The way a customer perceives your business influences the way they interact with it. A positive customer experience can encourage them to do more business with you, while a negative one can turn them away and may even drive them to turn their friends away.
What an excellent customer experience looks like, however, keeps evolving. The way people interact with brands is always changing and consumer expectations for brands continue to grow. Approaches you took to improve your customer experience a few years ago may not be as effective anymore.
The changing nature of customer experience
Technology has reconfigured the brand-customer relationship. While consumer touchpoints with your brand may have once been limited to just your online store, your physical locations, and maybe an account on one social media network, today your brand has to be accessible on an increasing number of channels and platforms to ensure you reach all potential customers.
The COVID pandemic has also recalibrated consumer expectations. Convenient offerings like curbside pickup, buy online/pick up in store (BOPIS), appointment scheduling, and virtual queues really took off during the pandemic. Consumers have come to expect a level of personalization from brands as a result.
Related: See how Louis Vuitton leverages technology to create luxury check-in and personalized shopping experiences globally.
These innovations have affected the way businesses have to think about customer experience. There are new channels to focus on and new customer needs to meet.
Risks of bad customer experiences
It can be tempting to ignore negative customer experiences because of the resources and work involved, but the risks of doing so can be massive.
In the short term, a negative customer experience can cause a loss in sales and customer churn. If customers feel undervalued, they’ll simply turn to a competitor. And this decision can be made quickly. A Consumer Reports survey found that 50% of people stop mid-transaction when they encounter bad customer service.
In the long term, if you let these negative experiences keep building up, the consequences can be more drastic. Multiple negative customer reviews will damage brand reputation, thwarting all future marketing efforts. And unhappy customers put a strain on your employees: the work environment worsens, affecting your customer service as your staff stop identifying with your brand and its ideals.
How to improve customer experience
You can approach improving customer experience from a variety of angles, but the core goal is to make your customer feel more valued. If you're not sure where to start, here are some areas you can focus on.
1. Test your customer flow
The best way to find points where you can improve the customer experience is to have someone go through the journeys that are available to your customers.
Take a look at your customer flow and identify any areas of friction. To do this, you can have employees take on the role of a customer or recruit external participants who have had no experience with your brand. Taking the time to methodically stress-test each step in a customer flow will surface areas ripe for improvement and give you a place to start.
2. Take inspiration from competitors
Look at your competitors’ customer service and customer flows to see what you like and don't like about their approach. Then, you can decide how to adopt or respond to what works for your competitors into your own business.
This helps in three key ways:
- You can learn from mistakes without needing to make them.
- You get a more complete sense of the market.
- You don't need to start from scratch.
3. Know your customers, their expectations, and how they change.
Your customer flow(s) will only work well if you have a dynamic understanding of your various customer profiles – and adjust operations accordingly.
Make sure you revisit your customer personas on a regular basis with an eye to assessing how you can elevate customer experience. Consider how you can make changes to your customer flow (such as messaging, or increasing/decreasing touchpoints) to best serve each customer type.
With a consistent audit and analysis of your customer profiles, you might develop a feel for the way their expectations or purchasing habits will change in the future. If you can act on these predictions effectively, you will improve your brand agility and ensure you keep reaching a target market that is receptive to your brand.
4. Improve the waiting experience
Nothing frustrates someone more than finding out they have to spend their valuable time waiting for a service. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 66% of people are “highly annoyed” by long waits. Because so much is at stake when it comes to wait times, they’re often a great area to target to improve customer experience overall.
For physical stores, this could mean adopting touchless options so customers can complete tasks on their phones instead of waiting in line to do them. For example, you could offer QR-based check-ins and email or text guests documents they can e-sign instead of having them queue up to fill in the same information.
Other ideas to improve customer experience you should implement include:
- Go virtual. Eliminate physical lines and give your customers flexibility with virtual queues. Without having to wait in a static line, people are free to do what they want, making the waiting experience feel like there wasn’t any wait at all.
