Customer experience management (CEM) is how companies think about, respond to and shape their organizations around the customer experience in order to create greater loyalty. Getting it right means using the voice of customer (VOC) to identify gaps between what you hope your customer is experiencing and what they actually experience. You use that information to determine changes to operations that more align with your vision of the experience you intended. Then you repeat—over and over and over again. Perhaps CEM really should be called managing for customer experience.
I work with a fun technology company in Palo Alto, CA, that is an innovator in CEM software. The company specializes in turning VOC into useful data, allowing enterprises to make daily decisions aligned with customer expectations.
Learning how world-class companies do this in order to build a culture—the way people in an organization instinctively respond to customer needs, team needs and company needs—to affect customer loyalty has been an area of intense focus for me.
How companies outside the fitness industry do this is eye-opening. The best share several common denominators:
- They never see themselves as a finished product. They recognize that the world is changing, and they should, too.
- They know who they are at their core. Change will happen, but these companies stay true to their core. For instance, “elegant design” might be part of one company’s core and will not change.
- They take as much customer feedback as possible and use it to make life better for customers. They use the feedback for change, but they do not change their essence.
- They change their operations, a little bit at a time.
- They tend to become part of their customers’ habits.
- Their internal human systems (employee development, compensation, etc.) support a culture of loyalty.
How can we benefit from observing the high performers in retail, hospitality and financial services? We can learn to apply what they have discovered about customer loyalty. Companies experience big performance improvements when customers move from being satisfied or happy to being big fans of the brand.
Moreover, when the company relies more on face-to-face interaction than on product performance, software services or a call center, loyalty is dependent on the level of rapport needed for customers to make you a habit. Many of you have members that have made you a habit even if it is with only three or four visits per month. For some, their habit is five to six visits per week while others may make you a habit by joining, quitting, rejoining, quitting again and rejoining again. Regardless of which category these members fall in, they all could be huge fans and could be quite willing to recommend you to everyone they know.
My point is that, even in the naturally transactional environment of retail or a call center, world-class companies recognize the need to build relationships. I don’t call American Express often, but when I do, I always am reminded why I like the company: because they treat me well.
The fitness business is just the opposite. We are in a relationship-oriented environment. People come frequently (we hope) and stay a long time. How many other businesses do people go to five times each week and stay for one to two hours? Yet our industry has not widely embraced the practices of relationship building that even more transactional businesses find to be highly profitable.
Our industry has a number of bright spots in which we get it right. My hope is that we learn how to leverage those bright spots as well as the lessons from world-class companies outside our industry in an effort to engage more and more people in activities that make life more worth living, daily operations more fun and our businesses more profitable.
Our industry seems to have a stalling point between “good” and “world-class.” Those adventurous enough to make the journey will reap big rewards. The journey starts with the understanding that discipline, accountability, fun and engaging are not mutually exclusive cultural elements. Instead, these are the requirements of top performers.
Blair McHaney is CEO of Confluence Fitness Partners Inc., which does business as Gold’s Gym of the Wenatchee Valley in Wenatchee, WA. He also previously served as president of the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Association.