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8 Steps

How To Deliver Exceptional Customer Experiences
Frank Prenninger | 16.09.2009
In today’s marketplace, delivering superior experiences throughout the customer lifecycle is the critical factor for driving sustainable competitive advantage, customer loyalty and business success. The question is, how precisely do we drive those experiences? In this article we will explore specific steps and best practices to deliver superior customer experiences. At RightNow, we call this our “8 Steps to Delivering Exceptional Customer Experiences” approach. This approach can be used as a high-level roadmap for establishing a customer experience strategy. It’s important to understand our viewpoint regarding what drives superior customer experiences, and what comprises a customer experience strategy.

Before taking a deeper look into these eight steps, let’s briefly review the strategic importance of delivering exceptional customer experiences. This will set a foundation to help us better understand the eight steps later.

One of the major trends we’ve seen from working with executives is a direct result of the fact that the global marketplace and the internet have given customers unprecedented choice and information at their fingertips. The resultant customer empowerment and control has become a disruptive force in business today. This is especially true during this economic trying times.

Just this year, BusinessWeek ran a cover article about the importance of keeping customers happy with extreme service in a tough economic environment. (March 2009) Keeping customers happy is more critical than ever when service can mean survival or demise of your business. As business across the world trying to rein in costs, skittish customers want more attention, better quality and greater value for their money. This tough economy has made starker difference between companies that put customers first and those that sacrifice loyalty for short-term gain. Companies that provide great customer service are treating their best customers better than ever and they are more likely to win and keep business in good times and bad.
Here is a more common example we can all relate to - when you buy a new car, chances are you’ll do all your research on models, price, features, and color online. You walk into the dealership with more knowledge about your target vehicle than the salesperson and you dictate the terms by which you will buy the car. In some cases, you don’t even need to enter the dealership – for example, if you are a member of USAA, they will use their combined member buying power to negotiate the terms of the deal for you.

The global marketplace and the internet are giving customers unprecedented choice over whom to do business with. Increased access to information, reduced switching costs and easier access to products and services are empowering customers beyond historical norms to easily do business with whomever they choose, causing a disruptive force in business. With this empowerment comes a significantly higher set of customer expectations. The message is clear that a good product or a low price will not guarantee competitive advantage or customer loyalty today. Customers want a company that delivers a great customer experience. If you don’t provide this experience, another company will to get your business. Why? Today, customers are empowered to easily find and switch to other companies due to the reduced switching costs and increased access to information I mentioned earlier. As a result, winning organizations in today’s economy are transforming their business growth strategies to include a stronger emphasis on the customer. Specifically, they are creating competitive advantage and driving bottom-line results by delivering a superior customer experience. To do this, organizations are formulating strategies, initiatives and programs to improve the customer experiences they deliver.

The challenge is how to fund these customer focused initiatives.  As a matter of fact, many of the business leaders we work with don’t have any additional dollars to fund such initiatives and are expected, if not mandated, to do more with less.  Their leadership is expecting them to deliver an extraordinary customer experience while at the same time reduce operating costs. This creates something of a dilemma: either spend money (you don’t have) to improve the customer experience OR cut costs and risk losing customers.

While most business agree conceptually with the goal of improving the customer experience, a common challenge typically stands in the way. The challenge is how to fund these customer focused initiatives. More specifically, the challenge is how to break the lockstep relationship between delivering superior customer experiences and the cost of providing them. This is where RightNow comes in; RightNow breaks this lockstep relationship, empowering companies to deliver superior customer experiences while controlling the costs to do so.

How? RightNow’s solution is premised on the fact that the key to driving superior customer experiences is knowledge. Specifically, it’s driven by putting highly relevant knowledge in the hands of your customers and your frontline employees, and gathering knowledge from each of those interactions to enhance each subsequent experience. The challenge then to providing superior experiences is to broadly knowledge-enable your customers and your frontline employees at every point of action. RightNow achieves this by delivering what we call “knowledge at the point of action”. And we do it while reducing costs.

