Give Customers a Buying Experience They Can't Resist
When people talk about the customer experience, the thinking gets lofty quickly. The word "delight" is dropped a lot, people cite things like the American Girl Store or Nordstrom -- and soon over-the-top seems like what the norm should be.
The experiences provided by the very best at creating experiences are great because they fit their product, their customers, and the objectives of both groups. But what if you're just buying a screen door, or a car battery, or lumber? What you want from your experience is the easiest transaction possible.
The underpinnings of a great customer experience are being easy to work with and being effortless to buy from. Is your website a mess? Are your employees surly? Are things customers want frequently out of stock? Then your customers' experiences are bad, and you're hard to buy from. Soon your customers will be having their experiences with someone else.
Business basics aren't always the culprit in derailing experiences and making it difficult to do business. Last weekend, I happened across an Apple Store, and I thought it would be a great time to swap the defective charger that came with my new iPhone for one that worked.
Apple is hailed as a customer experience expert. Imagine my surprise when I was told I needed an appointment to get my cord looked at. Now, I appreciate appointments for things like a fried logic board in a MacBook -- but a charger that doesn't work? That made no sense. The Apple Store's process was making it hard for me to do business with the company.
Luckily, one of the managers overheard my incredulous remarks and grabbed a new charger, bypassing the process. In this case, the manager grasped the value making it easy for customers to do business.
That's in the B2C context. Being easy to do business with is even more critical in an indirect sales environment, where resellers may have multiple options to select from. How do you claw past competitors and become the go-to vendor? Price always plays a role, but the idea of customer experience is strongly at play here, too. Are you the easiest vendor to work with?
Like all of us, partners have a finite amount of time. If reselling your product requires them to a visit a disorganized portal, leap through hoops for marketing development funds, struggle to get the proper training, or search for marketing materials, you're robbing them of their precious time. That offsets any price advantage you may have brought to the table. It also ruins the partner's experience and is likely to cause them to avoid you as an option in making future deals.
Customers Are Not Canaries
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.
The process that's good for the company may not be good for the customer -- like the idea that any service visit to an Apple store, no matter how minor the issue, must be by appointment only.
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. 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.
Efficiency, organization and process are important to business success. However, even more essential are customers -- and their ability to come away from interactions with you satisfied.
If you're hard to buy from, then it doesn't matter how efficient you are. By the same token, nothing is more efficient than customers being able to buy from you easily. Build your processes from the customer forward -- not from your business issues backward -- and you'll avoid creating roadblocks that keep you from succeeding with your customers.