by Nori Gale
Customer Experiences can be Pivotal to Retaining Customers
When we first moved into our long-loved neighborhood in Portland, Maine there was a little corner store in the strip of shops up the street from our house notorious for the attitude of the proprietors. They were an ancient, wizened, and ridiculously cranky couple who practically spat at you as you scurried out the door having fought for a mediocre styrofoam cup of coffee. They reminded me of the old couple in Roald Dahl’s “The Twits,” and I liked to think they, like the couple imagined by Dahl, tortured one another during off-hours when they no longer had customers to torture.
Most people are familiar with the stress and confusion that one experiences in negative customer service interactions. Think of the last time you had to call your cable company, or your cell phone vendor – did you leave the experience feeling good, or a bit frustrated? Having a negative customer experience is confusing: why does it have to be that way? And why do we stand for it? A recent article in the Harvard Business Review describes the phenomenon of bad customer service, “An excess of features, baited rebates, and a paucity of the personal touch are all evidence of indifference to what should be a company’s first concern: the quality of customers’ experiences.”
A recent study published by the Temkin Group reveals that companies’ focus on customer experience had a significant impact on revenue: companies that shifted their attention towards customer experience increased their revenue by 70% within 36 months. For example, if your company earns $1 billion annually, then invests in improving the customer’s experience, you can expect to earn an additional $700 million within 3 years.
As we continue to bounce back from the impacts of COVID, we are faced with the opportunity to examine and strengthen how we do business. One easy point of focus during this particularly difficult moment in history, is improving how we care for our customers.
The Contact Center Isn’t the Only Realm of Customer Experience
One of the Largest Corporations on Earth Emphasized Customer Experience from the Beginning
Apple is often cited as a corporation that has figured out how to deliver a near-perfect experience to its customers. When a customer engages with an Apple product, every detail from advertising to packaging to interface has been thoughtfully orchestrated with the customer in mind. Decision-makers at Apple have chosen to infuse the entire organization with a focus on the customer.
What is the difference between customer experience and customer service?
When companies examine the experience they are providing to their customers they often naturally start with the contact center. This is a mistake. It’s important to understand that customer service is one facet of the customer experience, but it’s not the be-all end-all. Customer experience is much more than what’s happening in your call center, it encompasses the entire customer journey. Every person in your company, whatever role they may fill for you, has an impact on your customers. As Steve Manley, VP of Customer Experience for WEX says about customer care, “At the end of the day, no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what you’re selling, if there are no customers, there’s no job. For any of us. Retaining customers through customer loyalty, and through making stickier relationships, that’s what it’s all about, and at WEX we are working to bring that way of thinking to every person in every department whether they are face-to-face with customers or not.” Manley’s philosophy is that to provide a stellar customer experience, you need to have a holistic approach that involves every department and every individual.
The Harvard Business Review published an article that describes the challenges of isolated departments that don’t work under a united understanding of customer experience, “Within product businesses, product development defers to marketing when it comes to customer experience issues, and both usually focus on features and specifications. Operations concerns itself mainly with quality, timeliness, and cost. And customer service personnel tend to concentrate on the unfolding transaction but not its connection to those preceding or following it.” A large company with separate units each working towards their own ends requires a connecting force that orients each department towards an improved customer experience.
You can propel your company towards greater, more long-term relationships with those who purchase your products and services by shifting company culture so that everyone has a customer-centric focus to their work. To move your company towards a more overarching approach to the customer experience take a look at our suggestions below.
Step #1: Socialize Your Philosophy with Leadership and Build a Coalition
Bain & Company’s recent survey of 362 companies found that only 8% of customers described the experience they had with these companies as “superior.” A survey of leadership at those same companies found that 80% believed they were providing a superior customer experience. The first step to take when introducing a customer experience mindset to your company is to communicate to leadership this common misperception. Your job will be to disabuse them of the notion that the customer experience they’re providing is superior, because it’s probably not.
How Do you Engage with Leadership About the Customer Experience?
