'You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try and sell it and I’ve made this mistake probably more than anyone else in this room. And I’ve got the scars to prove it.'
Believe it or not, those are the words of Steve Jobs.
If you’ve based your opinion of him on Danny Boyle’s recent biopic, you might find such humility and introspection hard to swallow, but the quote is real and the sentiment is genuine: even for a maverick like Jobs, the customer had to be the focal point. Everything else could follow.
As Scott Albro of TOPO says: 'The buying experience is the most important thing in sales and marketing. Our research shows that delivering a great experience to prospective buyers has the biggest impact on whether or not they will buy something from you.'
Surely that should be price, or performance, right? It might be true in B2C - but when people make hardheaded business decisions they’re willing to eat a little bitter to get to the sweet. Aren’t they?
I’ll let Scott answer that one.
'The overall buying experience actually outranks product and price.'
'It’s a surprising, counterintuitive data point that got me thinking that the Steve Jobs quote could be remixed into something like: “You’ve got to start with the buying experience and work back to the revenue - not the other way round.'
TOPO’s research shows that, if you want rapid growth, this approach pays dividends. 'Our benchmarking shows that companies that deliver great buying experiences grow twice as fast as companies that deliver average experiences,' writes Albro.
Why does it do that? It’s incredibly simple, really.
'This faster growth is just a by-product of the buying experience’s ability to deliver more traffic, higher conversion rates, larger average deal sizes, shorter sales cycles, lower churn, and more customer referrals.'
'It’s nothing more than providing buyers with what they want - a great experience - and then watching critical revenue metrics improve as a result.'
So far, so exciting. Get your buyer experience right and watch everything fall into place. It’s taking buyer-centric selling to the next level.
But how do we do that, exactly?
Find Out What Your Peers Are Doing - And Do It Better
'[S]ome businesses aren’t comfortable providing an average buying experience,' writes Johann Risser on the SimpliField blog. 'Instead, they wish to provide their customers with an exceptional buying experience.'
'These businesses redefine the customer experience in their industry and not only keep customers, but turn their customers into advocates for their brand - who share their enthusiasm about the company with others.'
Yet most brands aren’t providing a great experience. In fact, most brands aren’t even managing a good one. A Forrester survey from 2012 showed that only 37% of brands received good or excellent customer experience index scores. The vast majority, 63%, got a rating ranging from OK to very poor.
The average buying experience sucks.
And what are the consequences of such an experience? 89% of customers do their business elsewhere, according to RightNow, and that means losing a heck of a lot of money: a report by Genesys showed that the average annual value of each customer relationship lost to a competitor or abandoned is $289.
It’s worth setting the bar high, then. But from which company do you take your cues? What if you look around at your competitors and aren’t particularly impressed with what you see?
Apple wanted to set the bar so high that they had to look to a completely different industry for inspiration. Their customer experience benchmark was the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, a brand synonymous with luxury and class. Crucially, it’s a hospitality brand - where the experience is the product.
'From its study of the Ritz-Carlton, Apple developed the Genius Bar (a repurposing of the concierge station in the lobby of [the] hotel: just like the concierges at the Ritz. The Apple Genius Bar is staffed with empathetic, knowledgeable people who will, so to speak, help you get to where you want to go), as well as their very specific approach to greeting customers as they enter the Apple Store,' writes Micah Solomon for Inc.
Set your sights as high as Apple: Aim for the Ritz. Pretty soon your customers will find they can check out any time they like but they can never leave.
Keep An Open Mind When It Comes To Ideas
One of Apple’s strengths was that it wasn’t snobby. It didn’t have to invent everything - if someone had a better idea, they would use it. Nor do they have to use everything they produce themselves, just because it’s there.
'[T]he technology sold by Apple, or used by Apple in support of the customer experience, doesn’t have to be invented at Apple,' writes Solomon. 'And the technology Apple has lying around at its disposal doesn’t have to end up being used…
'Apple, when it is at its best (which isn’t always, unfortunately), refuses to let technological capability drive the customer experience. Siri, to pick just one small example, wasn’t developed at Apple. Nor was the mouse, nor was the graphical user interface.'
Smash The Silos
Rather than being a smooth, continuous experience, parts of the buying process are often separated into silos - and customers can sense that. For example, sales and marketing nonalignment shows up as a roadbump - or a roadblock - in the buying experience as well as in the organization. It’s time to go in for a little buyer experience management, folks.
'Buyer experience management (BXM) means understanding how buyers perceive their interactions with a brand, and then delivering value during those interactions so buyers (and non-buyers) become brand advocates,' writes Lisa Arthur of Forbes. 'Thinking in terms of BXM helps tear down silos, especially the ones between sales and marketing.'
