For most major, successful companies today, customer experience is an indispensable part of their long-term growth strategy.
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything there is to cover about customer experience:
- what it is
- why it’s important
- how to use it
- and even the tools that will help you master your own customer experience strategy
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
- What Is Customer Experience?
- Customer Success vs. Customer Experience
- Customer Service vs. Customer Experience
- 5 Benefits of a Customer Experience Strategy
- 6 Ways to Optimize Customer Experience
- 6 KPIs for Customer Experience
- The 10 Best Customer Experience Tools
What Is Customer Experience?
Some people use the term customer experience incorrectly, so let’s clear things up.
Customer experience is all the interactions a customer has with your brand throughout their journey as a customer – as well as their impressions of your brand as a result of those interactions.
There are a few important pieces of this definition that stand out.
First, we’re looking at all the interactions a customer has with your brand, and by extension, all the interactions all your customers have in aggregate. This isn’t isolated to just customer service, nor is it just isolated to any one customer.
Second, we’re looking at interactions throughout the customer journey. In fact, customer experience starts looking at interactions before people are even customers – we also need to understand interactions that people have when they first hear about your brand and how they become a customer initially.
Third, we need to understand how those interactions form an impression of your brand – and how that impression dictates their future interactions.
For example, does their positive impression cause them to spend more money with your company? Does it make them refer other people to your brand?
Or does their negative experience make them leave negative reviews in badmouth your company online?
Obviously, you can already see that positive customer experience is a good thing. But achieving success in a customer experience strategy is more complex and nuanced than you might think.
Customer Success vs. Customer Experience
Before we get any further, it’s important to point out how customer experience is distinguished from other similar and related concepts.
For example, there’s customer success. Customer success is the “customer’s ability to achieve their desired outcome,” as dictated by their required outcome (RO) and appropriate experience (AX). In other words, it’s a matter of whether a customer is able to achieve the result they want when using your product or service.
Customer success is not the same thing as customer experience, though the concepts are related. When a customer experiences success, they do have a positive interaction with your brand, leading to better CX results.
Similarly, if your customer experience strategy is on point, you can increase the likelihood of achieving customer success.
These concepts are somewhat interdependent, but they require different approaches.
Customer Service vs. Customer Experience
A similar relationship exists for customer service as it relates to customer experience.
Too many business owners conflate these terms. But the best way to think about them is to consider customer service as one aspect of customer experience.
Customer service exists to provide support to customers in need of help in all its forms. Throughout your customer service interactions, you’ll be sending messages back and forth with customers and interacting with them across a variety of channels.
Naturally, all these interactions play a role in the overall customer experience an individual has with your brand. However, focusing on customer service alone forces you to neglect sales, marketing, advertising, core product and service experiences, and passive interactions.
The point is, CX is a big and comprehensive field.
5 Benefits of a Customer Experience Strategy
Okay, so why should you care about customer experience?
Obviously, you care about the experiences of your customers, or else your business would cease to exist.
But why should you dump effort into creating a formal customer experience strategy?
These are some of the best benefits:
1. Higher customer lifetime value (CLV).
Companies that practice CX strategy and management tend to see higher customer lifetime value (CLV). That means each customer you attract to your brand is going to be more valuable, spending more money in each purchase, making more purchases, staying loyal to your brand for longer, or some combination of the three.
When customers have positive experiences consistently, they’re more likely to patronize you. That ultimately means more revenue per customer, making all your customer acquisition strategies stronger and supporting your business with more cash flow.
2. Higher brand value.
Relatedly, customer experience strategies result in higher brand value. If you start with firm, well-researched direction, and all your departments are in alignment with each other, your brain will ultimately come to be seen as more trustworthy, more authoritative, and more influential.
That’s going to make it much easier to attract more people to your brand and each of your marketing and advertising materials in the future is going to be more powerful.
