Sign up to get full access to all our latest content, research, and network for everything customer contact.

Strategic Investment in Customer Experience

Jon Blum

Your customer and how you approach your customer hold the key to successfully investing in your dynamic business model, but more importantly, in turning around the economy.

Wait a minute.

This suddenly got a lot larger than you may have thought…

Whether your customer base is 10 or 10 million, the idea that each individual holds critical answers to your company’s future and to the well being of our fragile economy should inspire you to get creative, strategic and focused. And by the way, your internal and external customer should be expected to do the same. If you don’t regard your customer in this way, then you should be asking yourself—and those in your organization—why you are in business.

In my 16 years of experience in the Customer Experience Management arena, (Retail Banking, Financial Services, Insurance, Corporate Travel and Big Box Retailing) each one of the industries I have represented has faced the global economic crisis, but the successful businesses that exceeded expectations. They did this by getting clear on who their customer base was and where their core needs intersected the value propositions they offered to their customer.

However, most importantly, these companies changed how we looked at research and development and where the ability for us to test and try new offerings was best served and easily measured and refined. This is the beginning of how your customer base can define and refine your strategies going forward. But who has the capital to do anything but cut costs and ride out the storm?

Back to Basics: Strategic Investment in Customer Experience

In a time of limited or no capital flexibility, this can be a quick discussion and a closed book if you take the traditional paths to resolution, but here are a few suggestions to get you thinking in a little different way about customer management:

1. Ensure you have a firm handle on how your overall brand promise equates and translates to your customer experience delivery. Create a blueprint for your brand promise and customer experience that transcends channels of delivery, and defines why your customer comes to you in the first place, and what your customer expects from you every time.

2. Sit down with your technology providers. If you leverage external customer care or Business Process Outsourcers, share your challenge with them in the room at the same time with your internal business partners and brainstorm around the challenge. Often times the answer is in the room. If you are having trouble jump starting this, start with the questions: How do we reduce our operating expense while increasing growth? and, How do we increase customer experience with less money and fewer resources?

3. Consider setting up a lab environment where a small portion of your live customer contacts can be funneled off into a test platform (on demand Interactive Voice Response or Customer Relationship Management and Offer Management solutions, for example) and treated differently to start trying and measuring new experiences. Most technology providers can get creative around pricing so you can pay for what you use without spending all of your dollars on weighty platforms, integration into internal IT systems and internal project management. If this is not realistic, consider social networking, community spaces, Facebook or Twitter. There are other social networking tools that give a better sense of what your customer says about you and your brand. When you find your customer base, ask what they think.

4. Leverage your business process outsourcing budgets or existing operating budgets to look for ways to parlay existing expense run rates into dollars for development. An example of how to leverage your business process outsourcing budget is to add a premium to the existing price per minute or per full-time equivalent. This would fund technology or pilot excursions with the expectations that the longer-term return on investment will be recognized as part of the intended outcome. If you target an increase in self service, but allow for a longer interaction time to drive unique insights from your employees and your customer base, then this may actually reduce more overall expense, increase customer retention and customer loyalty, and create growth opportunities where you didn’t expect them. Business process outsourcing firms and technology firms are dependent on your business to grow, so this is a good way to share risk and to help them improve their customer engagement model with you and their other clients.

Keep Customer Management Simple

There certainly are no easy answers or simple checklists to build successful customer management strategies in this challenging time, but while Wall Street or Main Street may expect you to hunker down and play defense, if you offer a unique and fresh perspective to your products or services, your customer will give you more credit for trying. Either way you will learn a lot about the customer experience in the process.

Oh, and as for how this customer focus can turn the economy around? Isn’t our world founded on entrepreneurial creativity, risk taking, and strategic relationships and partnerships?

If only a few more companies would engage, and treat their customer base as their "land of opportunity," we can all take part in shaping the future in a much more meaningful and sustainable way.