Lately, both at work and in my personal life, the customer experience and how it is perceived has really been at the front of my thoughts. Just to clarify, this doesn't specifically have to do with the web. It probably is more so with customer relations, brand image, and marketing. I won't go into the current experience at work, but I would like to share the one in my personal life.
The Tale of the Man and the Car Part
Recently, my father was shopping online for some car parts. Not something I suspect he does very often. While he does do quite a bit of online shopping, I think he finds it to be a frustrating experience at times. Not because of something in the design of a site necessarily. Actually, it isn't even something while he is on the actual site. It is the experience after he has already ordered that is what caught my attention.
When he got his part delivered, he got follow ups from the company that he ordered it from. They weren't the follow up emails that he was used to though. They wanted to be sure it was delivered alright and in good condition. Not only that, but since they manufactured the part, they also emailed extra instructions on installation and additional support information.
I'm not sure if he needed this information, but he greatly appreciated that it was so easily made available to him. Even more appreciative that the emails didn't pressure him to buy more things, take a survey, or otherwise throw additional marketing his way. In fact, he was so happy they treated him this way, that he sent a thank you to their staff and assured them that he was now a loyal customer. That is no small thing.
So... what did we learn?
Think about it for a moment. He appreciated that the company he ordered from seemed to show genuine interest and concern for his personal experience with their product. It wasn't about trying to get him to do more things for the company, they were continuing to do things for the customer. Trying to get ahead of his possible continuing needs versus serving their own self-interest. Even after they had already had a successful transaction. It seems this company really gets it in terms of the customer experience.
I feel like anyone reading this would say, "Well, duh. Of course he liked that." Who wouldn't, right? Here's the thing though: I have seen way too many companies not just "get it." Their product is special. Their company is special. Many times, I've heard clients say "but our users will love the pop up", "our customers like our daily promotional emails", or "but we're the best, so we can do that". Okay, maybe not the last one exactly, but close. Usually, when you turn it around on them, "Would you like all those things?" they usually sing a different tune. Something like, "Well no. I hate those. But... (insert some reason why their customers won't care in this case)." Hmm.
In the end
I fear that many times, we fail our clients by not forcing them to step into their customers' shoes. To view it honestly from that viewpoint. To get treated how they would like to be treated if they were shopping or using a site or product. In the end, the sad truth for the majority of companies is this: you and your product are not special. In today's world, people are bombarded with bullshit and many are sick of putting up with it. If they can go somewhere else and get something similar without dealing with that bullshit, they will.
Companies that can purge themselves of their own superiority complex and look at it from their customers' eyes will gain an advantage of something that is actually valuable beyond their services or products: that feeling of being genuine and caring about their customer. That feeling could end up making a new customer loyal for life. Conversely, abusing customer experience with ads, pop ups, marketing gimmicks, spam in their inbox, and God knows what else could end up making your customer feel like you don't actually care about them at all. Both are reputations that can spread through word of mouth for good and bad. And that kind of thing is viral.
If you think about it, a company being genuine is actually self-serving, since it helps them as much as the customer. It is almost like people want to be treated like... people. Crazy, huh?