Forgetting The Customer Experience

It’s been 25 years since the pioneers of business started using the Internet for commercial purposes. Technology innovations such as websites, databases, social media, and search engines have availed new ways for prospects to reach your business and change the way you interact with them. Prior to December 31, 1992, businesses used TV, radio, print and direct mail to connect with customers. Interaction was limited to face-to-face, phone, and mail.

The good news is that all these tech tools can make marketing programs much more innovative and interactive. Yet with so much focus on digital tools, companies often lose sight of what is truly important … the customer experience.

As a marketing professional and educator, the cardinal rule I try to instill in my students is that “you are not your customer.” Just because YOU think something is interesting or valuable doesn’t mean THEY will. I’m going to violate that rule here and use my recent experiences to show what happens when you focus on using tools instead of customers.

Last month’s blog focused on using market research to better understand your customers. This month, I’m going to focus on what happens when you get caught up in using tools rather than doing the due diligence needed to understand your customer’s experience.

Class is now in session. Today’s topic:

What Happens when You Don’t Make Customers the Center of the Universe

My husband and I are in the process of building our dream home. This is the one they are going to take us out of feet first … hopefully a long time from now! We have spent the last three years talking to builders, going to home shows, and viewing new homes in our area. (Hurray for Houzz and Pinterest. Those websites are invaluable for design ideas.) Theorists of buyer behavior call this the cognitive stage where prospects become aware of what is available.

As the trailing spouse, I have also had the unique opportunity to go to KBIS, IBS, IWF and AWFS to see and touch products in showroom settings. Going to these shows remind me of what it felt like going to the candy story as a kid … overwhelmed and excited about the possibilities. Marketing theorists call this the affective or emotional stage of buyer behavior because we developed preferences and established a set of products we will consider buying.

With building plans in hand and the shovel scheduled to go into the ground next month, we have transitioned from window-shopping ideas to actually buying products. The theorists would say that we have reached the third and final stage of buyer behavior, the behavioral stage. And this is where the disconnect begins.

I fell in love with some hardware for the kitchen cabinets at KBIS. I didn’t recall a product name or SKU, so I went to the company’s website. As you would suspect, this company makes more than cabinet hardware, so the first challenge was finding the product I needed. By the fifth click, I reached the gateway to cabinet handles.

Once there, I found the This Collection and the That Collection … 11 of them. As I didn’t know the product name and none of the photos looked anything like the handle I wanted, my 5-minute job turned into a 45-minute unsuccessful hunting expedition.

As a next step, I contacted the company via email. Luckily I had the business card from the person I met at the show, so my inquiry went to a person rather than some general mailbox. The reply came about a week later. Yes, s/he remembered me and the handle I wanted was The Blah Blah. It wasn’t on the website yet because it was relatively new and they hadn’t sold many of them yet. The company rep included a black and white photocopy of the handle that had been enlarged to the point where it was significantly bitmapped. No wonder this product wasn’t selling! The end result is that I picked hardware from a different company.

More searching on websites for different products and companies caused even more stress. Some sites offered no opportunity to search. Others presented products on static pages similar to an old fashioned print catalog. Still others had product photos that were so small, they were impossible to see. How can buyers be expected to buy if they can’t find and see your products?!

This experience has caused me to realize how important it is to focus on the customer experience. This home building experience has proved to me that companies in this industry aren’t doing a good job in that final stage in the buying process.

It’s sad. I suspect there are others like me who have experienced similar frustrations. We like your product. We want your product. But we can’t buy your product because you have made it too difficult.

Remember that when customers get confused or frustrated, they don’t usually voice those frustrations. Instead, they find another vendor. Do you consider what your customers go through during the buying process? He who has the money has the power. How much more business could you generate if you concentrated on their experience?

That’s it for today’s lesson. More about another marketing topic in the May issue of Strategic Business News. Watch for it.

Class dismissed. Now go forth and conquer.