In my last article, we saw how a Total Customer Experience (TCE) approach to business operations is critical if you want to get serious about delivering a successful customer experience. Legacy business operations tend to be too siloed, and too focused on business objectives to the exclusion of customer needs.
Here, we’ll look at an important step in creating a TCE: actively including or “hire” your customers.
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The business case for engaging customers in business operations is often overwhelming.
How Customers Fill Gaps in the Customer Journey
Here’s a conceptual map showing eight common gaps, using a simplified version of the customer journey. (Gap numbers are explained below).
We selected eight firms from our Advanced Practices research and mapped out some of the ways in which they’re deploying customers to make objective, often measurable impact on filling those common gaps. Here’s how this looks.
Here are some details of how they’re doing so:
Gap 1: Customers not entering the customer journey due to lack of awareness that your firm exists.
BMC software brought in a new Chief Marketing Officer for a major rebranding effort. The firm’s leading customer advocates were consulted on major branding issues, such as getting a clear baseline on what current customers thought BMC stood for, providing input on various proposals for a major new advertising campaign, and providing essential input on renaming and repositioning of an important product. The internal team couldn’t decide between two alternatives; the BMC customers came down decisively on one choice, with reasons that greatly clarified the debate.
Gap 2 and 3: Customers are in your demand funnel, but disengage because your marketing isn’t educating them or your sales people are too intent on closing a deal rather than helping you select an optimum solution.
Marketing operations at many firms are increasingly hungry for customer content throughout the “demand funnel.” The Citrix customer reference team is getting increasingly sophisticated at providing this, even to the point of providing specific content and customer interactions with buyers depending on where they are in their decision journey. For example, if a prospect is at the early “10%” stage of the journey, they recommend using the firm’s “Work Better” customer videos. For customers at the “60-75%” stage—that is, close to decision—Rubin’s team recommends inviting the customer to one of the firm’s Customer Reference Forums.
Gap 4: Lack of “proof points” for closing the deal.
This is, of course, the gap that launched a thousand customer reference programs.
Gap 5: Poor product or services quality.
Microsoft’s MVP (customer advocates and influencers who were known as “Most Valuable Professional”) program, and the firm’s related customer community, were brought in to solve a serious quality problem when internal testers simply weren’t finding enough software bugs before release. The MVPs were engaged to do this—an opportunity they eagerly embraced—and follow-up stats showed they were finding 28% of the priority actionable bugs that internal engineers might have missed, with significant overall improvement in the quality of new releases.
Gap 6: Professional services doesn’t really grasp what job (or outcome) the customer is trying to get done.
LinkedIn is adapting case studies—usually used for moving customers through their buyer’s journey—and providing them to new customers who’ve purchased and deployed your solution. LinkedIn found that this early stage of use can be frightening and confusing to new customers and that the experiences of more experienced customers who’ve “been there and done that” can provide major comfort as well as an excellent guide.
Gap 7: Poor, uncaring, or overly costly customer service.
When high software support costs began threatening Microsoft’s business model—at the time, they were competing against free software. Sean O’Driscoll pioneered the concept of getting customers from the firm’s community to help. When that initiative got rolling and diverting support requests from the firm’s paid support call centers to the online community, it saved the firm hundreds of millions of dollars
Gap 8: The customer journey has gone well to this point, but the customer doesn’t retain or expand his business with you due to lack of awareness that you’re keeping up with his needs.
When SAS Canada began experiencing a drop in customer retention rates—from the high 90 percent range to the mid-80s at one point—the firm’s Customer Champions were engaged to get the word out that the firm was keeping up with their needs. The Champions led live forums in some twenty cities around the country, wrote for a new newsletter, gave webinars and so forth in an intensive education effort. Result: retention rates were back to the high 90s.
In our entire catalog of case studies and vignettes (from other research or client work), there are dozens if not hundreds of more examples. If these were all included in a graphic they would more or less turn it solid red. The implication, of course, is that whatever gaps in the customer journey that your internal teams are struggling with, consider engaging your customer advocates and influencers in the effort. There’s a good chance that somewhere, someone else is doing so to fill gaps like yours to retain and expand customer relationships. These can suggest a real world model that can guide you in doing the same thing.