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HigherLogic and Socious

Online Community Blog

4 Characteristics of an Exceptional Online Customer Experience

Posted by Joshua Paul on Tue, Feb 05, 2013 @ 10:04 AM

Characteristics of an Exceptional Online Customer ExperienceIt is true that your customers have a growing number of options for companies to do business with. While your customer base is getting bombarded with messages from competitors every day, it is your business that has the opportunity to stand out.

Customer experience is a well-known differentiator, but still few companies are on the path to doing something about it.

With an increasing number of people going online to research, buy, and seek support for products, the need for creating an exceptional online customer experience has been on a steady climb over the past decade. However, for most businesses, strategies to provide an outstanding customer experience before, during, and after a purchase are still in their infancy.

According to the 2012 Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, only 37% of companies received “good” or “excellent” customer experience index scores. A depressing 64% of businesses got a rating of “OK,” “poor,” or “very poor” from their customers.

This means that there is tremendous opportunity for companies that can create a stand-out experience for their prospects and customers.

Customer Experience is Everyone’s Job

It is now mainstream thinking that the customer experience does not end when the purchase is made or the contract is signed. It is a top job of everyone in your company to make sure your customers are successful with your products or services. The costs to acquire new customers are most often dramatically higher than the costs to keep the customers that you have.

Whether you are just trying to keep up with your customers on spreadsheets or you have joined the movement of companies and membership organizations that are using online communities to provide customers with the support, value, and access to peers that customers are demanding, the experience that your customers have when doing business with your organization and your ability to sustain the right online and mobile customer experience will only increase in importance over the next decade.

Great customer experiences are complex on the back end, but straight-forward to your customers. To create an exceptional customer experience online, ask yourself if it has these four characteristics:

Characteristic #1) Is It Sustainable?

People go to Disney World to get the customer experience and service that they expect from the Disney brand. People eat at McDonald’s because they know what the customer experience will be since it has beenthe same for years. Will you be able to always provide the same valuable experience to customers over time?

In an online customer community, that means maintaining a content plan, setting up personalized features to drive customers back to the community, and providing exceptional online customer service systems to make sure that customers receive responses to their questions and discussions.

Once you set the bar for your customer experience, customers will expect it to be the same level of experience (or better) every time. More damaging to your brand than having a mediocre customer experience is providing a poor customer experience because you could maintain it.

Assess your organization’s capabilities and keep them in mind to avoid rolling out a customer experience that cannot be sustained over time.

Characteristic #2) Is It Consistent at Times and Inconsistent at Others?

Our brains love consistency. Patterns and predictability keep us happy. So, when you are consistent about things like customer service, product quality, speedy delivery time, offering rewards, this keeps the customers satisfied.

However, as Nir Eyal pointed out in his interview with Socious, since our brains are always looking for this predictability, being confronted with a positive, but inconsistent, experience will keep us on the hook.

This is called giving customers variable rewards. It is the reason we can’t stop checking email on our phones. Sometimes, we get one worth reading and other times we don’t. If we got an important email every time, our brains would know that and we would check less frequently since we already knew what to expect.

Rather than offering customers the exact same things over and over, provide variable “rewards” for exploring and participating in your customer community. If the customer knows you will always email them the same helpful information, they will stop engaging mentally. They’ll come to expect that same content. Maybe they’ll use it, and maybe they won’t. But if you keep changing it up, offering a more diverse set of content, discounts, events, and other ways to interact, they will continue to stay engaged because they want to see what comes next.

Characteristic #3) Is It Accessible?

When selling to a busy target audience (who isn’t busy?), it is important that people are able to engage with your business easily. Whether through email, online forums, or mobile apps, your customers want to have access to your company.

For instance, if you primarily manage customers in a community-based environment, avoid a customer experience that limits access to the community by only allowing customers to login into the website to participate. Some customers may be less tech savvy, often on the go, or have security limitations that inhibit them from logging onto your private social network.

Implementing a customer experience that enables customers to engage with the people and information they need online (customer forums), from their inbox (listservs), and on their mobile devices (customer community mobile app). Each person has their own preferences for interacting with companies that they rely on, so it is important to make sure all avenues are open to them.

Characteristic #4) Is It Human?

Customers don’t engage your business because they are lonely, need attention, or want more friends. Most long-term customers engage you to get support or solve an immediate problem. Do not set things on autopilot and expect customers to enjoy the experience. In addition, avoid throwing up walls or one-size-fits-all responses to customers who need help.

Customers want to know that there is an actual person on the other side of each interaction that understands their situation and is committed to helping them get through it. While businesses, can’t afford to coddle every customer, there are things that organizations can do to show customers that they are there to support them.

If they ask a question, give them answers or connect them to someone else in the community who can help them. Listen to concerns and respond appropriately and sometimes personally. Make sure that you are doing what it takes to show them that your company cares about customer success with your products and services.

Online Customer Experience Take Away

The customer experience that you provide your customers matters. Companies with great online customer experiences rarely fall into that situation by luck. Your customer experience strategy takes planning, understanding of your customers, and the implementation of the right tools (customer community software may be right for your company or it may not be).

Use the guidelines outlines in this article to create a checklist for your organization’s customer experience. Fill the gaps in, build out, or simplify your customer experience to see a measurable impact on every stage of the customer lifecycle.

Free eBook: How to Develop a Killer Online Customer Community Strategy

Tags: Association Management, Social Business, Customer Communities, Customer Experience, Customer Support

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