I’ve sat in on some really interesting customer experience talks over the past year or so. Most recently I participated in a roundtable at our Digital Cream event, moderated by Dr Mike Baxter, who asked the following question: “What’s the difference between the customer experience, and the user experience?”

Mike defined as the former as being “big picture”, whereas the latter is “an in-session, microscopic view”. Indeed, customer experience is a much broader church than user experience, though the two should be closely aligned. 

How then can you set about improving the customer experience? In this post I have compiled a list of the areas that I think offer the biggest wins for anybody looking to delight customers.

Firstly, build the business case

This is the only way you’re going to be able to really move the customer experience needle. You’ll get nowhere fast without the buy-in and budget required to do this properly. 

Make a financial model for customer experience. By building models you can secure resources. Discover the opportunity cost of not doing something (optimising the online checkout, for example, to reduce abandonments). Don’t focus on the 3% (conversion rate), focus on the 97% (of non-converters). 

It’s not just about resources. There needs to be a long-term commitment to improving the customer experience. A shift in focus towards customer retention is the first step down this path. 

Be sure to measure the customer experience properly too. See below for some of the more common customer experience metrics used to evaluate performance.

Stop figuring out how to sell

Instead, figure out how people buy. This should be at the heart of your testing programme. Concentrate on the user, not the merchandiser. 

Be objective in your testing. The data must usurp gut feelings and biases. 

Also, basic segmentation when testing is a must. For example, you’d be crazy not to split out new vs existing customers.

Forget VIPs, say hello to ‘EIPs’

At last year’s JUMP I watched a brilliant presentation by NET-A-PORTER head of marketing Neil Bridgeman. He talked about the experience it provides for its most valuable customers, aka ‘extremely important people’. EIPs “represent an inordinate amount of revenue”, and as such they’re very well taken care of. Here’s how:

  • EIP orders are picked, packed and despatched first. 
  • EIPs are assigned personal shoppers and invited into the London office for wardrobe planning. 
  • EIPs get first dibs at new products (some of which are very limited). 
  • EIPs receive personalised lookbooks. 
  • EIPs see exclusive previews and presentations. 
  • EIPs have personal shoppers
  • EIPs have products bought specifically for them by the buying team.

Why not identify your company's EIPs, and figure out how to make them feel special?

Use more channels, proactively

One pureplay online retailer I know calls every new customer to say thank you, after an order has been placed via the website. Partly this is about good manners, but it’s also about relationship building, and making the most of the opportunity to connect when the customer is most receptive. 

Calling every single customer might not feasible for a massive telecoms firm with millions of customers, but it might be worth segmenting the top 1% and giving them special attention.

Hire a copywriter to improve your error messages

You've heard this one before, right? Is it still on your to-do list? Make it happen, especially around forms and in the checkout / registration area!

Error messages must be written in the right kind of language. Pay close attention to how you communicate errors, so that when problems occur you can minimise form abandonment. 

Take a look at the creative 404 pages I unearthed recently for more inspiration beyond forms.

Chase up those abandoned baskets

This is probably the single easiest way of increasing sales, but it’s also very important from a strategic perspective. Call or email these prospective customers and ask for feedback. Understand what went wrong and then fix those problem areas. 

I’d suggest that you focus on the experience, rather than the basket, when calling. The sale should be secondary to the feedback (less push, more concern… the soft approach!). 

In addition, you should segment the high value abandoners. Give priority support to the top x% of your prospective customers. Above all else, find out what makes these people want to leave, and do something about it.

Introduce live chat, especially when problems arise

Online chat should be prominent and rules driven (for example, if a user is lingering on a form, or other key page). Anticipate when people might need help.

Note that one customer services rep can handle three customers concurrently via live chat (unlike the telephone, which is much more costly), so it’s efficient too, as well as being much cheaper (a figure of "20p" was mentioned at Digital Cream, against "many pounds" for the cost of providing traditional service via the telephone).   

Be brilliant at delivery

To start off with you should consider benchmarking competitor delivery options (and costs). Then, plan how to go the extra mile. Here are some ideas:

  • Introduce same day delivery. 
  • Allow customers to choose a one-hour delivery window. 
  • Send a text message when the delivery is en route / near / outside. 
  • Offer free delivery (still the most effective promotion tool for online retailers). 

Don’t overlook the importance of fulfilment, as it impacts the customer experience massively. You’ll know this if you’ve ever wasted a day waiting for a courier to show up. 

Make no mistake: super-fast, super-efficient delivery can be a real differentiator.

Reserve & Collect is a very good idea

The biggest multichannel retailers have launched incredibly successful reserve and collect services. They can account for a huge slice of overall sales. Argos launched its service partly in response to a postal strike, and within one year it accounted for 22% of the retailer’s total sales.

If you sell via the high street then you might want to give reserve and collect a whirl. Launch a mobile app that supports it. Promote it extensively in your customer communications.  

Pay attention to the mobile customer experience

You think m-commerce is still hype? Well, more than 10m UK consumers have already bought something via their mobile phone. That’s a big number, and one that will double in the years ahead. 

But consumer habits have moved too fast for businesses. M-commerce is still a vastly underdeveloped area, so far as the consumer experience is concerned. Problems occur for 85% of mobile customers during the shopping process. 

There might be an opportunity here for you to steal a march on your competitors.  

What else works wonders? Do share your customer experience ideas and insight below.

Chris Lake

Published 30 April, 2012 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (2)


Tim Loo

Although I really like some of the tactics (first building the business case and figure out how people buy especially), when I think building customer experience strategy it's worth thinking about why organisations routinely fail to conceive and deliver on some of these tactics.

Lack of leadership, sponsorship and shared vision for the customer experience allows organisational silos to avoid collaboration and focus on optimising their piece of the customer experience puzzle. For example, being brilliant at delivery required a joined up approach between the organisation's teams and their partners.

My first three steps to creating a customer experience strategy:

1. Complete the picture of the customer and map their current experience & pain-points. Understand the moments of value for customer and the business. If in doubt, map it out.

2. Establish experience design principles which unify and align the organisation around values and behaviours we want our customers to see us demonstrating

3. Design a customer experience vision - create stories and prototype which make tangible how we want to join up for the customer and how we want them to feel about the experience.

Having these assets allows CX champions to persuade and win senior stakeholders, colleagues and ultimately customers.

over 6 years ago


Cindy Barnes

Some great tactics here in the B2C space. I work mainly in the B2B space and see value propositions as the crucial ‘what’ of customer experience strategy and management - the customer value proposition being where you decide what you are going to deliver to your customers in terms of tangibles – products, services, offerings, plus the intangibles – what experiences do you want them to have from your offerings and how will you behave with them and how will they respond.

Agree that the senior buy-in and business case must come first and from my experience, creating this for an entire customer experience programme can seem like ‘eating an elephant’ so it’s often easier to start with a value proposition for a specific segment.

You still have to fix the operational problems uncovered but doing this for one value proposition at a time can make it much more manageable.

The other essential is that the analysis of the customer research must also have a behavioural or psychological aspect to it. Focusing only on the rational misses many of the ‘subconscious’ customer drivers.

My stages for a programme are:

1. Business case for change

2. Sponsorship, governance and behavioural change

3. Value propositions

4. Operational blueprint

5. Roadmap and implementation

Cindy Barnes
Author of “Creating & Delivering Your Value Proposition: managing customer experience for profit”

about 6 years ago

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