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“Don’t Stink” is a stinky customer experience strategy

Customer experience strategies for success

customer experienceSometimes it’s easier to describe something as the opposite of something else.  Being “anti-” something can communicate something meaningful. Cultural movements in the past have taken on these monikers:  consider the “anti-establishment” or “anti-war” movements.  We all need effective anti-virus protection.  And there are loads of skin products marketed as “anti-aging”, “anti-wrinkle”, or “anti-blemish.”

But when you think about a vision for the customer experience that your company aspires to deliver, this approach of the “anti-X” falls flat. Would you want to aspire to basically “not stink?”  Would that inspire you and your team to run through walls to deliver on that grand aspiration? Would it motivate customers to stick with you, buy more of what you sell, and tell others about you?

I think not…But it sure seems like many out there indeed do aspire to “not stink.”

Sure, there are great companies out there who have a set a high standard for customer experience, placing it at the center of their strategies and their success. Some, like Zappos, started that way from the beginning.  Others, like The Ritz-Carlton, realized that they had lost their way and made the commitment to do the hard work of reaching and sustaining excellence.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of firms who have a weak commitment to or even understanding of the importance of customer experience to their strategy and performance.  Their leaders may give lip service or just pay attention for a few days or hours following the release of reports from leading analysts and firms. They may have posters and slogans that talk about putting the customer first or similar platitudes. These companies probably even have talented and passionate professionals working tirelessly to improve the customer experience in spite of the fact that nobody seems to care much.

What these firms lack is a clear customer experience strategy. As nature abhors a vacuum, customers and employees are free to infer or just guess at it.  Focusing on customer experience only when a report comes out – and paying special attention only when weak results put the firm near the bottom of the ranking leads people to conclude that all that really matters is to “not stink.”  In other words, don’t stand out for being bad…but don’t worry much about being good as it is not important to the company’s strategy or results.

I think that this “don’t stink” implicit strategy helps explain a fascinating insight from a Forrester survey in 2013: “80% of executives believe their company is delivering a superior customer experience, yet in 2013 only 8% of companies surveyed received a top grade from their customers.”  Many leaders simply have not invested the energy and commitment necessary to define a real customer experience vision that reflects a deep understanding of the role that it plays in the company’s strategy.  Beyond setting that vision, there is a big and sustained commitment required to deliver on the vision, measure results, and continuously adjust as customer needs evolve.

Like all journeys, a great customer experience starts with one step. Establishing a customer experience strategy is the first one – and “don’t stink” simply stinks as a strategy.

Download our recent perspective paper to learn how exceptional customer experience can give companies the competitive edge they need in a market where price, products and services can no longer be a differentiator.