The Truth About Improving Customer Experience (CX)

The below Google Trends graph shows that the interest for Customer Experience (CX) has been growing steadily over the past years. A research by the Gartner Group even showed that 89% of companies expected to compete on the basis of customer experience in 2016.

So, improving the Customer Experience is on everyone’s wish list. But what exactly is it? The average consumer doesn’t think about it. And the average manager has but a vague idea about the concept – often mixing it up with its little cousin User Experience (UX)

Google trends graph of customer experience

So, what is Customer Experience and how can you improve it?

A Workable Definition of Customer Experience

The Business Dictionary defines customer experience as “the entirety of the interactions a customer has with a company and its products.” This includes “a customer's attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy, purchase, and use of a service.” (Wikipedia)

User Experience, then, is but a part of Customer Experience. It’s a crucial part, however, and growing in importance as ever more B2C interactions happen through applications interfaces.

Graphic representation of CX and UX

To simplify this definition, I suggest settling on the following:

CX = UX + Customer Service + Marketing

In a day-to-day context, CX mostly means UX and customer service. Basically, Customer Experience is the total of interaction points a customer has with a company.

The Right Approach for Improving Customer Experience

For a long time, the mainstream concept of an exceptional customer service was to delight the customer. To exceed customer expectations, for example by sending thank you cards, making surprise calls, or handing out presents.

As a result, that’s what the tips in most of the articles on improving customer experience are based on. But a convincing HBR article made the argument that we should stop this.

Their research indicated that customers are much more likely to punish bad service than they are to reward one that exceeds expectations. They showed that it’s not delighting, but minimizing the effort to have the problem solved that builds loyalty.

One of the things these companies don’t seem to learn is that it’s not about customer service, it’s about the service itself. Customer service only helps me deal with a service that has failed in some capacity.

Mike Boysen

Improving customer experience therefore shouldn’t be focused on extending the expectations to sky high levels, but on minimizing the frictions the customer could experience on his journey. They even came up with an own measure for this: The Customer Effort Score (CES).

This approach sounds similar to the principles of User Experience. Instead of getting in the user’s way, a great Customer Experience is aimed at removing all possible obstacles – physical and mental – to create as smooth of an experience as possible. And when a problem arises, it’s resolved as quickly and easily as possible.

Good companies have evolved from simply serving customers to delivering a problem-free customer experience.

Bill Quiseng

So let’s look at some practical tips for improving your Customer Experience.

1
Clarify Your Positioning

Since Customer Experience covers such a vast surface – UX, customer service, marketing – consistency in communication is key. Many businesses don’t pull this off because they lack a clear positioning.

Positioning is “a marketing strategy to make a brand occupy a distinct position, relative to competing brands, in the mind of the customer”. A positioning mismatch, for example, would be when a John Cleese type of fellow would answer the support hotline of a hip-hop clothing shop.

If this positioning is defined and clear for everyone inside the company, delivering a consistent Customer Experience becomes much easier.

2
Stick to Website UX Principles

With UX as an increasingly critical element, applying its principles on your website and service is the fastest way to improve your Customer Experience.

Some great resources to get started:

3
Hire a copywriter / study writing principles

Many websites have great designs, filled with lousy texts. The reading experience is an important part of the web user’s journey – and underestimated by many businesses.

You’ll have your quickest gains when hiring an experienced copywriter. But if your budget doesn’t allow this, it also helps to read some books on the art of writing. They’re inspiring, funny, and will turn you into a better communicator.

  • Gary Provost – 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing
  • William Zinsser – On Writing Well
  • Ann Handley – Everybody Writes

4
Minimize web copy

This might sound conflicting with the previous statement, but it’s not. The best writers transfer the message in as few words as possible.

If you want to improve the Customer’s Experience, you should avoid making them think. What happens when you land on a page filled with text? You have to search, scan, and filter to find what you’re looking for. In other words, you have to think. Go for lean and clear pages with few texts and lots of images.

5
Perfectionize website imagery

A visual is worth a 1000 words, and text burdens your customer’s brain. Images often explain or clarify a message better than any writer can, that way smoothening the customer experience.

the honeycomb of UX

What’s more, according to Peter Morville’s ‘User Experience Honeycomb’, desirability is one of UX’s core elements. Your offerings must be presented in a way that makes people want them, and images add to desirability. We’re visual animals, us humans.

6
Add live chat support

The abovementioned HBR research found that customers easily get frustrated in phone and self-service based interactions. The most frequent complaints:

  • Having to contact the company multiple times
  • Explaining the issues over and over again because of transfers
  • Being forced to switch channels (e.g. from website to phone)

These are clear examples of experience disruptions that logically result from phone as a service channel. When visitors have a question, they want an answer right away. So they grab for the phone, even though it forces them to pause the flow.

But phone support is expensive; one service operator can just talk to one customer at a time. Queueing is the only way to cut down operator idle time and service costs – and we all know how frustrating those phone queues are.

Phone conversations aren’t easily documented and shared, either – which forces customers to explain their issues over and over again.

That’s why live chat is such a strong tool for improving your customer experience. It waits, unobtrusively, at the bottom of the website until the visitor has a question. Then, without having to switch away and disrupt the customer experience, the visitor can get her answer immediately.

From an operational perspective, live chat is much cheaper than phone. One operator can chat with multiple web visitors at the same time, removing the alibi for service queues. Just like the alibi for issue repetition, since chats are easily documented and transferred to the relevant service rep.

7
Be transparent

Transparency reduces questions and anxieties – mental roadblocks for your customers. Go through your customer’s journey and ask yourself: what questions or doubts could pop up along the way?

Some examples:

  • Stocking status – Indicating whether the product on your website is available or not saves your customer mental doubt, or effort and grief if she decided for the product but found it wasn’t available.
  • Shipping area – One of the most annoying things in online shopping is when you’ve chosen your product, only to discover during the checkout process that there’s no shipping to your region. So if you ship to certain regions only, indicate so beforehand.
  • Shipping costs – It’s common for the shipping costs to pop up only during the checkout process. But this kills the customer experience. Those added costs are another mental roadblock. Instead of adding them, show them from the start or integrate them into your prices.
  • Order trackingUncertainty makes waiting seem longer. With order tracking, you reduce some uncertainty – and with that offer peace of mind.

8
Allow for guest shopping

The need to create an account before check out is another bump in the road of customer experience. With the option to buy as guest while showing the benefits of registering, the latter will feel like an offer instead of a demand.

9
Save shopping carts for the next visit

Not even with the smoothest of customer experiences do all customers make up their mind at once. Some will select one or a few products and leave your website. By saving their shopping carts for the next time they enter, they can continue their shopping experience right away.

This is especially powerful in combination with dynamic retargeting, following the customer around the web with ads showcasing the specific products in his basket.

10
Reduce website loading time

The faster the website, the smoother the experience. Improvements here will not only be reflected in your search engine rankings, but in your conversion rates as well.

What’s more, it’s good practice to add visual feedback about a page that’s loading. An unexplained waiting time is the worst type of waiting time. A page that doesn’t give immediate feedback about the fact that it’s loading, feels like a malfunction.

11
Offer an intelligent FAQ

Some customers don’t want to talk to support; they want to figure it out themselves. That’s why your website should always feature an FAQ section.

Having said that, FAQ’s are cumbersome creatures. A much better customer experience results from intelligent FAQ’s, for example a tool like OMQ.

With these, your customer puts in his question and receives suggestions based on the keywords she uses. If the answer isn’t there, the question turns into a support ticket.

The answer on this support ticket will then be used for the next similar customer request. So the system is always learning.