3. Better customer retention.
Arguably, customer experience is the only factor driving customer retention – and we all know how valuable customer retention is. There’s no complex science here, as it’s a matter of common sense; if a customer has consistently positive experiences, they’ll never want to leave.
If they have consistently negative experiences, they’ll leave and never look back.
4. More customer advocacy and referrals.
Customer advocacy is also important to consider. When customers have excellent experiences with your brand, they’re more likely to recommend your brand to other people and, in rarer instances, evangelize your brand.
This essentially serves as a form of free marketing, allowing you to naturally attract more people to your company without spending significant money on communicative collateral.
5. Better reviews.
It’s hard to overvalue reviews. When consumers consider making a purchase, one of the first things they do is a bit of proactive research to see what other people are saying about the product or service they’re considering.
They trust consumer reviews much more than they trust boastful marketing or advertising.
Investing in CX is correlated with getting better reviews in higher quantities, ultimately setting you up for long term success.
Collectively, these benefits make customer experience more than a worthwhile investment.
6 Ways to Optimize Customer Experience
If you want to master CX, it’s not enough to passively measure customer experiences.
You need to actively work to make those experiences better.
How can you do that?
1. Provide value
The first step is to provide as much value as possible.
You need to make your products, your services, and your brand appealing. You may be offering a relevant and high-quality experience, but the customers feel justified in spending the money necessary to get it?
This can be broken down into a number of different subcategories, like:
- Relevance. Are you offering something that’s relevant to your target audience? Half of this equation is targeting the right people, and the other half is giving them something they actually want. There are many ways to give customers positive experiences through relevance, such providing them with information, entertainment, new functionality, or higher efficiency.
- Quality. Are you offering something that’s better than most of the other options on the market? Does your product work as intended, and is it reliable?
- Convenience. Are customers able to quickly and easily learn how to use this product? If you’re providing a service, is it convenient for them to use when they need it? And is it convenient for them to access customer service?
- Ease of use. Is the product intuitive and streamlined? Do customers have any headaches or common issues preventing them from achieving customer success?
- Speed. If a customer wants to buy or use your product, can they get access to it immediately? When they want to use it, are there any obstacles preventing them from using it? And can they use it as effectively as they want?
- Personalization. If you make recommendations based on the individual, rather than mass marketing, you’re going to achieve much higher relevance and be perceived as much more valuable.
2. Brand Positioning and Strategy
Interactions and customer experiences begin long before people make their first purchase with you, and continue even after customers choose to leave.
You need to have a formally documented brand strategy if you want to pull this off.
- Authenticity. Your brand needs to be seen as authentic, as do the people working on behalf of your brand. If your taglines are gimmicky and if your people are irritable and robotic, your customers are going to have negative experiences.
- Accessibility. How easy is it for people to learn more about your brand? Are they able to interact with people representing your brand easily? If they run into issues or have questions, is there ample content to help them troubleshoot or find answers?
- Trustworthiness. Is your brand trustworthy? Are you truly an authority in this field and can people trust what you have to say? Are you transparent, open, and honest? People will have much more positive experiences if they see you as trustworthy throughout their journey.
- Consistency. Perhaps most importantly, your brand needs to be consistent. It’s not enough to have a list of core values for your brand posted on your website; you have to embody those values, and embody them across departments and across channels. Otherwise, customers are going to have conflicting experiences and they won’t even know what to think of you.
3. Customer Journey Mapping
Here’s an important principle about customer experience: it applies to every step of the customer journey.
It’s important when people are hearing about your brand for the first time.
It’s important when they’re practicing discovery and researching your offers.
it’s important when they’re reading marketing and advertising materials, and when they’re talking to salespeople.
It’s important when they’re using your products.
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It’s important when they’re talking to customer service to resolve issues.
It’s important on an ongoing basis as they build a relationship with your brand.
Customer journey looks a little bit different for different industries and different individual businesses. Because of that, it’s important to practice customer journey mapping.
