Customer experience; the new differentiator

For as long as people have been trading, businesses large and small have looked for key elements that would differentiate them over competitors. The thinking behind this is that if you’re different – in a “good” way – customers will notice you and more likely purchase from you – possibly at a premium.

Over the years, these differentiators have evolved as markets or customer expectations have changed.

Software was once sold and differentiated based on its sheer number of features. Hardware was differentiated on technical specifications alone. Contrast this with current times. Smartphone apps only concentrate on a few highly focussed features while technical specifications for hardware devices are just taken for granted today.

Commoditisation is ruling the day over particular elements. Hardware components for instance are becoming more powerful and cheaper over time thus making it easier for hardware manufacturers to incorporate sophisticated hardware into their products but making it more difficult for manufacturers to compete with each other.

This is why it makes sense to differentiate based on elements that are difficult to replicate.

Usually that means the “softer” or unseen elements of a business with the goal of standing out, increasing customer engagement and attracting new business.

What exactly is customer experience?

Customer experience (also known as user experience in the tech industry) is how a business or product is designed. It takes in to account how customer needs are met or exceeded during initial awareness of a business or product, the purchasing and post-purchase / support stages along with the actual usage / interaction with the product.

I like using the example of Airbnb when talking about a company that really gets customer experience. Airbnb enables people to rent out their spare bedroom or entire place (great for folks looking for somewhat cheaper accommodation than standard hotels off the tourist track and great for those renting out their places to make additional income.) The thing is, room sharing sites or classifieds were around a long time before Airbnb came on to the scene (two classic examples are Gumtree and Craigslist).

Airbnb approached the whole thing differently though. They didn’t just view their service as a simple listing of rooms on a website.

They obsessed over the big picture of selling experiences right down to the most minor detail of how search results are optimised.

They handle money exchange to alleviate trust issues. They share emotional stories from travellers within the Airbnb community. And yes, the aesthetics of their website, mobile app and email marketing are sublime.

How to start improving your customer experience

  • The best place to start is to map how your customers expect to go about doing something (such as booking you in for a consultation or comparing why they should engage you vs your competition) against the way your website or service actually allows them to go about doing it. This technique is referred to as either customer experience mapping or mental modelling.
  • From your model above, you can then choose areas to focus on that could be done much better. A good thing to do here is to look not only at the competition but also other soloists or companies in different industries for great out of the box ideas.
  • Once you have those elements in place that you’ll improve, ensure you test and tweak until you’re receiving glowing feedback and you notice positive results where it counts.

High quality customer experiences can be applied to anything from buying a train ticket to acquiring lucrative financial products. As entrepreneurs, we’re often in the best position to implement such changes and I have every confidence existing and prospective customers will notice when you do.