Aubyn Thomas of DMA-Atlanta Interviews Mike Wittenstein about Customer Experience

Aubyn Thomas, president of Direct Marketing Association-Atlanta, interviewed me recently in preparation for her role as MC at the DMA-Atlanta event I’ll speak at in Atlanta on January 20. Here are the highlights.

Thomas: “Mike, as a thought leader in the customer experience space, how is the way we service our customers in tomorrow’s world going to be different from what we have experienced in the past?”

Wittenstein: “It’s going to be better. Much better. As empowered consumers (B2C) and buyers (B2B) demand more, businesses will go beyond simply improving messages and tweaking touchpoints to fundamentally redesigning their businesses around the needs of their customers. Until now, most businesses have tried to get customer interactions to create value for them. From 2011 onward, the smart money is on those firms that engineer themselves to create value for customers. These are the challenger brands I’m watching and interested in because they will be the best prepared to meet customers’ ever-changing
needs.

According to a 2010 American Express study, Americans are willing to spend 9% more with companies that provide excellent service. The same study showed that 91% of customers believe that customer service is important, but only 24% actually feel
they get the service they deserve. It’s no wonder that brands with better customer experiences are outperforming their competitors. The opportunity to win in the marketplace by differentiating your business around customer experience is wide open.”

Thomas: “As companies increase their focus on service capabilities, what benefits are they seeing from your perspective?”

Wittenstein: “Companies that wholeheartedly focus on the customer experience usually enjoy these benefits:

• Reduced churn among customers and employees
• More predictable revenues
• Less advertising expense
• Lower new customer acquisition costs
• Noticeably better internal alignment
• More unsolicited referrals
• Greater brand awareness

These aren’t generally the ones the financial analysts focus on, however these are some of the factors that help create value for customers. In my opinion, they are the ones that should be watched like a hawk because each one carries both a top-line and a bottom-line benefit.”

Thomas: “Tell me more about top-line and bottom-line.”

Wittenstein: “Companies that focus on delivering better experiences usually operate more profitably than others in their category. Properly designed, a better experience can both increase revenues and decrease costs at the same time—in a way that is sustainable. Great experiences don’t just happen and PowerPoint presentations alone can’t make them a
reality! They occur when all functions of the operation align with one another to achieve the outcomes your customers seek. Good customer experience design starts with understanding what your customers care about most. Understanding which promises are most important to your customers, then aligning your organization to make and keep them, is the leader’s most important role. When what the customers want most is what the business does best, the ‘rising tide effect’ kicks in and everyone benefits.”

Thomas: “As direct marketers, we place great emphasis on the dialog that we have with our customers – in both the B2B and the B2C realms. How should we think about our marketing efforts as experience drivers and how can marketing strategy affect our brand’s service delivery?”

Wittenstein: “Marketing makes promises for the business to keep. Without a tight connection between the two, customer frustration or churn ensues. In my opinion, it’s important for  Marketing and operations to be tightly connected
 Marketing to focus on telling the experience story, not just citing benefits  Marketers to remember that the experience can start at any touch point, including media, advertising, sales messages, etc. Each of them and all of them need to be considered part of the buying experience. It’s important to think about the aspects of service excellence and to remember that marketing programs provide support for the brand. The best customer experience designs find the right promises to make and the practical and profitable ways to keep them. Customer Experience Design achieves results that other methodologies can’t
because it:

• Successfully ties the brand to the business
• Shows how front line staff, supported by operations, can profitably deliver a superior experience
• Details what’s important in experience delivery without removing the magic of surprise and great service

Thomas: “What are some of the things that best-in-class companies are doing in customer
experience design today?”

Wittenstein: “First, they Sweat The Details. Great brands capture the present design in enough detail to connect the customer touch points with the behind-the-scenes operations that support them. Together with leaders and customer-facing teams, they consider which of these touch points are the most important (cause the greatest effect, are the most memorable, define the brand, are the most story-worthy, etc), while maintaining focus on what is operationally effective. They also Make The Commitment. Nothing is more critical to your company’s success than the ability to deliver superior customer experiences—time after time. Those experiences don’t just happen. They come about when enlightened companies, seeking a sustainable competitive advantage, decide that they will engineer every facet of their business to align with their customers’ reasons for buying. When customers turn into enthusiastic advocates, the companies that serve them enter the ranks of some of the world’s most enviable brands.”

About the Author:

Mike founded StoryMiners in 2002 as one of the world's first story and customer experience design firms. 750+ project later, the firms know how to help leaders get their stories straight. And, express them as experiences their customers rave about. A certified consultant, speaker, and experience designer, Mike has helped his clients earn nearly $2 billion from improvements in sales, operations, service design, and brand management. Mike is a graduate of Arizona State/Thunderbird (MBA) and the University of Florida (BA). He has also spent two years overseas, learning Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian along the way. #experience design #story #storymining #speaker #strategy #facilitator #keynotespeaker #designthinking #custexp #travel #woodworking