Trapped in the System: A Sick Doctor’s Story.
A story in the New York Times caught my eye this morning: The story details the trials and tribulations this doctor needs to go through every three months in order to obtain medication that fully controls what would otherwise be an extremely onerous health problem to endure. He is delighted with the medication (its effectiveness, lack of side effects, and low cost) he is happy with his doctor, and he is satisfied with his health insurance plan and the coverage it provides. But he is completely frustrated with the process, the many places where burdensome requirements are placed upon him, and the multiple points where communication breaks down. For example, he is not allowed to present prescriptions for more than 90 days of the drug, he is given a 12 month order for blood tests (which must be performed prior to each prescription being written) but the lab will only honor it for 6 months, and the computer systems for each of his providers are not electronically linked.
Whatever you think of the current US healthcare system, (and this article points out a bunch of delivery shortfalls), there is another lesson in this tale that every business owner should take to heart:
Even if your customers love your company, love your products and/or services, and think that they provide great value, you may still lose them to the competition if doing business with your company is simply too frustrating for the customer to stand.
Even if you think you’re providing great customer service and have all the major bases covered, it could be little things (or a combination of multiple little things) that end up making a huge difference. For Example:
- You don’t pick up your phone, and the customer always has to leave a message when they call, (even if you always promptly return the call).
- You don’t have a website, and your customers can’t easily access information about your business, or get help, online.
- Your service truck leaks and leaves stains in your customer’s driveway.
- Your customers want to book and manage appointments with your company online, but you don’t offer that capability.
- You only offer one package size, and your customer always ends up wasting a third of it.
- Your customers love the taste of your homemade jams and jellies, but the lids are hard to open and have a tendency to break and crack.
- Your invoices arrive erratically, and customers are never sure where their account stands.
- A customer’s favorite item is always on back-order.
- Your customer makes an appointment with a preferred service provider, and you often send someone else without prior notice.
I could go on and on, as the possibilities are as endless are there are types of small business. But, one thing is certain: if you don’t identify and solve your customers’ pain points, however minor, there is a good chance that it will eventually cost you their business.
Of course, before you can find solutions you must first identify the problematic issues. This can be difficult, as it may not be obvious to you, and the customer may not volunteer it. One approach to this problem is to create Customer Journey Maps.
About Customer Journey Mapping
A Customer Journey map is a visual or graphic interpretation of an individual’s relationship with your company over time. It often begins with the buying process (and Buyer Journey Maps are popular sub-sets of the overall journey mapping process), continues through the initial stages of customer on boarding/conversion, and finishes (but never ends) with customer support and other ongoing interactions with your company.
Understanding that different people, and different groups, interact with your company in diverse ways, Customer Journey Mapping typically begins with crafting “Personas” to represent customer groups, and creating Journey maps for each of those personas. The Maps are drawn from the customer perspective, and ideally highlight key decision points, key pain points, and key milestones along the “journey” with your company.
The process itself should expose areas where your company is strong, and those where improvement or changes are needed. Additionally, it is most important to examine places where your business requirements and your customers’ expectations do not align. For example, if your customers want to pay via credit card but your business only accepts cash or paper checks, then there is an alignment problem you need to solve.
Customer Persona Creation Tools for Small Business
It is possible that your business caters to only one very small customer niche, and that there is only one “persona” to consider for your journey map. But, it is more likely that your business has several distinct customer types. In some cases, customers will be so diverse that it is impractical to create one persona for each type; in which case you’ll want to concentrate on several key personas. In B2B relationships, your “customer” may mean a team rather than a person. In this case you can decide to create a “persona” for the team, or to create personas for each type of team member (i.e. Engineers, Purchasing Agents, CEOs, etc.)
Utilizing Customer Journey Maps
Creating your customer journey maps is only the first part of the process; the second piece is using what you’ve learned to make meaningful business changes. Sometimes you’ll discover some low-hanging fruit that you can easily fix, that will do wonders for enhancing customer experience. Using the examples cited at the beginning of the post, you could:
- Fix that leaking truck
- Hire someone (or an answering service) to answer your phone
- Increase stock of commonly back-ordered items
Putting the Customer First
However you accomplish it, and which ever tools you decide to use, taking the time and making the effort to understand where you are not meeting customer needs, or even where you are not optimally meeting them, and taking steps to remedy those deficiencies, can provide a true competitive advantage.
Returning to the healthcare example with which we began, one little change in policy–be it allowing prescriptions to be written for more than 3 months, or recognizing blood work orders for their full 12 month lifecycle–would make a world of difference to the customer (patient) and have a small to negligible impact on the provider.
At BranWorks, we call this trying to make customers’ lives easier, it is at the core of our company culture, and is something we strive for with every client.