Start by providing examples of real, in-house customer experience opportunities and you will captivate your leadership team and inspire them to engage. Come up with some concrete examples of how cross-functional teams can work together to improve how your customers are experiencing your brand.
Manley provided a recent example of just such an opportunity that his team capitalized on at WEX. “We were hearing from customers that there were some opportunities for improvement with WEX Pay, a temporary MasterCard we provide to our Fleet customers. If you’re a driver and stop at a gas station that doesn’t accept your card, you can call us and we’ll give you a virtual one-time use MasterCard for your purchase. What we learned from our customers was that the process was clunky. The only way to engage in this transaction was to speak to a human being on the phone and provide 14 different pieces of information while sitting at the pump, idling, waiting to fill the gas tank. Information that was required of our customers ran the gamut from merchant location ID to merchant fax number. We did the math and found these types of calls accounted for approximately 20% of all incoming calls to WEX. We responded by reducing the required customer information down to three pieces of data, and removing the human piece. We set it up so the customer could enter the info into a computerized system and in return instantaneously be given their temporary card number to use at the pump. A voice response unit asks them for the three pieces of information, spits back the number, and they’re done. We started with a pilot and the customer satisfaction scores immediately went through the roof. And because we’re not using an agent anymore for these contacts, the cost went way down as well.”
Manley brought WEX leadership into the discussion at the outset, telling them “Hey, this is a big dissatisfier, it’s a big volume of calls, here’s why people were dissatisfied, here’s what we can do to make it better.” He shared with his WEX colleagues what his team had learned through customer experience mining, surveys, and polls. He socialized it during the process and got buy-in every step of the way ensuring a smooth transition from an idea to a reality. And the results were gratifying for everyone involved. He’d built his coalition and could continue to test, question, and adapt WEX practices to further his goal of making the WEX customer experience the best it could be. And he did this while working cross-functionally and engaging with key stakeholders.
Step 2: Train the Whole Company on the Customer Experience
Forbes Magazine recently published an article that highlights the value of positive customer experiences. “Focusing on customer experience management (CXM) may be the single most important investment a brand can make in today’s competitive business climate.” Training your entire company to shift the culture may seem daunting and expensive, but the emergence of the service economy in post-industrialized nations has meant that even product-based companies must invest in customer experience. Forbes drives the point home.
As Manley describes it, “My job is to get everybody in the company to think every day about how what they are doing increases customer value. A lot of times people assume that it’s the contact center’s job to manage customer experience, but that’s not accurate. Certainly, customer experience happens in the contact center but more often than not, the customer issues we deal with weren’t created by the contact center. They were created by well-intentioned people and well-intentioned processes somewhere else in the company.”
Examining the customer experience holistically and developing a process to ensure every employee focuses on the customer will create better relationships and more enduring customers. From the moment a person first interacts with your brand, from clicking through your website to actually using the product, they are experiencing you as a company. This means that when you decide to focus on improving the overall experience customers are having, you need to train the people who build your website, the employees greeting a customer when they walk into your building, and really and truly every last person working for you. It’s the Apple way. No matter how distant a role might seem from the customer, each individual’s daily work will eventually impact what each customer experiences interacting with you.
Step 3: Call it Gold Instead of Customer Complaints
Manley’s approach is to take what is happening in the contact center and look at it through the lens of gold mining. Instead of listening to customer complaints and customer issues he calls what he’s learning customer gold. Every bit of data he gathers is valuable to learning what WEX needs to do to create happier, more engaged, and more loyal customers. Manley instills this perspective in his staff. His philosophy helps transform the negative feeling of hearing a complaint into the positive and even exciting feeling of improving WEX products and services. Manley and his staff are hearing from customers what the kinks are, and helping WEX make changes that improve our product and create those “sticky relationships” that sustain a business.
