Delivering a great Customer Experience (CX) is not only a key differentiator for a brand it’s a necessity for survival. At the Forrester Forum focusing on CX held in mid-November in London, we heard that treating a customer with respect and valuing them is an expected behavior…why being good is not good enough. Taking CX to the next level has become table stakes for companies. Customers’ expectations have been elevated by such brands like Apple, Zappos, and Nordstrom that have made a name for themselves with superior experiences. These firms understand the value in treating their customers as the central to their success.

When building a brand, firms tend to look at three progressive rungs that make up the customer loyalty ladder: retention, enrichment, and advocacy. It’s widely known that acquiring new customers is much more expensive than keeping existing customers. Retention, by definition, is what loyalty is all about. A customer can be considered loyal if they are “retained” and come back for at least one more repeat purchase. That sounds good but a repeat purchaser might be buying simply because the brand is convenient. How can you be sure the customer is loyal and not just in a pinch? Enrichment is the next level of loyalty where a customer begins to branch out into deeper purchases at a brand perhaps buying accessories or in larger quantities. Finally, with increased relevance in these days of social media prominence, brand advocacy is free marketing from your most loyal customers who tell their friends how much they enjoy your brand. Nothing is more powerful than word of mouth in the marketing world. A loyal brand advocate is much more valuable than any television commercial.

Now that we’ve outlined customer loyalty, what does it take for a brand to start climbing that ladder of retention, enrichment, and advocacy? There are three core principles for driving that loyalty and delivering a superior customer experience. First, make your customers feel valued. We heard at the Forrester conference from UK retailer John Lewis. All of the John Lewis associates are hired based on “deriving gratitude from serving others.” This is not something that can be learned, it has to be a part of an associates personality. John Lewis looks for this trait in its associates. Customers feel that sense of service from people who are, by nature, caring and sincere. Customers want to shop at John Lewis. The next principle for improving loyalty is to resolve customer issues quickly. A return, a warranty claim, a missing item, or a request for extra service are all situations where a customer wants a quick resolution with no hassle. Making a customer jump through hoops or follow lengthy procedures can really leave a bad impression. Retailers should be able to handle a special situation as easily as they do a routine customer purchase. Finally, speak to your customers in plain language. Interact with them in a way that puts them at ease, not on edge. Make a customer’s buying journey simple and easy. Clearly explain products, policies, warranty support, and other important facts about their purchase. Customers who feel like a retailer is trying to obfuscate or hide information will not feel at ease or valued. This applies for customers in-store as well as the digital shopper. When using a retailer’s website or mobile app, information needs to be clear, concise, and easy to understand. The alternative to violating any of these principles is a loss of the customer. Not valued? I’ll shop somewhere else. Make it a hassle for me to return an item? I’ll go to a store that doesn’t. I can’t understand what you’re saying? I’ll take my business to a retailer that speaks my language.

Customer Experience is often overlooked as a key to a successful brand. Too often retailers will focus on the traditional “Four P’s of Marketing”: price, promotion, place, and product. The fact is that all customers can shop for the same product (commoditized), in the same place (online), where prices, due to competition, are all similar while being inundated with promotions and coupons. What will make a customer choose one store over another? It’s often the subtle differences in a retailer’s customer experience that will determine who gets the sale.