Product Management's Sinking Ship: Customer Experience as Brand Differentiator
Customer experience has taken centre stage in the battle for brand differentiation.
Not only do consumers expect businesses to align with their values, but there is heightened demand for continuous and consistent personalised service at every touchpoint.
Companies wanting to compete on quality of service will do well to place customer experience at the heart of their product management processes.
But how is this done? In what ways should customer experience be implemented into product development? In our view, the product management process must take a far broader horizon in its sights.
Focus should reach beyond the function or deployment of the product. Every link in the product chain must deliver exceptional experiences or the brand will suffer. To avoid a sinking ship, companies should organise processes around customer experience from end-to-end.
Below, we identify five key areas that product management professionals should be considering such that all touchpoints are covered.
American consultancy firm, Econsultancy, recently published an amalgam of reports from McKinsey, PwC, Salesforce and others, that provide stats on how customer experience not only generates increased revenue, but also how consumers expect instantaneous, consistent and personalised interactions at all levels. In the face of this, companies need to up their game in order to stand out from the competition. As pointed out by Forbes in this recent article, customer experience is the new brand.
Businesses who want to succeed when it comes to customer experience should ensure that there is a high degree of organisational coherence. As we wrote previously on our blog, coherence requires a strong alignment from end-to-end between the board and the customer objectives.
All employees within the organisation should thus have a strong customer mindset and a clear understanding of the why and how of its customer service strategy. Whether at the hiring stage or by implementing rigorous training, it’s essential that staff are knowledgeable about each product and can deliver high levels of service and after-care.
Simply put, product management should be aligned with customer experience from end-to-end.
One company with a noticeably coherent culture is FedEx, who have made customer service their most important business strategy. FedEx’s ability to adhere to their promise of delivering packages quickly, and on time, has been due to the fact that every board member, employee and operation within the business is aligned with customer service as the ultimate purpose.
As we have written before, the high demand for exceptional customer experience also requires organisational agility so that continually-changing customer demands can be handled quickly and efficiently. Maintaining the mindset of evolution and continuous improvement and working collaboratively across the organisation will further enable companies to meet the need for personalised service.
Agile methods can also change the way products teams are organised, such that they are focused more around the customer experience, rather than just delivery. This encourages teams to build, measure and test the experience of their customers by creating sound feedback mechanisms. Combined with investment in technologies that enable real-time contact and support, companies adopting agile processes will be able to meet customer needs at all stages.
Planning beyond product functionality to encompass the different ways a product might be used is another important part of integrating customer experience into the product management life cycle.
Creating seamless experiences is a vital element of this because the product is mapped out along different points of a customer’s journey.
For example, customers who purchase tickets online for Disney World do not simply acquire tickets to the grounds. Their purchase triggers a home delivery of ‘smart’ wrist bands which are multi-functional and operate as hotel room keys, a way to reserve rides and make payments. At the end of their visit, customers are given an automated follow-up ‘thank you’ and some memorable photos.
Disney’s customer experience has been carefully considered to map out how the product might be needed in different ways, resulting in a seamless experience with little effort from the customer.
A survey conducted by B2B International shows that only 14% of B2B companies have a customer-centric culture. That will need to change, especially in the face of other stats that indicate 80% of consumers would pay more for better service.
Product management plans need to involve key strategies for successfully delivering high degrees of customer service at all levels, such that ample attention is given to efficiency of maintenance and support.
Critical amongst these is personalised service and the ability to build relationships with customers while creating an element of surprise and enjoyment around products.
Perhaps no other company does this better than Apple, whose customer service model is premised on satisfying the customer through continuously solving problems and generating unique experiences.
From unboxing to after-care, Apple have ensured that their product management processes extend to customers in a highly personalised way so that attention is given at every service touchpoint. Take their Genius program, for example, where technical staff are on hand at each Apple store to solve any customer queries.
Supplier and Partnering Strategy
Beyond user experience and service, every aspect of the product lifecycle, including supply and demand, must be geared towards the customer. Suppliers, as well as partners, should be carefully chosen in order to meet the criteria for superior customer experience.
IBM’s recent paper on B2B customer engagement shows that while two-thirds of product manufacturing suppliers indicate that customer experience is important for differentiating the brand, only one-third said they are effective at it.
Within IBM’s report are examples of companies who are leading the way in customer experience. One of those is CEMEX, a global building materials company with a strong customer-centric culture that recently launched a fully digital customer integration program. The result has been faster, efficient service for customers with real-time information and a strong international customer base of 20,000 — 60% of which are recurring.
Suppliers play a crucial role within the chain of service delivery. If a company has an excellent product, the delivery and supply of that product also has to meet the same level of customer satisfaction.
Customer experience has become a key factor in brand differentiation. While having a sleek or attractive product is now a given, it is no longer enough.
Not only should businesses be obsessive about customer service, but the strategies for offering exceptional experience should be thoughtfully integrated into the product management process.
As we outlined above, this requires:
- Strong organisational coherence so that customer experience is part of the culture, aligned with the objectives of the business
- Agile methods to support ever-changing customer demand and real-time feedback
- Strategic plans to build a seamless customer experience that considers product use and interaction
- Sound personalised service that provides continuous communication, support and after-care
- The creation of supplier and partnership strategies which include businesses who share the same commitment to customer experience
This list is not exhaustive. Our recommendation is that a clear vision on how to deliver better customer experience should be a guiding light to highlight areas where an organisation may need to be improved.
By widening the lens beyond product functionality and delivery, it may reveal new ways of improving experience at each and every touchpoint.
Related Reading and References
- Finding X, Who Owns Audible? Amazon or Its Customers?
- Finding X, Fortune Favours the Obsessed
- Kieron McCann, Business Agility in the Customer Experience Age, B2B Marketing
- Hutch Morzaria, Customer Experience Quality & Training: How to Build a Winning Framework within Your Organization, Comm100
- James Semon, Why Partner Experience Matters, Oracle.com