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By Guy Holwill, Chief Executive, Fairbairn Consult

Unless you have a monopoly, customer experience or CX as it is sometimes referred to is the single most important thing that you need to get right to have a thriving business.  The difficulty is that it is pervasive to your business and covers everything from your first contact with the client to the last.  As a result it feels intangible, loose and slightly overwhelming.

I thought it would be helpful to start with the definition from Wikipedia.  “Customer experience is a totality of cognitive, affective, sensory, and behavioral consumer responses during all stages of the consumption process including pre-purchase, consumption, and post-purchase stages.

To be honest, that sounds like consultant waffle, so I looked a bit more and found something that is more relatable “Customer experience (CX) is the sum total of customers’ perceptions and feelings resulting from interactions with a brand’s products and services.”  What I like about this definition is that CX is about the customers’ perceptions and feeling based on their experience.

To make this more practical, think about your own experiences as a customer.  Start with companies where you had a poor experience.  There are many things that drive poor experience, but they are usually tangible like bad products or shoddy service.  Because of your bad experience, you probably have not gone back to those companies and, more importantly, you may have told your friends and family about the poor experience.  If it was especially poor, you could have posted something on social media, where you warned thousands of people about your poor experience.

By contrast, think of companies where you had a fantastic customer experience.  In these instances, it is possible that it was something tangible that made it exceptional, but it is equally likely that it was the way that you felt that made all the difference.  And I’m pretty sure that returned to those companies and referred some of your friends.

Because of its importance, it’s no surprise that there are companies that help other companies improve their CX, or that there are 3,19 billion results when to search on Google.  But it really is difficult to improve your CX.

If you want to create great experiences for your customers, all you need to do is think about your business from their perspective.

There isn’t sufficient space in this article to cover all aspects of your CX, but let’s make this real by considering the example of a first meeting with a potential new client who has been referred by an existing client.

Are your offices easy to find?  If not, did you send them a pin from Google Maps and / or an explanation of how to get there?  Is there parking nearby – this is especially important if it is an older client or someone with a disability.  When they arrive at the door, did someone greet them by name.   Did someone offer them tea, coffee or water.  Now here’s a really important nuance – was it good tea or coffee?  You will put yourself at a huge disadvantage if the first thing that they get from you is awful coffee – remember, your goal is for the client to want to return to your office.

Did the meeting start on time?  Did you introduce yourself and your staff?  Did you explain all the services that you offer – which is critical if the person who referred them only uses 1 or 2 of your services.  But, by far the most important thing in a first meeting is whether the client felt that you made an effort to understand their context and the problems that they are trying to solve.  Did you listen or were you merely waiting to continue talking about yourself.

To improve your CX, you need to apply the same logic when looking at every touch-point with the client, from the coffee to the lighting in the room.  In some instances, your CX needs to be very good – like the quality of your advice or your written communication to clients.  However, there are other aspects where it merely mustn’t be bad. That might sound strange, but you must remember that this all comes down to a return on investment, and you’ll find that the return on a very expensive carpet is pretty poor.

Even if you work through your entire business, you may have blind spots that are important to your clients.  Just think of the famous example of the adviser who unexpectantly lost a few older clients because they found his sofa too soft and were too embarrassed to say that they couldn’t stand up.   Therefore it is always a good idea to ask your clients for feedback on what they do / don’t like about your practice.  This may be uncomfortable for both them and you, but you can overcome this by explaining that you want their feedback so that you can improve their experience.  After all – who doesn’t want a better experience?

A final thought is that you do not have enough time or money to give all your clients the same fantastic experience.  This means that you need to segment your clients and ensure that your C and D clients get a good experience, your B clients get a better (more expensive and time consuming) experience and your A clients get the best experience.

In conclusion, great CX improves client retention, increases referrals (without asking), grows profit and enhances the value of your business.  However, to get this right, you need to constantly review and improve all aspects of your customer experience.  In some cases you’ll need to implement the right technology to do things like communicating effectively with all your clients.  But the biggest changes will come when you implement new processes, upskill your staff and change some of your own habits.

Guy Holwill is the Chief Executive of Fairbairn Consult.  He is a qualified Civil Engineer and Chartered Accountant and has worked in financial services for more than two decades.  Guy is passionate about creating business models that thrive in the changing worlds of regulation and customer experience.

Fairbairn Consult is a firm of Registered Financial Advisers. We are a licensed FSP and a member of the Old Mutual Group.