Commentary around ‘customer experience’ has not been in short supply in the Australian business media of late. Take a deep dive into the topic and you’ll find scores of experts who’ll identify customer experience as a key area for companies to create competitive advantage in 2019 and beyond.
According to management consultancy Accenture, we have digital innovation to thank for its increasing importance. That’s what has allowed companies to achieve a broader and deeper understanding of their consumers, based on digital identity. Initially, this information was used to optimise one-off transactions but as the technology has evolved, companies have begun taking a more sophisticated, longer-term approach. Rather than looking for quick wins, they’re now seeking to build ongoing, personalised relationships with individual customers.
It can be easy to say you’re dedicated to customer experience – but less easy to become the sort of organisation where that dedication shines through. That’s because outstanding customer experiences are rarely the result of especial efforts from just one division within an organisation.
Typically, customer journeys entail interaction with multiple business units and if they’re not working towards the common goal of anticipating and exceeding customer expectations, then the customer experience which ensues is unlikely to be a stand-out.
Organisations need to integrally orient themselves around their key mission of customer service – from the top with strategy and decision making, down to day to day business processes, tools and technology. Significant change may occur across the organisation over time – to obtain and maintain this orientation, as customer expectations and the industry in general evolve.
But if a decade in the customer service sphere has taught me one thing, it’s this: while the customer experience trend was sparked by the spread of digital technology, initiatives to improve it don’t succeed unless companies pay attention to something very fundamental.
That’s their people. Employees are the key to creating memorable connections with customers and companies which fail to recognise this fact will also fail to elevate their customer experiences from average to extraordinary.
Customers, staff and the company are inter-related. Providing excellent customer experiences has a positive ripple effect in your team’s experience and, ultimately, in your organisation as a whole. Here are some ways to get started with your workforce to raise the customer experience bar.
Hire for attitude
Company processes can be learnt but a good attitude is less easy to acquire, however thorough the training program may be. That’s why it makes sense to focus on hiring staff with the right attitude; individuals who genuinely enjoy interacting with customers and who derive fulfilment from providing good service.
Being in a customer-facing role is not easy. You’re always ‘on’ and, in some environments, can cop serious aggravation from the folk on the other end of the line. The frustration factor can be magnified if you can see how to help the customer you’re assisting, but are not empowered to enact it. Companies that are serious about customer experiences understand this and give their employees the power to make decisions and resolve issues as they arise.
No one understands customer needs better than those at the coalface who deal with them day in, day out. Actioning the feedback they provide can result in a two-fold benefit for companies. As well as identifying and eliminating customer pain points, they’re likely to enjoy an improved employee retention rate; courtesy of the fact staff feel their input is valued. High churn occurs when individuals perceive difficult issues are not being addressed and it’s difficult to deliver quality customer experiences when staff are here today, gone tomorrow.
Get the right tools
Good people can do an even better job, given the right tools. A growing number of organisations are integrating their contact centres, customer relationship management systems and other key applications to establish what’s known as a ‘single source of truth’. Access to this centralised repository of data allows employees to enjoy a holistic view of customers, including their history with the company, purchasing patterns and any issues they’ve experienced in the past. Meanwhile, automating as many elements of workflow as possible, such as organising follow-up actions and sending receipt numbers, allows employees to spend less time toggling between systems and more on being present with the customer.
Provide feedback and reward excellence
It’s difficult for employees to deliver quality customer experiences in a vacuum. Setting clear performance targets and providing quality feedback inspires individuals to lift their game and gives them the insights they need to be able to do so. We are starting to see how this is evolving to allow teams to self-manage their performance and take ownership of their results. Additionally, a tailored incentive system recognises that different people are motivated by different things, and can keep everyone striving for the rewards that matter most.
As companies, in Australia and abroad, collectively scramble to find their footing in the digital economy, customer experience is likely to become even more of a ‘thing’ than it currently is. While high tech tools are an essential piece of the puzzle, at the end of the day they remain just that – tools. Companies which don’t couple their implementation with initiatives to engage and empower employees throughout the enterprise are unlikely to achieve their objectives.
About the author
Ramon Szeitszam, Sales Operations Director at QPC.