In 1952, a restaurant in California purchased eight Prince Castle milkshake machines, each capable of producing five milkshakes at a time. This was pretty unusual activity for a small burger stand in the 1950s, so the salesman from Prince Castle went to the restaurant to check it out.
What he found was a company that had revolutionized the customer experience to revolve around efficiency and product quality. The building was customized to fit the natural workflow of the employees and the milkshake machines were churning out 40 milkshakes at a time, constantly.
That little burger stand grew into what we know today as McDonald's, and it's still the largest fast-food chain in the world.
Moral of the story? Every business should want to innovate its customer experience. It makes you unique and it lets you offer something that your competitors can't.
But, innovation doesn't happen overnight. The founders of Mcdonald's spent years analyzing, planning, and testing until they found the restaurant design that was right for them. That doesn't mean it's impossible to match their success, but it will take some time, dedication, and hard work.
Customer Experience Innovation
Innovating the customer experience means adding more value to the customer's relationship with your business. While there are many ways to do this, these efforts should generally foster a stronger connection with your customer base by offering products, rewards, and services that your competitors can't.
For more specific ways to innovate the customer experience, read on for a list of tips and examples that we gathered below.
14 Ways to Innovate Your Customer Experience
1. Establish an Online Experience.
If you're still solely operating as a brick-and-mortar business, then the most obvious innovation you can make is bringing your brand online. That doesn't necessarily mean ecommerce, either. Just having a presence online makes your company more accessible and helps new customers discover your business.
Business Example: Wootten
Wootten is an Australian leather retailer that has an excellent website to showcase its brand. The site has its products front and center on its homepage and each item comes with a detailed description of price, sizing, and materials used to create each one. It also has a service section that includes things like a maintenance guide that tells customers how to properly clean and care for each product. While Wootten does use this site for ecommerce, it's still a great marketing tool for helping people discover the brand.
2. Offer a Customer Loyalty Program.
An effective way to boost both customer satisfaction and retention rates is to offer a customer loyalty program. Loyalty programs add value after a purchase is made, keeping your brand relevant even when the customer doesn't need to buy one of your products.
Business Example: Boloco
Boloco's loyalty program is great because it's simple and to the point. After every 50$ spent, the customer gets a free item from the menu. It doesn't matter if that item is an extra-large burrito or just a side of guac, the customer has the entire menu to choose from for their reward.
3. Provide a Customer Success Manager.
A customer success manager (CSM) can significantly influence the customer experience by removing roadblocks that create friction after a purchase is made. CSMs are assigned to customer accounts where they monitor activity and look for opportunities to improve the customer's experience. Part of this involves troubleshooting and answering questions, but most of it is strategizing how the customer will succeed after they purchase something from the brand.
Business Example: HubSpot
From prospect to evangelist, HubSpot's customer success managers have a direct impact on the customer experience. They guide new customers through the onboarding process and support them via phone and email throughout the rest of the customer journey. This provides users with a reliable resource they can reach out to whenever they want to learn how to use a product, have a question about a service, or are interested in buying something new from the company.
4. Redesign Your Onboarding.
First impressions can have a big influence on the customer experience, particularly right after a purchase is made. That's why it's important to offer an onboarding program where you can teach new customers how to use your product or service. This will ensure new users won't get frustrated learning your product and won't abandon it because they feel it's too complicated or doesn't fit their needs.
Business Example: Duolingo
Learning a new language takes time and many people give up before they master the language of their choosing. Duolingo understands this challenge and has thus designed its onboarding to optimize customer retention. It has an easy and interactive setup process so you can jump into lessons right away, and it's daily goal notifications, like the one below, act as a nice reminder to return the app each day.
5. Adopt New Support Channels.
New support channels will always improve the customer experience because it makes your support team more accessible to your customer base. Speed is crucial when it comes to customer service and having plenty of channels for people to communicate with you makes it easier for them to obtain information quickly. And, the better your support is, the better their overall experience will be.
Business Example: Spotify
Spotify uses its Twitter account to respond to questions that followers have when using the app. It also encourages users to request new songs via Twitter so its team knows what type of music to add that the platform doesn't currently offer. This is a great way for Spotify to not only improve its product but to retain and attract customers as well.
6. Add a Chatbot to Your Website.
If you're currently supporting customers via live chat, a great way to innovate their experience is by adding a chatbot to your website. Chatbots automate customer support functions saving time for both the customer and the support agent. Chatbots field basic service inquiries and direct customers to specialists when their problem is more complicated. This creates a balanced support system that appeals to both customers who are in a hurry and those who are looking for a more detailed explanation from your support team.
