Enjoy this panel discussion on the topic of customer experience from the Social Biz Atlanta Conference. The participants are Ashish Bisaria, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience at Manheim, along with Rob Houser, Senior Director of Product Management for Sage Software. As well as Esteban Kolsky, Founder and Principal of ThinkJar and host, Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief at Direct Marketing News.
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Host Ginger Conlon: Can you talk a little bit about what customer experience means in your company? Esteban can you give the broader definition, if there is one, of customer experience? Ashish, you want to start us off?
Ashish Bisaria: Manheim  is the world’s largest used car auction house. So we take all of the used cars and bring the buyers and sellers together in a B2B.
Customer experience for our company is about driving full behaviors from our customers. The behaviors are buy, used, site and direct. At the end of the day, those are the four things that drive all customer experience decisions for us.
Rob Houser: Customer experience has changed our business model to annual contracts. So for us, that is the “stay” part. It is especially important, because every year customers have a new chance to go. So we want to make sure that at that decision point, they are already very engaged with us and we have engaged with them throughout the year and provided value to them and demonstrated that value through our Sage  Advisor projects.
Esteban Kolsky: Essentially, there are a few points in there that do matter. First of all, experience could be what the customer experiences or the employee experiences or what the partner experiences or what somebody else experiences.
It is not only what they see or what they hear. But it has to do with everything. The customer experience is what happens to the customer from the moment they first hear about the company to the moment they don’t want to hear about it anymore.
Host Ginger Conlon: That is a great point. Customer service is just one part of the customer experience. Customer experience may be marketing communications you receive or the Tiffany Blue Box as you open it. All of the different ways that you interact and all of the different touch points.
Rob Houser: The experience is not the big part of where we are transitioning now, because we have had a lot of really good successes in individual areas across the company and improving customer experience. But they are not tied together, they are not consistent and they sometimes don’t even seem like they are from the same company.
That is our big revolution right now. It is trying to take the Sage Advisor umbrella and use that to pull together that ending experience.
Host Ginger Conlon: Ashish, you were saying you have those four stages. How does that actually work for the customer?
Ashish Bisaria: You have to view everything from a company’s viewpoint and a customer’s viewpoint. If you take the filter of the company viewpoint, there is a theory of what the company wants to be, how they want to deliver the services, the brand and the experience but there is the reality.
A customer experience job is to take the theory – which is the design aspect, the reality, the execution aspect – and minimize the gap between design and execution.
If you use the same concept from a customer viewpoint, the customer has a theory of what doing business with us is. That is their expectation. But then there is the reality of when they do business with us and that is the perception.
When their expectation is lower than perception, we have done all of the right things. When their perception (which is their reality) is lower than their expectation, that is the experience gap.
We look at those four boxes on every thing we do to minimize the execution gap and to minimize perception gap.
Host Ginger Conlon: That’s great. So Rob, can you talk a little bit about how Sage Advisor works and how you are using that to retain your customers?
Rob Houser: We have lots of data about how customers are using the products, how many ways they process payroll and how often they process payroll. Transactional kind of stuff that you talked about earlier. But also how long they spend on each screen, whether they use the slow way or the new faster way of doing things or if they customize the application. We can see how many times they call support, what those issues were about on support, what other services they have bought, what industries they are in.
We start to take all of that data and create a common place for our employees to go. When they are talking to that customer – be it is sales, support or user experience, people trying to provide productivity tips and training suggestions – we make sure that they start from, ‘I know what you need. We know you are a manufacturing company, we know you have four users who are sort of new to the system, here is some training that helps them be more productive.’
It is that personalized kind of experience that we are trying to strive for by leveraging the data that helps us to know who they are from the time we start interacting with them.
Esteban Kolsky: The experience is not only about what the customer gets, it is about how both entities get to win and how you get a win/win situation.
Host Ginger Conlon: There has to be a better fit for the company. You can’t just do it because you want to be nice. That’s great, but it is not going to be long term.
Esteban Kolsky: Instead of, ‘Oh we have to deal what the customer says,’ and you just rush and try to do everything without considering what the benefit to the company is. That’s where we come in – to get a better balance.
Ashish Bisaria: If I may add to this, one of the typical challenges for customer experience is what we should focus on. What is the customer asking us to change? Traditional customer experience surveys have a focus on scales – 1 to 10 – right and wrong, good or bad, etc.
Our customer experience service isn’t about right and wrong, good or bad. We actually talk to them about the ten different times that the customer interacts with us, and we ask them, ‘What do you want us to focus on improving for the year 2013? If you have to pick one area that we can make better for you what would that be?’
Once we have their priority, we do a second level of deep dive into that topic and say, ‘What part of that business experience and interaction with you is broken or needs improvement?’ That sets the 2013 priority.
It is a very focused way of getting the rest of the customer’s voice into the boardroom and driving improvements.
This interview on customer experience is part of the One on One interview series  with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To see the full interview, view the video above.