Is Your Baseline Customer Experience Best In Class?

February 4, 2020
Is Your Baseline Customer Experience Best In Class | Man with magnifying glass

Sometimes in keynotes or training, depending on the audience and how I’ve customized the presentation, I will deliver the following line: everything is important, everything is not equally important.

Often, I’m discussing experience design and execution. What touch points matter, what action steps from a journey map should be prioritized, or — simply — what experiential elements should be invested in.

Most of the time, everything’s not equally important refers to customer experience, but sometimes it refers to customers.

Now, for many of us, especially if we have a business school background, we understand customer differentiation. Not every customer is equally valuable.

Some customers come to the restaurant once as they pass through town, others come once a week with their whole family. Both customers are important, both are not equally important. That’s just business. 

In more intimate presentations, like a training, where there is more time for participant interaction, I tend to get one of three responses when I mention that every customer is not equally important. 

The first is, well duh obviously — as if, why am I saying it at all? 

The next reaction is usually some sort of neutral expression or comment — usually along the lines of  “well, that makes sense,” then they sort of wait to hear what larger point that comment is setting up.

However, it’s the third set of reactions that is most interesting, because they are the ones that come from the heart and not the head. And those reactions can be roughly classified as… How can you say customers aren’t important?

I usually point out, well the first part of the phrase actually says they are important and then, as I dig deeper, what I find that they mean is… are you saying that we should give certain customers a sub-standard experience? 

Now, if you’re in customer service/experience, you likely care about customers. I certainly hope so. If you are like that, then at a core level, we don’t want to feel like there are customers that we’re not treating well, that somehow they are getting the bare minimum service. 

And here’s the thing — they shouldn’t be, because what any organization that wants to win with experience should be doing is making sure their baseline experience is best in class.

To win with experience, make your baseline experience is best in class.

The fundamental issue is not that you treat your bronze customers, your silver customers, and you’re gold customers — so to speak — better than your regular customers, the heart of the issue is simple: how good is your baseline experience is to begin with?

What is the foundational customer experience that every customer’s experience is built upon? 

You see, “Is your baseline best in class?” is more than just an idea; it is a guiding principle for strategic execution. 

Let’s Look at the Airlines

So, one of the obvious examples of this principle at work are airlines, only because comparing air travel is one of the most apples-to-apples comparisons you can do in any industry.

There are a limited number of plane manufacturers, constraining regulations of all kinds, and just simply not that many options for differentiation in the core product, which is a seat in the air and baggage that arrives with the person in the right place at the right time.

The funny thing is when we talk about air travel, people understand the idea of classes, of customer differentiation. In air travel, the idea of differentiated service and differentiated customers has been engrained over almost 70 years, since the International Air Transport Association approved different fare classes in 1952. 

But what about a restaurant? Or a department store? Or an insurance agency?

All of those businesses have customers that are more valuable than others, but the idea simply hasn’t been ingrained into our minds for decades like airlines have done with different fare classes, seats, and of course, frequent flyer status. 

From a strategic standpoint, the exercise is never about the more important customers. The exercise begins with a fundamental, almost existential question: what is the core experience that every customer gets and how do we make sure that is the best in industry experience?

Put another way… What is our baseline experience and how much better than the competition can we make it? 

To stick with the airline example for a moment, Can we make our economy class as good as someone else’s premium economy?

If we can’t do it with the seat configuration — where we’re concerned with packing as many heads of human cattle in the car as possible — can we do it with every other aspect of the experience, including the check-in experience, the boarding process, inflight service and amenities… you name it.

Benchmarking your baseline against your competitors tiered offerings is a great way to approach experience design. 

Benchmarking your baseline against your competitors tiered offerings is a great way to approach experience design. 

Of course, just like the airplane seats, there will be constraints both financial and operational in doing so, and it may never be possible to make your baseline experience as good as someone else’s elevated experience, but in the exercise itself — in the trying — is where the value is.

Because it doesn’t matter if your core experience matches your competitor’s second tier experience, what matters is in trying to do so, your core experience crushes theirs.

What matters is that when you establish your core experience (and the service standards that go with it), it is the best in your industry. 

Customer differentiation is okay. In fact, differentiating experiences based on customer lifetime value is a smart business strategy that should be at the heart of most customer experience programs.

It’s okay to treat some customers as more valuable than others, just make sure you treat all customers better than your competitors.

Make sure your baseline is best in class. 

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