The Gist

  • Acquisition obsession. Don't overlook post-acquisition experiences.
  • Regular health checks. Conduct regular assessments of key customer interaction flows.
  • Humanizing customers. Move beyond data to connect with customer stories.

Once upon a time, a young couple embarked on a new chapter of their lives together. Excited to furnish their home with a symbol of their newfound adulthood, they visited a furniture shop and bought a couch. They adored their new couch, but soon it began to literally fall apart.

When they returned to the furniture shop and asked how long a $1,200 couch should last, store employees informed the couple that the couch should last one-to-three years with light use. The couple kept the couch, but during their New Year's Eve party, the leg of the couch broke, and their friends went tumbling down.

This true story is far from a stellar customer experience, and it's safe to say that this couple was done for good with that particular shop.

In this week's CMSWire Contributor Q&A, contributor Janelle Estes, chief insights officer at UserTesting, discusses the importance of not only focusing on customer acquisition but also maintaining a strong and consistent experience for customers after they've made a purchase.

As someone who's had my own furniture difficulties (see below), I can relate to the couple's story and the frustration it reveals. In this interview, Janelle highlights key steps businesses can take to ensure customer satisfaction and trust are maintained, while also sharing her thoughts on the future of humanizing customers to foster genuine connections.

You can read her recent column on the topic: The Long Tail Effect and What It Means for Customer Experience. This discussion is a must-read for those looking to improve their customer experience strategies and understand the long-term impact of their efforts.

You can read all of Janelle's CMSWire columns here.

Editor's note: This column has been edited for clarity.

Dom Nicastro: Hello, Dom Nicastro here, managing editor of CMSWire. We’re here with Janelle Estes, our contributor featured here today, chief insights officer UserTesting. Hey, Janelle, how's it going?

Janelle Estes: Doing well. How are you, Dom?

Nicastro: Good, good. Well, I'm happy to catch up with you. I mean, we, we've had an email slash editing, writing relationship until then. So it's good to see your face, hear your voice.

Estes: Likewise. 

Nicastro: Yeah. And you've been writing for us for for a little while now. So thank you. 

Estes: Yeah, I love contributing to CMSWire and the columns there. So feeling's mutual. 

Balancing Priorities for Lasting Customer Relationships

Nicastro: No, I mean, it's such a win for us. I mean, you guys give us your time, energy thoughts. And, you know, that's the lifeblood of the site. I always say it. I was a reporter for CMSWire for eight years, and I didn't even think I was that important. It's the people in the trenches that are doing this work, you're talking to customers every day, You're seeing things happen. So it's so good to get your insights. And speaking of those customers, you know, they're trying to put out customer experiences all the time. And this column you write about, has a great premise of you know, CX folks put so much time and energy into that acquisition, getting things right, they obsess over shopping carts, so and then they kind of set it and forget it. So that's something you've been noticing.

Estes: Yeah, absolutely. I've noticed it forever. So I mean, it makes a ton of sense, right? So if you think about what a business cares about, I mean, the big, very big goal is growth and sales and revenue and conversion and getting people on board. I think, although all the data bears out and shows you that it's way more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one — I think we tend to overindex still on that customer acquisition flow and funnel. Arguably, yes, it's super important. You've got to get it right. But I think once you get somebody in the door, it's all about providing a strong consistent experience across touchpoints over time. And those are the things that I often see in the areas where I often see companies overlooking and placing less priority on to their detriment.

When Post-Acquisition CX Falls Short and Undermines Trust

Nicastro: Yeah. I mean, you’re music to my ears because you know, we got a new home. And my wife, she wants everything to be perfect, right. The furniture, the nightstands, I mean, this stuff I don't care about, I'll come in and just go to sleep and wake up, go to work. But she wants everything to look great. We had a great experience with a furniture company. When we went there, we went to the store, we befriended the sales guy. We've talked about him after — what a great guy, he's so funny — you know, since then, it's been it's almost been nightmarish customer experience, right? It's just furniture, I'm not going to lose sleep over it. But customer experiences-wise, there's been broken items, there's been late deliveries, there's been no deliveries, there's been a lot of problems. And that is a perfect example. It's like a perfect sort of case study for your column. We've had a horrible experience. Since that moment, nothing's gone right. So important ...

Estes: Can I ask you a question. 

Nicastro: Yeah. 

Estes: You gonna go do business with that company again? In the future?

Nicastro: I'm not the kind of person who just sees a little crack, and let's get some money out of them. No, I want my wife to be happy. That's what I want because that means I will be happy. Right? So I said they offered a $250 gift card. And I said, guys, I don't want to spend more money with you. Because I don't want to go through this again. I'm sorry. I just can't trust you. You need to do better than that.

Estes: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I'm laughing because, you know, the way that you're telling the story is, is entertaining. But it is the reality that you know, especially when it's big purchases, right, or, you know, it's something where and I think you especially feel burned when you have a great experience up front, to get you in the door, to get you to buy, to get you to convert. You know, you're told, and given a bunch of promises that end up falling through the cracks. And so you ultimately lose trust and what happens is sure, you're not going to do business with that company again. You said you don't even want a gift card from them. But the other thing that happens is that you start telling other people too, and that word of mouth is so powerful. And so you know, these are things that then impact your ability to get future customers too, so not just losing the existing customer that you got in the door, but also potentially, you know, pushing away new business that you couldn't have if you had provided a better experience, you know, end to end.

