- Be an advocate of “Smart Failure” to keep your experience agenda on course
Gordon Pearson who taught me Strategy during my MBA reiterated the pivotal role of the planning process that ultimately leads you to a fulfilling journey of value creation. As we journeyed through models and competing theories the last thing on my mind was Customer Experience as clearly the art of planning and executing well-crafted strategies was in the hands of a privileged few who through their hard work and foresight had developed proficiency in the art of planning a future of successful outcomes.
Strategy is essentially planning for the future of your business. It is great to have this grand plan that sets up the blueprint for future growth and sustainability. Today’s world is a complex one. Every other day presents unique challenges making the art of envisioning the future much more difficult than in the days of IBM, Toyota, Microsoft, Apple, and Google – just to name a few – when business plans had long shelf lives. Today we battle with an era where change is happening faster than we learn. The elephant in the room now is you know who, the customer.
Take the Covid-19 pandemic which plagued our world severely just over two years ago. Many businesses and nation-states were overwhelmed, discovering the inconvenient truth of their non-readiness to confront the emerging challenges. Everything had to change and so the experience agenda of many were revisited. Prices flew through the roof as shortages emerged, queuing was common in parts of the world where this practice was uncharacteristic.
Many had to creatively navigate the confusion to stay relevant. Gin 5 a well-known Gin brand in the UK found some answers to keep customers happy when the pandemic struck. They developed their brand of sanitizers in their bid to keep their loyal customers and others happy and maintain visibility. Who would place a premium on gin when lives are at stake? The need then was to develop a solution that would resonate with the public in times of distress.
They came up with a branded version of sanitizers, named ‘Gintizer’ to keep the brand visible. Unsurprisingly, here in Ghana ‘Kasapreko’, the popular brand in non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages latched onto a similar module by producing sanitizers to assuage the anxieties we were battling with at the time.
Businesses that failed to respond to the pandemic were dealt telling blows. Professor Eddie Obeng the business Educator UK, advises on the need to confront situations in which you are going to be stretched and that will result in some failure. You need to fail fast and learn faster. According to him, when it comes to learning, don’t underestimate the power of failure. A company culture that discourages experimentation is not a learning environment. Customer Experience thrives best in learning environments
Here are some lessons to draw from when things go awry with your customers. First, learn to leverage experiences resulting from the failure. Second, an empowered and motivated employee corps who have ownership of the strategy and are willing to ‘put themselves on the line’ for it will do all they can to improve the customer’s experience. Third, be quick to fix the issue when things go wrong.
Plan for failure
Regardless of how careful we are at crafting and delivering great plans, we must accept the fact that things may go wrong sometimes. In business, we are frequently confronted with issues and outcomes that are unexpected. Technology may fail you, your suppliers could disappoint you at a crucial moment, and external events may occur that are completely out of your control. Katie Stabler a Customer experience specialist proposes a few tips to help us navigate murky situations.
She asserts that you prepare your team adequately to deal effectively with customer issues by ensuring that they have enough guidance on how to recover from a poor experience. Where possible empower them to react flexibly but give clear guidelines. Additionally, let them know what they are supported to do, and lay out very clearly what is and isn’t possible e.g. in your retail business where there is a compensation policy ensure that you set clear levels of compensation permitted for each category of issue.
I assume this was the case when I encountered a situation gone wrong years ago in a supermarket resulting in the manager handing me Outline clear policies on how quickly you want your team to act, speed is critical in remedying a bad experience before the customer is compelled to take an action of their own. Years ago in my support role in a multinational in the UK (and this is very common) I followed clear policies on client issues from normal to urgent, the response levels were prescribed, and I knew which issues to follow up on and which ones to escalate based on the reported severity level.
Avoid working in silos, an issue that one customer experiences could be an issue confronting many customers so work with your team to fully understand the situation to deliver consistent experiences across all your touchpoints. Promote an issue-tolerant culture to avoid a situation where they are brushed under the carpet. Ensure that your team is confident in raising concerns without fear of repercussion. Where possible always keep your customers informed, a problem may be reported by only 2 of your customers but many others may have experienced it. Acknowledge the problem and render an apology, customers appreciate honesty.
If you want to put your best foot forward when dealing with your customers ensure that your team is well-placed to help you recover when things go wrong. Their ability to quickly spot an issue and speedily remedy it will earn great plaudits for your business. Your quick responses will ensure that you even prevent a possible complaint from leaving the customer feeling fantastic. Set your team up to become ‘Recovery Heroes’ by providing clear guidelines, enabling them to act with authority, and providing the right guidance and support.
Support creativity and personalization. The boss of a Moves company who observed a loyal employee walk some miles to work on his first day and decided to give away his car to aid this employee stands out as a creative move. You could see in the employee’s eyes on receiving the car keys from his boss that he was blown away. According to Ian Golding a CX expert, ‘Employee experience drives customer experience. Make it your business to understand the picture of engagement in your organization.
Develop customer-centric profiles to create and maintain a link between employees and the business goals. Empathy with the needs of your customer is what will keep them coming back. The story is told of a CEO who waits on tables because he is keen to understand for himself what the customers go through when they are engaging with his business and for him, the best way to understand this is to experience what his employees go through serving them.
When you drive a positive employee culture you influence an environment of comrades where your team members are willing to support each other. As they build trust with each other their actions earn the trust of customers. Ultimately your business earns the trust of customers.
Fix the Issue
After you have worked tirelessly to turn a bad experience into a great one you now have a happy customer. However, your work isn’t finished yet. You now have to do everything possible to prevent the same incident from occurring again. Take advantage of the learning to install a robust process that will ensure that you don’t go down that road again.
Plan the recovery! Katie Stabler recommends the following steps in your recovery;
- Identify the root cause of the problem
- Understand its impact – is it a one-off or recurring issue? Has it impacted the few or many?
- Work with your team to fix the problem – here collaboration is the key to ensure that the wider team is involved in identifying and fixing the issue fully.
- Throw in some additional quality assurance to ensure your ‘fix’ has worked – and monitor that experience, map the journey your customers are taking to make sure the experience you intended is now the experience they are getting.
Your goal in all this is to ensure that you retain your existing customers. As we all know the effect of the pandemic has been very harsh on businesses especially those in the small and medium space. It is known from research that it is more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire a new ones. More importantly, loyal customers are your best assets as they are the ones likely to tell friends and family about you.
Furthermore, organizations which excel at providing a great customer experience are more likely to have engaged employees, thus creating the much-coveted cycle of the happy customer.
A key lesson from the effects of the pandemic is the need to match our experience agenda with a work environment that enhances employee performance and growth. According to Rowena Westphalen, Vice President, of Innovation, the Asia Pacific at Salesforce “You can’t give your customers an optimal experience if you haven’t given your employees an optimal experience”. Your strategy must holistically address both customer and employee needs to gain currency for your business goals. Your goal is to shorten the gap between business goals and customer needs to deliver an outstanding customer experience.
The aftermath of the lockdown has seen the emergence of technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx to name just a few offering great platforms for virtual engagements. One of the hardest hits by the effects of the pandemic is employees and this has occurred across all industries. Many have been displaced by the crises impacting the way organizations operate and engage with customers.
In Ghana, the current economic challenges have left many baffled. The truth is during crises many suffer disruptions. However, it also opened up a lot of opportunities. We need to confront situations in which we are going to be stretched and that will result in some failure. Our response to mishaps must be to fail fast and learn faster.
|The Writer is a Management Consultant. He can be reached at 059 175 7205, [email protected],|