It’s one thing to have an amazing product, it’s a totally different thing to capture your clients and customers during their journey with you to create an amazing experience.
And these two things together, an amazing product and customer experience, will truly allow you to create a happy, repeat customers and great word-of-mouth marketing.
I am so passionate about this topic, because in my “past life” before founding Rank & File and venturing into the world of purpose-driven business, I worked in the luxury hospitality industry. My college degree is actually in hospitality and working for a 5-star product on both the front lines and also at the corporate level taught me a ton about how to anticipate the needs of a discerning guest and to make every single touch point of their experience amazing.
So today, consider this my mini crash course in all things customer journeys, coming from years of firsthand experience. If you want to elevate your purpose-driven brand, as well as the experience you provide to your partners, beneficiaries and customers alike, then stick with me. This episode is for you.
What is a Customer Journey?
A customer journey is the sequence of steps or the path that your customer takes from the moment they first see you and engage with you, until the moment they stop interacting with you all together.
It’s a relationship that develops and hopefully gets richer with time, spanning from that first time they see your social media post, advertisement or homepage (or maybe even step into your shop while out strolling one afternoon), until the time they purchase your product or service, and then continue engaging with your brand over time through delivery, customer service, newsletters, social media and more.
A great way to think about customer journeys is to view it as the vehicle that makes your sales funnel run smoothly — the seamless experience leads to customer retention, word-of-mouth referrals and brand recognition.
Each and every time your customer engages with your brand, no matter how small the interaction is, is called a “touch point.” And, each touch point is an important opportunity for you because you either strengthen the relationship you have with your community or you weaken it.
It’s our job as purpose-driven businesses to take each touch point seriously and do our best to delight our customers each time they interact with us in order to build trust because with trust will come more engagement, more sales and more social impact.
Delighting Your Customer At Every Touch Point
“Delighting your customer” is a phrase that is thrown around in the hospitality sector a lot. Greeting a customer by name, anticipating their needs, offering little items they wouldn’t expect at the perfect time, offering a warm farewell. These are just a few of the luxury hospitality industry’s service foundations.
I know, because my career began in hospitality management classrooms and luxury hospitality properties. One of my main responsibilities when I first got started was laying napkins on people’s laps in a high-end, Michelin Star level restaurant onboard a yacht. It was the best learning experience of my life. Hospitality taught me the art of service and it gave me a love for servant-leadership in general.
Now as the founder of Rank & File, where we offer digital products, one-on-one services through Rank & File Founder’s Studio and group in-person experiences through our Global Retreats, I still lean into these hospitality pillars to make sure that each customer has an amazing customer journey at Rank & File. And when my team does a good job of this, we increase the social impact that Rank & File has.
The Foundational Elements of an Amazing Customer Journey
“Delighting Your Customer” at every touch point to create an amazing customer journey is a simple notion, but harder to execute. In order to succeed, you must accomplish four other things first:
– A true understanding of customers on an individual level
– Knowledge of the operation, down to the tiniest detail
– A solid operational execution strategy
– A process for training and empowering the people who interact with customers
Understanding Customers on an Individual Level
Customer discovery tools that generalize your customer’s mutual needs and desires, like avatars, customer personas and mood boards, are a good starting point, but using these tools used in a vacuum will not truly delight all your customers. Hospitality teaches that we must believe every single customer is a unique person with individual needs and desires. With this understanding, the challenge then becomes: How do I make every customer feel understood, valued and served?
>> If you offer a physical product in a physical space, you will want to think about the experience that your customer has when they see your shop from the street, what they see, smell and hear when they first walk in, and what they feel when they walk around, engage with your staff and purchase their product.
Don’t think about how everyone else does it, think about how you can stand out!
>> If you offer a service in-person, you will want to think about how you engage your prospect customer in those first calls and meetings to make that experience personal, warm, approachable and helpful. There are probably small things you can do to really delight them like offering beverages and snacks, having a beautiful print off for them or even providing a notepad and pen to take notes on. These little touches go a long way. And remember that anything you send home with them will allow you to stay top of mind which is a great marketing foundation for you.
