The Fine Art of Customer Experience Creation
Most companies spend a lot of money on branding and marketing activities. Doing advertising and branding in the right channels at the right time is a great thing to do for improving your brand performance and ROI. Many companies even invest large sums in CRM systems to improve customer retention. But many companies seem to miss out on the one thing that makes people buy from you again and again: Customer Experience. It is the most important factor to ensuring retention, cross-sell and up-sell for any company. And it can have exponential effect on your bottom line. If someone has a bad customer experience, they will not only go somewhere else, they will trash you in social media and in conversations with friends and family. On the other hand, if they had a great experience, they will tell also people about it. And that’s your ticket to growth. No hacking necessary.
In fact, in 2003, Harvard Business Review published a report by Frederick F. Reichheld, called “The One Number You Need to Grow”, which highlighted the importance of recommendations: “The results were clear yet counterintuitive. It turned out that a single survey question can, in fact, serve as a useful predictor of growth. But that question isn’t about customer satisfaction or even loyalty—at least in so many words. Rather, it’s about customers’ willingness to recommend a product or service to someone else. In fact, in most of the industries that I studied, the percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or colleague—perhaps the strongest sign of customer loyalty—correlated directly with differences in growth rates among competitors.”
Now, it would be interesting to see an update of this survey, because as we all know, social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and WeChat and rating sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp have become major factors in both human interaction and customer recommendations. It is safe to say that creating great experiences that people talk about is even more important now. Yet company after company, despite having made large investments in customer experience systems, protocols and staff training, still manage to get it wrong so often. Why is it not working? What are they not getting?
That is of course a complex question, and no company is the same, so creating a better customer experience strategy isn’t solved with a cookie cutter approach. But there are some similarities in the way companies treat their customers, and it is by far the easiest thing to fix – and the most profitable differentiator you could possibly have – especially in businesses that are customer service intensive; banks, telcos, insurance companies, IT/electronics etc. The bar is actually quite low, and anyone who sets out to lead in customer service (in a real way), will stand out in the crowd. It just requires a clear strategy, the willingness to implement, and (the most difficult thing of all) trust. Trust in staff. Trust in customers. Trust in your own brand. And trust in the fact that everything is connected.
The biggest mistake people make in customer interactions is that they don’t listen. They are not listening to what the customer is saying. This happens when people are seeking information, in a sales situation and in customer service. It happens in-store, it happens on the phone, it happens in emails, it happens online. And if your staff doesn’t listen, it really doesn’t matter how polite the response is going to be – it will be the wrong response. It’s like the guys in the IT department in the sitcom “The IT Crowd”. In the show, every phone call is answered by saying “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”. In many cases, that may be an appropriate response, but that doesn’t mean it has a 100% hit-rate. If you train your people to listen first, and then respond, you have actually managed to solve the biggest problem in customer service. If you don’t listen, then you will create problems that weren’t there from the onset. For example, if someone contacts your company to get an answer, and the representative answers the wrong question, then the customer (who may have been in a normal mood) gets upset, and you’ve actually created a problem that wasn’t there before the interaction. Obviously that sounds ridiculous, but it happens every single day. In every company.
The second problem is company policies. Of course a company needs to have some guidelines of what is possible and what is not. But more often than not, the company policy gets in the way of a good customer experience. The best way of setting up policies, is to introduce a tiered system. Imagine you have three concentric circles. One small green one in the centre, one medium yellow one and one large red one. in the green circle are the simple policies, where it’s easy to help, and the problem can be solved every single time. The yellow one contains the unclear situations where a decision is made on a case-by-case evaluation, and the red circle is the no-go zone. When a customer presents a problem, the customer service staff can quickly assess which tier the problem belongs to and then solve it according to the guidelines. Note that the staff can never utter the words “our policy”. At Apple, they are not allowed to say “no”, which can lead to quite comical situations, so that’s not the right way to go. But in most cases, a customer just wants to be heard. If you can provide the customer with a proper answer, a respectful conversation, and suggestions to how to solve the issue – then many problems will disappear.
The third problem is that customer service is a tough business. If a staffer has to deal with complaints all day long, he or she gets frustrated. It’s almost inevitable. But if a strategy is in is trained to have a conversation with the customer, the results for all parties will be exponentially better. We often place so much importance on efficiency, that we become inefficient and complacent. It is also wise to have support system and rotation for customer service representatives, especially after a difficult interaction. This requires systems in place, and an operative management who understands the plight of the staff, and who motivates people to have great interactions, instead of “efficient” interactions.
The next problem is that your company doesn’t have a proper system for learning from the experiences you provide. Sure, you tell yourself (and your customers) that “We are always looking at improving our service to serve our customers better.”, but are you really? How are you doing that. How are you looking at the experiences you provide and make changes? Most companies and managers simply look at the feedback as a measurement system of customer satisfaction, but neglect taking advantage of the advice that the customers (and customer service staff) provide. You need a system that evolves with you and your customers. A system that gives the customer a voice, and that ensures that you will improve the next time, not just say you will.
Another challenge is that many companies see customer service as just that. But as we established in the start of this article, nothing is isolated. Customer service is marketing. If your customer leaves the interaction with a smile on his or her face, then your customer has won, your staff has won and you have won. Hey, if the customers feel that this is something that was solved especially for them, even better. They will tell their friends about a flexible supplier who gets it. And it’s better that you become that brand who gets it, and who understands the holistic approach to customer experience, rather than your competitor, right? It’s really the easiest way to ensure that customers keep coming back, and that the money keeps rolling in.
Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder and CEO of Acoustic Group.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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