In 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore introduced the concept of customer experience and how companies could “influence people through engaging, authentic experiences that render personal value.”

As the economy boomed through the middle of the decade, those concepts of engaging experiences, authentic companies and personal value seemed to fall by the wayside. Jump to the economic struggles of today, and companies are rediscovering that customer experience is more important than ever, especially when it comes to the online customer experience where you inherently lose the personal connection.

There’s a saying that rings very true: people do things for their reasons, not yours. To provide a positive customer experience, your website needs to do several things, and do them well.

Prove your value.
Does your site clearly show a potential customer that you do a better job than your competition, be it selling a product, selling a service, or providing information? Do you effectively convey your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? For the most part, people are not coming to your site to support your company. They are coming to answer a question, solve a problem, or find a product. People use ingdirect.com online banking because they help you “save your money!” Zappos.com promises “free shipping BOTH ways, 365-day return policy.” Your site may not be the well-known brands that ING Direct and Zappos are, but you still need to demonstrate that USP.

Make your customer feel special.
AT&T reps are now instructed to answer calls with “how can I make you feel like a valued customer today?” How can your website “ask” that question of an online visitor? Do you provide loyalty services, special privileges, or free gifts? Ask your customers for advice – get their feedback on what they want, and then give it to them.

Have a conversation - talk to your customers.
As web-savvy as the population is, many people still want to talk to you, and putting up a website and walking away is not going to cut it anymore. Your visitors must be able to find your contact information on your website. At a minimum, prominently place your phone number and email address, or a contact form, on your site. Offer an easy way to locate a brick-and-mortar location (if applicable). Online chat and text messaging are making their way onto websites as methods of accessible and immediate customer service.

Create a customer loop.
Create a portal for communication – this is what will keep people coming back. Keep your customers in the loop by confirming orders and providing shipping notifications, solicit ideas on how you can improve their experience on your site, or allow them to share your information with their social network. Provide all of your contact information in an easy-to-find manner. If applicable, provide a comprehensive FAQ page. Repeat contact with your customers increases brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Customers are kings once again. Your job is to provide them with first-class solutions to their problems and encourage a relationship that will keep them coming back for more.

Mentioned in this post
Pine and Gilmore quote :: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_experience
AT&T quote :: http://www.crmbuyer.com/story/70492.html

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