In other words, you need to formally document the process the average customer goes through when becoming acquainted with your brand, engaging with it initially, and following through with ongoing experiences.
This way, you’ll be able to identify each important interaction and find a way to optimize it.
Are you confident you’re presenting your brand consistently across every stage of the journey?
4. Customer Experience Governance (and Collaboration)
Just as customer experience is it exclusive to any one stage of the customer journey, it’s also not exclusive to any one channel or anyone department.
If you want to present your brand consistently, and achieve consistent customer experiences, you need to establish a high-level plan.
This is sometimes referred to as customer experience governance, or CX governance.
With formal documentation for how customers are to be treated and guidelines for how to improve customer experiences, people in all departments will be better capable of collaboration and adhering to your high-level vision.
5. Communication Efforts
In addition to optimizing your products and services, you also need to think about how you communicate with customers. Every instance of communication counts, no matter how seemingly small it is.
- Marketing. How are you presenting your brand? Are you conveying accurate information in a way that appeals to your target audience? Do people like your marketing materials or find them annoying? What is the average person’s first impression of your company?
- Sales. When prospects begin to talk to salespeople, what are their interactions like? Do they feel welcomed and supported or pressured and dismissed? Do your salespeople embody your brand values and continue the impression you created in the earliest introductory stages?
- Customer service. How easy is it for people to get customer service? Do you provide transparent answers to customer questions? Are people satisfied with the interactions they have with your agents?
- Onboarding and first interactions. When customers use your product for the first time or begin to get acquainted with your services, how do they feel? Do they have a solid understanding of what to do? Do they appreciate the value of what you provide?
- Newsletters and updates. Ongoing newsletters, social media posts, notifications, and other updates will ensure consistent communication with your existing customers, providing them with more meaningful interactions.
- Forums. If you have customer forums or help forums available for your customers? If so, how do people feel about them?
6. Customer Feedback
Customer feedback is a direct line of information that allows you to evaluate how your CX strategy is working and how it can be improved.
Nobody knows better about your customer experiences than your customers themselves.
A combination of behavioral analysis, survey management, and passive monitoring will help you in many ways.
- Relationship management. Keep track of your customer relationships. How do people feel about your brand throughout their journey as a customer? Is their appreciation for your company growing or shrinking?
- Customer journey measurement. How do people go through the customer journey? Is it a smooth process, or do people struggle at certain points? Do you frequently lose people at a specific stage, and if so, what could be the cause?
- Interaction analysis. You can analyze almost every interaction you have with your customers at a granular level. How did people receive your latest social media announcement? How many people engaged with your latest email blast? Are your customer service interactions successful in resolving issues?
- Direct feedback. When customers get the opportunity to give you feedback, such as leaving ratings and reviews or responding to customer surveys, what do they say about your brand? This is one of the most important elements of your CX customer feedback analysis strategy; it’s your chance to learn what people really think and gather ample information to make meaningful changes to the rest of your CX strategy.
- Passive feedback. You should also look for ways to gather feedback from your audience. For example, how often do people mention your brand on social media and what do they have to say about your company?
6 KPIs for Customer Experience
What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for your CX strategy?
Your CX analytics plan should include the following:
1. Ratings and reviews.
How are customers reviewing your core products and services? What are they saying about your brand? How are they communicating about their experiences to other people?
2. Net promoter score (NPS).
NPS measures how likely a customer is to promote your brand to another person. Using short surveys, you can quickly assess whether a customer is a “promoter” who thinks your brand is awesome, a “detractor” who thinks your brand sucks, or a neutral party who hasn’t yet fallen on one side or the other.
3. Customer effort score (CES).
How much effort does it take a customer to reach a person, or use your product effectively? This is the mentality behind CES. The more effort a customer has to expend to get access to the products, services, or communications they need, the worse their experience is going to be.
