We’ve long advised companies who want to be market leaders to adopt a customer-centric stance in their internal and marketing attitude. That advice has been well received, but often reluctantly implemented, due to the complexity and length of time involved in properly instituting a sea change in their organizations. While we admit, thoughtful and well-considered moves of this magnitude do not happen overnight, they can be implemented incrementally, and start showing results sooner than a cold start.
The place to start is by working backwards. Think about your customer or client, at the moment they are just finished interacting with you – they’ve received their product, paid the invoice, shaken hands after the exit interview, whatever trigger ends an interaction cycle with your firm. Now, ponder for a second what happened, how was that customer feeling at that last few minutes of interaction? Were they thrilled to receive their product and can’t wait to use it, were they a little disappointed because it took longer than expected to arrive, or didn’t live up to the expectations you set for them, did they care at all, or did they just put it aside until a more convenient time?
If you’re a service provider, what feeling or sentiment preceded that last handshake or interaction (not counting the invoice, we’ll get to that in a moment)? Was it buoyant that they got what they needed from you, were they excited about the next time they worked with you, relieved they had gotten a good outcome without getting scalped, happy to be out of your clutches? Behind that smile and that handshake is a wide range of emotions and feelings that those clients or customers will carry with them for quite a while, and the next contact they have with you, including any further marketing or follow-up efforts, will trigger a somewhat milder version of that emotion, guiding their next response to you.
The place to start is by working backwards. Think about your customer or client, at the moment they are just finished interacting with you
First impressions are critical, but last impressions are often lasting and difficult to change. Now that you have some idea of where to start in examining your customer experience, backtrack through your engagement with that customer in your mind, go through the steps that lead up to that final feeling. Work it over logistically, reverse-chronologically, and see if there are any snags, bumps in the road, places where communication status dipped, where the customer might have felt anything negative, like abandonment, uncertainty, fear of the unknown, or experienced something negatively unexpected. Those are your trouble spots, and in the journey of customer experience, those are the places where you can negatively affect your customer relationship and their likelihood to return to you the next time they need something you offer.
First impressions are critical, but last impressions are often lasting and difficult to change.
Even marketing can REALLY benefit from this process. Work through the attendee experience minute by minute. Review your program from the time the attendee hears about the event, what triggers them to register, what do they experience once they’ve registered, how often do they hear from you, what kinds of information do they receive from you, or what do they go searching for in your materials or online? How do they go about booking travel if any is required, do they look for a deal or the flight and hotel that most readily meets their limited schedule, or a combination of both? Do they stay in the host hotel to be “close to the action” or somewhere off-site to maintain privacy and corporate security?
What do they encounter upon arrival? How did they get there? What do they see first? Are they run down endless hallways before they encounter anyone officially connected with the event, or are they greeted by someone clearly in-the-know that they can ask questions of right away? Is there a place to “unburden” themselves, divesting their arms of coats, bags, luggage, umbrellas, etc, before they get a badge? Is everything conveniently located, and labeled in large, unambiguous letters with pictograms for international attendees?
Admittedly, some of these areas may be beyond your control – you can’t guarantee a positive experience from the airlines, or that the hotel concierge will treat them politely, or that their favorite shampoo will be in the hotel bathroom . . .
Work through the whole meeting, trying to empathize with the attendee from the time they see your first e-mail announcement until the time they get back to their place of origin, and include your post event survey if that goes out beyond the 24-hour post event mark. Now you have a basis for evaluating your customer experience from an attendee-centric point of view. Using that as a baseline, try and separate the logistical, intellectual experience from the emotional one. Tease out those feelings as the flow from one to another and try to envision an overall emotional response to the event, and connect the emotional changes to each major logistical challenge they face. You now have a roadmap to isolating the negative emotional contexts in your meeting and either mitigating them or eliminating them, to provide your attendee a positive customer experience end to end.
Now that you’ve done the ground work, how do you use that knowledge in your marketing efforts to attract more attendees the next time? Pull out the outreach materials you used to promote and raise awareness of that meeting, the elements that drove attendance. Do they highlight all the customer experiences and benefits you experienced mentally? Do they convey the emotional punch, the triggers to emotions you felt when you entered the meeting? Do they walk the attendee through what they will experience, show the benefits of those experiences, make it easy, painless and simple for them to experience them? Do they set accurate expectations for the attendee that you can always live up to in real life? If the answer to any of these is “no,” then those are the areas that need some work in your programming, planning and marketing efforts, to align the real experience with the “paper” version your espousing in your marketing efforts.
Admittedly, some of these areas may be beyond your control – you can’t guarantee a positive experience from the airlines, or that the hotel concierge will treat them politely, or that their favorite shampoo will be in the hotel bathroom – but once they enter your meeting venue, they are your responsibility, and taking that seriously can mean the difference between a one-time attendee and a lifetime cheerleader for your events. Pay special attention to the way they feel when they leave. Did they learn something valuable, did they meet someone important to their professional growth, did they learn something about a new subject or a different culture? What feeling are you leaving them with, what will they remember when they complete that online “satisfaction” survey? Hopefully the emotion won’t just be satisfaction, but something stronger and more positive – the one you planned to leave.