An exceptional customer experience is the best way to differentiate a brand. Consumers today want interactions with brands that feel natural, personal and relevant. One of the relatively untapped channels that provides a perfect forum for one-to-one marketing is the customer’s own self-service account.

Self-service accounts provide brands with a number of benefits. One of the major benefits is that consumer online accounts are a trusted and preferred channel (56 percent of adults in the U.S. pay their bills online).

Our experience in working with hundreds of companies has taught us that the lease-end or loan-end period provides unique opportunities to create an experience that results in a repurchase. Following the three tenets below will result in a great lease- or loan-end customer experience that will increase customer retention and satisfaction for any brand in any industry.

1) Focus on the customer first

Brands should build digital marketing strategies on only one premise: make it easy for customers to do business with your organization. The solution should enable customers to get their questions answered right the first time in the channel they prefer instead of forcing customers to change their behavior to accommodate your internal processes or departments. This is a tough task for most organizations.

2) Resolve the customer’s common pain points

We have found that talking to the call center is a great first step toward understanding how to best meet your customers’ needs. The call center knows the customer pain points — resolving these pain points is why they exist.

As part of the design process for developing a secure self-serve account for a finance company’s lease-end customers, we learned that the biggest customer frustrations are multiple follow-up calls, fees for mileage overages, requiring multiple dealer visits during the turn-in process and surprise damage fees. And most auto finance companies struggle with these same issues.

We turned these pain points into a 5 percent gain in customer retention by including more online information about the lease-end process in self-service accounts. The solution provided routine payment and balance information; plus, it let customers easily check their lease-end information, such as mileage requirements, and purchase extra mileage on the spot. We also included lease-end education materials, including a video walk-through of the lease-end process and a repair calculator.

3) Use the context of routine transactions to surprise and delight your customers

Most customers expect to be able to use their online accounts to confirm that their payments were received and check their account balance. Turning this routine chore into an exceptional experience increased one automotive lender’s J.D. Power customer satisfaction scores by leaps and bounds year-over-year.

How did they do it?

They gave customers access to dealer, brand and finance messaging all in one place. They offered vehicle comparisons and provided payment estimates for upgrades and vehicle purchases as part of pull-ahead offers.

Customers are 5 times more likely to engage during the first 90 to 100 days than at any other point. So it’s very important to dialogue with them in the beginning — not just at the end of the lease or loan. Regardless of what you want to sell, it is important to start the pitch early in the relationship. Be personal, not just transactional, from the start.

The biggest reason using routine transactions is so successful is that it proactively capitalizes on the customer journey or customer lifecycle to compress the consideration and evaluation phase of the new vehicle purchase. And the message is delivered in a contextual manner that makes sense to the customer.

A recent AutoAlert and IHS Automotive survey revealed insights on why this is true. In the survey, 69 percent of the vehicle owners said it is “very important” or “somewhat important” for their dealership to contact them about vehicle upgrades — if the upgrade does not change their monthly payment. Additionally, 75 percent said they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to trade in their vehicle right away, if their monthly payment was relatively unchanged.

The well-timed, relevant vehicle offer greatly reduces, and in some cases eliminates, the customers’ need to shop for their next vehicle.

Today’s technology allows businesses to deliver well-timed, targeted offers based on customer data. Providing the right vehicle offer at the right time is just one example of how you can add to the customer experience.

Successful brands create superior customer journeys. It is all about providing information the consumer feels is important in a personal and relevant way.