4. Overall customer satisfaction (CSAT).
When customers report on their own satisfaction, how do they measure it, on average, on a scale of 1 to 10? CSAT gives you a high-level assessment.
5. Customer lifetime value (CLV).
Better CX leads to higher customer lifetime value; we established that early on. But are you actively measuring CLV? Pay close attention to this metric and monitor its changes as you roll out new initiatives and perfect your approach to customer interactions.
6. Customer/user retention.
Customer retention measures how many customers stick with your brand over time. The opposite of this is customer churn, or the number/percent of customers you lose in a given period. If customer churn is high, or if customer retention is low, you know you probably have a CX problem on your hands.
The 10 Best Customer Experience Tools
Now let’s take a look at some of the best customer experience tools on the market.
Zendesk is one of the most popular customer-centric software platforms available thanks to its comprehensiveness. It’s a complete customer communication management tool with built-in support for measuring important KPIs and plenty of integrations, so you can use it with other tools in your software suite.
Another top name is Hotjar, which lets you understand how users behave on your website, so you can see if they are getting tripped up anywhere through the customer experience.
You can conduct NPS surveys, view recordings of user sessions, and much more through their intuitive interface.
With Satmetrix, you can collect and publish feedback posted by customers on social media, contact customers directly, better understand and segment your audiences, and of course, analyze your efforts.
Formerly known as ClickTale, Contentsquare primarily helps you track and measure customer behaviors. With it, you’ll be able to record individual user sessions, study heatmaps, and see how customers engage with your brand in aggregate.
It also integrates directly with Google Analytics, so you can review even more valuable data.
Userpeek features an assortment of user experience testing tools so you can better understand what customers do when interacting with your brand – and why they do it.
You can target specific audiences, generate videos to monitor user behavior, and conduct testing with different variables so you can gradually optimize CX over time.
6. Adobe Experience Manager
Adobe’s Experience Manager is a content management system (CMS) primarily, but it’s an excellent tool for managing the content your customers consume at every stage of the customer journey.
It also includes support for managing paid advertising and even experimenting with marketing and advertising variations in AB tests.
ResponseTek is a customer experience tool designed to help you monitor and manage customer interactions all across the web, including your own website and social media.
There’s also an early warning system, so you can get alerted about a PR disaster before it’s too late to respond. Survey creation and management tools are also included.
With Gemius, you can take a deep dive into the behavioral patterns of your web visitors (and beyond). Audience segmentation tools, behavioral tracking, and heat maps are just the beginning; you can also create intuitive reports to stay on top of your latest metrics and see how your strategic improvements are working.
If you’re interested primarily in customer feedback management, Medallia could be the tool for you. You can create and submit customer surveys, then gather data from a range of different sources, such as web, phone, and email.
It also works well when integrated with almost any major ERP platform.
Are you sure your website provides the customer experience necessary to win loyalty and secure long-term retention? UserZoom will help you answer that question.
With it, you can conduct user research across a variety of channels, studying user behavior, testing for usability, and reviewing the data you gather.
These tools will help you with a variety of things, including:
- Customer interaction management. Most of these tools will make it easier to communicate with your customers across many different channels at once. You might be able to coordinate efforts across many different departments and throughout channels like social media, live chat on your website, email marketing, and even paid advertising.
- Customer data management. CX tools often have functionality similar to conventional customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. you may be able to store and manage customer data, and use that data to foster better interactions and improve consistency across departments and over time.
- Customer feedback management. As you could tell from our assessment of KPIs, customer feedback is your primary way to learn the results of your CX efforts – and improve upon them. That’s why most tools have built-in features for collecting and/or studying customer feedback.
- Measurement and analysis. Data analytics is crucial to keep improving your CX strategy. Every tool in the following list is going to have at least some support for measuring data, analyzing that data, and reporting.
Now you have a handle on customer experience.
You get why it’s important. You know how to improve it. You even have the tools to measure your progress.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.