Related Article: 5 Ways Customer Experience Strategies Fail 

Four Key Steps to Maintain Customer Satisfaction and Trust

Nicastro: Yeah, true. And to help, you know, sort of combat this, these customer experience officers can get more proactive after acquisition, and your column talks about, like four steps to go through and make sure you're on top of that, why don’t you give us like a highlight from those steps.

Estes: Yeah, sure. So I mean, when I, when I think about this, I think there are four, four kinds of places where it's important for you to understand what the experience is like for your customer. So keep on with the acquisition, I would never recommend don't look at that funnel, don't look at that flow, don't try to optimize that experience. So that that's one place, right. 

Learning Opportunities

And, and then also, you know, over time, what I like to recommend customers and companies look at are and do or what I like to call, like regular health checkups, right, of key flows that are important to you and your business. So yes, the acquisition flow, but probably also the customer support flow, probably, perhaps, if it's even a new software type experience. Looking at the initial experiences, they have the onboarding flow, problem resolution on their own, I mean, whatever is most important to you, as a business to either drive growth, or become more profitable, or, you know, increase customer loyalty, those things you should be looking at at a regular basis. 

So I say, at least annually, ideally, quarterly, because as we roll out these experiences, especially in the digital space, there are new updates and things changing all the time. And if you're not keeping a continual tab on those key flows, you're going to lose sight. And you'll you're, there'll be hiccups in the experience. And so it's something, it's a really proactive way to stay ahead of potential issues and address them as they come up. 

I also think that there's, you know, other other things, in addition to those regular health checks that you're doing of key interactions, you also want to be looking at the data. So you know, if you're seeing that people are dropping out of a funnel, or you're seeing a big influx of calls to your call center, like those are tips for you to go figure out what's going on, go talk to some customers go do a little bit more digging to understand like, Okay, if I see a blip in the data, you know, what are some things that I can do, or we can do to address that. So that data heads in the right direction. 

Couple other ideas I have for you. So looking outside of yourself. So competitors. So if you are in a competitive space, looking at not just what your experience is like, but also your top competitors, I guess an acquisition but also sort of over time. And then finally, one area that I don't see a lot of companies doing that I would would love to see more of this happening is not just looking at your experience as a point in time, I think a lot of times we look at those key parts of the experience that are important to us or our customers or that help drive our metrics in the right way. But your customers don't interact with you at a single point in time, and then never interact with you again, it's an experience that flows over time across channels. 

And so knowing what that's like because typically, it's different teams that are responsible for those different touchpoints. Like, knowing what the experience is, like, you know, as you order your furniture as you get it or don't get it as you try to file, you know, returns or complaints, like knowing what that experience is like, over the longer term just gives you such a better perspective of not only what's happening, but what you need to focus on and fix.

Nicastro: Yeah, yeah, it's almost feel I always feel like I needed to be compensated for the time I spent calling them and telling them about the problem. You know, that's the biggest frustration is like, my wife, call them, call them? You know? So it's like, I don't want to do this. I just want to buy something and have it delivered and just move on with my life.

Related Article Real-Life Customer Experience Fails — Lessons Learned 

Moving Beyond Data: Humanizing Customers to Foster Genuine Connection

Estes: I know when you have to block time on your calendar to call customer support things like this is this isn't fun. Yeah. And then we'll do this ever again.

Nicastro: No. So that said, you know, what kind of things you following going forward, because you know, you again, you're a regular contributor here. And we look forward to your next couple of columns. So any little hints or previews of what's coming next you think? 

Estes: Yeah, so I think a big area that I'm really fascinated by and have spending a lot of time looking into is how companies are moving beyond data about their customers to really humanizing them. So instead of just looking at surveys, sending surveys looking at, you know, behavioral analytics of what people are doing on your website, it's about bringing your customer stories to life within your organization to drive urgency and change. So your story, Dom, would be amazing for a cross functional team to hear, right, because they see your face. They hear your story. They're following your story. People connect with stories so much better than they connect with data in a dashboard. 

If I looked at a pie chart to see customer satisfaction of the delivery experience of this furniture company you're talking about, and I see, oh, it's six out of 10. Like that, really? That's not great. What am I going to do to fix it? And am I even motivated to fix it? I don't even know how right six out of 10? Like, what does that even mean? So how do we move beyond that to say, Let's go talk to Dom and 10 other people about their experience, then let's listen to them, let's connect to them as human beings, and then figure out what are the top three things we need to address. And then the teams feel way more motivated to chase that down. Because they're connected with you as a person, a customer, a human being someone just like them? So I want to see more of this in companies. I'm seeing it in pockets. I think those that do this, well, are the ones that are going to be able to differentiate from from the pack.

Nicastro: Yeah. And that's, that's a whole nother layer of voice of the customer to actually hear their voice. And, you know, the challenges is there, Janelle, becomes how to manage that data of the calls of you know, of the voice, like, where do you put it? You know, transcriptions that kind of thing, because you just, you know, you can't just have a bunch of recorded calls just sitting there, you got to somehow find the tools to, to put that and make that make sense. So oh, I'm looking forward to that. 

Estes: other challenges that are introduced with that for sure. But I like to say there's a method to that madness.

Nicastro: Yes. Good. Good point. Well, let's wrap it up. Thank you, Janelle Estes, appreciate it. UserTesting. We love all your columns. Looking forward to the next one. Thanks for catching up with CMSWire. 

Estes: All right, thanks, Dom. Nice to catch up. 

Nicastro: Have a good one.

Estes: You too.