How To Differentiate Your Customer Experience And Drive Your Business Value
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We have been on a journey talking with different leaders across the chemical industry and finding out their perspectives and insights on their chemical business, key trends, leadership and more. One of the things that tie these companies and leaders that I have spoken with together is this focus on the customer, the customer experience, and how they create unique and differentiated value through that experience.
They may not have called it the customer experience. Instead, they have talked about relationships, community, creating opportunities for success, innovation, taking care of customers, using digital tools to make business easier, many things. All of which are elements or descriptors of the customer experience, components of it. That’s what we are going to be talking about here on the show. This is going to be a solocast, just me sharing some insights that I have gained from these leaders and also some perspectives about the customer experience with clients that I work with nowadays and in the past.
Why is Customer Experience Important?
What is the customer experience? What we are talking about here is how chemical companies can create value through a differentiated experience. Why is this important? Maybe that’s a good place to start. Why are we talking about this? The customer experience is a key differentiator for your business. With that differentiated experience, you create value, earn more business, build customer loyalty and you can retain customers. You set yourself and your company apart.
A lot of this focuses on human-centered design. We hear about human-centered design, certainly in other industries less than in the chemical industry but it’s about how the people that we interact within these businesses, in our own companies, in the companies that we interact with as customers and suppliers, and the experience that they get in doing business with your company. Products are easy to replicate. Any good chemist can go and figure out how to make a similar product. There are a lot of commodity chemicals. Even in the specialty market, there are a lot of similarities across products but products can be replicated but behaviors and experiences are not easy to replicate.
Products can be replicated, but behaviors and experiences are not easy to replicate.
Defining that unique customer experience and being very deliberate about your customer experience becomes a key differentiator and value creator for successful chemical companies. I like to talk about the customer experience as being by choice and not by chance. I guarantee, every one of you that’s reading has experienced this. Your company has a unique customer experience, businesses that you work with, your B2B suppliers.
Also, if you think about it in the B2C world, you have a distinct experience and expectations with different companies. It’s built around the experience. There are a lot of nuances with it but there are also a lot of distinctive aspects. Sometimes it occurs by happenstance. It’s the way it’s evolved. Other times, it’s by choice. It’s the by a choice part that we are going to be talking about.
What is Customer Experience?
Let’s maybe get down to the basics a little bit. What is customer experience? A lot of times, you see it abbreviated if you read any literature and stuff as CX. CX is the customer experience and it focuses on the relationship between a business and its customers. It includes every interaction, no matter how brief, whether or not it involves a purchase. It’s beyond customer service. It’s not just the end-to-end process for how you start engaging with the customer from supplying products to invoicing. It’s the house.
One of the articles I have read said, “The customer experience is the overall perception of your brand in the eyes of your customer, built on the accumulated interactions they have with your business across various platforms and people.” It’s everyone you come in contact with. It’s your website, eBusiness platform, the suppliers that deliver to your customer site, the logistics handling. Every aspect of it builds into your customer experience.
Cameron Whaley, who I spoke on episode sixteen of the show, articulated it this way, said, “Customer experience doesn’t end when the order is placed. The whole fulfillment part of that order, of the delivery, is ensuring that your trucks show up with the right equipment at the right time with the right behaviors. They are all part of that customer experience and it matters.” It does.
A New Era In The Chemical Industry
We are at a critical transformation point in the chemical industry as it relates in particular to customer experience. This is driven in large part by human expectations, our employees, customers, suppliers. The experiences that we have in our day-to-day personal life and how that translates into expectations we have in our business life and our business interactions, that’s one facet.
Technological advancements, especially when we think about the internet, the internet of things, digitization, and how that drives knowledge, knowledge sharing and the experience, even resource availability. In many cases, we have a shortage of resources. Those resources could be people, products, and platforms but that all drive the need for transformation.
In a post-pandemic world, the customer experience becomes even more critical because the competition is increasing because digital commerce is reducing some of that traditional relationship power. Maybe it’s shifting it because our people are changing. Our personal experiences are changing and those personal experiences translate to the business experiences that we want.
There’s an expectation of more seamlessness. Many people have grown up having a seamless experience when they think about apps that we have on our phones. Sebastian Brenner was on the show. Sebastian is the Head of CheMondis, one of the largest digital marketplaces for chemicals in Europe.
In a post-pandemic world, the customer experience becomes even more critical because the competition is increasing.
One of the things Sebastian said when I asked him, “What drove this for you? Why did you want to engage in CheMondis?” He said, “I’m using these platforms in my private life. These platforms are things like Amazon, Netflix, Google and other things. These platforms and tools to a very large extent in my personal life. Why is not that the case in my business life? Why am I not able to engage in the same way?” That was one of the driving forces behind CheMondis, which is doing a great role in providing a great service to chemical companies in Europe.
