Customer Experience: What Is It and Why Is It Important?


by Roy Atkinson


Customer experience drives customer behavior. When we’re in the role of customer, we recoil from negative experiences and gravitate toward positive ones. There may be some mitigating factors, such as a much lower price or an exclusive item we can’t find anywhere else, but, in general, we don’t go back to businesses where we’ve had a bad experience.

Until fairly recently, many internal support centers have been “the only game in town.” While they occasionally measured customer satisfaction, these support centers didn’t have to worry much about competition, and neither did IT. Now, with the availability of the cloud, the proliferation of managed services, and the perceived ease of outsourcing, the customer has become much more of a topic of conversation, and—rightfully so—customer experience has come to the fore in almost every organization. If it’s too difficult to get the support they need, or if support centers aren’t paying attention to what their customers want, how they want it, and when they want it, those customers will take their business elsewhere.

As soon as the idea of providing excellent customer service became a “must-do,” the idea of the customer journey and customer experience became areas of study. With Drucker’s famous statement in mind—“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”—managers began seeking ways to capture and measure the customer experience, which, owing to its subjective nature, had long been considered difficult to quantify. Thus, customer journey map and customer experience map were born. The customer journey map displays the paths a customer may follow in doing business with you, while the customer experience map shows the customer’s perception of each (or a selected) encounter. The purpose of a customer experience map, then, is to visually represent the emotional reactions of customers throughout an interaction (or series of interactions) with a business.

Think of an interaction between an end user/customer and the support center. Now think about how the multiple component interactions—often called moments of truth—that comprise that transaction look from the customer perspective. Let’s consider an example.

On a Monday morning, Sheila, an employee of our company (i.e., an end user/customer), finds that she can’t open an application she needs to use to produce a report due that afternoon. After trying some “quick fixes,” such as restarting her laptop and checking with coworkers (who, as it happens, are unaffected), Sheila calls the support center for help. What we need to bear in mind is that she’s already had an emotional reaction: the tool doesn’t work, and every minute lost is diminishing her ability to get her report in on time. Every bit of effort it takes to get her issue resolved merely increases her anxiety. She listens to a long outgoing announcement on the IVR and finally gets to the prompt she needs. The voice recognition system makes her repeat the name of the application she needs help with four times, and then she’s put into a queue for the group that handles the type of issue she is calling about. And then she waits, listening to a repeated message that tells her “Your call is important to us.”

Sheila is frustrated.

Harried by the usual rush of Monday mornings, the support center analyst who (after four minutes) fields the call basically wants to be done with this ticket as soon as possible, especially since his manager has been concerned about his call duration lately. He readies the standard opening statement: “Support center, this is Jim. Are you calling about a new or existing issue?” However, luckily, Jim can see who’s calling and he doesn’t have to ask. He’s already searching on Sheila’s name in the case management tool to see if there are any open tickets. There aren’t, and Sheila confirms this. “I can’t seem to run this reporting program, and I need to get my product report in today for the end of the quarter,” she says.

Jim runs through a series of questions, beginning with “Have you restarted your computer?” which she has. “So much better than ‘Restart your computer now,’” Sheila thinks. Jim is doing his job. His demeanor is businesslike, and he seems to be working quickly. He’s picked up on Sheila’s urgency. Jim asks if he can remote into Sheila’s computer to perform some tasks, and she agrees. Jim goes “under the hood” and reinstalls the ODBC drivers and resets the connection for the application. The application opens.

Sheila is relieved and pleased; she can now produce the required report. She thanks Jim and he ends the call, along with his remote connection.

Within a few moments, however, Sheila realizes that her personal preferences for this application are no longer there. All the shortcuts that she has created for herself are gone.

She has a decision to make: plow ahead and rethink how she gets the information for her report, or call support again and see what they can do. She gets a cup of coffee from the kitchen area near her office and makes a decision. She dials the number for support. Just then, she sees an email from support telling her that her ticket is closed and asking her to take a customer survey. On hold again, the IVR system tells Sheila how important her call is. Meanwhile, Sheila is looking through the menus for the application, trying to remember how she set it all up nearly two years ago.

When, after six minutes, she gets through to a person, it’s not Jim. Sheila explains the story so far, and the new analyst, Tammy, is able to quickly find Sheila’s just-closed ticket. Since the ticket management tool doesn’t allow reopens, she creates a new ticket and copies information from the closed one. Tammy scans the documentation about this application in the knowledge base, but she doesn’t see anything about preserving settings. It looks like Jim went “by the book” and restored Sheila’s function, but there’s nothing much Tammy can do to help. She offers to research ways to restore settings, expresses her empathy for Sheila’s added work, and apologizes for not being able to do more.

When we reduce all of this to a transaction (or two, in this case), all we see is a contact and a resolution, then a related ticket and resolution. From Sheila’s perspective, however, it’s far more than that. Her overall customer experience has gone through several peaks and valleys on this particular day, and analyzing those peaks and valleys might help improve the way support operates, point out opportunities for improvement, and pave the way to better service. If we ask Sheila to rate her experiences throughout (on a 1–10 scale), we can build a rudimentary customer experience map like the one below.

It’s now obvious how Sheila will rate Jim and Tammy: not necessarily according to how Jim and Tammy did their jobs, but more according to where Sheila herself was in the emotional rollercoaster of this incident (i.e., her perception). Tammy was professional and friendly, but Sheila already had been treated in a professional and friendly manner by Jim, with less-than-desirable results.

The incident was (apparently) caused by a defect in the ODBC connection; reinstalling the ODBC drivers did get the application to open. But what would the rest of Sheila’s experience have been like if the documentation for that procedure had included a note about backing up the user’s settings first?

In this case, Sheila’s perception of the interactions wound up being lower after the application was “fixed” than it had been when she discovered that it was broken. In addition to the lost time spent on the incident itself, she now had to spend time restoring her customizations as best she could and dealing with the extra time it would take her to accomplish her work without those customizations. Customer experience isn’t something that happens in isolation. It is part of a continuum that includes the applications, the equipment, and all the services we provide to our customers and end users. Only by focusing on the customer and improving the customer experience can we improve our entire suite of services and the way we deliver those services.

 

Roy Atkinson is HDI’s senior writer/analyst. He is a certified HDI Support Center Manager and a veteran of both small business and enterprise consulting, service, and support. In addition, he has both frontline and management experience. Roy was a member of the conference faculty for the HDI 2013 Conference & Expo and is known for his social media presence, especially on the topic of customer service. He also serves as the chapter advisor for the HDI Northern New England local chapter.

Tag(s): customer experience

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