>> If you offer a product or service virtually or online, you will want to use tools to make sure you understand where each prospective customer is on their journey and to send them the right information at the right time. Several email marketing tools allow you to target emails to your customers based on which pages they have been on your website, and which past links they have clicked. You also have the ability to customize pop-up messages on your site based on what they might be interested in. Now I know this sounds complex, but you can really start small with online tools at a relatively low cost and see how it impacts your sales. When we are able to really engage our customers in the right way and serve them by sharing relevant and interesting information instead of treating everyone the same, we often see engagement and sales increase.
Once the person becomes a customer of your online/virtual product or service, it’s then your job to make the experience feel as tangible, tactical and personable as you can so that they don’t even miss the fact that it’s all happening from a distance using technology.
Knowing the Operation, Down to the Tiniest Detail
It’s an easy trap to view the customer experience through the eyes of sales stats, but also looking at it with operational glasses on allow us to dissect all of moments where we have internal opportunities for improvement that might have gone unnoticed before.
I would suggest getting a large piece of paper or going to a white board and mapping out all the behind-the-scenes elements in your operation that ultimately lead to engagement with your customer. This will help you see the internal items that you need to improve on in order to make the customer experience better.
For example, you may want to improve the way you onboard new customers, but you find that you don’t have a clear workflow for your team in order to complete all the steps seamlessly or you don’t have tools, scripts or technology in place in order to make that easy for your team to do a really great job on every time.
So, chart out your internal operations to see where you might want to improve upon.
Creating a Solid Operational Execution Strategy
After you have an understanding of all your customer touch points and how your team impacts these, it’s time to create an execution plan! Operational tools, technology solutions, and the service team will all need to be setup and trained to carry the customer from one stage to the next in a way that feels effortless and enjoyable. It’s a complex funnel with many moving parts.
My suggestion here is to get a list of all of the items you find that you want to improve related to your customer journey, and then prioritize them. You will most likely only be able to improve upon one area at a time while still juggling all the other aspects of your business. So, it’s important to break these into projects and these projects into chunks.
Once you pick your customer journey priorities for the quarter and for the year, you will then want to work on when and what you need to do in order to carry out the improvement project. A good project management system can help you organize this.
Training and Empowering the Team
Finally, many companies are able to setup an operation using technology solutions, but most fail at training their teams effectively. And even if they can hire and teach them the process, it doesn’t mean they are motivating and empowering them. This is our opportunity to stand out. By treating staff as an internal customer and working to serve them, we are motivating them to serve others.
The phrase, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” is a famous “Gold Standard” of Ritz Carlton hotels showing this value of mutual-respect in action. Staff are not hired to simply follow the rules of the process, they are nurtured to take ownership in it. In fact, the entire luxury hospitality industry strives for this standard because they know that a served staff equals a served customer.
And what are ladies and gentlemen serving other ladies and gentlemen empowered to do? They are trusted to delight each customer they come in contact with, without needing “approval.” I ran into a great example of this the other day at a coffee shop. My friend ordered her favorite coffee, a dark roast brew with a shot of lavender flavoring, and was excited to pull out a coupon she had won. The staff, being instructed of the contest rules, quickly cut her off to inform her that the coupon wouldn’t work for the extra shot. The result? 30 extra cents and a less than delighted customer. Not exactly a win.
Instead of instructing your employees to follow rules and processes despite common-sense of a serve-first mentality, you will want to empower them with ownership over their work to make great service decisions when needed to delight the customer — even when that means offering a free 30 cent upgrade!
Remember, that although structure, processes, scripts and rules help to create reliability — you will want to make room for human-centered service that needs to operate within the gray area. And you need to let your staff know that this is allowed within reasons so that they feel they can do this.
By valuing each person and their needs, understanding the touch points of the operation, creating a seamless operational strategy, and empowering our staff to delight customers, we can create amazing customer journeys and raving fans that come back again and again.