Business Example: Cleo
Cleo is an AI-powered budget management app that helps people spend their money more efficiently. Cleo's chatbot gives users advice that can help them meet their daily spending limits and better adhere to their budget. Cleo can even personalize it's messaging so that it criticizes or praises the user based on whether or not they meet their daily goals.
7. Gamify the Pre- and Post-Purchase Experience.
You can really change up your customer experience by adding gamified elements throughout the pre- and post-purchase journey. Gamification takes regular — often dull — activities and turns them into fun, interactive experiences. This keeps customers engaged with your brand even when you're asking them to complete menial tasks like filling out a survey or paying a bill.
Business Example: Tim Horton's
Tim Horton's recently upgraded its loyalty program to include gamified elements within its mobile app. Now, users can play games and "level up" while they work towards earning rewards that they can redeem at Tim Horton's restaurants. This is a great way to keep the brand top of mind and encourage customers to return to the business, even though the games don't directly relate to Tim Horton's products.
8. Look for Opportunities to Automate.
You can make a big impact on your customer experience just by automating routine functions for your support team. For example, a ticketing system can automate actions like creating new tickets, distributing and assigning them to reps, and sending follow-up emails if a ticket isn't responded to. These little actions add up throughout a support shift, so the more you can automate, the more efficient your service experience will be.
Business Example: Comcast Xfinity
If you've ever set up a cable subscription, you know it can involve a lot of back and forth with your provider's support team. First, you need to buy the subscription, then you need to set up the router, and finally, you need to activate your devices so it's linked to your provider.
Comcast Xfinity makes most of this easy by adding an automated phone tree to its support experience. The AI first determines if there's an account associated with the caller's phone number, then tries to determine where they are in the setup process based on their previous interactions with the company. Once it pinpoints where the customer is having trouble, the system forwards them to a rep who's best suited to help.
9. Be Proactive With Your Customer Service.
Proactive customer service means your support team is actively looking for new problems that may affect the customer experience. When a new problem is discovered, your team gets ahead of the issue and either solves it before it affects your users or alerts your customers so they can prepare for it ahead of time. This shows customers that you're constantly thinking about their success and are doing everything you can to clear roadblocks that would prevent them from achieving their goals.
Business Example: Anglian Water
Anglian Water is a public water provider that operates in east England. If its system shuts down, its customers are going to want to know immediately about any disruption to their water supply. So, the company offers this interactive map that notifies customers whenever there's an outage or construction taking place on a water line. Customers can also subscribe to emails or SMS messages that will update them in real-time regarding any changes to their service.
10. Re-Evaluate Your Mobile Experience.
With so much focus being placed on your stores, website, and social media accounts, it can be easy to overlook your mobile experience. However, research shows that 57% of people won't recommend your brand if it has a poor mobile website or app. And, 50% of customers will stop interacting with your website altogether, even if they like your products and services. This makes mobile just as important as your desktop or in-store experience, especially as people continue to use smartphones to access information on the go.
Business Example: Nike
Nike created a self-service experience in one of its stores by offering a new app called the "Speed Shop." The Speed Shop was designed to allow customers to buy Nike products in stores without the help of a service representative. Customers would simply download the app, scan product barcodes, then confirm their purchase digitally on their way out the door. The image below shows us exactly how this process worked.
11. Build a Customer-First Culture.
A customer-first strategy is built from the top down. Management has to prioritize customer needs then communicate those values to the rest of the organization. If everyone at the company is putting the customer first, then you'll have a culture that revolves around customer success and delight will become the standard experience at your company — not just the occasional interaction where a rep goes above and beyond.
Business Example: Amazon
Did you know in every company meeting at Amazon there's at least one empty chair? It doesn't matter if the meeting is between two people or two hundred people, Amazon always keeps an extra chair empty to symbolize the voice of the customer. What this does is subconsciously embed the customer experience throughout all of Amazon's decision making. Whenever an executive wants to make a change, that chair reminds them that they have to consider how this change will affect the customer as well as their experience with the company.
12. Listen and Respond to Customer Reviews.
The best innovation is customer-driven. This means that the customer's input is the primary inspiration for the change that your business is making. We'll talk more about what this means later in this post, but listening and responding to customer reviews is the first step you can take towards customer-driven innovation.
