe you gamble and go to the check-out line, but I think many of us just give up and leave.

And many websites out there, some of them belonging to high-profile companies, still structure their user experience this way. Users are bombarded immediately upon landing on the homepage, then neglected while navigating interior pages (unless ready to “BUY THIS NOW AND CHECKOUT!!!”), and when users attempt to go it alone, they’re often lost and see no way to navigate back, forward or laterally.

That is something I didn’t imagine being able to say in the year 2011, with web 2.0 established as the new sine quo non for online businesses.

Unfortunately, we’ve all experienced websites that seem to only fight for themselves and even websites that don’t appear to fight for anything, but are merely sitting around idly, yelling at people that happen to pass within an earshot.

I think there is plenty of literature out there advocating for the use of the varied and robust web tools that allow you to increase the efficiency of your online efforts and more effectively target your respective audience.

But what often goes unstated is the fact that web analysts don’t just need awesome tools and strong left-brain analytical skills, we need to tap into and hone our creative, sympathetic right-brain capacities that empower true customer-centricity or, as I like to call it, online hospitality

Let’s face it, you can call it fancy names, but that’s all it is: hospitality applied to a particular technology. 

There’s just no way around it. Throwing marketing dollars at a problem and hiring outside consultants will only go so far. To move from a culture of good to great in the web analytics world, you’ve got to learn to relate to your end users. Great web analytics certainly requires analytical skills for answering the “what?” of behavioral data, but answering “so what?” (as Avinash Kaushik puts it) requires a sympathetic capacity to put yourself in others shoes and feel their frustration, thoughts, motivation, and satisfaction.

Sympathy takes time, practice, attention to detail, vulnerability to criticism, willingness to give before receiving, the ability to listen, the ability to understand that individuals and their experiences never perfectly fit into the groups or labels we design for them, real human relationships that have depth (if you can’t connect to someone in person, how will you connect through a website with a business objective?), self-reflection and a hell of a lot of patience.

Fight for the end-user and they will fight for you.  Sympathize with visitors to your website and they will gradually see your brand as more than a mere transactional destination, they’ll see it as a place where they feel welcomed, understood, helped, satisfied… and they’ll keep coming back.

Finally, what do we learn from Tron? We learn that when we let technology (CLU) control the virtual spaces which we inhabit, things go awry.  When a technology’s notion of perfection is allowed totalitarian rule, it often only serves the IT department’s goals for conservation of IT resources, efficiency, etc.  We can’t let the technology get between us (the marketers) and the customers we desire to reach.  In fighting for the end-user, we have to let the right-brain wield it’s sword and cut CLU’s head off or he will destroy the end user and destroy the companies we work for. 

Well, don’t bring a sword to work and don’t attack your server room.  But do make a compelling case for the end user.  Arm yourself with customer feedback from exit surveys, cart abandonment surveys and product/service update surveys.  When it comes to making a business case you’ll need quantitative and qualitative data.  Nothing speaks as loudly as your own customers, and (I will add) nothing helps tranlate complex web performance data to non-technical stakeholders quite like a customer complaint or compliment.