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mark healy

The marketing planning process for any business should include developing meaningful value propositions, which was the focus of an earlier column, and designing engaging customer experiences to specifically identified segments.

Customer experience is the opposite of value proposition, in that it relates to a brand but it is more about how people feel about themselves as they interact with your business, rather than what they think of your company.

There are many definitions of customer experience. Some companies focus on customer service, particularly call centres, while others take on a broader orientation to include multiple touch points. I subscribe to the latter. Customer experiences can be designed by thinking about engagement at different brand touch points.

Designing positive customer experiences is about mapping, measuring and maximizing.

Step one: Mapping

Some refer to this as a customer journey map. The idea is to catalogue every point at which a customer comes into contact with a company, directly or indirectly. There are obvious points – talking to a sales rep, for example, or seeing a print advertisement. But there are less obvious ones as well – such as blogs that talk about service or pricing, or the upkeep of retail or office spaces.

It normally helps to break the touch points into four categories: pre-purchase, purchase, use of product or service, and post-purchase. Pre-purchase factors include talking to friends or researching a company's website. Purchase factors could be things like negotiating with a dealer. And use of product or service plus post-purchase factors might include the durability of a good, or after-sales telephone support. This exercise alone can be eye-opening in terms of painting a picture of how much larger customer experience is versus customer service for any company.

Step two: Measuring

Now that all the interaction points between customers and a company are mapped, an evaluation phase can take place. Each point should be graded. The scale is arbitrary, but an accepted methodology is:

  • High pass (park for later – can we focus on these points?).
  • Pass (should be revisited in the future).
  • Marginal pass (requires some work).
  • Fail (needs to be addressed immediately).

The criteria for evaluation can be simple: on the grade scale, how much does the point of interaction in question contribute to a positive customer experience? For example, if a website is difficult to navigate, it may frustrate customers and get a marginal pass.

Consideration should be given to weightings, since some touch points will be more important than others. For accuracy, this exercise should be conducted with live customer feedback through intercepts or a survey.

Step three: Maximizing

After touch-point grading, an understanding of which points of interaction build positive customer experiences and which ones are negative experiences will be evident. From there it's a matter of understanding why the positive ones are strong (what is it that strengthens the connection between a customer and a company?) and why the negative ones hurt a brand.

A continuous improvement plan can now be built for the positive experiences, and a separate plan to eliminate, reverse or minimize the negative experiences. For example, if conversations with sales reps are graded as a high pass because they are well informed, then introducing more opportunities for those conversations to happen earlier in the purchase process – or even pre-purchase – makes sense. By the same token, if the online order system grades as a marginal pass because the fields are cumbersome, take a hard look at whether going back to a manual process makes sense, or whether more money and programmers can clean it up.

What are the biggest takeaways when it comes to customer experience? There are many points of interaction between customers and a company, and it is the cumulative experience across all these points that will have people ranting or raving about a firm. Improving on customer experience is not hard, but it does require a rigorous evaluation and a commitment to continuous change.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

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