“My job certainly is to make sure agents do everything they need to do when someone calls in. But it’s also to mine that gold and go to senior leaders and say, ‘Our biggest problem is x. And I need your help, senior leader, in fixing it because a lot of it happens in your department.’ Rarely in my career have I come across people that don’t want to do well. Nobody wakes up coming to work saying ‘How can I mess things up today?’ It’s usually very well-intentioned people carrying out a very well-intentioned process, but when you hook all the separate processes together it doesn’t work for the customer. So how do you get everybody thinking about the customer as the primary focus? You design your processes company-wide in a way that reflects that focus. That is what will ultimately provide us with customer satisfaction scores that reflect that the customer experience is our number one priority.”
Step 4: Set up Systems to Mine for Customer Experience Gold
As the Harvard Business Review describes it, “Because a great many customer experiences aren’t the direct consequence of the brand’s messages or the company’s actual offerings, a company’s reexamination of its initiatives and choices will not suffice. The customers themselves—that is, the full range and unvarnished reality of their prior experiences, and then the expectations, warm or harsh, those have conjured up—must be monitored and probed.” Your customers are the ones who can tell you what you need to do to improve their experience. It’s a matter of putting systems in place to extract that information.
There are different types of scoring modules you can use to calculate how your customers are experiencing your brand. These are the top four currently in play in the marketplace:
- Customer Effort Score (CES)
- Net Promoter Score® (NPS)
- Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)
- Time To Resolution (TTR)
While these scores provide you with concrete data on how your customers are feeling about your products and services, a clear picture of the overall customer experience can feel a bit elusive. Manley describes it this way, “It’s a quantitative problem-solving exercise that never gets to be as quantitative as you want it to be. It’s like an equation that you can never completely solve, but you can get 85% of it for a given time. But then the market changes, something unexpected like COVID happens, competition changes, we change with new products, and so it becomes a never-ending mathematical equation for which you’re trying to solve. But it is quantitative in nature.”
Remove the “Bad News” Stigma and Go Beyond Surveys
Manley has three sources for feedback communications at WEX: the employees, the customers, and the complaints department. Before you start to see communications flowing freely within your company, you’ll need to work on shifting the culture around sharing negative feedback. In most corporate settings employees fear sharing what can be perceived as bad news. Before your prospects of becoming a best-in-class company in customer experience can be realized, you’ll need to eliminate your employees’ natural response to a customer’s negative feedback. It will take some time, but it’s endemic to the process that employees trust that what they’re hearing from customers can be communicated without repercussions, and that sharing this information is a positive and helpful action to take.
There are Great Assessment Practices Beyond the Customer Survey
Customer service commentary and customer surveys are both great ways to discover where dissatisfaction or frustration arises within the customer experience. However, just implementing surveys and talking to employees provides limited data. As much as your budget and resources will allow, focus groups, user-group forums, and marketing and observational studies will help you round out your research. The Harvard Business Review praises Intuit for being a leader in “follow them home” studies: “Company representatives visit customers where they live or work and observe how they use Intuit products such as QuickBooks. It was from watching the smallest businesses struggle with QuickBooks Pro that the company recognized a need for a product like QuickBooks Simple Start. These tools lend themselves to the measurement of present and potential patterns, for they entail more time, preparation, and expense than transaction-based surveys.” This kind of in-depth data mining will give you even more valuable information as you build your customer experience arsenal.
Step #5: Take that Gold and Turn it Into a Better Customer Experience
The final step toward providing the ultimate customer experience is to take the gold you’ve mined and initiate change. Because you’ve already earned buy-in from your executive leadership team, they can be your mouthpiece for their respective departments. As you pinpoint where change needs to be made, you can funnel that information through them or through a designated manager in the impacted department. As Manley did with our WEX Pay product, you can follow the trail to the nexus of the issue and work with your designated change management expert in that department to change the product or service to reflect what your customers want. Like Manley, you will see the resultant data shift, reflecting how making that change made for a happier and more loyal customer.
American Express recently published a study citing that 86% of customers surveyed would pay more for a better customer experience. You can win against your competition by providing a better customer experience for free, as a built-in aspect of your company. Don’t be like the Twits. Instead, get a reputation for taking good care of your customers. Word will spread, and you’ll get the true jackpot: an influx of new customers combined with that loyal customer-base in every company’s goals list.
Harvard Business Review