This expectation that the service that we get and the experiences that we have in our personal life, we bring them into the work-life and we have some expectations of the companies we do business with of our chemical companies that things are going to be a little bit more seamless and easier. It changes the relationship and the experience that customers are looking for and that chemical companies need to deliver.
That gets me to this point of the importance of customer experience is not new. This has been around forever, for as long as we have had customers. The customer experience expectation is changing. Who’s driving that expectation is changing? In a world where there was a lot more supplier power, companies set their experience standards again, either deliberately or by happenstance.
They expected their customers and their employees to comply, and that’s changing. People expect that they have a say in what that experience is and that experience is being driven elsewhere. While this is not new, the whole role of CX and customer experience is not new. It is a blind spot for many companies and executives.
Part of the reason for that is, if we think about it particularly in the chemical industry, for a long time, for years, our customers and suppliers have trained us to believe that it’s all about product and price and that our competitors can readily replace it. Where it’s not all about product and price, there’s still this opportunity for a replacement easily.
The how of doing business and the customer experience is different from what your competitors are and create significant value. We know that. When you go and you talk to your customers, and then I have gone and talked to chemical customers in a variety of industries, that experience is distinctive. I was doing work for a materials company and went out, and talked to some of their customers about what it is that they like and appreciate.
One of the things he says is, “No matter what, I know that they are going to get this done. When I put a hard test on them, when I need more product, when I’m in short supply and when it’s challenging, I know that they are going to come through reliably.” That’s not always true of their competitors. That’s a distinction. That’s a differentiation that creates value. Being focused on your customer experience and your customer experience strategy is about recognizing those differences and leveraging them.
Areas Of Customer Experience: How To Be Deliberate?
When you, companies, and leaders start to recognize those unique value differentiators and are very deliberate about the customer experience, you maximize your business value and your customer value. How do you get there and how do you build that? When I talked with Mike Suver, one of the things he said when I asked him about the customer, how they support their customers and grow value, his perspective was, “You’ve got to service the heck out of the customers. Be clear in your value proposition to your customers and deliver upon it.” That’s true.
There are five points to think about. What’s your goal when you start looking at your customer experience strategy and getting very deliberate about it? Is it to change the experience fundamentally? Is it to improve it at the margins to improve and take it to a new level or is it to reshape it? That’s something you need to understand.
What’s the gap between the needs and wants of your customers, and what they experience? Do you know what that is? Do you know what your customers want? How do you differentiate versus competitors? I have already said differentiation is key. When you look at this, that drives value, customer loyalty and more business.
You’ve got to service the heck out of the customers. Be clear in your value proposition and deliver upon it.
Which point in the experience should you concentrate on? Where should your focus be to have a real impact? One of the opportunity spaces, especially for a lot of mid-sized companies is in this digital strategy space. Digital is one component of a customer experience. It’s not the entirety of it but upping their game.
Ron Zmich talked about the need that they were focusing on in Palmer Holland, where they are focusing on building a portal approach to up their game in their relationship with their customers to provide a more seamless experience to deliver a lot of the information that they were looking for more seamlessly. That’s an option. That’s the area of focus you could choose to have.
The fifth topic in question here is, how do you want the overall capabilities and your staff to support the customer experiences that your company wants to provide? What does your staff need to do? You can define this great customer experience but if your people can’t execute upon it, that’s maybe not the best thing.
Focusing on that area. One, knowing your customers, their needs and wants, what they value in interaction and your business. This could be everything from voice of the customer work, more insightful customer surveys or conversations using your data. Most companies nowadays have a lot of data about the business, transaction, and interactions online and offline, using that data to understand more about what your customer wants and values.
Secondly, it is around knowing your own strengths. That’s almost an assessment or a survey of your own team. What makes you different? What’s the value that you bring? Where do you differentiate yourself against your competitors? CX is a differentiation game. It’s about making it seamless but it’s also about differentiating and what’s going to drive unique value for you, your employees, customers and suppliers.
Defining your employee experience. What’s the experience that your employees want to have? They are one of your biggest assets. How do you make that employee experience part of your customer experience? There were a lot of people and I would say, “That’s a critical component of your customer experience.”
Back when I spoke with Cameron Whaley, that’s one of the things he talked about. He said, “We focus on who’s doing the work for us.” Our job as management, sales or whatever is to go out and make the best opportunities available so that everyone can succeed. Your people want to be successful. The employee experience is part of that success factor.
The other piece is around, what are your competitors doing? Along with those same facets that you are asking customers, you are looking at internally and what your competitors do. What are they doing differently, better, and not as so good? Where is your differentiation opportunity? Where’s the gap between what you are doing versus what your customer wants? What you are doing between what your competitors are doing and how do you want to fill it? It’s digital, human and direct.
