This week I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Bruce Temkin of Forrester Research who was presenting some perspectives on Optimizing Customer Experience in a Difficult Economy.
Bruce is a tireless advocate of customer experience and is visibly passionate that companies can and must do more to provide a good experience to earn, customer loyalty.
It was refreshing to hear that some people out there are still beating the drum for good customer experiences and actively promoting this philosophy to corporations. It would be very easy and typical to point a finger at the big corporation in the big office tower and say “they don’t care about the customer“. I’ve done it myself and I’m sure at one point or another you have said or at the very least, thought the same thing about a company you have dealt with. Bruce wants to change all that. From the inside out.
In a difficult economy where customers must be more critical of their spending choices, it is vitally important that they not have any reason to look elsewhere for services or products that you offer because of some less than stellar customer experience. The principles behind a good customer experience are as fundamental as kindergarten. Be Honest, Be Respectful and Be Kind. Customer experience Obviously is more than just being a good person and I may have oversimplified it just a bit but by listening to Bruce he very clearly articulated some fundamental core principals that companies seem to have forgotten.
Small businesses and Mom & Pop type of operations generally have it right. Treat the customer right and do whatever it takes to make them happy while not harming your business. These businesses have not lost sight of the fact that they are there to serve the needs of their customers and they will only survive if the needs are continuously met. They get to know their customers by talking to them and building a bond with them. They rely on repeat business to ensure they stay in business and they rely on new business to ensure they have an opportunity to grow. The best way to do that is to satisfy your existing customers above and beyond what they would expect. They will be so satisfied that they will tell their friends about it.
Feedback from the people who give you business is crucial. Encourage your customer base to call you out when they think you are doing something wrong. It gives them a stake in the game and makes them feel more valued that they have an opportunity to contribute. This does not mean that you need to try and resolve every complaint that a customer has or try to satisfy every single issue, especially if it damages your business plans. It does provide you with an opportunity to take the pulse of the customer by finding out what the next big issues will be. Many small complaints of a similar nature are symptoms of an impending big issue. When you have a complaint about your body you go see a doctor to get it looked at because if you ignore it you could get sick and it has the potential to get serious if you continue to ignore it. Same principal here. Listen to the complaints and look at them with a critical eye to see if it is a bump that will go away or a cut that will get infected. Deal appropriately.
Think about the last time you had an outstanding customer service experience. Was it a Small business or Major corporation? Did it seem Honest or Forced? Did you tell anyone about it? I am hard pressed to remember a great customer experience outside of the restaurant business. I may be a bit biased since I spent more than 13 years of my life in the restaurant industry and it will always be in my blood so when customer experience is the topic I use it as a benchmark. The impact of customer service in a restaurant is immediate. Staff in a restaurant are incentivized to provide a great experience and they have complete control of that opportunity to impress. A good server realizes this and can make your night. You will go back because you were made to feel valued. Successful restaurant organizations realize this and spend the time and effort to train their people. Large corporations hire the masses and push them through the training mill to create good little automatons with very little knowledge or understanding of the product or services they are selling beyond what they need to know for basic ‘customer service’. These automatons rarely think outside the box or prepared script and are not incented to do so. Turnover is high in these types of organizations and the cycle repeats itself until you have the lowest motivated common denominator working to represent your organization. The ones who are motivated either work up through the ranks or realize that they are in a bleak and dreary place and move on. The least motivated will just stick around breeding contempt and dragging the organization down with it.
If you are in this place then WAKE UP. Your business has a curable disease that must be dealt with. You can either cut it out by cleaning house or you can provide some medicine through motivation and re-training. Either action will cause change to help bring you business back on the right path to recovery.
It is not a simple thing to keep your workforce motivated. It takes a significant amount of effort to make them want to do a good job. The larger an organization, the harder it becomes to manage as the complexities of personal interaction can very easily spiral out of control. The term ‘Drinking The Koolaid‘ comes to mind. It is increasingly difficult to get buy-in from today’s workforce. There is general apathy towards jobs that require customer interaction and an increased rejection of authoritarian organizational rules that don’t demonstrate any sense of logic. Today’s workforce is not stupid. They know how to connect the dots and are eager to provide insight and feedback. They WANT to do a good job and are WILLING to do so when an organization can walk the talk. Organizations must engage their workforce and empower them to make every customer interaction a good and positive one. Even if their issue was not resolved, the customer should leave feeling that they were treated with respect and all possible effort was made to help them. They will come back again. Get your workforce to Drink the Koolaid and they will work tirelessly to promote the company and defend it at any opportunity. Empower them with a sense of pride.
Good team performance comes from the top. The effectiveness of the management team of an organization can be tested by speaking with a low to mid level employee in a typical job such as a call center or a sales position. Ask them some basic things: What are the company objectives this year? What are the goals of your department? How does your job contribute to these goals? Do you know the reporting structure from your boss right up the the CEO? Every employee should have a clear understanding of these goals and objectives and know how they are contributing. If they can’t answer any of these simple questions then there is a serious problem with the sharing of information. This needs to be fixed because if these people at the lowest level of an organization don’t understand how they are contributing, how do you expect them to care about their job?
All these points have been very elegantly summed up by Bruce by his definition of Experience-Based Differentiation
- Obsess about customer needs, not product features. Rather than racing to bring new product features to market, companies need to refocus on the needs of their customers — who might even want fewer features. While most firms have invested in customer analytics, even the largest data warehouse and most sophisticated software can’t model the nuances of human likes and needs. That’s why firms should augment data crunching with some old-fashioned techniques like talking to customers and observing their experience. This insight needs to be widely communicated across the organization.
- Reinforce brands with every interaction, not just communications. Traditional brand messaging is losing its power to influence consumers — that’s why branding efforts need to expand beyond marketing communications to help define how customers should be treated. To master EBD, firms must articulate their brand attributes to both customers and employees, clearly describing how the firm wants to be viewed. That’s just the first step, because companies must go on to translate brand attributes into requirements for how they’ll interact with customers.
- Treat customer experience as a competence, not a function. Delivering great customer experiences isn’t something that a small group of people can do on their own — everyone in the company needs to be fully engaged in the effort. It all starts at the top; the CEO and his executive team need to be fully engaged in the effort. To keep a companywide focus on customers, companies need a systematic and continuous approach for incorporating customer insights into all of their efforts. That’s why we recommend building a voice-of-the-customer program. (Note from Bruce: voice-of-the-customer is another hazy concept out there – that’s why we defined a five level model for voice-of-the customer; we’ll definitely touch on that topic in later posts.)
Bruce reminded me that we can all do better. No company is so good that they can’t do a better job of customer service. It is a never ending process.
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