Customer experience has become a top priority for businesses in the past decade. Unfortunately, there is a significant gap in understanding what it is, how to measure it, and why it is important for companies to pay attention to it. As technology continues to advance, new platforms will continue to transform the way customers experience a service and engage with companies. As customers continue to search for solutions to their needs, companies who create barriers and pain points for them are going to become vulnerable to their competition. Competitors may not be present yet, but they will eventually arrive.
We have seen the disruption in several industries, such as retail, cable, travel, hospitality, and transportation. Companies who have disrupted these industries, for the most part, are extremely customer focused, putting the customer at the center of their service delivery model. Their design of new services is guided not by an assumption process, but by a thorough approach to understanding how a customer uses a particular service to fulfill their needs. These new companies have been able to identify an underserved customer segment, and their services are structured and designed to provide an improved, valuable solution to these customers. Some of the similarities these companies have are: infrastructure in place to support prospects and customers throughout their service delivery model, technology to support and enable their service offering, an integrated distribution channel, and a high-quality solution. All these elements are not possible to achieve without acquiring a profound understanding of the customers’ needs.
Let me give you an example. You may not relate to hair coloring products, but the manner in which this company approaches customer experience can be of use as a learning experience for some companies still struggling to fulfill customer needs. In recent years, the $15 billion hair color industry  has been disrupted by a company named Madison Reed. With more than 80% of women dying their hair on average every six to eight weeks [1, 2], this company entered the market with a superior value offering not only for people who go to hair salons, but also for people who dye their hair at home. I was one of the 48%  of people who used to go to a hair salon, but I was getting tired of spending three hours of my time there every 5 to 6 weeks, putting up with the discomfort and irritation caused by hair color chemicals, and paying more than $150 for this suffering.
1. Infrastructure in place to support prospects and customers throughout their service delivery model
Before I made the decision to dye my own hair, I did a lot of research, and most of it was facilitated by Madison’s digital platforms: website, social media, and blog. Customers who are exploring a new way of doing things to fulfill their needs require a lot of handholding and support. One of the mistakes companies make is to assume the type of support customers need (or will need) based on their acquisition channel. My research journey started online, but when I had questions, I transitioned to having a phone conversation with their color professionals. Later that day, I had a simple question, and I decided to engage them via chat. Madison Reed not only has the infrastructure in place to support different buying experiences, but also understands the context in which customers are making decisions to find solutions to their hair coloring needs. The interaction with their professional colorists over the phone and through chat was superb. I felt they took the time to answer my questions, educate me about the hair coloring process, and reassure me that I was not alone if additional questions came up. They were extremely friendly, easy to contact, quick to provide an answer, and seemed to truly care about my concerns.
2. Technology to support and enable their service offering
Finding the right shade was not as difficult as I thought it was going to be due to their technology and customer support integration. Madison Reed has integrated artificial intelligence through machine learning  to assist customers in finding the right shade. Customers can answer a twelve-question quiz or take a selfie and send it to Madi, a chat bot, using text or messenger to find a shade that matches their needs. Customers don’t need to use Madi or answer the quiz if they don’t want to; they can speak to a professional colorist over the phone or through email. Companies like Madison Reed understand the major barriers they need to overcome to help customers find the right solution to their needs, without making them jump through hoops to find it. Making the decision to color their own hair can leave customers uneasy, due to the lack of knowledge they have about the entire process. But Madison Reed, with its technology and support infrastructure, has provided an achievable and easy solution. However, some companies have leaned too heavily on technology in an attempt to improve customer experiences. Technology alone is not enough.
3. Integrated distribution channel
Madison Reed has integrated several channels through which the customer can shop and interact with the company. Currently, they offer their products through e-commerce, third-party retailers, and their own color bars , which are brick-and-mortar locations, currently only available in a few cities, where customers can make an appointment online and get a fast and an affordable hair coloring experience. I decided to use their third-party retailer because I did not have time to wait for an online order. When I arrived at the retail store, unfortunately I was only able to find one box of the shade I needed. I have long hair, so I needed to get two. I noticed Madi, the Madison Reed chat bot, was part of the in-store experience helping customers like me find the perfect color shade. Unfortunately, my question required more advanced support, not currently provided by Madi. So, I called Madison Reed, and their professional colorists helped me find the colors I needed to mix in order to achieve the results I was expecting. They also recommended additional tools I may need, most of which I was able to get before I left the store. I had to make an extra stop to buy a container to mix the color, which was not available at the retailer. This was hard to believe, considering they sell hair color products, but that is probably a topic for my next blog. Integration of third party distribution into their service delivery model also plays a crucial role in supporting customers through their purchasing process. Anticipation of customer needs is hard to accomplish by most companies. In most cases, companies are reacting to customer expectations. But Madison Reed, through its integrated distribution channel and support infrastructure, easily handled surprises like the one I encountered. They did not rely primarily on the third-party retail store to provide a solution to their customer, and they were able to guide the customer during the purchasing process.
