Want to Win Elusive Customer Loyalty? Enhance Your Customer Experience.

By James Dorn, President

Today’s customers enjoy an unprecedented level of choice. For manufacturing companies, this presents both a challenge and an opportunity. On the one hand, customer loyalty is increasingly elusive. Manufacturers can no longer skate by on incremental product innovation if they want to defend their existing market share. Manufacturing customers (including industrial buyers) now have a wealth of information at their fingertips — without the input of traditional gatekeepers like sales reps and distributors. This means they are no longer as likely to repeatedly buy from the same brand simply because it’s the one they already know (even if they like it). On the other hand, manufacturers now have the opportunity to shore up brand loyalty another way: on the strength of their customer experience.

Brand loyalty isn’t dead. It’s just that your products, however well-crafted, don’t automatically engender loyalty in the same way they once did. But an outstanding customer experience can.

What is Customer Experience (CX)?

Customer experience, or CX, isn’t the same as customer service. CX goes far beyond customer service in the traditional sense (which is mainly limited to your customer service department’s interactions with customers). CX refers more broadly to your customers’ overall experience with and impressions of your brand that emerge from every customer touchpoint before, during, and after a sale. Some examples of CX touchpoints include:

  • Marketing materials, including the content on your website
  • Interactions with sales reps, including field marketing events, sales demos, machine training, and follow-up calls
  • The process of ordering your product through a distributor
  • The experience of receiving your product, including packaging and setup
  • Tech support calls
  • The process of ordering a replacement part or getting a machine serviced

This partial list reveals that customer experience isn’t just the concern of marketing or customer service. Instead, CX touchpoints are distributed across each of a manufacturing company’s functional groups. Paradoxically, it’s owned by everyone and no one at the same time.

And that means that each person in your company has a stake in providing a best-in-class customer experience. Every individual touchpoint matters — each time, without exception. The more value you add along the journey, the more positive the customer experience. Conversely, as countless one-star Yelp and Amazon reviews attest, just one negative experience can permanently sour customers on a brand.

Because customer experience touchpoints are so fully distributed throughout your manufacturing company, it’s imperative that you appoint someone (ideally in the C-suite) to take the lead on CX. That person must recognize the role each team plays in your firm’s CX and seek to holistically improve it. Until that happens, your CX is likely to be uneven, with each customer encountering a smattering of high notes and low notes along the way.

How to Improve Your Manufacturing Company’s Customer Experience Journey

Taking control of your customer experience journey is a sure path to improving customer loyalty — and remaining competitive. Here’s a high-level view of how to get started.

  1. Map the customer experience journey. If you haven’t already done so, start by mapping your customer experience journey. In order to accurately capture all of your CX touchpoints, challenges and opportunities, you must begin your journey at the “needs” stage and map all the way through the post-purchase loyalty phase.
  2. Inventory touchpoints and assign ownership. Next, you’ll want to inventory each customer touchpoint that falls along the buyer’s journey. Don’t forget to think outside the marketing and customer service boxes as you consider those touchpoints. As you identify touchpoints, assign each one to a particular functional group or distributor. For example, sales demos clearly belong to your sales team, whereas the process of ordering replacement parts belongs to your customer service team. In some cases, certain touchpoints may be shared. For example, both the sales team and your distributors may be in a position to present pricing and options to prospective customers. Creating a matrix of touchpoints segmented by functional groups enables your executive team to see the magnitude of interactions that comprise your firm’s overall customer experience journey.
  3. Survey your customers. Once you have a strong understanding of your existing CX touchpoints, it’s time to gauge how well they are performing. Survey your customers using qualitative and quantitative methods to measure their level of satisfaction with major touchpoints. Your initial findings serve as benchmarks, while ongoing surveys enable you to measure the results of your efforts to improve your firm’s CX over time. Qualitative surveys (such as phone interviews and in-person feedback panels) are helpful in identifying issues. Quantitative surveys, in which customers rate their experiences on a numeric scale, are suitable for answering more defined questions and collecting a larger sample of input.
  4. Analyze findings and identify gaps. Armed with a touchpoint matrix and survey results, your team can now identify critical gaps in your customer experience journey. Those gaps may represent touchpoints for which improvement is needed. And they may also represent opportunities to add wholly new touchpoints in the form of add-on enhancements and services.
  5. Deploy countermeasures to close gaps. Next, you must craft a plan to close the gaps in your CX journey, whether that’s improving your services or adding new ones. Make sure that you assign an owner to each countermeasure to ensure follow-through.
  6. Survey regularly to track progress. As you make improvements, continue to regularly survey your customers. This allows you to track progress and gives you the feedback necessary to adjust course if you aren’t getting the desired results.

The decision to enhance your firm’s CX comes down to how you want to compete and win. There are multiple paths to achieving competitive advantage, from innovation to owning distribution. The beauty of focusing on customer experience is that it not only gives you a strong competitive advantage, but it also forces you to get better at everything else you do, too. With this approach, you (and your customers) win.

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