The Customer Experience-’The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship’

Unless you are Rip Van Winkle and have been taking an extended snooze, you are extremely aware of the fact that “improving the customer experience” is now a top priority, if not the top one, of C-levels globally. In fact, the fastest growing executive title over the last few years in large enterprises has been some variation on “Chief Customer Relationship Officer (CCRO).”

What you are also well aware of is the myriad of technologic innovations coming out of not just the contact center solutions vendor community but also from vendors of customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and various sales and marketing solutions providers. Plus, vendors of all of these are looking to the cloud, hybrid solutions and integration with legacy premises-based ones as they look to provide enterprise with the tools and business intelligence they need to be more responsive.

The reason for the intensity of focus is obvious. In an omni-channel interactions environment, where customers expect fast answers to questions and solutions to problems, where alternatives are a click or touch away and bad experience can go viral in seconds, keeping customers satisfied must be job #1. What this means is the need to be able to not just listen to the voice of the customer but hear what they are saying and be able to react. It also necessitates a level of data sharing about the customer that is holistic and can be used not only to please them in the first instance, but also as a means to obtain permission to up-sell and turn them into valued brand loyalists.

With all of that said about what the technology is and can do, questions that arise around improving the customer experience remain.

  • In an omni-channel world what really is the customer experience?
  • What are customer expectations? And, how do they differ based on their means of preferred interactions?
  • What are the correct key performance indicators (KPIs) for evaluating success based on the growth of choices customers are using for interaction?

These are non-trivial questions whose answers are rapidly changing. A simple way to think about this is that when it comes to customer engagement having a strategy that takes into account the needs of multiple lines of business (LOBs) with a clear delineation of responsibilities and accountabilities is now table stakes for success. As important, in the evolving permission-based world in which we live, is making sure that technology does not become merely a checklist item since the last thing a company needs is to literally and figuratively wear out its welcome. Knowing what the best tool for the job and when it needs to be applied is crucial.

From the enterprise perspective, improving the customer experience is about metrics. From a customer’s perspective the view is much more basic and emotional. We all engage with companies because of intent. We typically do not go on a company website because at 3:00AM we woke up and had a craving for more information. We go places and contact them because we have questions and problems that need resolution. Enterprises may wish to optimize their time spent in bringing things to a resolution, but the reverse is also true. Customers don’t want to have their time wasted. After all, time is the one precious resource we cannot create more of.

This is why having a self-service portal that is hard to navigate is such bad form. FAQs that don’t have my problem listed are annoying. Sending emails that don’t get responses for days is beyond aggravating.  And, clicking to connect via chat or on a call and reaching a person who either does not have the skills necessary to provide help and/or is not empowered to take the actions necessary to resolve my issue in the Internet age of real-time interactions is absolutely unacceptable. As I said, just because you can implement technology doesn’t mean you should if you do not understand the consequences.

The bottom line to the question as to what is a compelling customer experience is not surprisingly the bottom line. Is your company keeping existing customers, getting them to purchase more at renewal time, and are your campaigns to attract new customers working?

Hot spots of customer concern need to be spotted faster than ever and remediation applied to those things causing flare-ups. In fact, the information gleaned is invaluable, not just for putting out fires but for planning purposes. This is why Big Data and sophisticated analytics are becoming “must haves.”

Executive buy-in across the enterprise is also critical. This has become more and more pronounced as marketing and not IT controls more and more of the budget for customer interactions. Obviously, breaking down silos, so a better contextual and richer profile of a customer can be created, shared and done so by the right people at the right time in the right way are also vital. 

We are at what rightly should be considered the dawn of the new conversation experience between vendors and customers. The good news is we live in very exciting times, and the solutions vendors have amped up the innovations that can be applied to created long-term differentiated value at a time when how people are treated matters as much if not more than price.

Given the surveys that show there is still a long way for most companies to go in upping their customer satisfaction scores, the rise to prominence of C-levels with customer experience titles is an encouraging development. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Plus, this is a conversation that is just beginning. Where it goes is up to your decisions and their execution.

I do have a final piece of advice. There is a popular TV show in the U.S. called Undercover Boss. Its entertainment value comes from CEOs hiding their identities and working the front lines of their business and being startled almost always about how customers are treated. They invariably come back with a list of things to fix for the short and long term. A good place to start if a company really wants to know how to improve the customer experience would be for every C-level to go under cover, and be forced to interact with their organization the way in which the average customer does.  My suspicion is things would change. In fact, it likely would result in a new conversation with solutions providers, i.e., hopefully as the movie Casablanca ends with Humphrey Bogart turning to Claude Raines and saying, “Louie I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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