- Does it really matter?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – the Chinese proverb depicting attainment of the goal of reaching a journey’s destination presents deep insight about determination and avoiding procrastination. It requires taking the first step as a requirement if we intend to finish a task or a thought on time. I refer to this proverb today as a description of my journey in writing and the lessons and insights gained from pursuing this quest to share my thoughts and experiences in Customer Experience.
Firstly, I am very grateful to my loyal readers for keeping faith in this journey that has seen me grow a passion I have nurtured for over a decade. I am especially grateful to the publishers of Business and Financial Times who have kept faith with my weekly musings about the need to infuse a customer-centric culture in our ecosystem. To cap the reflections of this journey, today I have decided to share my very first publication. Please join me as I share with you the inception of my experience journey.
Michael Gerber, the business motivational speaker, in his e-myth audiobook series shares an experience he encountered at a hotel in one of the states in the USA where he had gone on a business trip. According to Gerber, the encounter was so memorable he made a definite commitment to check-in at that hotel anytime he visited the state on business.
The magic ingredient was this: the hotel staff took the trouble to learn about his preferences and habits and soon mastered some details about him – such that they knew his breakfast options, what newspapers he read, and his room preferences among others. In short, at that hotel they provided him a personalised service – much to his amazement and admiration. He concludes the story by saying the hotel was his preferred sojourn anytime he visited that state for business because of the unique experience.
The adage ‘the customer is always right’ is used commonly to depict the pivotal role a customer plays in any business venture or company. We would normally refer to a company that has customers as its main focus as customer-centric.
Generally speaking, the one that buys, receives, or consumes a product or service falls under the definition of a customer. Speaking more pointedly, however, we can refer to the customer as someone with whom we exchange value. This brings to light the question of who we refer to as customers in broad terms. For someone with whom we exchange value, we can identify the external customer whom we transact with in exchange for money; and internal customers who are employees working for wages as well as co-workers who generate outputs for colleagues and vice versa (receive inputs from their other colleagues).
To stretch this conversation further, we can include stakeholders as those who have a vested interest in the organisation – e.g. shareholders, employers, bankers, suppliers and so on – who variously fall under both internal and external customers.
Today’s complex world presents greater challenges to us in terms of how we engage with the customer. Six Sigma, for example, specifically identifies internal customers as part of the work culture to create a positive work environment where work colleagues are treated as customers who deserve all the attention the average customer craves.
Thus, paying attention to your customer’s needs must be considered as a prime activity requiring careful attention to detail. This thinking reveals to us the concept of Customer Experience, where the focus of the business is more on being customer-intelligent as opposed to the customer-centric approach.
Customer experience is defined as your customers’ perceptions – both conscious and subconscious – of their relationship with your brand resulting from all their interactions with your brand during the customer life cycle. According to Gartner, it is “the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations, and thus increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy”.
The points of interactions are known as touchpoints; these are ‘points of interactions’ where you deliver to your customer every day through every transaction, direct and indirect. These interactions either build value for your brand or destroy it. The sum of these touchpoints is the Customer Experience that defines your organisation. So, a customer can interact with your organisation in a range of ways – including direct contact with a sales representative, a physical store, direct mail, a customer service centre, or indirect contact via your smartphone, the web (Internet), email and so on.
All of these are actively engaged in one transaction or the other with the customer. How you deal with the customer at these touchpoints will determine the extent to which the customer transitions from being satisfied to becoming a loyal patron and even an advocate – which is where you want them to be.
Keeping the customer happy
Meanwhile, the challenge we must all face is to keep the customer happy throughout the journey. To achieve this effect, we must ensure that our quest to satisfy the customer is realised unhindered, being careful not to falter at any stage in our dealings. Two things we must note here are:
First, the journey is by no means a linear one, therefore the interactions will 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 in all the steps.
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.
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 by 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 inflection are – where the customer has a high expectation and emotional engagement. It means, for example, that if a customer seeks preferential treatment while citing a history of loyalty to your brand this is not to be taken lightly.
Another reality we need to consider carefully is how our touchpoints affect the customer emotionally. I still remember very vividly an interesting encounter years ago at 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 and tried to perform 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 their 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.
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. Your reputation is enhanced, and this ultimately translates into profits and/or value.
Managing your customer’s experience is therefore a delicate process as much as it is a key business need to ensure that your business derives value, ultimately, as a function of how well the customer is cared for. I end here with a popular quote by Les Brown, the renowned American motivational speaker who said: “There is no secret to success, there is always a system to success”. Knowing your customer’s needs and investing resources and effort into addressing those needs will serve you well. The rewards are immense if you get it right.
|The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/Kodwo Manuel|