Providing great experiences for customers has become an important goal for many companies today.

They recognize that creating compelling experiences is the best way to attract, retain and delight customers; engage employees; and differentiate their company from the competition.iStock-535448086_girl in sunglasses with shopping bags_resized.png

As I have discussed in a previous blog for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Bain & Company has conducted research that found that 80 percent of companies surveyed believe they deliver a “superior experience” to customers, but their customers stated that only 8 percent of these companies were really delivering on that.

Bain also reports that companies that excel in customer experience grew their revenues by 4 to 8 percent above the average growth rate in their market. They discovered that delivering superior experiences typically yields stronger loyalty among customers—some of whom become promoters, buy more, remain customers longer, and recommend the company to others.

So how does a company deliver outstanding customer experience? First, it requires a cultural transformation driven from the top. Customer input and understanding must be infused throughout the organization. Strategic intent, why the company exists and what it wants to be known for must be clear throughout the organization.

Perhaps the best example is Ritz Carlton’s credo: “We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman.” At the Mayo Clinic, everyone understands that “the patient comes first.”

When companies are serious about customer experience, there is no doubt who is in charge.

At Chick-Fil-A, a company I have worked with for many years and a leader in customer experience, it is clear who “owns” customer experience. It is Dan Cathy, the CEO, who when asked what he does at the company always responds by saying he “is in customer service.”

At Chick-Fil-A, the mantra to employees is “Be REMARKable” (meaning provide an experience so outstanding that customers will tell others about it). Cathy has focused the company on building “Raving Fans” through a strategy of delivering “Second Mile Service.” The first mile includes the basics such as delivering good food at the right temperature, quickly, in a clean restaurant, together with attentive and courteous customer service. The company calls these things “Operational Excellence.”

Chick-fil-A has differentiated itself from its considerable competition by having everyone go the extra mile. The “Second Mile” customer experience includes doing remarkable things such as carrying trays to the table for moms with young kids and people with physical handicaps, saying “My Pleasure” instead of “No Problem” or “You’re Welcome,” putting fresh flowers on the tables and showing genuine empathy if a customer’s expectations are not met.

Another company that is typically mentioned as a leader in customer experience is Amazon.com. There Jeff Bezos, the CEO, often sets up an empty chair at the conference table when major decisions are being made to represent the customer—and how this person’s desires should always be considered.

Customer experience is just as important in business-to-business marketing.  A key point regarding this was made in a classic Harvard Business Review article called “Staple Yourself to an Order.”1 The researchers often saw customers who could not understand a bill they had received or thought it was inaccurate. Usually the bill wasn’t inaccurate—however, it had been put together to please the billing department and not the customer.

“Ease of doing business with” is an important factor in business-to-business marketing. How the bill is configured is critical to the overall experience.

What does it take to become a customer experience champion? Set high goals, benchmark the best players, recognize the important role employees play, honestly assess your current state relative to what you envision, communicate the vision often, provide key performance measurements, and develop the tools, recognition and rewards for success.

Do you want to learn more about delivering a great customer experience? Then join me and the Director of Customer Insights from a major telecommunications company for a private Web seminar this Thursday, January 26, from 2-3 p.m. ET. For more information, email mary.zellers@verint.com.

Ken Bernhardt is a Regents Professor of Marketing Emeritus, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University

1 Shapiro, B. P., V. K. Rangan, and J. J. Sviokla. “Staple Yourself to an Order.” Harvard Business Review 70, no. 4: 113–122.