Many companies are embracing technology. They are finding ways to serve the customer using digital tools. Self-service tools give customers control over their experience. Investing in this type of technology can be financially beneficial to a company. It seems like a win/win for both the customer and the company, and it can be. It can also be a risk.
The risk is commoditization, becoming the same as everyone else. When that happens, there’s no relationship. Technology can put up a digital wall between the customer and a human-to-human interaction. Sometimes that's good. Consider how well the airlines have incorporated online reservations and check-in into their experience. It created a better experience for their customers. When online booking was first introduced, they offered incentives in the form of extra miles/points for customers to try it. Once customers discovered how easy it was, they went directly to the computer instead of calling the reservation number. That said, customers knew that if they struggled with booking a flight, they could always talk to an agent.
So, while companies are embracing technology, many are becoming enamored by it, to the point of putting too much distance between the customer and the company. And by company, I’m referring to the people of the company, as they are the ones who create emotional connections between the customer and the company.
“Achieving customer love is the single most important criteria for business success,” says Howard Tiersky, the bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. If your organization is going to embrace digital technology, you must ensure you don’t lose the personal connection, even if it is digital, with the customer.
Tiersky identifies three ways to achieve customer love. First is to meet the customer’s needs. That’s table stakes. If you don’t meet their needs, the customer won’t come back. It is that simple.
Second is to periodically delight them. Delight doesn’t always mean going “over-the-top” with the customer experience. Just do what is expected—and what is promised. And make it easy. Sometimes just meeting expectations is what it takes to delight the customer.
Third is to stand for something that resonates with their values. This is increasingly important for the younger generations. Does your company support a cause, give back to the community and/or stand for something important? If this resonates with your customers, it may help create a deeper connection that goes beyond a simple business transaction.
Not focusing on Tiersky’s concept of customer love can cause a company to become, as mentioned, a commodity. There’s little or no differentiation from the competition. Another way of saying it is that the company becomes, in the customer’s eyes, irrelevant. For companies to succeed in this digital world, they must sustain or transform themselves into something that is far less transactional and more about the relationship. Tiersky created a five-step process to avoid risking irrelevance:
1. Understand Your Customer: Do the research necessary to understand who your customers are, where they experience “pain,” and what you can do to prevent that pain.
2. Create a Customer Journey Map for the Future: This starts with a typical journey map exercise, knowing and understanding what the customer experiences throughout the different journeys they have with you. There are multiple journeys: first-time customers, repeat customers, customers seeking support and more. Once you understand the current journey, develop a vision for the future journey. What would you like it to look like, and what do you have to do to get there?
3. Build the Future: Once you have that journey map for the future, turn it into reality by developing the products, services and other experiences that are part of that future journey. This doesn’t happen in a meeting or two. It can take months—even years—for it to come to fruition.
4. Optimize the Short Term: As you’re working on the future, don’t forget about the current journey. Look for weak points along the journey. Look to eliminate friction, which can include an outdated or cumbersome process. “Optimization is a process that should continue indefinitely,” says Tiersky. “There’s always opportunity to improve.”
5. Lead the Change: It is leadership’s responsibility to lead this change—and the charge. Its vision must be communicated. It must be implemented. Employees need to know they are on track. It’s the leadership team that will keep everyone focused and keep the process moving forward.
Maybe the word loveis just another way of describing the connection between a company and a customer. Can a customer really love doing business with a company? Even if a customer doesn’t use the word loveto describe their experience, you can tell when they do. They do more than just come back to do more business. They also evangelize the company, sharing their experiences with their colleagues and friends. That translates into success. Brands with high love have more growth, profit and a stronger valuation.