- Reduce wait times. Even a short wait can have a negative impact on customer experience. Two-thirds of customers will not complete a business transaction because of poor customer service, according to research by American Express. A poor queuing experience can derail a customer’s perception of your brand very fast, so reducing wait times is of utmost importance. Learn how to reduce wait times here.
- Keep customers informed. You can take a customer's phone number or email address so that you can let them know if there have been any delays, changes, cancellations, or postponements. With support for 2-way communication, this is also a good way to get immediate customer feedback and stay in the loop with your guests.
5. Make sure all customers feel equal
Most companies have identified some VIP customers who spend a lot on the company's products and may be brand evangelists. It can be tempting to hyperfocus on the way you treat these customers, not giving anywhere near as much importance to new and smaller customers.
By doing that visibly, though, you risk alienating a large part of your customer base. The unprioritized customers will likely take their business somewhere else where they feel more valued.
One of the areas where preferential treatment is most visible is in physical queues. Separate lines for select customers (e.g., a priority line at the airport) makes those in a general queue feel slighted and inferior.
With a virtual queue management system, you can store customer notes, identify VIPs, and then invisibly give them perks like shorter waits without upsetting your other customers.
6. Get personal
Consumers have come to expect personalized experiences from brands. Remembering customer preferences and then customizing their experience is a surefire way to make your guests feel valued.
Make sure you have a system for collecting relevant customer data and preferences. That way, you can curate the right experience for every customer and open up new marketing opportunities with maximum relevance.
7. Offer convenient ways to interact with your brand or staff
According to a recent survey, 55% of people under 35 prefer shopping online, while 57% of people over 35 prefer shopping at the physical location. Since so many people can connect with your brand across both online and offline channels, you can't neglect either.
Instead, you need to adopt an omnichannel approach, seamlessly weaving your channel mix together. For example, if a customer wants to buy something that's out of stock in a physical store, many companies now have a system that lets an employee place an online order for them so the product ships directly to their home.
Make sure that customers can leave one channel at any point and pick up from the same point on a different channel, rather than starting over. For example, if a shirt wasn’t available in a desired size in-store, you can place an order for them or text a link to the customer on the spot so they have the option to make the purchase themselves.
If you give customers the option of either self-service or assisted service, they should be able to switch from self- to assisted service without restarting the process. If demand is high, consider using a virtual waitlist when a guest requires assistance to offer them flexibility and transparency.
8. Act on customer feedback
People are more willing to overlook negative customer experiences when they feel like you're doing work to improve. They also have a better perception of your brand if they feel like you value their input. Using their feedback to improve your processes accomplishes both tasks.
It's not enough to just make the changes they've suggested, though. You then need to let them know what you’ve done as a result of their feedback. If customers give you contact information along with their comments, you should send them an email or text message letting them know the changes you've put in place to make sure future customers won't face the same problems they did.
Even if their feedback is unreasonable or asks for a change beyond your capabilities, you can still make the customer feel valued by responding empathetically. You could let them know why their specific suggestion isn't feasible and what you will do instead to improve on the points they gave you.
This all, of course, assumes that you are proactively collecting customer feedback in the first place. Make sure you maintain an open line of communication and that customers have an easy way to get in touch.
9. Harness operational analytics
It can be challenging to find time to look at a bird’s-eye view of your business to uncover operational snags and delays. But operational data can be incredibly valuable in surfacing ways to improve your customer experience.
Much of this work can be automated with a virtual queue management system like Waitwhile. The platform captures and processes operational data as you use it, surfacing recommendations that help your business run more efficiently.
You’ll be able to see when your business is busiest, which employees and services are most in-demand, and where some changes should be made to make customers happy. Learn more here.
Prioritizing customer experience
Since consumer expectations will never cease to evolve, neither should your commitment to delivering the best customer experience possible.
With a plethora of choices for consumers and the barrier to entry for competitors at an all-time low, your brand must consistently strive to make all of your customers happy to remain relevant.