06 October 2014

Summit Conversations: The Key to Designing Exceptional Customer Experiences

Patricia Cameron 
InfoStream Guest Author 

The quality of experience your customers have with your business has a huge impact on whether it thrives, scrapes by, or fails. If a person has a confusing, frustrating, or really bad experience when frequenting your business, there is a very good chance they will never come back.  In today’s connected world, there is also a good chance they will share their negative experience not only with the 11 people they traditionally shared complaints with, but with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of other people.  Ask United Airlines. 

So whether your business is an animal shelter, a veterinary office, a pet supply store, a pet insurance provider, or animal boarding facility, or a groomer, you can start today to design a customer experience that is clear and understandable, convenient, helpful, honest, high quality, and even fun.   The key to successfully designed customer experiences is a rare and precious resource — the resource of empathy. 

Often confused with sympathy or compassion, empathy is defined in a variety of ways, but basically, empathy is “understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”  Developing and growing organizational empathy is key to delighting customers, and delighting customers is key to a successful business. 

Every day, lack of corporate empathy creates huge numbers of dissatisfied customers. Below are a few examples of experiences designed WITHOUT empathy — that is without “understanding [your customer’s] situation, feelings, and motives.”

1.  Talking AT people (about yourself).  Many corporate brochures and websites start something like this:  “Founded in 1986, RuffnReady Pets has sold more than 2.5 million pet beds. Our factory is gleaming and modern, and our designers are educated in the latest computer-assisted design processes.”  RuffnReady (fictional) focuses on itself — its history, its sales, its  factory, its designers.  Customers are focused on their own needs (like getting a great bed for their pet) and you should be too. 

2.  Processes that put up barriers to satisfying a customer’s needs and desires.  Many people come to animal shelters hoping to adopt, and excited to help both homeless animals and the organization.  After more than an hour of paper work and what feels to them like interrogation, many go away with hearts and minds filled with confusion, hurt, and anger, rather than arms filled with a new furry friend.  Empathy would help shelters avoid this unfortunate ending.  For example, people are generally eager if not impatient to directly connect with animals, so let them.  Finding out hands-on they have no control of a dog will be more persuasive than engaging them in an argument about whether they have the experience and skill to work with a rambunctious pup. After such a lesson, being directed to animals more suited to their homes will be experienced as helpful rather than interfering or controlling.  

3.  Communication that isn’t. You get a new purchase home hoping to put it to good use, only to be frustrated by the “instructions.”  Since so many products are now made overseas, the use of diagrams rather than text has become commonplace.  Often these diagrams are rudimentary and unhelpful because they were designed on the cheap with little or no concern for the customer’s needs.  If your company sells a product with such horrible instructions, they have a bad experience not with the manufacturer but with YOU. Check for these sorts of problems and provide customers with support — “Hey, the instructions are not great.  Here is an example we assembled.”  Or, “The first few times you use this product can be tricky. Here is our card; give us a call if you have any difficulty.”  

4.  Lying.   There are many examples of companies lying.  Lying really annoys some people who then go on social media and tell everyone about it.   Ask Kashi. Here’s a personal example.   As a consumer interested in personal and environmental health, I choose not to support Genetically Modified (GMO) foods and unless specifically labelled organic, canola is all GMO.  I was looking for a canola-free, Non-GMO mayonnaise at my local grocery store. After much searching, I was excited to see Hellman’s had a mayonnaise boldly labelled “With Olive Oil.” As Yogi Berra memorably said, “You can see a lot just by looking.”  With that in mind, I looked at the label.  The first ingredient was canola oil; olive oil was way down the list.  Now the people at Hellman’s are no dummies — they know the label “With Olive Oil” will be a beacon to consumers seeking Non-GMO mayonnaise — they just lack empathy. If they had empathy, they would know that being lied to results in bad feelings and motivates people to never buy their products again. 

Having empathy, that is truly understanding the people you hope to attract and retain as customers, is a simple path to designing amazing, satisfying, high-trust, loyalty-building customer experiences.  Simple, but not easy.  You will have to talk WITH customers not TO them.  You will need to stop focusing on your needs, your interests, and your agenda.  You will have to let their agenda dictate how, when, where, and what services and products you deliver.  You will have to take the time to really look and to observe how people interact with your organization and its products.    And finally, you will have to be honest and authentic.  

The ninth annual Summit for Urban Animal Strategies is days away. Throughout the year, leaders in the industry have identified dilemmas and developed conversations to recast dilemmas into opportunities. 

The 2014 Urban Animal Forum™ on Friday, October 24th, develops industry conversations into strategies and tactics. InfoStream articles by recognized industry experts, are presented to prepare delegates for this activity.

Get the facts, have YourSAY, move the industry.

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