With the conclusion of one year and the beginning of another comes the onslaught of "year end" lists identifying the "best and worst" of the past year. From movies, to books, to"”yes, that's right"”even business strategies, practically nothing that happened in 2013 is safe from categorization.
While you may feel inundated with "best and worst of" lists, here's one that deserves special attention: the annual Global Leaders of Customer Experience Management survey.
Image credit: Global Leaders of Customer Experience Management Survey (GLS) 2013
Each year, top customer experience management executives compile the ten companies with the best customer experience.
Not to be confused with customer service - though that certainly plays a role here - customer experience goes above and beyond simply serving your customers during their transactions.
Think of it this way: while customer service is based solely on customers' interactions directly with your company, the customer experience encompasses all interactions customers have with all aspects of your business"”including your products, employees, partners, and other customers.
Naturally, if these top ten companies are the best of the best when it comes to customer experience, they must be doing something right. After a little close examination, it is clear is that most of them share a central theme in how they view their market and customers: They invest in building community.
While it is important to note that it is these companies' commitment to customer centricity that is the overarching common theme, their ability to connect customers to one another is one of the primary drivers behind such successful customer experience ratings. By creating peer-to-peer sharing environments, these companies create customer engagement opportunities that lead to better customer retention, higher satisfaction, and more brand advocacy.
While connecting customers might be the common ground, their approaches are worth examining individually. Let's take a look at six of the top ten to see how they're working to build community and improve their customers' experience.
Probably to the surprise of few, Amazon ranks #1 on the list of companies with the best customer experience. CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, has never been coy about his intentions to make Amazon a customer-centric company. Their peer-to-peer review system allows customers to connect with each other by offering opinions and suggestions for the products they buy. They have also grown by enabling customers to create content in the form of how-to videos and lists (e.g. Best Movies for 1st Graders).
In addition to reviews and content, customers can also connect over common interests through customer communities. And with such a diverse spectrum of products available on the online superstore, customers have a lot of different interests to talk about. Topics range from "classic rock" to "xbox 360" and new online communities are added daily.
A large part of building community stems from building loyalty. Especially among B2C businesses, customers have to want to spend their time contributing to a customer community, and they need to have strong feelings about a company to do so.
Zappos comes in #2 on the survey list. In is stories of pleasant customer service reps and personalized notes following a conversation with a customer that go a long way in establishing brand loyalty and creating brand advocates.
While they mainly connect customers to one another through product reviews online, its clear that the majority of company decisions are made with the customer in mind. Check out this list for a glimpse into how Zappos systematically develops customer-centric strategies from the inside.
For Zappos, it is one-on-one interactions that build trust with customers. Those customers then strengthen Zappos' brand in their own communities by sharing their experiences.
If you need proof of Apple's customer loyalty, just talk to any Mac user. Well-known as a company with extreme brand loyalty, Apple has figured out the secret to selling products that create a community all on their own.
For Apple users, their "customer community" is anyone and everyone who has an Apple product. Just think how many times you've found a new feature on your iPhone and immediately rushed to share it with another member of your Apple brotherhood. (Or, if you're not an Apple user, you might be able to relate to the being around several iPhone owners and feeling left out of their community.)
While Apple does have online customer communities on their website, it is their "community" in a larger sense that has allowed Apple to leverage their customers' connectedness again and again. It is the community's shared values like cutting-edge design, well-thought-out technology, and early adoption that helps Apple set both their products and customer experience apart in a crowded market. Their strong brand stands on the shoulders on Apple's community.
Even though they dropped in this year's list to number nine from their number five ranking in 2011, Disney still makes the top ten, likely due largely in part to their ability to create communities based on their customers' interests and affinity for the brand.
Disney's online communities range from Disney park and cruise enthusiasts to pre-teens and video gamers.
Take Babble, for example. The network of "mommy bloggers" was acquired by Disney in 2011. It makes perfect sense for their customer base. Since the majority of Disney patrons are families"”and motherhood never goes out of style"”an established community like Babble fits perfectly among Disney's other various branded social networks and customer communities.
Disney is able to maintain industry-leading customer retention by expanding their customer experience beyond interactions with Disney products and employees. They have invested in helping people who have a good Disney experience connect and build relationships with others with similar sentiment and experiences.
IKEA recognizes that people are passionate about home design and decoration. They also know that at its core, furnishing a home is half functional and half an exercise in personal branding and expression to all who visit one's home.
The customer community "IKEA Fans" allows customers to interact through different forums organized by room or interest (e.g. Green Living) as well as through their own blogs housed in the community. Customers can showcase their new decorating projects or furniture arrangements as well as receive feedback and discuss common customer challenges, like assembly and directions.
By giving their customers a space to connect with each other and share ideas, IKEA capitalizes on both the exhibitionistic and personal nature of home design.
Breaking into the top five on the Global Leaders list, Virgin replies on its community for customer feedback and trends. For instance, Virgin Mobile makes use of online community forums where customers can ask and answer questions, air grievances, or share experiences with new features.
The community forum also has a section where customers can share their ideas for making Virgin better"”everything from new apps to lower rates for different phone bundles"”and comment on each other's ideas, allowing for customer feedback and engagement all in one.
Not all companies can and will create communities of customers. However, with some of the most revered and successful companies in the world taking advantage of peer-to-peer online platforms - even if it's as simple as product reviews - there's certainly something to be said for emphasizing a positive customer experience and showing support for customers who are struggling or have questions.
So, if you're looking to improve your company's customer experience, look for ways you can connect your customers to each other. Through small changes like comments sections of product reviews or going for bigger changes like creating a unique private online customer community, any steps you can take toward connecting your customers to each other will work to improve their overall customer experience.