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What’s more important than your brand strategy? Or your content marketing? Your media relations approach? Or even your point-of-purchasing plan? How these all work together to create a flawless customer experience. That’s what.

The customer experience, or CX, happens each time someone interacts with your brand. Sometimes, this interaction occurs on purpose, such as when someone buys a product or service. Other times, this interaction happens more by accident. Like when people see one of your ads pop up on their social network. What’s important to remember is that each interaction matters. And if you’re not careful, one bad apple can ruin the bunch.

Whether you realize it or not, your organization is providing a customer experience today. It may be good. Or it might be bad. Maybe it’s just so-so. Our guess is that, unless you’re hyper-focused on it, it could probably use a little love. Or, in some cases, a lot of love.

Stop for a minute and think about the last time you had an excellent customer experience. What was it about that experience that made you feel good? Did you want to engage more with that company or organization? Or go tell your friends about how great it was? Now, think about a time when you felt let down by a company. Did you have the opposite reaction? We bet you couldn’t wait to tell all your friends on social media how you felt then. It’s human nature!

What do you think others would say about your organization? How can you avoid the bad apples and start building a better customer experience? It all starts with knowing your customers—and making them feel valued. Every. Single. Time.

Customer experience is about more than customer service

You might be thinking that a good customer experience boils down to good customer service, right? Wrong. It’s about so much more. Today, good customer service is a given. It’s entry into the game. Yes, a good customer experience requires good customer service. But it goes way beyond that. It’s about meeting people where they are in life. And making every interaction with your brand seamless, streamlined and consistent.

So, what does this mean exactly? It’s about syncing up all the touch points so people have the same experience no matter what. An interaction at a store, for example, should look and feel like an online interaction with through a live chat. And an interaction with someone at an event should sound the same as an interaction with one of your call center reps. It also means that all your external messages should align with your brand promise. And it’s no secret that there’s a link between your customer experience and employee engagement. More on that in a minute!

Before we go any further, though, we want to emphasize that all companies—not just big brands—should focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience. If not, they stand to lose out big time. That’s because organizations that are successful in implementing a customer experience strategy are more likely to see greater customer satisfaction, increased loyalty and higher revenues. That’s why we’re seeing more companies that recognize the value of the customer experience. In fact, a recent study found one in five respondents said optimizing the customer experience was the single most exciting opportunity for 2017. With so much at stake, it’s not hard to see why so many businesses are jumping on the bandwagon.

Getting down to business

Now, you might be asking yourself “What are some steps I can take to start building a better customer experience?” Our advice is to begin from within. We mentioned earlier the link between employee engagement and customer experience. It’s real, folks.

Results from a study published recently in Forbes show that CX leaders have 60 percent more engaged employees. Sixty percent. That’s a lot. So, what do the two have in common? Happy employees make happy customers. When team members engage in what they believe is meaningful work and they feel good about their job and company, they’re more likely to have positive interactions with customers. And guess what? Happy customers make happy repeat customers. And they make excellent referral sources. Heck, they may even make great employees down the road.

Creating this culture from within starts at the top, with your CEO. It must also include support from all your senior executives and your Human Resources leader. At IronStrike, we think it’s crucial for HR and communications teams to work together to create and sustain a culture that encourages and supports a good customer experience. And we believe this starts with internal communications and ongoing training. We know this may be a challenge for some organizations. But we still highly encourage teams to break down as many silos as possible when working on changing culture in this regard.

Adopting the “customer is always right” mentality

We’ve all heard it: The customer is always right. Or maybe you’ve heard a slightly different version: The customer is king. Regardless of which phrase you’ve heard, the idea behind it is true, for the most part. Now, there’s always that unruly or grumpy person that you just can’t please. But, for the most part, most consumers are reasonable and just want you to treat them with dignity, respect and genuine care when engaging with them.

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that companies that choose to take a customer-centric approach generally have an easier time building a loyal customer base. And that usually leads to longer, more valuable relationships with consumers.

