July 17, 2017, posted by iq

A Tale of the Challenges of Customer Experience Initiatives

According to an eConsultancy.com survey, customer experience is now B2C marketers’ top priority in 2017, just beating out content marketing. This has been a growing trend over the last several years as brands look for new ways to differentiate, especially in categories where products are increasingly more commoditized. This is no surprise, given that consumers say they are willing to actually pay more for a product if they get a better experience. And while driving an increase in purchase behavior is a key goal of CX initiatives, the real results come from increasing loyalty that drive retention and cross-selling opportunities.

The challenge, and where customer experience diverts from customer service, is that there is no one owner internally at most companies of every consumer touchpoint. Improving the customer’s experience requires breaking down silos across the entire company from marketing to sales to IT to human resources to ensure everyone is aligned around the strategy. This is where the breakdown happens. A consumer might be delighted by an online shopping experience, but as soon as they go into the store and talk to an associate, they are immediately annoyed.

I recently had a similar experience that illustrates not just the importance of customer experience, but also the challenges that come with implementing these types of programs.

On a trip recently to Toronto for work, I booked two rooms at the Westin Harbour Castle for myself and a colleague. After making my reservation, I was delighted to receive an email from an “Experience Specialist” thanking me for my reservation and asking me if I had any questions. I thought this proactive step was especially interesting given the very manual process it entails to reach out to every guest of their hotel.

Just to test the extent of this investment in experience, I replied with the requested information and explained that it would be my first trip to Toronto. The same Specialist replied the next day with some information about the area and interesting things going on in the city that weekend.

Needless to say, I was impressed and excited about my stay.

I arrived in the evening at the hotel on the day of my stay to find out that they no longer had any of the rooms I had reserved. It turns out they had given away all of those rooms earlier in the day. Normally I wouldn’t mind this minor issue, but it was particularly frustrating because 1. I was specifically asked and provided my arrival time, so I assumed that would mean my room would not be given away, and 2. my expectations for the stay were so high given the experience I had shortly after the reservation process. I explained my disappointment and immediately sent an email back to the Experience Specialist with whom I had been communicating in the days prior. I received an email in response the next day apologizing.

The Experience Team at Westin not only got me into the room that I had originally reserved, but upgraded me to a corner room. It was a nice gesture of goodwill. But what happened next demonstrates a strong commitment to customer experience.

When I arrived in my new room that afternoon, I unpacked my suitcase and headed back out to the conference I was attending. When I came back to my room, there was a card and plate on my dresser.

The Experience Specialist had presumably gone online to find out some of my interests (in this case kayaking) and had the restaurant create a custom dessert just for me. What came was an edible (and delicious) kayak made out of rice crispy treat and a handwritten note. Shocked by the thoughtfulness, I immediately shared an image of it with my colleagues.

My experience with the Westin Harbour Castle is a perfect example of how complicated customer experience can be. Westin has invested in a dedicated team tasked with owning the customer experience, but it seems they have not fully broken down the communication barriers that allow that team to be successful. And while that did cause a slight inconvenience, the team did make up for it in a really impressive way, earning my loyalty and several positive recommendations among my professional circle.

There are a 4 things we can learn from the Westin example:

  1. Communication across teams is the most vital part to ensuring the customer is satisfied.
  2. Even where there is a dedicated person or team tasked with improving customer experience, it requires the commitment of the entire company.
  3. Very often internal processes work at odds with CX initiatives. In this case, selling the nicest rooms first is probably a profitable strategy for the company, but it created an issue later in the day that cost the company money. At a minimum, expectations should be set as to how this would be handled prior to arrival.
  4. “Surprise and delight” should only be used when a company is sure that it will not illuminate other deficient areas of your CX program.
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