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When your head is buried in your product – your ass is towards your customers

It is true that without your product or service you would have no business, it is why your business exists. At some point, someone spotted the business opportunity to develop the product or service, and around that, the organization grew and became the business you know.

It is no wonder that your universe revolves around your product.

It is also true that without your customers you would not have a business, without them there would be no need for your product or service. And your customers’ universe revolves around them – not you.

Many companies, even entire industries, are in danger from adopting complacent thinking – if they haven’t already adopted it. Too many do not see the need to operate any differently than they have always done. Why rock the boat?
Think about banking, or insurance, or even many retailers out there – for years nothing much has changed in the way they operate. Why should they change? People need banks, insurance, and shops right.

Yes, people need banks, insurance, and shops – they just might not need yours.

While you were busy optimizing your processes and justifying increasing prices while decreasing service, you did not pay attention to your customers. Suddenly it hits you like a ton of bricks, your customers have started banking with the small local bank, or they are shopping online instead of into your stores.

Don’t become the next BlackBerry

We are in the age of the customer – and that goes for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business. Before you even meet your customers, they know your products, your service, your pricing, and your reputation. And so does your competitors by the way – there is nothing stopping them from copying or undermining your products and your go-to-market strategies.

No industry has realized this predicament more forcefully than one of the newest industries out there – software-as-a-service. This business model relies on customers keeping their subscriptions for long periods of time. It is not uncommon that breakeven on CAC happens after a year or more. It is therefore imperative for these companies to keep retention rates high.

There are two main strategies for retaining customers, you can increase switching costs, which virtually locks-in customers, or you can create products that your customers truly love.

Increasing switching costs is tempting and very effective – at least in the short-term. But remember, your reputation is public knowledge, and few things are more frustrating for your customers than experiencing high switching costs. When customers feel you are intentionally making their lives difficult by placing barriers that limit their ability to move freely, it creates a great deal resentment. Ultimately, it can lead a customer to not only leave you for good, but also warn everyone else from entering into business with you.

Creating products that your customers truly love is easier said than done. Love is fickle – just because you gained their love ones, doesn’t mean you’ll keep it for long. Just ask BlackBerry, they had tremendous success and lost it all because they failed to understand the fickle nature of customers’ love.

The worst part about the BlackBerry story is that it wasn’t a matter of not asking customers what they wanted. They did ask, but they believed they knew better and therefore didn’t act on what they heard.

Taking the first step on the road to customer love

Understanding your customers’ experience with your company holds the key to igniting and maintaining their love. I mean the entire experience, not just the moment of sale. Understanding every touch-point between you and your customer offers insight into many less obvious areas with room for improvement.

Does your website claim white-gloved delivery service, when in fact it’s just two guys with a truck? Do you say you deliver in weeks, and then it ends up taking months? Do customers misunderstand your billing and call your support in frustration? There are undoubtedly many areas within your business that could benefit from being analyzed from a customer’s perspective.

Forrester Research authors; Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, have written an excellent book on the customer experience discipline of thinking Outside In (also the title of the book). One of the tools they highlight is using a customer journey map to build a visual representation of all the channels and touch-points that make up what they call the customer experience ecosystem.

For every interaction between a customer and your company, there are a number of activities that take place behind the scenes. Without mapping the entire customer journey, you could easily lose sight of the forest for the trees. Problems affecting customers’ perception of your company often involve several departments within your organization to be resolved.

For example, increasing the level of customer service in your retail outlets, could involve implementing new hiring policies in your HR department, screening new candidates better for positive service attitudes. Or maybe your legal department’s policies are so restrictive it is preventing your service technicians from fixing customer problems efficiently. Outside In features a case study in which technicians could not help customers because they were not allowed to touch customer owned hardware.

Customer journey maps exist in all shapes and sizes, and there is no one right way to make them. From the Ideation inspired wall of sticky notes, to the pristinely designed slide deck, all that matters is you decide the format that works for your company and you take the first step.

Here are a few resources that can help you get started:

Start by watching this video featuring Kerry Bodine talking about customer journey maps at MozCon 2014

Canvanizer – a great FREE tool for creating sharable and great looking customer journey maps

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