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November 26, 2014
Do you dance with customers or just step on their toes?
By: Mark McDonald

Customer experience is on everyone’s lips and in just about every presentation discussing digital. While the focus on customers is correct, and critical to digital success, many digital customer experiences come too close to the same old process enabled by new technology.

Many companies use new digital technologies to reduce the impact of stepping on their customer’s toes. Few companies dance with their customers, engaging them in a series of coordinated movements that build trust and engagement. The difference is critical to success in digital markets and easy to get wrong. How do you know if you are dancing or stepping? To push this analogy a little - by looking at who is calling the tune.

My toes still hurt, even when you have a light step

Companies call the tune when they define their customer segments from the inside out. This occurs when companies project their beliefs onto what customers should need and want, rather than looking at the world from a customer’s point of view.

Companies aspire to be customer centric, as long as the customer behavior, beliefs, values and actions work in their favor. Segments that do not fit the customer profile are easily discounted, discarded or declared non-strategic.

Defining customers from the inside out encourages companies to define how relationships should work to their benefit. They define the customer’s experience as a form of self-initiated market, sell and serve designed to increase purchases. Many companies create customer journeys that focus on search, selection, activation/purchase, use and support. That’s not the customer’s journey. It is the journey you require the customer to follow in order to grow sales and usage.

Designing in this environment quickly devolves down into moving customers through company-defined processes via digital properties, such as websites and mobile phones. Customers tread through their predefined journey shaped by designs that focus on information presentation and workflow navigation.

Organizations adopting an ‘easy to do business with’ (ETDBW) mantra share this design ethos. They concentrate on removing errors and deficiencies in customer facing processes. There is nothing wrong with being ETDBW, however this can quickly become a limiting strategy. Leaders must recognize that value is not defined by the absence of defects but rather customers value the presence of capabilities that address their needs and are consistent with their expectations.

Let’s Dance

Dancing is coordinated movement with meaning. You need both movement and meaning to create real engagement. Defining a customer journey means defining the steps in that digital dance: search, select, investigate, enroll, engage, support, exit, etc. Unfortunately many of these journeys are little more than revamped marketing, sales and service processing. It is a case of where the company calls the same old steps but just updates the tune.

Defining a digital dance requires taking an outside-in perspective, starting with customer needs, discovering outcomes and building context. Describing each in turn captures the essence of a digital dance.

It’s difficult to dance with your eyes closed or when all of your attention is on yourself. An outside-in perspective looks at the world from the customer’s perspective. Context goes beyond the collection and exchange of information to include the actions and reactions between all parties. This requires looking at people outside of their apparent need for your product or service to the outcomes they seek.

Two-step or sore toes

Companies called the tune when customers had little choice. Markets were like American Bandstand where marketing told customers and prospects what to value. Back then companies could step on a few toes and distribute bandages via the call center. Those days have passed as people with sore toes, broken guitars, lost luggage, or poor service go on social media to let the world know what the companies have done wrong.

Customers want to dance. And by dancing they want to work with you and gain value from your products and services, and have you know them better so you can serve them better. It takes two to dance, so think about both sides before you look across the market and ask – do you want to dance?

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