Obsession, when it comes to the customer experience, can be a good thing

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We know customer-centricity and recommend you become obsessed with it. Over the last year I shopped well over 100 companies, examining the multichannel shopping experience in more than a dozen industries with the strongly held belief that the primary determinant of business success and the central strategic issue of every company is the customer experience.

We know full well that the customer is both king and pope at the same time, yet based on our research, I am not sure that most companies leverage off that belief in creating a consistent, exceptional experience for our customers.

While most understand the concept of customer-centricity, putting together a game plan to make our vision manifest is another story. Ignoring it will be your largest obstacle to growth.

Our research pointed out repeated instances of inconsistencies. For example: Does the actual return policy match the promise on delivery? Catalogers spend significant resources on the front end and few bother to see how the back end is working and whether it supports all the front-end claims.

Many catalogers have unlimited return statements. How many reiterate this on the pick ticket? When a customer makes a return, is it a 60-day policy as the pick ticket said or satisfaction guaranteed - unlimited as stated in the catalog?

Consistency between branding, messaging and actual experience are oftentimes not in sync. I found "commitment to quality" guarantees with misspellings.

Another performance category rife with inconsistencies is delivery. Online, when a customer reads, "Next day delivery" or offline for that matter, when a customer representative promises "Next day" will the package arrive "next day" or will it arrive the next day after it is received in the warehouse, which might take three days?

Having experienced hundreds of call centers, I found many to be so loud and distracting that information is not exchanged accurately. Some employ operators who joke about the working conditions and the antiquity of their order entry systems.

Others are not proficient in the English language, are indifferent to the company's mission and possess little product knowledge.

Do we realize that for the few minutes our customers spend on the phone with these folks, they represent our brands?

Training issues appear in every channel. Once a cataloger drives a customer to the Web, can the customer complete an order quickly, or is he trapped in a mire of popups, promotions and cross-selling to the point that he will never go there again?

After being encouraged online to place an order and pick it up at the retail outlet, is the store's sales staff and infrastructure set up to complete the customer experience with efficiency? Or is the customer treated like his order was an anomaly that will require a supervisor's assistance?

Are field personnel trained to handle taking an order and issuing a return?

Though some companies focus on customer experience, most do not. Ensuring that your cross-channel branding and messaging are consistent with your customer's experience is critical. It will not only lift your business' position in your industry, it will ensure its viability in the years to come.

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