Customers are people, and they have emotions: ensure that you are well-aligned to under-promise and over-deliver in your customer experience

the Customer Experience Agenda
Kojo Manuel

A very popular expression I frequently hear these days is the need in every undertaking “to ensure that you under-promise and endeavour to deliver what you promised along with a little bit more”. Your goal here is to over-deliver and go that extra mile to surprise a customer with the quality of your service or product. I watched a commercial years ago wherein a bank was offering a little more of everything; such that if they offered you interest of x% on delivery of the service, they would say “we will improve our offering by (x + y) % if you come to us”.

Naturally, that was only a commercial – but imagine how you would be blown away when service delivery is beyond your expectation. How does a business consistently deliver a service such that it is intentional about under-promising and over-delivering?  This may seem like a coy strategy, but if well-executed it can be very effective. Promise customers less than the company normally expects to deliver, so that average performance appears to be over-delivering.

The fact is that engaging in meaningful customer-based activity can be hard to accommodate for any business; however, in the same vein, neglecting to address customer sentiments can prove costly. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “when dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion”. The questions we must pose to ourselves are simply these: Do we know our customers? Do we know what they want? How ready or willing are we to find out and begin to address this need?

This requires that we acknowledge sincerely that “we don’t know, but we are going to find out”. The key here is to assess the extent to which we are willing to empathise with our customer; in other words, put ourselves in the customer’s shoes by way of experiencing what the customer experiences. Perhaps, for a start, we can think about the internal mechanisms which will drive insights and enable us to identify where the pain points are.

Being blunt about this, we must pose to ourselves the question: how well do we know the customer?  We need to assess the extent to which we are ready to deliver on our brand, and match this with our customer’s expectations. How we position ourselves internally to deliver a unique experience is critical. Remember that it only takes one employee to ruin the experience of a dozen customers. If one frontline staff forgets to follow the company policy of delivering an expected service level, they run the risk of getting a whole host of negative customer feedback.

The experts could not have said it better. According to them, customer experience (CX) is the customer’s perception of how well you live up to your brand promise. If you fail to meet the expectations you have created, then that brand promise can become a stick to beat you with. The power of social media means that such a stick can be quite devastating, because individual customers can cause more damage to your brand than ever before.

So, be deliberate about understanding your customer and let your level of effort it focusing on the customers’ needs be high on your customer engagement agenda. Here are a few tips we can consider when executing our customer intimacy strategy. First, develop an emotional connection with your customer. Second, train your employees to be empathetic. Third, leverage technology to drive empathy. Fourth, develop and manage a customer-centric culture.

Develop an emotional connection with your customer

It’s all about telling customers exactly how things are going to go before they happen. There are times when you work in a way that is unfamiliar or even disliked by the customer. How you manage expectations in that context counts a great deal. The story is told recently of a cabin crew member on a Virgin Airline flight from Fiji to Melbourne in Australia. Most of the Fijians on board had never flown before and were flying to Australia to work for the first time.

They discovered to their disappointment that the particular flight they were on did not serve meals in-flight, and that one was required to have a credit card to order anything on board. This meant the poor Fijians would not be served a meal. One cabin crew member felt empathetic enough to go and brainstorm with colleagues on how to resolve this and serve some meals to the passengers, mostly Fijians. In their deliberations, a passenger in the business class overheard them and offered his credit card to serve all the Fijians on board.

Initially, the cabin crew member refused, saying they did not want to inconvenience him; but as it turned out, this passenger was the stepson of a late flight captain with the airline so he insisted – saying that his stepfather would have done the same. So the Fijians were served; and they also discovered during the flight a nurse who was celebrating her birthday, so they all joined in singing ‘happy birthday’ to her. The mood was great as a result of one employee’s smart thinking.

When leadership recognises the importance of a customer-eccentric culture, it manifests itself in employee culture. The effect is priceless. As the experts have wisely posited, empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions and imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Empathy only implies understanding of their perspective, not necessarily agreeing with their position. The cabin crew member could have just walked away and lost nothing. He didn’t, he showed empathy.

Train your employees to be empathetic

As an organisation, you can provide empathy-training through coaching and role-playing. A few examples of training employees to be empathetic include supporting them in engaging customers conversationally instead of ‘transactionally’. Transactional interactions come across as though the customer service person is reading a script. Instead, frontline employees should use the script or questions as a guide and add-in their natural conversational style.

Note that this does not always come to one naturally. Years ago, when I was working part-time in the UK as a customer service agent, we were occasionally asked to sit by some of our colleagues and listen-in on their conversations with customers. The rationale was to ensure that we learned to listen actively to customers using words to offer support. The goal was to ensure that we not only ‘walked in the customer’s shoes’, but also used such techniques as voice tonality to convey empathy.

Perhaps by thinking personally as a customer service person about how we would prefer to receive assistance and then applying that to the questions and exchanges we have with the customer, we will be offering personalised services. Through the coaching and interactions, we can teach principles of customer interaction instead of focusing on core procedures. This way, we are oriented to treat customers as people rather than personas.

A typical example would be when a customer calls; we should ask them the necessary core questions to identify who the caller is. Then the employee should allow the customer to explain their situation and work to resolve it, as opposed to the employee making assumptions about the situation based on the customer’s few initial statements. Customers seek to be heard and understood; therefore, we should not take their words personally – especially when they appear upset.

Leverage technology to drive empathy

There are tools available to help our businesses understand how customers are feeling whenever we engage them. These include sentiment analysis tools, natural language processing, and CRM software. Sentiment analysis software is designed to analyse text and determine its emotional tone. It can help customer service agents understand how to deal with a customer’s problem.

NLP analyses the syntax and semantics of speech to determine the meaning of what a customer is saying. It makes it easier to interpret and analyse large amounts of text, which is useful for longer conversations. employees can use NLP to understand what a customer means and have a better idea of how to solve the customer’s problem.

This will aptly serve a wide spectrum of service providers. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is another tool that’s beneficial to businesses. It can be frustrating when customers reach out to customer service teams with issues, and then must repeat their problems to multiple agents. CRM systems keep customer information in one place and enable agents to look into a customer file to understand their interactions with a company to avoid repetition. The key is to harness these tools collectively with the personalised experience.

Develop and manage a customer-centric culture

When you show empathy, your customers notice it and they can identify that you care. While customer service representatives may not always be able to solve a customer’s problem, showing empathy helps customers to feel that their concerns matter. It reinforces that they are valued by your company.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and author Daniel Kahneman, known for his work on the psychology of decision-making and behavioural economics among other areas, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow says one of the (if not the) most important concepts for anyone involved in or concerned with customer experience management is empathy. According to him: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think”.

If you want to nail the customer experience, he says, you need to understand how your experiences make people feel. And you need to make sure that they make your customers feel good. He defines empathy as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives”: this is key when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. It will ultimately yield great rewards, and much more when they become your advocates.

As a customer, when you have an issue you want someone to listen. You want them to fix your problem, for sure – but you also want them to acknowledge your distress. Apple gets this. Their ability to know and care about what customers want, and then deliver on those wants, has given them a nearly spotless reputation. This desire to acknowledge and connect with their customers is evident in many aspects of their business.

Mr. Kahneman sums it up nicely thus: “The effort invested in ‘getting it right’ should be commensurate with the importance of the decision”. Or, in this case, the importance of our customers – without whom none of us would be in business. The bottom line is it’s time to start recognising and understanding your customers’ wants and needs.

Rethinking your experience strategy to step-up growth: Keep doing what works best and aim to improve   The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected], Manuel



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