Having recently attended the CEM in Telecoms Global Summit here in London, one thing struck me above all else. Most speakers explored one meaning of the word ‘experience’, namely: technology. The focus was giving the customer more functionality, allowing the customer greater access to their profile and settings, ensuring the customer has more self-help channels, user-flows, diagrams; so they can go through every journey as fast as possible.

But in all this, where is the experience of a brand? Where do companies and customers make contact? Where do brands give customers a virtual or (eek!) real handshake and welcome them in?

I don’t pretend to be an expert on customer experience. But what I do know I’ve learned from the best in the business. Robbie Hearn designed the customer experience for giffgaff back in 2009, and we’ve been partners ever since. Inevitably, I’ve picked up a few things along the way. If there’s one thing we agree on, it’s this: to create a great customer experience, you actually need to involve the customer!

The ideal customer experience

One thing I often heard at the conference was: ‘it’s all about the customers’ needs’. But do we really think that all that customers need is customer service? When businesses discuss customer experience, they’re usually talking about self-help and sales journeys. Rarely do they actually connect with their consumers. That’s where the problem lies.

Before the internet, things were different. If you ran a small shop and a person walked in with a grievance or a great idea, you’d give them the time of day. Together, you’d figure out how to do things better, how their suggestion might improve your business. Perhaps you’d thank them for their help. Maybe you’d explain why their suggestion isn’t quite the right fit.

In this scenario, the ultimate outcome is that the customer is listened to. Maybe they’d be proud they’d said something, or ecstatic because their suggestion was implemented. Perhaps the story would even make the local paper, with a picture of you both shaking hands and grinning beneath the headline: ‘How one customer’s idea made all the difference!’

With the dawning of the digital age, I can’t help feeling we’ve lost our way.

Getting back to basics

Collaboration. Co-creation. I’m all about these, but not when they’re merely used as interdepartmental buzzwords. On the occasions when a small set of ‘sample’ customers is involved with shaping a product or business approach, it’s usually behind closed doors. At present, the ability of customers to interact with a brand is, at best, extremely limited, at worst, non-existent.

If a customer loves your product and uses it intensively, they’ll talk to their friends and family about it, right? But when that same customer is excited about what you do, where do they go? When they want to talk to someone – but not simply complain – what avenues are open to them? When they want to explore how your brand could do things differently, who do they speak to?

The current operational model for most businesses makes no provision for any of this. The technologies many refer to as ‘customer experience’ don’t breach that gap either. To stay current, to foster meaningful relationships and become part of a customer’s world means building them directly into what we do.

So we need to get back to basics. Mirroring what used to happen in small business is not impossible – community never is. But it does require a willingness to let customers in, and a constant effort to explore brave new ways of doing that. Only when this happens will we start creating truly meaningful customer experiences.

 

Vincent Boon

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vincent Boon

Vincent Boon

Founder

Vincent is Standing on Giants in-house community guru, futurist and troubleshooter. The source of our methodology he’s a fiery advocate for genuine customer-centric business.