Much has been written recently about the requirement to focus today on the total customer experience, as a competitive edge or even for survival.
Traditionally, you just worried about the quality of the sales transaction (price, speed, service), but the "customer experience" now includes ease of pre-sale shopping, post-sale support, with a connected relationship throughout.
The challenge I hear from savvy business owners and entrepreneurs operating on a shoestring is that providing a superior customer experience costs money.
They are rightfully looking for some new business models and improvements in operational efficiency to provide them with a win-win connected strategy, where the customer becomes their advocate, while growth and profits soar.
I had some ideas on how to do this, but I was pleased with the insights to a connected strategy that were pulled together in a new book, Connected Strategy, by Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terwiesch, professors at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
They highlight several key pathways for turning customer transactions into connected relationships:
1. Recognize and respond quickly to customer desires.
In terms of the customer experience, your challenge today is to minimize all friction from the moment a customer desires a product or service, to the moment he receives it.
You want that customer to be delighted by the overall experience, rather than remember the many steps and the pain.
Amazon does this by being the "go-to" place for almost anything, showing you options you like by knowing you and your past purchases, quickly listing comparable items by price and features, allowing you to order with only one keystroke, and delivering the item to your door very quickly, potentially (in the future) even before you ordered it.
Uber and Lyft make hailing a ride an instant process, which you can see and track with no effort, and pay for without struggling with your credit card or cash.
Alexa can order pizza or play your favorite song, just like an assistant, rather than a business transaction.
2. Delight customers with personally tailored options.
This business model recognizes that customers might not know exactly what they want, or they may not know exactly where to go to get what they need.
Many, like me, would prefer that someone else do the shopping for them, and present them with the best choices currently available.
Expedia and Travelocity do this by checking all the ways you can get from one city to another, with current prices, including connections to rental cars and hotels when you get there.
Netflix suggests comedies based on your unique previous choices, and Blue Apron will deliver you a meal-kit based on your interest in health, fun, or variety.
3. Provide useful prompting to prevent future pain.
In many cases, customers would be delighted to be coached on upcoming needs, such as time to reorder medication or printer ink, before the crisis, with the option of getting the solution with a single click.
This can save them grief, as well as reduce your own marketing and sales costs.
The latest Apple Watch utilizes this strategy by continually monitoring your heart rhythm, as well as other fitness indicators, with coaching to you on maintaining your health. This obviously helps Apple sell their watch at a premium, as well as assuring loyal customers.
4. Anticipate and meet customer needs not yet realized.
Automatic execution of business transactions in anticipation of a customer need is still not common, but it's easy to see the potential with the sensors on so many devices now being connected to the Internet (IoT). Soon your refrigerator may order more milk or bread when stock is low.
Amazon already has a patent to automatically ship you other items of interest, without prompting, based on your prior order and usage patterns (returns are free and simple). The latest wave of medical alert sensors for seniors, like Medical Alert, will automatically call an ambulance for you after a fall without even pressing a button.
A key point you should take from these insights is that connections and relationships these days don't necessarily require more people and cost to your business.
Current generations of customers are perfectly happy with virtual relationships, and new low-cost learning technology is setting a new bar at predicting customer desires and needs.
Thus, with a connected strategy and smart software, you can indeed improve your customer's experience, and reduce your costs at the same time. That's a win-win we can all live with.