What’s Your Customer Experience Like?

Customers are no longer basing their loyalty on brands, products and prices. In today’s bold new world, what exactly is customer loyalty, how can you keep it and how can you create it?

This is a synopsis from an episode of the Thrive!cast series of panel discussions hosted by Conscious Branding. Each episode focuses on a new topic and brings in experts to discuss, explore, answer questions and inspire action. For more information, go to thrive.consciousbranding.com/courses/thrivecast-for-small-business-series/.

The Thrive!cast episode, “What’s Your Customer Experience Like?,” was moderated by Alan Wallner, President and Visionary, Conscious Branding. Panelists were Robb Breding, Founder and Coach, REV Advisory Group; Shannon Gronemeyer, VP Operations and Technology, Service 800; and Todd Alexander, Owner and Principal Consultant, CORNERSTONE 3®.

Alan Wallner

Alan Wallner

Robb Breding

Shannon Gronemeyer

Todd Alexander

What Are Businesses Doing Wrong in Terms of Their Customer Experience?

“This has definitely been an interesting time in customer experiences, a very timely topic for today’s business climate,” said Alan Wallner, “and with more business transactions happening online over a video conference, or even in more complex, less personal ways in person, especially with masks covering up smiles. It just has changed our whole way of creating experiences for our customers. So the experience customers have and their happiness or satisfaction plays a critical role in determining their loyalty to our businesses.”

“One of the things that I like to look at is what type of relationship do I have,” said Robb Breding. “I think this is where companies can really miss the mark, misconstruing what their customer relationship is and what it looks like. And maybe the simplest way that I could elaborate on that would be I see things on a continuum. You’ve got the transactional experience, where I’ve got a product and service and I’m interested in exchanging that for money. On the other side of the spectrum is this partnership that needs to be created. And I think where companies miss the mark is when they become too transactional. They are concerned too much about that and not so much about the partnership. A partnership is created by aligning the company’s mission, vision and values with their customer’s mission, vision and values.

Todd Alexander added, “The exciting thing that I’m seeing is a silver lining or whatever it is with COVID, that is, so many of the clients that I’m working with are now more focused on the customer than they ever have been. And I think it’s a lot out of necessity because they’re seeing their retention numbers going down. They’re doing everything they can to generate sales out of their existing customer. But they’re also looking at how can they go out and acquire new customers at this time. For me, that’s exciting, that focus is going to be on the customer.”

“I think a customer needs to have a choice,” said Shannon Gronemeyer, “We shouldn’t force our customers down a single channel like everything’s online now and you can’t talk to an agent anymore. And when we do give them that option, it needs to add value. You don’t force your customers to move from one channel to another. You make the other channels so attractive, that that’s how they migrate. And so I think because of the cost reductions that we’ve seen, there’s been a forced movement towards customer experience online. And that’s not always a positive thing.”

Ensuring Positive Customer Experiences

“Many people think of their brand as their logo,” said Alan. “And in reality, the perception people have of you is based on the experiences you create for them. So that really makes your customer experience important. And so from that initial awareness to the stage of being loyal, there’s so many variables in there. How do you ensure that your customers’ experience with your company is a positive one; it’s awareness to loyalty, all the variables with that.”

“The companies that I see that are creating a really positive experience have made this shift where the customer is the hero,” said Todd. “And that seems so simple and obvious, but I feel like for a long time that we’ve operated that if we, as the sellers, show up as the hero, we’re going to earn their business. And where does that leave the customer? And the shift is where the customer is the hero and that everybody in our organization looks at the customer as the hero. And it’s really our role as the guide. I’m a big fan of Donald Miller and StoryBrand. What’s amazing is it goes all the way back into the culture, and it starts to resonate with every employee in the organization that that’s what we’re here for, that’s our mission: to help the customer be the hero.”

“I’ve always held this fundamental belief that businesses only exist to solve some need for their customers and to do it better than anybody else can,” added Shannon. “That’s why we’re here. And in times like this, we can get really distracted by everything else going on around us, in our own business and the culture and the news, etc. And in terms of what do I need to do to create a positive experience? I use the same answer for a lot of questions: ask your customers. It’s always amazing to me, how infrequently some companies talk to their customers to find out what they want, what they need and what problem they’re trying to solve. How do I solve that problem compared to my competitors or others out there? And so I think it starts with taking this time that you might have to become much more intimate with your customers, what is going on in their lives?”

