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Managing the Total Customer Experience

Offering products or services alone is no longer enough: Organizations must provide their customers with satisfactory experiences. Competing on this dimension means orchestrating all the clues “that people detect in the buying process.”Customers always have an experience — good, bad or indifferent — whenever they purchase a product or service from a company. The quality of the experience lies in how effectively the company manages it, in all its facets and from beginning to end. Organizations that simply tweak design elements or focus on improving isolated pockets of the customer experience — by providing a quick hit of entertainment, for example — will be disappointed in the results.

An organization’s first step toward managing the total customer experience is recognizing what the authors call clues: the signals or messages given off by everything that touches on the buying process. Clues can include the product itself (does it work as advertised?), the layout of a retail outlet (are the signs easy to follow?), the tone of voice of the salesperson (did he really mean it when he said, “Have a nice day”?), and so on. Organizations that orchestrate the sum total of all the clues can create an optimal experience for their patrons.

Addressing the clues that speak to emotions is especially important. Emotional bonds between companies and customers are difficult for competitors to sever. The internalized meaning and value that the clues assume can create a deep-seated preference for a particular experience — and thus for one company’s product or service over another’s.

The authors explain the tools that are available to help organizations rethink the signals they are sending to customers. They also show how the tools work in practice by presenting two case studies in which organizations dramatically improved their customers’ experiences.

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