Want to Deliver a Better Customer Experience? Think Horizontally

Customers want what they want. And when they find it, they do not think in terms of the business vertical. If one company delights me, I expect all companies to delight me – after all, this is what I want.

The Horizontal has been set.

Unhappily, businesses think in terms of verticals. Just because a coffee shop or shoe shop can deliver an extraordinary experience should in no way mean that a customer should expect that same great customer experience from their insurance company – or their B2B supplier. After all, life just doesn’t work like that!

Wake up. It does now. The Horizontal is here.

A connected world does more than rapidly transform communications from the one-to-one into the one-to-many. It also connects the dots faster and patterns become visible at lightning speed. As evolution’s best pattern-recognition creatures, humans quickly see patterns and extrapolate them into predictions then ultimately into expectations. In short, the Horizontal: if x happens here, I expect x to happen in similar “heres.” If it doesn’t, us pattern-recognition creatures are wildly, not mildly, disappointed.

Horizontals raise the bar.

Let’s go ahead and honor the Amazon’s, the Apples, the Starbucks and the Zappos. They were among the first to give us what we want – acknowledgement, caring, understanding, respect and yes, free shipping. We immediately not only loved this experience, we identified the pattern, predicted our next experience and shortcut our thinking to expect this high level of excellence everywhere.

We jump over it.

The logic is simple, although the emotions can be scarring for brands. If customers can be treated to an excellent customer experience at Starbucks, etc. they expect the same great experience from their car dealer, home appliance store, cable provider – well, you can take it from there. And you can feel the shock, the outrage and the disgust when the expected great experience isn’t delivered consistently. So we leave one brand and seek out the better others. After all, there are always other brands, other providers and other options.

In an instant.

Options are instantaneously available through friends: Text and done. No friends? No problem. There are a million “friends” online to provide all the social proof anyone needs. So we hunt and gather our options. Then we validate by reading reviews. And, when we’ve had our customer experience, we share. We spread the word. We tell stories. Again, The Horizontal is actively influencing the next expectation.

But there’s hope.

Customers’ demand for a great experience is a wonderful, brand-driving opportunity. All brands have to do is:

    • Pay attention.

      The new owners of The Horizontal are not secret, hidden or inaccessible. And these customers are telling stories – to all your current and potential customers.

    • Listen.

      Do it with a determined empathy for your customers, your shareholders and your employees. The unalterable fact is that if you ask, everyone will tell you. Then confirm whatever you’ve heard. Be sure to weed out the “emperor’s sycophants” and listen hardest to the bruising, tell-it-like-it-is talk.

    • Identify.

      Understanding what needs to change is not as easy as it sounds. Inside a large corporation, there are many perspectives and many voices – and even more agendas. The hardest step is once you have found all the pieces, putting the puzzle together in order to truly identify what needs fixing first.

    • Prioritize.

      Change is tough. Transformation is even tougher. You have to know not only what needs to change, but also what can change now and then next – despite the challenges. Perhaps all you can change now is the existing attitude. If so, do it. All the way up and down the ladder. After all, the first change begins in the mind.

    • Re-imagine.

      However your brand is behaving with its customers now, envision its higher Horizontal. Then adapt, test, refine and ask again.

    • CX Works On Your Company Horizontal too.

      While companies think – and therefore function – in verticals, creating a greater Customer Experience only works if it is applied across all functions of your business – and all the top decision makers are involved, including the C-suite, marketing, product groups, operations, sales and the front-line people. Without adopting The Horizontal into your company’s CX practice, CX leaders will have all the responsibility, but none of the authority or funds to create real change.

And remember

When you look at Customer Experience through the lens of The Horizontal, you not only step into the customer’s shoes, you take a walk through the marketplace knowing it isn’t just your competitors who are consistently raising the CX bar – it’s every great and delightful experience customers have with every company.