4. High-quality solution
As a customer, I was looking to get a professional hair coloring experience, in less than an hour, using chemical-free products, in the comfort of my own home. And, on top of that, at a lower cost. The day after I purchased the product, I decided it to give it a try. I opened the box and was impressed by all the items the Hair Color kit included, such as: hair color cream and activator, barrier cream (to avoid color marks), a cleansing wipe, two sets of gloves, a protective cap, color preserving shampoo and conditioner, and easy to follow instructions. The packaging was clean, elegant, and simple. In addition, their mobile app included tutorials that walk you through all the steps, including timers to assist you throughout the process. As I started the process, I noticed that my scalp was not itching, my eyes were not watering, and the product did not smell bad. The results I achieved at the end were amazing.
Last week, I decided to purchase the product online, and I noticed that the company offers a subscription service that allows you to pick how often you color your hair. In addition, they provided additional products that supplement the hair coloring process, such as styling products, shampoo and conditioner, etc. They provide a one-stop solution for customers like me. I had questions about other products they offered and contacted their professional colorist, and they were able to answer all of them in a timely and easy manner. After I made the purchase, instead of receiving a normal receipt and a survey, Madison Reed did something totally different. Follow up after a sale in an effort to continue delivering value is rare to find nowadays, as it mostly takes place in the form of a survey. Don’t get me wrong, obtaining feedback from customers after a sale is crucial, but few companies have taken this opportunity to deliver additional value and reinforce their value offering. Like I mentioned, after I placed my order, instead of receiving a typical confirmation email after my purchase, I received a thank note from the founder of Madison Reed, thanking me for my purchase and letting me know that she has assigned a personal stylist/color concierge to check if there is anything they can do for me. She explained that if there was anything that I am not happy with, they will try to find a solution, and if I was still not satisfied, they would give me my money back. As a customer, Madison Reed has been able to deliver more value than I was accustomed to receiving from any of my previous trips to hair salons. They have set the bar so high, not only for the hair coloring industry, but for other industries too.
5. Profound understanding of their customers
The hair coloring industry has existed for years, but Madison Reed disrupted it by providing more than hair coloring products. They provided an integrated solution for customers looking for a better way to achieve a professional hair coloring result, in a third of the time, from the convenience of their own home, that included support mechanisms to learn about hair coloring, access to hair colorist experts by phone, email, or chat, and applications such as an app, to manage the actual hair coloring process. Madison Reed understood not only the barriers to acquire customers who used to go to hair salons, but also customers that were used to coloring their own hair. They not only removed the chemicals normally found in hair color products, but they added nutrients to protect the hair. They observed customers’ behaviors  to learn how they use existing hair color products and identify ways to improve the process, like offering two pair of gloves, or a mobile app to correctly time the process without using your hands.
This company provided the infrastructure to support not only prospects, but also customers throughout their entire service delivery model. From a customer’s experience, Madison Reed has provided knowledge, guidance, support, and personalized experience throughout several channels: chat, phone, and email. Technology serves as a support system and enabler of personalized experiences. Their integrated distribution channel facilitates the purchase not only online, but through third-party retailers and local color bars. This integration plays a crucial role in supporting customers throughout the purchasing process, providing customers the option to choose the channel that works best for them, and providing the same level of support regardless of the channel the customer chooses. A high-quality solution is facilitated by their remarkable product and customer support. And finally, in order for all these elements to work in conjunction and not against each other, profound customer understanding is needed. Customers don’t like surprises. They expect to find a solution to their needs, not barriers or roadblocks during their service journey.
1. O'Connor, C., With Dye Jobs for Just $45, Hair Color Startup Madison Reed Takes On $15 Billion Market, in Forbes2016, Forbes.
2. Contributor, S., Three disruption secrets behind color brand Madison Reed's success, in NRF's MAGAZINE2017.