Have you ever taken a peek at a competitor’s offerings before? Perhaps you checked out their product pages, read their reviews, or tried out their chatbot. Maaaybe you’ve even asked a friend to use their email to grab a gated asset for you or clicked on a competitor’s PPC ad to give yourself a chuckle. (It can’t just be me, right?)
Competitor analysis is certainly an important part of business, however, it’s likely not super relevant for how your customers actively compare you to others.
Your Customer Experience Competition
Your customers most often compare you to their best brand experiences, not to your competitors. Customer interactions with your brand happen through an intertwingled relationship with their environment, their expertise (or lack thereof), and the plethora of other products and services they encounter simultaneously. Additional inseparable elements of any interaction include their expectations, their level of effort, and any friction they encounter.
Reality check: Your brand is a tiny dot in their ‘ecosystem’ circle. Fortunately, you have ample opportunity to improve your customer experience by embracing their point of view.
Customer’s Product & Service Ecosystem
Let’s take a look at a seemingly simple example.
At the end of a long day or week, I may want to relax in comfy clothes in front of the TV, enjoy a snack and tea, cuddle with my dog, and order takeout for dinner. Ideally, I found time earlier to dust the TV and vacuum up the dog hair. Fairly straight-forward, right?
If we look at the same scenario from a brand perspective, things appear much more complex. I’ve engaged with 30+ brands across countless interactions just to be comfortably sedentary. And this depiction is conservative compared to the full scope of what’s actually involved!
Takeaway question: Each time your customers engage with your brand, what does their product and service ecosystem look like?
Your customer’s ability to get the value they seek from your brand is incredibly variable. It ranges across factors such as their experience with similar functions, learning style, time management, and more. Their reliability to refill any necessary supplies could even be a factor. (Ever taken batteries from one remote to use in another? Me neither.)
Takeaway question: Each time your customers engage with your brand, what skills and dependencies do they rely on?
Your customer’s environment adds further dimension and variability to interactions with your brand. The weather, day of the week or time of day, where they live, stress, sleep or hunger status, health status, family or neighbors or any of the people in their life, pets, plants, work or entertainment mode. The list goes on.
Takeaway question: Each time your customers engage with your brand, who or what in their environment is influencing what they’re trying to accomplish?
Intersections of Opportunity
When your customer’s ecosystem, expertise, and environment overlap, additional elements come into play. These intersections are your greatest opportunity to influence your customer experience beyond that tiny-dot-reality-check mentioned above.
When your customers encounter issues, are they offered quick and intuitive options? Empower them with self-service or, ideally, proactive resolutions. Remember that friction may be a result of factors that have little to do with your product or service.
When my UberEATS delivery is missing an item, I can report it and get a refund with just a few taps in the app. I don’t even have to describe my issue because the necessary prompts are already there when I seek help. When my HBO app times out, I get a generic error with no indication if it’s an issue with the app or my wifi. From experience, I know it could be either. I have to leave the room to check my router status before I know the best next step.
Aim to be the brand that, among many, stands out as the most helpful when things go wrong.
Customer expectations are one of the few things in life you can be sure will consistently trend up and to the right. While it’s not necessary to create customer delight, it is essential to enable your customers to achieve their desired outcomes in ways they expect. Personalization and automation are becoming the norm.
The Philips Hue Smart Bulb in my bedroom lamp automatically turns on at sunset, so I don’t walk into a dark room after making dinner. I don’t even have to know when sunset shifts throughout the year because the app knows that for me! I also set the light to fade out around 9:30 pm, so when I’m tempted to play the next episode (yes, Netflix, I’m still watching!,) I know it’s getting late without having to check the time.
Explore how interactions with your brand can further assist customers in their journey, which goes well beyond your product or service.
Do not underestimate the cognitive load that your customers endure to manage their interaction with your product or service, along with everything else. They are juggling the task (or multi-tasks) at hand, their larger goals, and responsibilities to others.
I have a recurring order for protein powder, but the interval I need to reorder often changes due to travel or fluctuations in my eating habits. This brand always notifies me before a shipment and offers intuitive, granular control to change the schedule within a few taps. A health supplement brand I subscribed to made it more difficult to adjust. In fact, at one point I actually delayed an order and was unpleasantly surprised to see a shipment notification the next day. I can only assume there was an extra confirmation step I didn’t complete. The protein powder and supplement brand don’t have overlapping products so they are not competitors, but you can guess where I’m no longer a customer.
Make things as easy as possible. Once again, that means minimize effort to use your product or service and identify how your brand can lower the effort that customers expend towards their wider goals.
Your Action Items
Use the takeaway questions above to gain a fuller picture of your customer’s point of view. Then identify how you can reduce friction, meet ever-increasing expectations, and lower effort for your customers. Emerging and technology-enabled products or services are a great place to look for inspiration.
Become dedicated to framing things from your customer perspective, with their wider context and day-to-day life included.
Finally, please share examples of good customer experience in the comments to inspire others!