… Manage the transition seamlessly to align with your customer’s needs
Managing customers is essential for the average business as it helps to keep and grow your market therefore with every new product or service there is a tangible plan to engage with customers proactively and keep them interested so that they keep coming back.
Great to have customer service as a key function or process within your organization and to keep the relationship flourishing for as long as you can. Does the question then remain whether Customer Service and Customer Experience are the same?
Research have opined that the two are used interchangeably however this is not a question of two similarities. On the contrary, there is a marked difference between them they claim although you can relate both.
While Customer Service focuses on human interaction and directly supports customers, customer experience is the sum of the entire journey with your business. In other words, in customer service, your team requires customer-facing skills so they can provide answers and assistance to customers’ needs.
This will require that they have patience, product knowledge, tenacity, and a great dose of empathy for customers, customers will recognize you as the human element in your business and representative of their voices. Customer experience encompasses the entire customer journey across the organization including every interaction between the customer and the business. How does the customer use the product or service? What are the interactions with your brand and how have these turned out? Walk into a retail store and observe how you are received, ask for assistance and see the reaction, know that every activity within the retail store from the end of your service providers is aimed at helping you enjoy the interaction.
There are 3 main components associated with customer experience namely; customer service (includes customer service and self-service support points at which the customer interacts with your team), technology (this represents the product itself and how it works and the interactivity points), and design (the brand touchpoint marketing, the feelings your brand creates for the customer). So the Michael Gerber story of his unique experience in a hotel upstate in the USA generated positive feelings in him about the brand and made him want to come back many more times. Just as iPhone users are hooked to the brand and very loyal because of the feelings they experience using iPhone products. The truth is the distinctiveness of these two phenomena is very minimal thus the confusion between them is quite understandable. Customer experience though will cover the whole journey including customer service.
Customer experience will require that you pay attention to elements beyond the interaction with customers and focus on extras such as data analysis by non-customer-facing team(s) who contribute to the overall experience with the product or service. The need to relate the two is imperative as customers will generally think about your offering without necessarily drawing a line between them. By definition, if you have a customer then you are providing a customer experience. When people interact with your business they will go through a customer journey culminating in customer outcomes. According to Nick Lygo-Baker, a certified Customer Experience professional, we live in a world where choice is infinite and customers expect a personalized experience. Brands, Retailers, and Service Providers are constantly seeking the ideal formula to meet as many of these expectations with as little operational effort (and cost) as possible. He warns however that company’s focus can drift from fulfilling the functional needs of their customers as they get drawn into the quest for profits. He drops a few hints to help fight this ‘temptation’ by outlining a simple framework as follows, customer focus requires customer focus, and insight without data is just opinion and organizational buy-in.
Customer focus requires customer focus
Organizations are generally made up of functional areas or departments with each focusing on their main activities therefore HR will oversee recruitments in support of the organization’s goals while Finance will take care of the company’s payments and receipts and so on. Customer experience unlike many of the functional areas making up organizations is a cross-functional process where everyone in the organization is part of the collective effort to address the customer’s needs and to ensure that they are satisfied with the relationship with the business about offerings and attention to their needs. Such is the importance of customer experience that it travels up to the CEO. Therefore getting the customer agenda right hinges on bold decision making. So experts advise that a strong customer experience culture requires more than just a strong CEO who will keep the customer top of the agenda, but a brave CEO who is willing to change the structure of the business to embed customer focus.
The truth is that shifting business focus while keeping pace with targets can be very daunting a posturing that is not for the faint-hearted. The advice is to pursue this quest through careful planning and phased implementation. We can address this by setting a basic customer and employee framework adopting two basic checks through which every project decision is made. We pose the questions, will this make things EASY and add VALUE for our customer? Will this make things EASY and add VALUE to our staff? If focus is maintained on the customer it quickly allows you to birth new ideas in the evaluation phase encouraging you to ask why you did certain things and to assess whether the new thinking will yield a better outcome. For an effective campaign, you must advisedly start from the customer journey map. Conduct this exercise cross-functionally for several reasons. First, this is to ensure that all the pieces are available to complete the picture. This is achieved through knowledge sharing cross-functionally to build a common understanding of the needs of the customer so that each person in the business can improve the employee journey and deliver the customer experience.
Second, by bringing people together to get them to think about how to improve the customer experience by making their roles more efficient for themselves but also for their colleagues who are dependent on functions and tasks. The understanding that internally we are dealing with our colleagues as customers is helpful. If the principle is to give the customer unbridled attention then it makes great sense to develop this internally and mould the culture to ‘near perfection’ this way you deliver an experience to your colleagues and replicate this to the external customer like ‘a duck to water’. To stay this course ensure that you pay close attention to customer feedback, not neglecting the thoughts of your internal customers.
