CONTRIBUTOR
VP of Global Growth Strategy,
UserTesting

A great customer experience is indispensable. And within the context of the pandemic, this statement is more relevant than ever. Almost overnight, we drastically changed the way we live, how we consume products and services, and what we expect from the brands we choose to do business with.

Companies who prioritized customer experience from the get-go, optimized their digital channels, and kept in close touch with customers to understand their changing needs came out on top. Those who didn’t simply weren’t able to adapt as quickly and fell by the wayside.

As we begin to enter the post-pandemic era, creating and maintaining exceptional CX will be vital to every company’s success. This begs the question: What’s really behind an outstanding customer experience?

A perfected omnichannel experience

In today’s world, the customer journey involves multiple touchpoints, including websites, apps, curbside pickup, brick and mortar stores and more.

For example, purchasing a coffee might involve placing your order in an app and then picking up the beverage via a drive-through window (according to Starbucks, this accounts for nearly 25 percent of sales). Shopping for household items might entail browsing and checking item availability through an app, picking items up curbside, and then walking into a storefront if you realize you’ve forgotten something.

One of the biggest challenges for companies today is ensuring that each of these touchpoints is satisfactory, and that they all come together to create a single cohesive experience for customers that promotes brand loyalty.

A solid employee experience

CX is all about the customers, but employee experience is also a vital—albeit sometimes overlooked—component to great CX. To provide customers with outstanding experiences, employees need to be well-equipped to do their jobs.

Employees (not just customers) are also leveraging these digital touchpoints, so it is important that they understand and feel comfortable using them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. One study from VMware found that, “95 percent of IT professionals feel they provide employees with all the digital tools they need to do their job successfully, but only 58 percent of employees felt the same way.”

A successful example of this is Apple’s Genius Bar. Upon arrival, Apple employees use an app to check customers in and address the reasons for their appointment. It’s critical that this app is easy for employees to use: Its performance and ease of use has a direct impact on employee behavior and therefore the customer experience. Employees expect internal digital tools to be as seamless and delightful to use as customer-facing websites and apps, and top companies have taken this to heart.

A democratized user experience (UX)

Democratizing UX means that everyone within a company—from the software developers building apps to employees working on the sales floor—understands the user experience. Insight into UX can often be siloed within teams when it should really be public and easily accessible knowledge throughout the company.

Companies with quality CX recognize the importance of democratizing information on both the pain points and delight of customers so that everyone is aware. This is especially important for translating experiences from in-person to digital.

For example, when someone walks up to a makeup counter and receives a consultation and recommendations from a sales associate, they may purchase significantly more products than if they’d shopped online. So, how can the people responsible for designing the online experience understand the nuances of selling in person? It’s up to companies to democratize this information so that everyone has the same deep understanding of the customer journey.

An ever-evolving understanding of customers

Understanding customers has always been an essential ingredient of great CX, but the pandemic shined a light on how quickly consumer behavior can change in a short period of time. In order to better handle future changes, companies need to get to know their customers better than ever, which will require re-learning each customer.

Think of how much behavior has changed on planes, for example: We board in smaller groups, sanitize our seat area, wear masks that we only remove to drink or eat, and socially distance when possible. Airlines had to re-learn their customers, including what they’re comfortable with and what new precautions they expect, in order to keep their loyalty.

As we emerge from the pandemic, consumers will continue to have varying expectations and comfort levels. Some may still prefer low-contact interactions, while others may be eager to resume in-person experiences. The needs and behaviors of customers are constantly changing, and understanding the “why” behind these shifts is paramount.

A lot goes into creating stellar CX. It goes deeper than just customers. Making sure that employees are also having a good experience and have open access to information that lets them better understand (and therefore serve) customers is key. Now and in the future, it’s up to companies to continue learning their customers and meeting them wherever they are with experiences that are extraordinary.

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