Think about how customers are feeling as they are passed from marketing through inside sales to field sales and ask yourself whether that is a satisfactory process. In fact, learning to look at your sales process from a customer perspective and learning to listen to their criticism is very important indeed - as we’ll look at now.
Walk A Mile In Your Customer’s Shoes
It seems obvious, but despite companies acknowledging the need to listen to their customers, an astounding number don’t actually know how to do this in practice.
'The idea of being easy to do business with seems obvious, but it gets sidelined by what I like to call “ignorance via introspection” - the tendency of companies to focus on their own processes while ignoring the effects of those process changes on the customer experience,' writes Christopher J. Bucholtz for CRMBuyer.
'The process that’s good for the company may not be good for the customer… In the indirect sales model, a vendor might have requirements for training and marketing for its partners designed to fulfill its needs for visibility and easier management,' he continues. 'However, if the vendor creates a process for fulfilling those requirements that partners find onerous, then it will backfire.
'The trick is to examine process changes not just for how they affect the operation of the business but for how they affect the customer’s experience with your company. This is an exercise you should pursue during planning - your customers and partners do not deserve to be your guinea pigs or your alarm system.'
Customers can smell insincerity a mile away. If you say you offer friendly, round-the-clock customer service, you’d better make sure that’s exactly what it is, otherwise you’re going to be met with a severe lack of trust from your disgruntled customer base as they find themselves being passed from pillar to post while in search of an answer. Let customers down at any stage of the buying process and they will punish you.
And there are clear, proven benefits of good customer care. 'Happy customers who get their issue resolved tell four to six people about their experience,' writes Brian Honigman, digital marketing executive at Marc Ecko Enterprises, on the Kissmetrics blog. 'Don’t act as a nameless or faceless business; genuinely talk with your customers as a person representing the business.’
'Address your customers by name, and tell them your name at the very beginning of your interaction. Talk to your customers as you would in person, not like you would in a press release. Examples of this are noticeable when it comes to customer service on social media, where the genuine shine through and the others seem forced and uptight.'
Use Excellent Customer Service To Show How Good Your Own Product Is
Earlier this year, Oracle unveiled its new accelerated buying experience, with which they completely revamped their purchasing process for their cloud services. Processes that had previously taken weeks or months could now be done in days or minutes.
And what’s really clever is, they did this using their own technology. During the buying process itself, customers are given a demonstration of the capabilities of Oracle’s cloud software. As Oracle’s Chris Murphy noted in Forbes, it’s been a huge success, its own software enabling superb customer service.
'[N]ow that the accelerated buying experience has been rolled out, the project team is able to quickly fine-tune and improve the purchasing process based on user feedback, because the system runs on cloud applications,' writes Murphy.
'For example, when European customers asked for quotes in US dollars rather than their home currency, Oracle’s IT team made the required changes to enable the customer request within a matter of hours and launched them as part of a weekly update to Oracle CPQ Cloud.'
Quick, helpful reactions like Oracle’s are essential to customer retention. It shows they are listening to their customers and are prepared to make the relevant changes to their product, displaying a dynamism and willingness to listen that not only inspire loyalty among existing customers, but will have those existing customers telling their friends to get on board, too.
In fact, a 2013 survey by Zendesk showed that 69% of people surveyed defined good customer service as 'receiving a quick resolution to a reported problem.’ Meanwhile, 72% of those surveyed had been frustrated by having to speak to multiple different employees about the same problem.
Get your customer service right and it will pay dividends in the long run.
Clarity is hugely important in building trust with a customer. If there is something that confuses them as they navigate your site, there is every chance that they will feel they are being scammed - and your deal is suddenly dead in the water.
'As a customer navigates your online store, will they see a clear reason why a site-wide sale isn’t being applied to their order?' writes Stuart Leung on the Salesforce blog. 'Can they easily access information about delivery timeframes and returns? Will they be able to understand when and how discounts can be applied?’
'If the answer to any of these or similar questions is a “no,” then you may be coming up short on the customer-service front - and could be sacrificing sales as a result.'
Again, this is about looking at things from the customer’s perspective. You have created the website and have in-depth, insider knowledge of the product. What’s obvious and straightforward to you might not be that way for the customer.
Before you go live, make sure you get your site thoroughly tested by people who have no connection to the company. If they can’t understand it, then your customers won’t be able to either. When they can’t find an answer to their question, 45% of customers will abandon an online transaction. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table.
The Bottom Line: Make It Easy
Listen to Steve Jobs. Start with the customer experience and work backwards. What is the main factor you look for as a customer yourself? A simple, straightforward, satisfying experience. Don’t make it hard.
'If you’re hard to buy from, then it doesn’t matter how efficient you are,' writes Bucholtz.
It’s hard to beat that as a summation.
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About the Author
A serial entrepreneur and digital nomad, Geoffrey has been running his own marketing consultancy for the past year.More Content by Geoffrey Walters