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A customer receives plastic biodegradable plastic bags when shopping at Noah's Natural Foods on Yonge St., Toronto.
A customer receives plastic biodegradable plastic bags when shopping at Noah's Natural Foods on Yonge St., Toronto.


Three crucial steps to happy customers Add to ...

Customer experience was a bit of a buzz term pre-recession, and it is now making a comeback.

The last column examined the three part, cyclical process of customer experience, starting with perception, transitioning into interaction, and finishing up and beginning again with recollection.

There are some straightforward, if not always easy ways to approach customer experience management for the first time.

At a base level, there are three important stages:

Map all the points of interaction, the customer touch points

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

It helps to break the touch points into four categories: pre-purchase, purchase, use of product or service, and post purchase. Pre-purchase factors, such as talking to friends or researching a company’s website, line up with perception and recollection in the customer experience cycle. Purchase factors, such as negotiating with a dealer, are aligned with interaction. And use of product or service, plus post-purchase factors – durability of good after-sales telephone support – most heavily influence interaction and recollection.

This exercise alone can be eye-opening in terms of painting a picture of how much larger customer experience is versus customer service for a company.

Grade the points of interaction

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 as follows:

• High pass (park for later – can we focus on these points?)

• Pass (should be re-visited in the future)

• Marginal pass (requires some work)

• Fail (needs to be addressed immediately)

The criteria for evaluation can be very 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.

Separate the negatives from the positives, then optimize

After touch-point grading, an understanding of the points of interaction that build positive customer experiences and ones that are negative experiences will be evident. From there it’s a matter of understanding why the positive ones are strong – what is it about each one 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 can be put together. If conversations with sales reps are graded out as a ‘high pass’ because the reps 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 out as a ‘marginal pass’ because the fields are cumbersome, a hard look should be taken at whether going back to a manual process makes sense, or whether more money and programmers can clean it up.

The biggest take-away when it comes to customer experience is this: there are many points of interaction between customers and a company, and it is the cumulative experience across all these points that will have customers raving or ranting about a firm. Improving on customer experience is not hard, but it does require a rigorous evaluation and a commitment to continuous improvement.

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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