In some cases, marketers can measure the overall health of these relationships via a metric known as “customer lifetime value” or CLV. In its simplest form, CLV is a prediction of how much value a customer will bring over the lifetime of his or her relationship with an organization. It can also help marketers assess how much to spend on acquiring a new customer.

Even if you can’t or don’t want to use this actual metric, don’t lose sight of the underlying message. This concept shifts the focus away from the short-term gain and, instead, places emphasis on the long-term health of your interactions with consumers. This can be a powerful mindset shift that we encourage clients to keep in mind as they map out their future.

Tools for your tool chest

There are several tools you can use when building a better customer experience. As we stated earlier, it’s important that you first know your customer. And we don’t mean “know” them like you do your best friend or neighbor. But rather that you understand how they feel about your product or service, what features/benefits are most attractive, and what behaviors, attitudes or beliefs might prevent them from wanting to engage with you.

Tool 1: Customer research & mapping

The first and easiest way to get your customers’ perspective is to ask for it during qualitative research. Armed with this information, you can then create a customer journey map for each of your major customer groups. Depending on your business, you may have one group or many groups. Creating a customer journey map allows you to see how customers enter and exit your organization and highlights the various touch points they have along the way. Use this tool to better understand when and where to engage and re-engage with customers, as well as identify any gaps.

Tool 2: Customer relationship management (CRM) system

While this information is certainly helpful, it allows you to scratch only the surface. If you wish to dig deeper and have greater insights to your customer relationships, you’ll need a database. This database—known as a customer relationship management (CRM) system—enables you to collect more detailed information, such as a person’s date of birth, household income, education level, even their favorite color or food. Besides just tapping into these facts, you can use the database to track sales calls, in-store interactions and event check-ins, to name a few.

Tool 3: Marketing automation

The bonus of having a CRM database in place is, with the right amount of expertise and time, you can add a much more sophisticated level of marketing into the mix. Marketing automation has exploded in the last five years. This is due, in large part, to technology being more a part of everyday life. And marketing automation isn’t wasting any time getting off the ground. It’s quickly becoming the little darling of marketing teams everywhere. Why? Because of its innate ability to meet people wherever they are. Not just physically, but as a state of mind.

If you’re not familiar with marketing automation, let’s pause for minute and look at an example of how it works. You’re surfing the internet when you see an ad for a free webinar. You’re interested in the topic, so you click on the ad. From there, you land on a page where there’s more information about the webinar and a sign-up form. You’re still interested, so you fill out the basic information and click “Submit.” You instantly receive a thank-you message that directs you to your inbox where you’ll find an email with the webinar link.

A few days later, you attend the webinar. When it’s over, you get a message thanking you for attending. In that message, you have the option of requesting the presentation materials. You decide you don’t really need or want the materials, so you delete the message. Four days later, you get a friendly reminder letting you know that you have only one more week to request the materials. Then you remember that your friend asked if you could share the information from the webinar. So, this time you decide to click the “Request Materials” button. And minutes later, you get another thank you note with a link to download the presentation. There you have it. Marketing automation at its finest!

So, what really happened here? And more importantly, how did it help provide a streamlined customer experience? First, an ad caught your attention. Check. Second, you clicked on the ad, provided your contact information and that information was transferred into the company’s CRM database. Check. Third, you attended the webinar and found the information valuable. Check. And fourth, you ultimately downloaded the presentation materials. Check.

From your standpoint, the process was easy and you found the experience valuable. On the flip side, the company gained important information from you that allows it to provide you with more customized offerings in the future. And because it was all delivered with ease, you’re more apt to check out their ads or site again, right? Right. And you can bet the company can’t wait to send you the next big thing in webinars, as it works hard to create a customer experience you’ll love.

Summary

Building a better customer experience is challenging, no doubt. But we know from our client work that it’s possible with a little diligence. If you’re one of the 20 percent of marketers out there looking for ways to build a better CX, give us a shout-out. We’d love to help!