You can please some customers all of the time.
You can please all customers some of the time.
But you can’t please all of your customers all of the time.
(With apologies to Abraham Lincoln and John Lydgate)
Here’s the thing: I hate to be helped in shops. I don’t like it when an assistant approaches and asks “Can I help you?” That’s just me. Maybe it’s because I live in England. I want to make up my own mind and seek help from an assistant when I want it.
My friend, on the other hand, likes an assistant to help him. He resents it when he sees staff standing around, not offering to help. He wants them to come up and ask.
What’s a shop to do? The customer experience they offer is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Many companies try to please everyone. They try to cover all the bases. They attempt to offer an experience that handles their main set of target customers and the others, the exceptions. Result? The experience they offer is confusing. They serve neither set of customers well and both groups of customers become unhappy and leave.
In our businesses we want to avoid this. We must analyse customer data to get insight into what matters to our target customers. We must combine this insight with our own understanding of what we are good at, to think about the experience we want to offer.
Then we must choose to provide the experience that works best for the customers we want to get and keep.
When we do, we know that such an experience won’t work for all customers. But we accept this because we will be confident that it will work for the majority of those we want to serve.
The customers we lose are the price we pay to enable us to offer a great experience for our target market. Why is it worth paying?
Because if we can truly offer a great experience for their target market, then we have a real edge over the competition. We will secure a greater market share. And we can seek higher margins as our customers accept that higher value justifies higher prices.
Even better, we save money. We won’t waste time, resources and attention on exceptions and variations for customers whom we are not targeting and from whom we will get little return.
Of course, the bright reader (and all my readers are bright) will have spotted what has happened here. The quality of customer experience we offer corresponds directly with the quality of our business strategy.
If we have made clear strategic choices about the customers we want to serve, we can confidently provide an experience that they will value.
If our strategy is unclear? Then we can only offer a confused or ambiguous customer experience.
So yes, our customer experience is damned. But it can happen in two ways. It can be damned because we choose to serve our target customers brilliantly and with confidence because we know who they are. By doing so, we are willing to accept that some current customers won’t value the experience we offer and may leave. And we accept this cost, because the payoff for our core customers – and for us – is so great.
In this case, our customer experience is a clear expression of our organisation’s strategic intent.
But the second path to damnation is far, far worse. It happens when we try to please everyone, because we don’t know (or are unwilling to choose) which customers we want to serve. Then we can’t offer a winning customer experience because we have to compromise to try to keep everyone happy.
In this case, the customer experience we offer is equally an expression of our organisation’s strategic intent. But what it expresses is ambiguity and confusion.
Keeping everyone happy may be a good intention, but it is also the road to Hell.
So maybe we have to accept that our customer experience is damned. But let’s choose how we want it to happen. For when we do, we give ourselves a chance to give our customers an experience that will make a real difference to them and to us.
(Image credit: Hellfire and Damnation by Jocelyn under Creative Commons License)