Today’s business must invest a significant amount of its resources to plan, develop and deploy well thought-out engagement strategies to enhance the customer’s experience and trigger in them a desire to transition from buyers into advocates. To achieve this effectively, we must ensure that our quest to keep the customer satisfied is realised unhindered, being careful not to falter at any stage in their journey. Two things we must note here are:
First, the journey is by no means a linear one – therefore, the interactions would normally take place randomly from any of the points of interaction. Second, if at any point in the journey your business falters in any dealings with the customer, in their eyes you have failed at all the touch-points.
So, for example, a customer comes to your store and meets a very friendly customer service representative, leaves with a positive impression from the nice experience and then later phones in at your call centre to verify a piece of information regarding the product or service – but this time round has a spat with your call agent.
In the eyes of the customer, that unfortunate encounter will negate the initial positive experience. Managing your customer’s experience is therefore a delicate process as much as it is a key business requirement to ensure that your business derives value, ultimately as a function of how well the customer is cared for.
The Experience Challenge
The future of customer relations is likely to be influenced in a large part by how well we manage the customer’s interactions with our business and much less on how we place price and product as a differentiator. This means that the task of engaging the customer must take precedence over what we perceive as important business variables. Our deliberate actions must therefore include a conscious effort to understand where the points of inflexion are – where the customer has a high expectation and emotional engagement. It means for example that if a customer seeks preferential treatment citing a history of loyalty with your brand this is not to be taken lightly.
Another reality we need to consider carefully is how our touch points affect the customer emotionally. I still remember very vividly, an interesting encounter years ago in a supermarket in the UK where I had gone in to buy groceries after work on my way home. The self-checkout machine malfunctioned after I had scanned all my items and attempted to pay with my bank card. An attendant came to help me out and was also unsuccessful in her attempt. She called in the manager who came in and tried to effect the transaction again to no avail. Seeing the difficulty they were facing I suggested moving to another device, however, the manager restrained me, pointing out that they had wasted enough of my time, so she asked me to take the items home for free. Well guess what, I fell in love with this retailer for just that small gesture and subsequently shopped there regularly in preference to others.
No rational thinking there! Not all interactions are equal in terms of its impact on us as customers, therefore every encounter with the customer must be a learning experience and must be captured for knowledge purposes to help us improve our service offerings with regularity and consistency.
Customer Intelligence Mindset
As highlighted earlier, by placing a premium on our interactions with the customer we develop customer intelligence as a mindset. Our approach to planning the customer journey must be ‘outside-in’, driven by our understanding of the customer’s needs to trigger a process wherein we carefully map the customer journey during all interactions from the customer’s viewpoint. One blip in a customer’s journey can negate the positive impact of all the other touch-points. Finally, planning our customer journey requires an integrated approach due to the multifunctional nature of our business activities.
Different functions in the business measure what ‘to be a customer’ means differently. A typical context in financial services visa card business depicts a situation whereby the business has different definitions for the customer in the following ways.
The department adding prospects into its system views customers as ‘lead-generated’ whether or not they apply for a visa card. Those who ‘vet the application’ and issue the plastic view the person who received the plastic within set time limits as a customer whether they use it or not. The team that handles ‘card activation’ view someone as a customer once they have successfully activated the card – however, this person might keep the card in their wallet and never use it; from a business perspective, they are actually never really customers.
The customer journey planning process must be managed as an organisation-wide activity to facilitate knowledge-sharing, thus ensuring that the entire business has a common understanding of the customer’s needs. The value to both parties is mutual: the customer enjoys the relationship with your business and becomes an advocate thus helping to drive traffic to you; and your reputation is enhanced, which ultimately translates into profits and/or value.
The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited, a People and Learning Organisation. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected]