Own the Customer’s Total Experience

Taking Responsibility Leads to Customer Loyalty

December 22, 2005

The second critical success factor originally introduced in Customers.com is “Own the Customer’s Total Experience.” Customers like to have a well-orchestrated, well-designed, predictable experience of doing business with you.


In this updated version of the discussion of the second critical success factor presented in Customers.com, we explore the steps needed to build the kind of customer loyalty that accrues to companies that take responsibility for Owning the Customer’s Total Experience. These steps include:
•    Deliver a consistent, “branded” experience. Make sure your brand name evokes more than a product, but a set of feelings in the customer.
•    Focus on saving customers time and irrita-tion. Anticipate and eliminate snags and de-lays in their experience of dealing with you.
•    Offer peace of mind. Allay anxieties with proactive reassurance and ways to track how the process of doing business is pro-ceeding.
•    Work with partners to deliver consistent ser-vice and quality. A customer will absolutely hold you responsible for the quality of the outcome, as well as the experience he had en route.
•    Respect the customer’s individuality. When a business treats a customer like the im-portant individual he is, loyalty soars.
•    Give customers control over their experi-ence. Customers know best how the expe-rience will be successful for them.

A New Version of Customers.com

In the eight years since our best-selling book, Customers.com was first published in 1998, we have received almost constant requests for updates to both the concepts and the case studies presented in the book. In 3Q 2006, we’ll be publishing an updated version. But as subscribers to our advisory service, you don’t have to wait! You’ll receive each updated section and case study as they’re completed. Stay tuned.

The Eight CSFs

In Customers.com, we identified eight critical success factors for making it easy for your customers to do business with you. The CSFs are:
•    Target the right customers
•    Own the customer’s total experience
•    Streamline business processes that impact the customer
•    Provide a 360-degree view of the customer relationship
•    Let customers help themselves
•    Help customers do their jobs
•    Deliver personalized service
•    Foster community

They sound so simple, so prosaic. Yet as we “unpack” each one, you’ll see that there are many subtleties involved in getting them right.

As we approached updating the CSFs, we dis-covered that they really stood up to the test of time. Although we have updated some of the examples to better reflect the current state of the companies referenced (especially when there has been a significant change), the factors, themselves, remain viable and pretty much unchanged.

In this report, we present the second critical success factor, Own the Customer’s Total Experience.


I did a lot of my Christmas shopping on the Web last year. And I wasn’t the only one. According to comScore Networks, consumers spent more than $15 billion shopping online between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s in 2004, compared to $12 billion spent online in the same time period a year before. I expect online consumer sales of at least $25 billion in the 2005 holiday season.

What made it easy and fun to shop online? (And shopping anywhere should always be fun and easy if you want customers to come back!) The fact that I knew exactly what to expect at each site and no one let me down. Whether I shopped at L.L. Bean, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, or West Marine, I had the same satisfying, reassuring, and predictable experience. Often I knew what I was looking for: a book about urban planning for my architect brother-in-law, an extra-large floppy-brimmed sailing hat for my son-in-law, a Drop and Roar Dinosaur for a good friend’s two-year old. In several cases, when I went to the online store, I was greeted like a friend: “Hi Patricia Seybold, welcome back! Here are some things we think you’ll like.”

In all cases, I began my online interaction with a targeted search, using either the sites’ search capabilities or following the path through a category (e.g., men’s sportswear—shirts) rather than browsing randomly through the merchandising pages (although occasionally I’d detour to check out the “specials” the company was promoting). With each targeted search, I found an interesting assortment of relevant options from which to choose. What I enjoyed most was the ability to get lots of information about each item—pictures, detailed write-ups, ratings, recommendations, and sometimes other customers’ reviews. The actual buying process was also easy and reassuring. In each case, it was very clear what to do next: put the item into your shopping cart, fill in or double-check the credit card number and the shipping address, select gift-wrapping paper or a greeting card, and select the type of shipping. It didn’t matter if I stopped in the middle and came back the next day. My shopping cart was still “sitting” in the electronic aisle with the items I had selected, and I could pick up where I had left off. A couple of times, I decided I wanted to talk to someone. So I called the toll-free number and asked my questions (“Which of these two hats is really both sunproof and waterproof?”), or I initiated a Web chat session with a customer service representative to ask a similar question. In each case, I was greeted by name, my questions were answered efficiently, and I just placed the order over the phone or let the chat session guide me to completing my online transaction.

But the online shopping experience didn’t stop when I placed the orders. Then emails began arriving: “We just shipped out these two books. We upgraded your shipment to priority mail. The other four books in the same order will be shipped shortly.” “Linda Seybold signed for the wine you sent yesterday at 5:40 p.m.” When the products arrived, they were carefully packaged and nicely wrapped (if that’s what I had requested).

What worked for me was the fact that, in each case, I felt that I was dealing with a company with a “personality.” The human touch came through. In fact, it came through better than it probably would have had I been battling crowds in a physical store. I could get information when I needed it, without having to look around for someone to ask or waiting in line at the checkout counter. In fact, there was no waiting, no annoyance; just satisfaction and peace of mind. These companies have all done a great job of giving me the total experience I really want and expect.

Of course, customers’ needs change over time. Companies that recognize this begin to track cus-tomers’ lifecycles. They understand that a single person’s financial needs change when she gets married and begins to think about having a family. They realize that children grow up and will need different products and services as they do. They understand the difference between a customer who is selecting and installing a product for the first time and one who is now rolling that product out to thousands of end users. For example, American Skiing Company—which owns and operates more than a dozen ski resorts—tracks each family member’s skiing or snowboarding expertise. It notes which lodge you stayed at the last time and whether or not you rented skis. If you just want to sign Timmy up for the next level of ski instruction, rent the same size boots for Sarah, and stay in the same room you had before, that’s no problem. And you can make these ar-rangements by phone or over the Web.

Customers have different needs when they’re dealing with you as businesspeople than they do when they’re acting as consumers. If you rent a car from Hertz, whether for business or pleasure, many of your needs will be the same—automatic transmission, four doors, nonsmoking car—but others will be different. For business, a GPS system may be required, while on personal vacation travel, you may want a car seat for your toddler or a ski rack.

Above all, customers like to have a well-orchestrated, well-designed, predictable experience of doing business with you. Yet they also want to feel in control. They need to have the ability to call the shots, to tailor their own experience to fit their individual circumstances.

There are a number of things a company must do in order to build the kind of customer loyalty that accrues to companies that take responsibility for owning the customer’s total experience.They are...


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