Delivering exceptional customer experiences is a narrative that has prevailed over the last few years. Adherence to this standard is mostly driven by two fears, losing your list of existing customers, particularly when switching costs are low, and lastly the comparably higher cost of recruiting new customers.

As a business, you obviously want to avoid losing your list of existing customers as they often will not have great things to say about you after they have left. This, in turn, contributes to a higher customer acquisition cost and ultimately contributes to an erosion of your margins as you struggle to balance out the turnover.

With this in mind, the next question is how to deliver ideal customer experiences consistently.

Admittedly, the cost to serve a customer is arguably going up. In as much as digital has reduced the real amount of serving customers, it’s the investment in enabling partnerships and relationships that places your business at risk. As an example, if I bought clothing from an online retail store and expected delivery of my products in 48 hours and the online service provider’s retailer delivered in 72; I’d probably try out another online retailer with a better timely delivery record.

Resources now need to be invested in vetting the partnerships and relationships that are an extension of your brand, including whether they add to or take away from the experience you’re looking to deliver. So I suggest that through this line of thinking that the cost to serve to deliver the ideal customer experience has gone up. More is being invested in the back end to ensure that when customers interact with your company, they get nothing but the best of you – core or non-core offering. In addition to the back-end, below are the front-end touchpoints that also need to be considered.

Technology has resulted in us becoming more accessible from a communications perspective. Based on this, I always want to have enough airtime to communicate with family and colleagues as and when I need to. I also prefer buying my airtime in bulk and using pay-as-you-go offerings for different service providers within the African continent to have a better understanding of which service provider has the best offering.

While on my travels, I found myself at a leading retailer’s outlet and proceeded to ask the sales assistant for a US$10 airtime voucher. The assistant pulled out ten, US$1 vouchers and based on the disgruntled look on my face, quickly mentioned that these are the only vouchers that had been delivered by the mobile service provider. This meant that for me to top up my mobile phone’s airtime, I needed to find a coin, scratch each voucher to reveal the airtime top-up voucher code, enter each code separately ten times, to top up my desired airtime amount.

I obviously didn’t want to do this, so I pleaded with her for an alternative, but she responded that because most customers usually purchase the $1 and $2 vouchers, these were the vouchers that were predominantly supplied to the market, with $5, $10, and $20 vouchers being a rarity. As I desperately needed to make a call, I succumbed and made the purchase. Finding the scratch coin was my next task as the country I was in was battling with a cash crisis, with most purchases being made via card and mobile payments. I eventually found a coin and stood by the shop counter for a good 5 – 10 minutes and went through the arduous task of topping up my airtime, a dollar at a time!

As I scratched each of the ten vouchers, I asked myself why the service provider wasn’t supplying higher denomination vouchers. In as much as most organisations build their offering around a primary market segment, they surely should also cater to the secondary customer base as well as they do their primary market. Without being too judgmental, I assumed that the problem was exclusive to this shop and moved to another part of the city only to encounter a similar situation. Based on this experience, I fell out of love with my preferred mobile service provider.

Because of higher data and phone call charge rates when compared to the country where I currently reside, I found myself needing to recharge my airtime on a daily basis. Each time my airtime ran out, and I needed to recharge, I found myself cursing my luck, hoping to heaven that I had a coin in my pocket and lastly praying that the next shop, outlet or airtime vendor I bumped into would have higher denomination vouchers.

It never happened.

Another thing that bothered me was the provider’s offering diversity. As an example, because I use my phone as a mobile hotspot, I consume a lot of data. As a result of this, I am always shopping around for the best data deals to ensure I am always connected. Using the same mobile service provider, I asked a franchised shop assistant to kindly share my data deal options. She responded by stating that the service provider had three data deal offerings, divided into daily, weekly & monthly offerings. The daily data bundles offered more data but all the data needed to be used up within the space of 24 hours. The weekly bundle offered less data, but you could consume it for longer, with the same being the case for the monthly deal.

As I was going to be in the country for a week, I opted for the daily bundle option as it allowed me to consume data within my usual consumption range and enabled me to pace myself over the week based on my needs. Based on my experience, it appeared that the data deals were developed with the service provider and not the consumer in mind. The rate of consumption of the daily bundle data seemed a bit excessive, and each time my daily bundle data got used up, my phone would immediately switch to out of bundle data consumption, which to say the least gobbled my airtime at an alarming rate.

I again, found myself having to find another outlet to top-up my airtime with the $1 vouchers. I even considered switching to another service provider at one time, but with two days left and the number I was using being the only one I could be reached on when within my visited country, I bit the bullet and soldiered on for another three days!

What amused me was the other alternatives they had on offer to ensure they catered to their customers. It was as if the service providers knew that their data costs were exorbitant. Because of this, they offered social media bundles which only gave customers access to Facebook, Whatsapp and other social media sites, restricting usage. This would in a way, keep their customers satisfied with what each service provider was offering and reduce turnover and customers’ switching.

This didn’t feel like a viable option for me as I don’t use social media much and I also didn’t want to be restricted in terms of my internet usage. But because I’d already committed, I found myself always paying more, and more, and more for data as I simply couldn’t function without it – as emails needed to be responded to and other pertinent issues needed to be addressed through a plethora of internet searches.

The last thing that comes to mind were the franchise outlets and other retailers where I was purchasing my airtime vouchers. As a result of the country’s cash crisis, I have mentioned that most payments are made either via card or mobile money. I, unfortunately had cash and needed to make purchases at a till. I assume that mobile money technology suppliers and users are still getting around how to use this solution.

I mention this because for some reason, the queues at most of the outlets I visited were long and I found myself having to wait in line for 10 – 15 minutes before I got to the front to make my airtime purchase. Because a sour taste had already been left in my mouth based on my voucher and data consumption ordeal, I, in a way, placed some of my queuing disgruntlement on my mobile service provider. As I stood in each queue, it fueled my fire to never use this service provider when I next visited.

In conclusion, my experiences left me less excited about my service provider’s brand. I asked myself whether the organisation embarks on periodic audits to understand prevailing trends and whether they needed to progress or evolve their experience frameworks to better serve their customers. I wondered if they had real-time feedback systems that enabled them to interact with their stakeholders to get a sense of whether their offerings and associated experiences were delivering the desired effect. I also asked how they could get insights on how they could effectively serve their secondary markets in an equity building manner.

As an example, while standing in a retailer’s queue where I had been advised I could buy airtime, one of the queuing customers asked me what I was in line for. I responded, and he said that I didn’t need to spend so long in a queue for airtime alone. He advised me to try the butchery next to the retailer (a registered airtime supplier whose shop seldom had queues). I thanked him kindly, and within two minutes I had made my airtime purchase at the butchery (I applaud the butcher’s entrepreneurial spirit in diversifying their revenue streams).

Unfortunately, the butchery only had $1 airtime vouchers.

Therefore, a balance should be struck between organisational and customer needs to deliver lasting brand equity. Delivering great CX through understanding the market context is a great way of endearing customers to the brand and keeping them loyal to your organisation over the longer term.