It used to be the case that customer experience expectations were set by your customers’ next best alternative—by the experience promised by whatever competitive offerings lie in wait.
But, today, customers expect more than that. In the game of customer experience, your competition isn’t just your competition. It’s often your customers’ last best experience.
Call it the Apple Effect. Or Amazon. Or Uber. Today, like it or not, Apple and Amazon and Uber and so many others have conditioned your customers to expect more—often more than you can readily deliver.
Your customers have seen what great looks like and, if we’re being honest, it probably bears little resemblance to your company. Or even your direct competitors.
Your customers expect experiences that serve their needs before your own, that give before they take.
They expect experiences designed to fulfill their goals with the lowest possible friction and surface area, the minimum viable process* necessary to serve their needs.
They expect experiences designed around their actual goals and needs, not the labyrinthine maze of process that serves your own—also known as the internal madness of how you get things done.
Today, customers have what can sometimes feel like absurdly high expectations for customer experience. But the onus is on you, not to bring these expectations back down to earth, but to rise to meet them.
I had a conversation recently with a customer experience leader who was lamenting about what he saw as somewhat unreasonable customer feedback. “They just don’t understand,” he said.
His inclination was to educate, to disabuse these customers of their ignorance. To challenge the legitimacy of their feedback.
The truth is, you can’t win that fight—and you shouldn’t try. The genie is already out of the bottle. Your customers’ expectations—rational or not—are your new benchmark. Customers are primed to expect more.
Mike Lowe agrees. As chief customer officer for Salt River Project, one of the largest power utilities in the United States, Mike looks beyond his competitors for inspiration. He looks to their last best experience, far afield of the power industry itself. He sees financial services as a better proxy for what he’s after.
Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA feels the same way. He doesn’t look to other car companies for inspiration. He looks to Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental. “We’re not judging ourselves relative to the Lexus dealer down the street,” Cannon said. “We’re looking outside of our industry. We’re looking to the highest end of the hospitality industry.”
In other words, they’re looking to their customers’ last best experience, not their next best alternative.
Because it’s your customers’ last best experience that will probably inform what they expect of you.
(*) Not to be confused with Minimum Viable Product.