For this to be effective, it must be part an overall customer experience strategy. This strategy must be designed to deliver the right knowledge to the right audiences through the right channel at the right time to drive the right desired outcomes. This requires an effective orchestration of strategy and execution to understand who your customer segments are, what the segments are demanding from you, what you want the experiences of these segments to be, and deciding how you are going to provide it to them. In other words, you need to develop an experience management strategy around each segment, to deliver a customer experience tailored for that segment, based upon the role that customer segment plays in your customer segment portfolio. This requires aligning your business’s processes, policies, systems, organization, and even culture to achieve those goals. Once you’ve achieved this, you can successfully deliver superior customer experiences to your customer segments.

With this in mind, let’s look at RightNow’s overall approach to delivering exceptional customer experiences. The eight steps we will be discussing shortly are part of this.

First, as we’ve already mentioned, RightNow’s core value proposition is helping companies improve their customers’ experience in a cost-effective manner. This is a win-win situation for both you and your customers. The customer is satisfied, even delighted, and may even become your advocate. Companies, in turn, achieve increased customer loyalty, sustainable competitive advantage, business growth, and profitability.

Second—and this is what we will be speaking about from now onward—RightNow has identified eight steps, or best practices, to drive superior customer experiences. These best practices impact your customer-facing activities. They include everything from how your employees interact with customers, to how customers help themselves, to how you solicit and act on customer feedback, and more. They take an “outside-in” approach to improving customer experiences; in other words, they optimize your business from the customer’s perspective, ensuring any interactions spanning departments are conducted seamlessly and transparently to the customer. RightNow identified these best practices from tens years of experience consulting with over 1,900 customers across a variety of industry verticals, geographies, and sizes.

Third, RightNow’s solution is provided as software as a service. This means you use it over the internet, while we assume the responsibility of managing it at our own facilities. Your role is simply that of using the software; we do everything else. This model reduces your risk, because you simple use our software on a subscription basis. You assume no capital expenditure costs or large up-front investments. RightNow provides all the infrastructure and other services that traditionally required large investments—including hardware, databases, facilities, upgrades, maintenance, technical staff, and more. Since RightNow assumes these costs and responsibilities, you are free to focus on your business, rather than managing IT. You get a more flexible software application solution, reducing financial and business risk to you.

Fourth, RightNow’s solution is highly modular, so you can focus on your highest-impact application solution needs first. Whether your highest priority is the call center, customer self-service, agent-assisted service, sales automation, marketing automation, voice-enabled CRM, or something else, RightNow’s modularized solution allows you to approach solutions as granularly or as broadly as needed, and in the phases that best meet your needs. Similarly, you have the flexibility to address the needs of individual departments, groups of departments, or the company as a whole.

What makes all this possible—and we will discuss this in greater detail later—is RightNow’s common knowledge foundation, which is infused across the entire solution suite. This common knowledge foundation underlies RightNow’s solution, and drives consistent customer experiences by delivering actionable, relevant and timely information in a consistent manner to the frontlines, regardless of which channel the customer chose to interact with you by, and regardless of which business function the interaction is about, such as sales, service, or marketing. One common, consistent knowledge foundation supports all of it.

Finally, with RightNow, you start with results and build on success from day one. This contrasts to the traditional enterprise software approach of starting with infrastructure and waiting for months to see results. RightNow’s common knowledge foundation drives great customer experiences from day one, and then continuously grows value exponentially every day thereafter. RightNow’s services, technologies, and corporate culture are strongly focused on delivering high impact results from the very first day, and optimizing results over time.

This brings us to the key point here, an exploration of the eight key steps for delivering exceptional customer experiences. In summary, they include:

1) Establishing a shared customer knowledge foundation throughout your company
Using that knowledge foundation to drive customer interactions including
2) self-help and
3) agent-assisted channels and
4) through any communication channel
5) Soliciting and immediately acting upon customer feedback
6) Ensuring customer experiences are delivered transparently when then span departments or people
7) Engaging customers proactively with relevant, personalized, and timely communications
8) Measuring how well you deliver customer experiences with the goal of improving them continuously

If you embrace and execute upon these best practices, then your company will deliver exceptional customer experiences, and you will have a strategic advantage.