During many conversations I have during the day evangelizing Customer Experience I find that many people think I am talking about Customer Service. You know something that happens after the sale. Providing excellent customer service at every interaction is a big part of Customer Experience, but it is not the end all for delivering a superior customer experience. Wikipedia defines Customer Experience as “the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction.” I am sure there other definitions, but this one suffices for this post.

Customer Experience starts before the sale. For example: When you want to purchase a product or service how is easy is it for you research that product or service? Does it show up as a hit in your favorite search engine? Did you find any consumer reviews? When you are visiting the website, can you find the information you want to know? Was it easy or difficult? How appealing was the presentation to your eyes and intellect? When you clicked the link for “chat” or “contact by email” did you receive a prompt response? When you received the response did it meet your needs and was it a pleasant experience? Instead of the world-wide web you may prefer to use the telephone, or maybe even just walk into the store and ask questions. Regardless of your technology of choice, if your experience becomes difficult, slow or unappealing, there is a high probability you will go somewhere else to make your purchase and you will probably never go back again.

Remember the old adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”? This is one of those tried and true axioms that we all remind ourselves of when we prepare for a job interview, meet a new customer or family member, or even when get ready for a first date! Now that consumers are using multiple technologies to research, shop and compare, it is crucial that businesses selling products and services provide a pre-sales experience which is welcoming, infuses confidence, is well thought out and values the customer, their time and their preferences. And they must execute it consistently over the web, the phone and in the store front, or the current sale is lost and future sales are at high risk. The difference must be designed and it must be purposeful.

Today, I had 2 encounters in the healthcare industry which serve as good examples for compare and contrast purposes, and also to demonstrate how customer experience begins before the sale. Recently, my primary care physician referred me to a specialist. I gave his recommendation heavy weight as he is a healthcare professional who knows his stuff. I knew that his referral would be on the other side of town, but I was willing to make the appointment. I would much rather have the appointment close to home as my whole life is in a 6-mile radius in Alpharetta, GA and I just don’t want to deal with the hassles of Atlanta traffic…. But so be it. I called the phone number my PCP gave me and it was picked up by the phone tree. I didn’t mind the first 5 minutes. But by 15 minutes I felt like I was a celebrity judge on The Gong Show (anyone remember that?).  I was ready to hang up if I heard one more pleasant recording apologizing for the wait and that someone would be with me soon. While I was holding I decided this place is too busy for me. If I can’t get through on the phone, what will happen when I am in the waiting room? What kind of quality, attention and focus will I receive from the specialist and his staff? Will my bill be accurate? At the 20 minutes mark I hung up and decided to go online and find someone local. DONE! No sale for you, doctor, and I won’t call again!

Meanwhile, one of my neighbors was looking for a referral for a medical doctor as her PCP closed his office and moved but didn’t bother to inform his patients. My husband, Ken, holds his PCP in very high regard. The staff is welcoming, they know who he is, they follow up afterward and overall the practice provides a good service. So Ken gave our neighbor a recommendation. Did you see that? Ken is “promoter”. He recommends good products and services to his family and friends! Our neighbor called the doctor this morning was able to see the doctor within a few hours. She had a great experience and has now changed her PCP to Ken’s doctor. My neighbor’s old doctor loses and the new doctor wins! The new doctor wins again because customers who are referred by promoters, like Ken, also become good customers who buy more products and services and become promoters themselves.

Is your business positioned for success at pre-sale? Is your business staffed appropriately on email, phone and at the store front? Have you been purposeful in the designing the experience your customers will receive when they are looking for you and your product and services? If the answer is “no” to any one of these, you are losing sales that you didn’t even know about. And people who have decided against your products and services at pre-sale are talking about you and driving more business away from you.

Take a moment today to identify the places in the pre-sale process you can tighten up. Are there any quick wins you can execute on now? Anything with medium to large impact and low to no cost should be tackled now. Make a list of the other items, prioritize them and put them on the short list of projects which need to be started or completed in the next 2 quarters.  Let me know what you are doing.  I want to watch for the results.

Please join me on this journey to Customer Experience improvement by subscribing to my blog, “Designing The Difference”.  I welcome your input and ideas so that we all learn and grow.  Let’s elevate the standards and raise the bar together.