David Nour, a speaker, leadership advisor and executive coach who has studied business relationships for two decades, was a recent guest on EO Wonder, a podcast by Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO). As the author of 10 business books including Relationship Economics and Co-Create, we asked David how to leverage the value of relationships in the customer experience journey. Here's what he shared:

For the past decade, there has been market buzz around capturing and elevating customer experience. Rightfully so, because if you fundamentally understand the needs of target customers at each stage of their buying journey, you can create on-ramps for what they need at the time of their choosing, and ideally on the device of their choice.

The term "customers" conveys a broad spectrum of stakeholders: from internal customers such as employees and contractors to external ones ranging from actual customers, partners, investors, the media and the market at-large. "Buying" also encompasses more than just products or services; it's credibility, repute and engagement. For example, prospective employees must buy the narrative that your company is the place they should invest their education, experience and relationships to grow and advance.

I've researched the customer experience journey across a broad spectrum of industries and organizational maturity.

In essence, if you think of the client at the center, they're always evaluating. They'll move through their journey in discovering their wants and needs, considering various options and returning to assess those options. They move on to purchase, use and?you guessed it?go back to evaluation mode in an infinite loop.

Along their journey, their perceptions of your brand, the value proposition you communicate?regardless of price point?and how you fit into their everyday journey creates overall customer experience.

The good news and bad news

Good news: While technology and innovation are the lifeblood of growth for any company, the cornerstone to outstanding customer experiences is understanding the world of customers. What they value in their daily lives, the goods, services and experiences they value, and how the right tech offered at the right time can enhance their skills, beyond any product feature or service benefit.

Bad news: Intuitive computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain and audio interfaces accelerate the customer experience journey and can cause customer relationship challenges for companies. Said another way--their last experience (often using technology) sets future expectations: "If I can order a product on Amazon for delivery this afternoon, what do you mean it's going to take you three weeks to get me that part!?"

The fundamental opportunity most leaders miss

Here are the fundamental challenge and opportunity most leaders miss: Technology by itself is not the real disruptor. Not focusing on customer relationships at each stage of the buying journey?and in the process, being more customer-centric?is the biggest threat to your business.

Think about it:

  • Remember renting VHS videos from Blockbuster and then rushing to return the tape before midnight to avoid the $1.50 late fee? Netflix didn't end Blockbuster. Moronic late fees did!
  • Tried catching a taxi during Manhattan's rush hour lately? Uber isn't destroying the taxi business. Limited taxi access and fare controls are.
  • When was the last time you bought an entire album? Newsflash: Apple and Spotify aren't smothering the music industry. Forcing customers to buy full-length albums did.
  • Here's a classic?ever been ignored by the $5-per-hour clerks at a local retailer? Or been jerked around trying to return a gift? Amazon isn't eradicating retailers. Poor customer service is. Want proof? One word: Sears!

In the examples above, each company fundamentally forgot their why: Why do we exist? To serve, delight, impress, engage and hopefully enhance the work, lives and play of our customers. CarMax is seeing enormous growth because they focus on what most of us despise about the used car buying experience: Cheesy used car dealerships where you lose your soul, sense of human decency and integrity!

What's the answer?

Here are three simple ideas to work on with your team to ensure you're providing value in the customer experience journey:

  1. They Must Hear It. Only when you clarify your customer relationship vision, and your team hears it, will they realize that it's not a fad. The last report I found mentioned that if you want it to be remembered and repeated, they need to hear it seven times!
  2. They Must Believe It. When you communicate a consistent customer-centric vision, and your team understands how their roles and responsibilities contribute to its outcome, they begin to internalize it and believe that it is possible. That we can, in fact, compete with Amazon. That we don't have to offer the cheapest product to survive. (Have you ever heard of anyone searching for the cheapest surgeon they can find?)
  3. They Must Live It. Hearing and believing that customer relationships are critical to success, alone, won't suffice. You and your team must live it. They need to see you go above and beyond, not to close a transaction, but to provide value?at each stage of that customer's journey. Servant leadership can't merely be a nice-to-have mantra.

Only when you're genuinely serving those you're charged to care for will you demonstrate that you're living the relationship values critical to your organization's success.