Understand, measure and improve customer experiences

December 1, 2008 By    

If your company successfully completed a new tank installation on time and without problems, is the new customer event considered a success if all that Mrs. Smith (the new homeowner) remembers is grumpy workers and tracked flower beds?

Carl Hughes
Carl Hughes

It would be common for us to think that Mrs. Smith’s irritation will go away because – over time – our superior customer service will win her over.

This example points out the difference between what we measure in our business as customer service and what the customer experiences in the event. There is a growing approach in business toward attempting to understand, measure and improve the customers’ experiences as they shop, buy and receive services.

The theory is that it may not matter if we believe we have delivered on our promise to the customer if their experience in some part of the process was not positive.

Customers form opinions

Mrs. Smith’s recollection was likely the rudeness of the service technician, that a service truck tracked her lawn or that scheduling of the service was difficult. Your good installation work may not get the full credit from the customer that you think. Her experience may differ from your version of service.

All of your customers are formulating an opinion through the many experiences with your company on a daily basis. These include all phone conversations, marketing pieces, deliveries and service work. These are all touch points, meaning any customer contact with your company, however small. These individual experiences can be positive or negative.

Generally, positive experiences don’t occur by accident. Also, negative experiences can accumulate in a customer’s mind. We may have known that the customer’s perception is important, but we may not have considered the many touch-point experiences that go into the customer’s overall opinion and rating of our companies.

Customer loyalty

Customer Experience Management (CEM) is the process of controlling the events and interactions that make up a customer’s experience within our individual propane companies. Our customers interact with us when we make deliveries, send them invoices, respond to questions over the phone, take service calls and perform deliveries. The book “The Experience Economy,” by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, introduces this original concept of touch points and customer experiences.

The goal of CEM is to create more positive experiences at the touch points, to reduce the negative experiences and to create solutions for customers when they do encounter negative experiences. The sum of these touch points hopefully will create a total positive experience – this is the formulation process of customer loyalty.

Implement your CEM plan

Consider these steps as you implement your Customer Experience Management plan:

1. Take inventory
Determine all of your company’s touch points.

2. Get input – Assess your current service delivery’s effectiveness.

3. Improve – Enrich the customer’s experience.

4. Integrate
Include all touch points for a single customer into one plan, including deliveries, scheduling, servicing, invoicing, marketing, etc.

5. Ingrain – Implement customer service and leadership training so all employees have ownership of the plan, and a cultural change takes place.

Company advocates

Serving the customer is a complex process beyond just doing the work. Successful propane companies understand that the customer’s experience is the ultimate output and they script the customer’s experience at each touch point. At the end of the day, the sum components of these interactions create an appealing consumer experience.

Positive changes in CEM often do not require large capital dollars to be invested. Simple, small gestures can have an out-of-proportion, positive impact. Successfully done, the CEM process builds customer loyalty and ultimately secures customers for the longer term at the highest level, which is when they become advocates for your company.

Carl Hughes is senior vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at
Chughes@InergyServices.com or 816-842-8181.

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