Creating a differentiated experience that customers actually enjoy

April 8, 2014

By Dr. Gary Edwards

Typically, whenever someone starts talking about the best ways to create a differentiated customer experience, the things they list are not distinct from their competitors in the least. Instead, they are common practices that every business knows they have to perform to succeed.

The hard truth is that it's not enough to just employ standard best practices — retailers have to dig in and elevate themselves above the competition. Too often, unfortunately, retailers' differentiated customer experiences blend together in a sea of sameness.

Let me illustrate with an all-too-familiar scenario.

Going to the pharmacy is usually nothing less than an irritating experience. Most of the time you don't go to the pharmacy because everything is going well for you; you go because you're sick. Once you get there in your weak and feeble-minded state, you have to wait in a long line. When you finally do get to the counter, the pharmacist is looming above you, and it doesn't feel like there is any semblance of privacy.

If, heaven forbid, you haven't already had the prescription called in, you're then looking at a 20 minute wait, usually sitting in ratty old chairs next to other sick people — or, worse, there aren't any chairs and you're left standing until the pharmacist calls your name.

Now in this scenario, if the pharmacist calls your name in 15 minutes rather than in 20 minutes, the pharmacy may see this as a "differentiated experience." However, what would have greater impact for the customer? Perhaps streamlining the whole process so you aren't left waiting for so long to begin with? Maybe putting the pharmacist at eye level and giving you some privacy if you need to discuss anything delicate? Or, better yet, what about taking the time to explain how long you will have to wait for your prescription and why that wait is necessary in the first place?

A differentiated customer experience doesn't entail making marginal, meaningless changes. It means making the changes that will impact your business the most. Your customers should be able to notice why you are different instead of you having to tell them.

Here are three things you can do to create a truly differentiated customer experience.

  1. Observe what's actually happening in your business. Take a step back from the everyday minutiae of your business and be an anthropologist for the day. See how things function. Interact with customers and ask them about their experience. Observe how they behave and how your employees interact with them. Having the pharmacist standing on a platform may make it easier to hand things off; however, it could also make customers reluctant to bring up anything sensitive.
  2. Identify what you need to do to make a real impact. Find specific ways you can improve your customers' experiences with your brand. Customers are loyal to brands, so if you can provide a memorable experience, it's likely they'll come back. Making small changes could provide the greatest impact. Providing a comfortable place to sit while waiting for their prescription to be filled would likely garner goodwill from customers and improve their experience with the brand of the pharmacy.
  3. Experiment with different solutions. Try different approaches to solve the issues that keep you from being the best in your industry. This could mean fixing problems you didn't even know you had. They could also be changing anything that will set you apart from the competition. For example, the pharmacy could provide a place for customers to have some privacy when talking to the pharmacist regarding any concerns they had over their medication.

Find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors and provide a better experience for your customers. Making adjustments that have real impact will allow you to provide a truly differentiated experience that won't make me want to roll my eyes.

Gary Edwards, Ph.D., has led worldwide and domestic research on customer and employee behavior for more than 20 years. (Photo by jerseygal2009.)

Topics: Customer Experience , Customer Service , Employee Training , Point-of-Purchase / POP , Store Design & Layout

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