crow in flight as four other crows look on
PHOTO: Samuel Zeller

When you’re shopping for a product or service, how often is price the only differentiator you consider between competing brands? The answer is likely rarely, if ever. This mindset represents a radical evolution in the shopping habits of consumers. Not so long ago it was common for price to be the primary differentiator for many products and services. Gas is a penny per gallon less at this service station than the one down the street? That’s where you go get your gas. This grocery store offers slightly better prices than the one across town? That’s where you do your shopping.

Though price wasn’t always the only differentiator considered, it was typically thought of as the most important. But that’s no longer true. Consumers have grown considerably more sophisticated, considering far more than just price in evaluating brands competing in the same market. The customer experience (CX) brands provide has evolved to become the most important differentiator. Price, and even product quality, are no longer the most important factors evaluated by consumers in making purchase decisions.

Modern consumers focus on the overall CX provided by brands. The customer experience that brands provide is now the competitive differentiator that separates the great brands from the good, and the leaders from the laggards. And, in an interesting twist, the leaders that dominate an industry based on the CX they provide are often among the highest-priced competitors in their market.

Who’s Who Among Leaders and Laggards

Focusing on three industry verticals — quick-service restaurants, retailers and healthcare — can provide some interesting insights into how industry leaders can now dominate a market through CX.

Quick-Service Restaurants

There may be no better industry for illustrating the power of CX over price in winning the loyalty of modern-day consumers. Recent technology-based customer conveniences, such as the in-store ordering kiosks and mobile order-ahead capabilities provided by Starbucks and McDonalds, have demonstrated that focusing on customer preferences — whether digital, physical or a combination of both — can lead to an enhanced CX and increased customer loyalty.

Shake Shack provides another great example of utilizing the power of technology in enhancing the customer experience. Experiencing meteoric growth from its humble beginning in 2001 as an impromptu hot dog stand, Shake Shack now serves millions of customers at nearly 200 locations around the globe. Shake Shack’s leveraging of digital innovation has helped to fuel and sustain that growth.

More than a decade ago, for example, the brand installed its first Shake-cam webcam, providing customers with the ability to easily check the length of the wait at their favorite Shake Shack before leaving home. And when the company launched its new mobile app a few years ago, the CX provided by the app was top of mind. Real-world testers were even used to place orders via the app and pick the orders up during peak demand hours — all to confirm the app would enhance the customer experience, even during periods of high demand.

Related Article: Innovation and Alignment: A Customer Experience Leader's Harmonic Convergence

Retailers

Few industry verticals, as a group, have embraced digital and omnichannel customer experience with more urgency than the retail industry. And for good reason: many retail brands are still scrambling to avoid the retail apocalypse. But despite the vigor of their efforts, the results have been mixed. Many retail brands, in fact, are lagging behind in providing an improved — or even competitive — CX.

My firm, Applause recently tested the digital experiences provided by more than 50 top global retailers. The results revealed lots of laggards. While US brands generally provided functional and enjoyable customer experiences, UK retailers lagged far behind. As a group, UK retailers achieved a user experience score of only 3.1 of a possible 5.

But the retail giant Amazon may provide history’s single best example of the business-boosting power of providing a Prime (pun intended) customer experience. According to Foresee’s Experience Index, Amazon is leading the way in enhancing the customer experience. And the business benefits Amazon has enjoyed as a result of leading the way in CX are well known.

Healthcare

Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations provide a don’t-do-it-this-way example for brands seeking to offer an enhanced customer experience. Though healthcare ranks as the fifth-largest industry vertical in the US, it currently ranks dead last in the quality of CX it provides in terms of simplicity of experience. During an age when customers are actively seeking out brands that provide the best customer experiences, healthcare brands have largely failed to deliver.

Just one example: Research from Nuance has revealed that nearly half of healthcare customers complain that their provider continues to rely upon traditional mail to stay in touch with customers. That flies in the face of the clear and current consumer preference for interaction through digital channels.

Related Article: How Healthcare Providers Are Looking to Improve Customer Experience

How Laggards Can Become Leaders

Laggards can become leaders — just as leaders can become laggards. And while making the transition from laggard to leader might not be easy, the methodology for making the transition is simple: Do what the leaders do in providing a great customer experience — and don’t be afraid to look outside of your industry. For instance, just because you’re a healthcare organization, it doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable CX learnings from a financial services or retail company.

Providing great CX begins on an elemental level in refining your understanding of your customer. After all, you can’t provide what your customers want without understanding them and their needs. This knowledge is gained by soliciting feedback about the CX your brand provides at every stage of the customer journey, and then tweaking that journey based on the feedback received.

How do you gather that feedback?

Many methodologies of soliciting and gathering feedback are available. Just a few examples include:

  • Asking customers for feedback through user surveys.
  • Monitoring voluntary customer reviews left in places such as the App Store.
  • Utilizing additional Voice of the Customer Strategies to gather feedback.

Knowing how to please customers is the key to transforming a laggard into a leader. That’s why leading brands in any industry vertical know how to provide their customers with a quality customer experience.

The laggards, on the other hand, either don’t know how to provide a quality CX, or simply don’t care. The results, in either case, can be disastrous.