Business Example: HubSpot
When it comes to customer reviews, HubSpot is very in tune with what its customers are saying about its products and services. The company not only monitors third-party sites for mentions and new listings, but also participates actively by responding to customers shortly after they publish a review. Here's an example of one from Glassdoor that a HubSpot rep responded to.
13. Prioritize High-Quality Customer Support.
Customer service is a customer acquisition tool — and a dang good one, too. If you provide high-quality customer support, people will want to work with your business, even if your products cost a little more. In fact, 86% of customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience than a poor one. This means if your customer support is better than your competition, you'll have another marketing tool that you can leverage when attracting new leads.
Business Example: Zappos
Zappos is an online retailer that has built its reputation around customer service. It has a unique corporate culture that encourages support reps to do whatever it takes to delight the customer, even if that means going outside of standard policy or protocol. Zappos' customer support is so good that the company even promotes its most memorable interactions as advertisements, like in the example below.
14. Adopt Powerful Customer Service Tools.
As your customer base grows, the demand for your customer service team will increase as well. While your team may be able to maintain the same quality of service for some time, eventually they'll struggle to keep up as you continue to acquire more customers. This leaves you with the choice of either hiring more reps or adopting new technology to give your team a hand.
Tools like help desks and shared inboxes make a major difference in your support team's workflow. They can automate tasks, enable collaboration, and help reps manage their queues as your customer base continues to grow. These tools help support teams meet the timely expectations of your customers while still providing that same quality of service that makes your brand stand out.
Business Example: Yoga International
Yoga International is a subscription-based, online yoga studio that offers courses and lessons through its website. Recently, the company adopted Service Hub, to collect customer feedback and respond to customer reviews. This has led to a 20% decrease in customer churn and a 5% increase in referrals. Not to mention, there have been an estimated 1,000 support tickets that have been deflected since the company implemented these tools.
Earlier in this post, we mentioned how innovation is most effective when it's customer-driven. However, achieving this isn't as simple as just asking customers for their opinions on your products. You need to develop a systematic approach that makes feedback more accessible and encourages customers to speak freely about your brand.
How to Create Customer-Driven Innovation
Gather Customer Feedback.
If you want to generate customer-driven innovation, then you'll need to get in touch with your customers and listen to their ideas. Whether this is through surveys, focus groups, or analyzing common support cases, you'll need to know how your customers feel about your products and where they think you can improve. Without collecting and analyzing this input, you'll continue making changes based on your team's perspective and not off of the recommendations of your customers.
Analyze Your Customer Service Data.
Direct customer feedback is great because it highlights a specific issue with your product or service. However, this data is not the only way to find out how your customers feel about your brand.
Customer data gathered by your shared inbox or help desk can be extremely helpful in understanding how customers feel about their experience with your company. That's because when you ask a customer directly for feedback, they may shy away from being honest since they're afraid to hurt your feelings. But, when you analyze support tickets from a third-party perspective, you'll notice that customers will speak more candidly about your brand.
This is exactly the information you want to analyze because it's unfiltered feedback about your company.
Provide an Idea-Submission Process.
An easy approach to encouraging customer-driven innovation is to add an idea-submission feature to your website. This is a place where customers can voice their opinion on how you can improve your business and upvote ideas that other customers have submitted. Not every idea will be a game-changer, but it will show people that you value their input and are looking to improve their experience based on their suggestions.
Add a Community Forum to Your Website.
Community forums are great because they bring customers together and form a digital community for your brand. For example, HubSpot's community forum is a place where HubSpot customers can get together and discuss different ways to use the brand's products. They can submit ideas for new product features and offer workarounds to other customers who may be encountering similar challenges. Not only does this help customers find solutions to problems, but it also fosters a community that's loyal to the HubSpot brand.
Lead With a Customer-First Strategy.
For a support rep, the customer experience should be their number one priority. After all, it's their primary responsibility to ensure customers are satisfied with their experience and with the company. Outside of this, there isn't much more that a support rep has to concern themself with.
A company executive, however, has other things to think about than just one customer's experience. They need to think about the company as a whole and how certain changes will influence the business over time. This can make it easy for upper management to lose sight of the customer experience and put customer needs on the backburner as they try to solve other problems for the business.
If you want to maintain a customer-first strategy, then management needs to keep the customer experience at the forefront of their decision making. Regardless of what the executive is considering, they need to think about how each change will impact the customer's perspective of your brand.
For an organized approach to innovating your customer experience, learn how to develop a customer experience strategy.
Originally published Oct 20, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated April 07 2021