Insight without data is just opinion
Feedback from the customer provides us with valuable insights enabling us to learn enough about the customer as we should inform our approach to engagement. It is noteworthy however that we perform the data analysis from several perspectives to give us the true story of the customer’s journey and experience ultimately. Therefore feedback must be taken in context and with a degree of balance. Relying on just one sample may lead to a narrow view of the customer’s perception and this could be misleading. From an organizational perspective to achieve true measure we can split our survey into three listening posts. These are the voice of Customer – Customer feedback surveys and focus groups, Voice of Employee – Employee survey or discussion groups and, Voice of Process – Business Information, key performance indicator reports.
A word of caution regarding listening posts. In a scenario where you have different listening posts owned by different departments the risk of each providing you with different views and measures of the customer experience is very high. The way to derive value from the feedback is to align the listening posts to create a ‘single version of the customer data’. By building a repository for all touchpoints data hosted in one single place, you are better able to create direct and personalized engagement, from fraud prevention, digital marketing preferences, to supporting customer care by showing their detailed order history. So for the tourist (An English army veteran), I met on our connecting flight from London through Amsterdam a couple of years ago, the hotel in Elmina which offered him a bouquet of services including a pick-up from the airport to Elmina on his arrival, should this hotel pay attention to some detailed data analysis they could be on their way to becoming a place of choice for many more tourists like this gentleman.
Organizational Buy-in – Act with purpose.
Change does not always have to be pursued dramatically. It is allowed for us to address change in small incremental steps where the need arises. Incremental change is easily accepted and adopted into everyday behaviour. The ELASTIC Recovery Framework helps us to adopt a more empowered customer focus at our contact centers.
|E – MPATHIZE||Show empathy, believe, and connect with the customer|
|L – ISTEN||Shut up. Listening will save effort and help you understand|
|A – POLOGIZE||Sorry is not guilt, but a human to human appreciation of the situation|
|S – ORT||Sort the problem, customer contact is an opportunity to fix the issue|
|T – HANK||Show gratitude and thank customers for sharing their experience|
|I – NFORM||Inform customers of progress, remind them that they are important to us|
|C – LOSE||Give clear closure to the case when resolved in the eyes of the customer|
Credit: Customer Experience2
The goal is to enable businesses to evolve from Customer Service to become a Customer Care team. Having this mindset will enable you to address the customer’s needs genuinely and refrain from ‘giving away the crown jewels just to close the case and get the customer off the phone.’ The ideal situation from a business perspective is to minimize loss. There are clear ways to do this with a higher value to the customer yet cost-efficient. To win the hearts and minds of all stakeholders, it is important that the vision is communicated clearly and developed collaboratively to ensure both relevance and universal buy-in. By creating a simple overarching plan that is revisited regularly, the processes and ambition of the project will become embedded.
Customer experience is what an organization pursues when it wants to differentiate itself from its competition. Customer experience must be understood and approached holistically, with those responsible for each area of a company’s offerings giving deliberate thought and focus on how their decisions will shape and impact the overall customer experience. In recent research, IBM’s Institute for Business Value found “many executives have tried to put themselves in their customers’ shoes emotionally. Yet, even with mountains of customer data at their disposal, executives are still susceptible to projecting their needs onto their customers with an inside-out point of view.” Getting the customer’s sentiments right is not rocket science however many organizations today are guilty of ‘navel gazing’ spending more time to sell their business as opposed to listening to the customer. Customer Experience professionals have a great opportunity. To educate the organization on the customer. Engage them in helping build a relationship with customers, so that together all can help customers be successful. To be able to listen, understand, and communicate with the intent to learn and help without judgment requires empathy for the customer.
Apple demonstrated this empathy when they responded to customer demands for them to bring back their front-end staff to their stores. Their emotional attachment to customers was at play here to the extent that even though it spiraled their operational costs they were willing to make the sacrifice and accede to their customers’ demands. The lesson here is simple, as you embark on your customer experience transformation journey remember the simple framework customer focus requires customer focus, insight without data is just opinion and act with purpose. If you work at this model you will make change happen faster than you think!
|The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation serving the market with Talent Acquisition and Management, Leadership Development, HR Outsourcing, and General HR Advisory, Training, and consulting services. He can be reached on 059 175 7205,|