“Todd started off talking about the hero and now we’re talking about having this interaction with the customer,” said Robb. “That plays really well with what I would add. And that is increasing the collective EQ of the organization. The idea is that, the very people inside of our organizations need to execute this. And they need to be able to do that for us. There’s some real benefit in terms of ensuring that we create that positive experience ongoing in educating and bringing the level of EQ up in the individual people that populate our organization. . . .And so training our people to be empathetic and not only understanding themselves and with their customers, but being able to learn to regulate that situation. That’s what emotional intelligence is. And I think that’s such a critical competency.”

Keeping Your Business Together Despite the External Stresses

“Be intentional and aware,” said Robb. “I think that’s been a theme, just being more focused. I know for my clients, they have been very concerned about their people. That has been a major concern. And I think that has, in some ways, distracted it from the customer. But I think that is the key, we need to prioritize our relationships in our culture in order to make sure that it’s functioning properly. And that our competency level is there and that people are okay, because if they’re not okay, engagement with employees goes down and with customers, it’s going to follow.”

“We used to do a lecture or speech on the relationship between employee experience and customer experience,” said Shannon. “And we talked about this downward spiral that exists. You can’t be conscious of one without the other; if you create a bad experience for your employees and now they get on the phone, they’re upset, disgruntled, unhappy. They talk to a client who has a problem. The client’s getting less than positive reaction. And so now the client’s upset and now the employee’s thinking, boy, this place sucks and this person’s yelling at me. And you just get those downward spirals of experience. And so I think one is the front line for your customers. Those folks have to be in it with you. They have to be happy to be there. They have to be motivated.”

“What I think has happened is we’ve gotten away from regular communications to the employees and keeping those lines of communication open,” added Todd. “Even if we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen and we’re uncertain. What information can we provide them, our employees where they can make those choices and those decisions for themselves, meet them where they’re at, as opposed to them trying to meet us where we’re at. And again, for me, that’s a silver lining because culture is so important. I’m seeing more and more companies being very intentional about communication, whether it’s one-to-one or in a group, or it’s a weekly update or whatever it may be. To me, that’s inspiring because people are recognizing they have to keep their employees connected and aligned and as ambitious as possible.”

Benefits of a More Holistic Approach to the Customer Experience

“Everyone in the business has an impact on the customer directly or indirectly,” said Shannon. “And that’s the way we need to approach how we collaborate and coordinate as we’re supporting customers. And a great example for me is in the disconnect between sales and marketing and the rest of the organization. I can establish a brand image with my marketing that my sales team thinks is unrealistic and has to work around that when they’re in the field and the image doesn’t really line up with what my customers want. So I have to sell a little bit differently only to have my customer experience organization deliver a different experience than I either promoted from a marketing perspective or committed to from a sales perspective.

“So that disconnect between who I tell people I am and what they actually experience when they make the first phone call in the business can be huge at times. And so as an organization it’s all about designing the experience a client’s going to have as they go through their journey. And those things will have to be aligned. It can’t be done in individual silos. I can’t hand the customer off to the next organization without having collaborated with them on what that experience handoff is supposed to look like and how the customer is supposed to be treated fair. So it’s got to be all part of the same ecosystem.”

“I think on the practical side, I love Patrick Lencioni in terms of teamwork,” said Robb. “You mentioned the word team right at the beginning. And what you need to have is trust, but I look at the second level, it’s this ability to carry on a debate, to get people to buy in. And what you said is so true, sales and marketing aren’t aligned, and I would add to customer service and delivery. And so if we can get these folks together and out of these silos and come up with a strategy, they’re going to execute it way better. I would include the customer. When collaboration is done well, the results are just exponentially better. And I think companies need to pay attention to that.”

“In the end, everyone knows what the intention is and everyone’s working together to create the same thing,” said Alan.

“You have to have collaboration,” said Todd. “I’m seeing salespeople going in and having conversations with marketing that they’ve never had; marketing having conversations with sales, working together to enable the customer journey. . . and helping sales do that and then provide now more than ever the catalyst for CRM to really take hold because we need that data to be able to communicate with all three, like never before. We’re at one of those amazing inflection points where we elaborate, you need to bring all those functions together to create an experience for the customer.

“It’s critical that we’re going to have to come together in a congruent way to work together, deliver that experience in this virtual environment, not to say that face to face is not coming back, that’s just going to be icing on the cake, but we’ve got to master this whole other new way of showing up in the marketplace.”

It’s a Bold New World!

All Thrive!cast episodes focus on leading business owners to discover ways to create success for them and their businesses in this bold new world.

To hear more from the panelists on this and other Thrive!cast episodes, click below.