The other piece of this, and this is all the staging before you get to your strategy, consider your options. You don’t want to be everything to everybody. What elements are going to be most effective for you, your team and your stakeholders? What parts of your customer experience are going to be the same to all customers? What is going to be different based on segmentation, location or the business line when you think about that? You have choices and you don’t have to be everything to everybody. Nor do you have the time or the resources, the money to make that happen.
Aligning and Developing A Customer Experience Strategy
As you have assessed that landscape, you have taken these big questions. You have looked at what your customers want, what you do and what you do well, and the competitors. You have done a gap analysis, and then it’s time to focus on aligning and developing your customer experience strategy. I use the word align because a lot of times, it’s not a big shift. You don’t necessarily need to or want to make a huge pivot from what your current experience is but you need to grow. There is a clear expectation of evolution. You need to be clear about what that strategy is and what is your customer experience approach.
Customer experience is as much about a feeling as a tactic.
To define that, it’s around having one, a clear customer-focused vision. What is it? How will you engage? What tools, resources, and approaches are you going to use? What’s the experience for your customers and employees? What’s the value that they are going to recognize? An expert I listened to on this said, “Customer experience is as much as about a feeling as a tactic.” It’s about how does your customer feel when they engage with you? What is it that you want them to feel? Do you want them to recognize that you are a trusted advisor, innovative and easy to do business with? There are a lot of permutations on this. That vision, feeling, and experience that you want your customers to have help you to define the strategy.
Customer experience strategy also gets tied in pretty closely with channel strategy. With the buzz over the past couple of years, you start seeing people talking about omnichannel strategies. It’s this recognition that your customers may be interacting with you across multiple channels, digital. There are a couple of options on digital. It may be a marketplace or a portal. It could be serviced by a third party or direct. Digital is one component of your current strategy. It has to be part of your customer experience strategy. It’s part of an omnichannel strategy direct.
This is everything about how your sales team, customer team, and logistics team engages and interacts with your customers. What does that look like? How and when do they interact, support, engage and create that experience for your customers? Also, distributor relationships are a critical part of an omnichannel strategy for chemical companies. Especially since distributors play and reach a very large part of chemical customers. Having those categories defined and knowing how they impact and support your experience becomes critical.
Execute and Adapt
Execution is everything. It does you no good to define this beautiful and great customer experience strategy if you can’t execute it. The keys to execution are to involve your team early in the process. The people that are executing the strategy need to help develop the strategy. It can’t just be a top-down, change the world strategy. It needs to be reflective of your capabilities, your current team and future team, and what they can deliver but getting your team involved early in the process helps to define this more effectively and helps with the execution.
Having a clear playbook. I was working with a client. They were implementing a new program and services that they were taking to their chemical customers and selling a service package and then said, “What happens when they sign up? What are you going to do? What’s the playbook?” Have a playbook so that you understand your interactions when you’ve got a new customer and an existing customer. When something changes and doesn’t change, how do you adapt and react? What’re the communications? What’s the experience that customer has all along the way is critical.
Getting feedback and adapting. This can’t live in isolation. Your customers are going to tell you, either directly or indirectly, whether they like your experience. The experiences that they have, come through customer loyalty, referrals, and departures of customers. You will get feedback one way or another. It’s better to seek it, bring it back in, adapt it and move with that. That’s customer experience.
My guests on the show had been talking about it and they continue to be talking about it. I have enjoyed sharing some thoughts with you on this. We are going to be covering this topic in some upcoming episodes. We are going to be focusing some more on customer experience and bringing in some specific experts to share their insights and perspectives in this area. Stay tuned.
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About Victoria King Meyer
Achieve your strategic vision.
I help chemical executives achieve their strategic objectives, grow and optimize their business, and engage their teams. Engaging as a catalyst to organizations, I create breakthrough results by focusing organizational ideas and know-how to create tailored solutions at the intersection of strategy, marketing and execution.
With 25 years of leadership in chemicals across a variety of disciplines including manufacturing, marketing, strategy, new business development and general management, I apply a holistic yet focused approach to your business goals and help you and your team achieve targeted results. Typical results include 25% revenue increase, 30% faster market entry, and 50% increase in employee engagement.
Leveraging my experience working with Shell, Clariant, and Lyondell/Equistar, my clients benefit from a deep understanding of chemical markets, customers, and business team motivations, applied to their own strategies, priorities, and commercial activities, resulting in faster realization of business results.
These results manifest in a number of ways:
• Streamlined strategies with effective execution.
• Enhanced customer relationships while generating higher profitability.
• Robust organizational alignment across internal and external value chains to allow successful business transformation.
Are you a senior leader at a chemical company and would like to accelerate your business results and achieve greater growth in new or existing markets? If so, get in contact today and let’s talk about the proven strategies to help your company and your team create deeper alignment, win deals faster, and accelerate your goal achievement.
Contact Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-854-2854.