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Communication is important to any relationship, and it's no less important in the relationships that businesses have with their customers. When it comes to communicating, your company’s accessibility, availability, responsiveness, courtesy and professionalism, consistent voice, and consistent messaging go a long way toward building strong relationships and delivering a great experience for your customers.
Sadly, communications are often an overlooked piece of the customer experience and the overall customer experience strategy. And yet, like in any relationship, communications are often the point where the experience breaks down – or are the root cause for a breakdown.
How can we ensure that doesn’t happen?
Let me start by defining “customer experience,” and then I’ll answer that question. I like to start with this definition to ensure that we’re all on the same page.
Customer experience is (a) the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a company over the course of the relationship and includes (b) the customer's feelings, emotions, and perceptions of the brand during the course of those interactions.
Customer experience is not customer service. The two are not one and the same. Customer service is just one of those interactions that I mention in my definition of customer experience. Need a better way to differentiate the two? Use Chris Zane’s definition: Customer service is what happens when the customer experience breaks down.
Now, back to the question I posed about ensuring that communications aren’t overlooked as part of the customer experience. How do we make sure they’re integrated into your customer experience strategy and design – and executed well? Simple. With journey maps.
What is a journey map? It’s an illustration made by walking in your customers’ shoes to capture their steps, their needs, and their perceptions for some interaction they have with your company, some journey they are taking to achieve a desired outcome. Journey mapping is a creative process that allows companies to understand – and then to redesign – the customer experience. The output is not just a pretty picture; once the map is developed, it is meant to be a catalyst for change.
Why journey mapping? It’s a learning process! When you map the customer steps for a specific journey, you will be jotting down every touch the customer has with your company, including any communications she receives from the company, as well as any contact she initiates. You’ll capture enough detail about the journey so that you can not only understand the experience but also identify where things are going well and where they’re not.
One of the goals of journey mapping is to identify key moments of truth, i.e., those make-or-break moments along the customer journey that need to be executed flawlessly in order to deliver a great customer experience. Oftentimes, communications are those moments of truth. And all too often, as I mentioned earlier, they are the reason the experience goes poorly.
What’s next? Critical to this whole exercise is that, once you’ve identified those moments of truth – particularly the ones that impact the experience negatively – you must quickly fix them.
In order to do that, you’ll want to undertake one more mapping exercise – this time, mapping the internal processes that facilitate and support those moments of truth. Process mapping is very different from journey mapping in that the focus is on what happens behind the scenes, what the company does to support the customer journey.
Process mapping is important because you can’t fix the customer’s experience if the backstage processes aren’t efficiently and effectively supporting it. Think about the tools, systems, and processes you have in place to support the customer experience today. Do they make sense? Do your employees have the resources and the know-how to execute flawlessly? Consider all of the areas where you’re communicating with customers. Are employees able to communicate clearly, consistently, and in a timely fashion in order to deliver a great customer experience? Are you communicating in the manner in which your customers prefer? And when they need you to?
I wouldn’t be surprised if your answers are “No.” Time to get to work! Start mapping your customer journeys – from the customer viewpoint. Don’t forget to consider various communication channels and sources. Identify where the journey breaks down. Take a look at your processes supporting these journeys. Fix what’s broken behind the scenes. Redesign the experience. And communicate the changes to your customers. Once again, communication is key.
To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. -Tony Robbins