As companies have focused on improving processes and gaining greater efficiencies, one key area that has suffered is the customer experience, which is the sum of every connection an organization has with its internal and external customers across all channels and every touchpoint.
In the past, most customer support was handled in person or by phone. But technology has opened up new channels for customer interaction, including archived chats, interdepartmental knowledge bases, discussion forums on internal and external websites, social media channels, and, of course, email. The customer experience is spread across the organization, beyond IT, making it much harder to envision and manage effectively. As a result, many companies have fallen into the trap of providing inadequate and sometimes downright poor support to their customers.
Don’t misunderstand me: Getting customer service right is still very important. But it’s only the beginning! It’s no longer simply a matter of managing an organization’s interactions with its customers. Rather than a discrete function within a company, customer experience is a competency that has important implications for repeat business, customer loyalty, and competitive differentiation.
In addition to communication channels, customer expectations have evolved, too. Thanks to online companies like Amazon and Zappos, customers have come to expect well-organized websites where products and support are easy to find, and they expect organizations to respond quickly and even anticipate their questions. These firms have elevated customer self-service to an art form, enabling customers to find their own answers quickly.
As a result, customers today are even less patient about waiting on hold for ten to fifteen minutes while a prerecorded voice repeatedly insists, “Your call is important to us…”
Why does the customer experience matter? Because customers who have bad experiences or can’t find what they need will take their business elsewhere—maybe not today, but eventually. Several findings in consumer research back this up:
- According to the 2011 RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report, 89 percent of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.
- According to research done by LivePerson.com, 82 percent of consumers say the number-one factor that leads to a great customer service experience is having their issues resolved quickly.
Despite the deplorable state of customer support, only 26 percent of companies have a well-developed strategy in place for improving the customer experience, according to the Econsultancy MultiChannel Customer Experience Report. In addition, research conducted by Cherwell Software reveals that 34 percent of the IT sector is unsure what the benefits of improved customer experience are.
Customer experience is quickly becoming a key differentiator for companies that want to enhance their industry leadership—and their bottom line. According to the Customers 2020 Report, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the end of this decade.
Visualize Your Customer’s Journey
To deliver an excellent customer experience effectively, you must first get a clear picture of your customer’s journey, starting with an individual’s first contact with your company and continuing to an ongoing relationship. This principle applies whether your goal is to deliver a consistently excellent internal customer experience or to elevate the quality of your interactions with external customers.
Gather the stakeholders who “own” different parts of the customer journey and work together to paint a cohesive picture of it. Invite sales, marketing, and other departments that “touch” customers at different points on the journey. Keep in mind, too, that your customers aren’t on one single, monolithic journey. You may need to segment your customers by type and map out their journeys separately.
The Lifecycle of the Internal Customer Experience
When you make a commitment to improving your company’s customer experience, I recommend that you start with your internal customers. You’ll have more opportunities to experiment and learn from your failures, without costing hard dollars—and it’s private. Most employees won’t share what goes on inside your company, or at least they won’t complain about your company on social media or on their blogs. If you started with the external customer experience, you would have that kind of scrutiny from your market or industry from day one. In addition, there’s a level of grace that a fellow employee will give your efforts that an external customer won’t.
What does the internal customer experience lifecycle look like? Here’s a great example:
Evaluation. An employee realizes she has a problem that requires additional help. She explores the corporate intranet, talks to her boss, or talks to coworkers to figure out where to find answers.
Awareness. This is the stage at which your organization’s employees first become aware of your services. Most often, this is due to internal marketing,such as a flyer or a newsletter article on your company’s intranet.
Investigation. At this stage, the employee is reading about your services and trying to discern whether or not they will meet her needs.
Use and use again. If you’ve done a good job of designing self-service programs to help your employees find answers, they may find exactly what they need to solve their problems. If not, they need to contact the service desk for assistance. In any case, their first encounter with your services will shape their perceptions of your department. Employees will judge your staff members on how quickly they answer the call, the quality of the information they provide, and how quickly they solve the employee’s problems. Over time, if your service desk provides a consistently high level of service and promptly solves the employee’s problems, she will develop a sense of loyalty to your team.
Continuous improvement based on the feedback loop. You need to have some mechanism in place, such as a feedback form or a brief postservice survey, to measure employee satisfaction with your service desk services. You should ask questions about any concerns or problems with your services. When you receive negative feedback, make the necessary improvements to address those problems. Be sure to communicate with the employee who submitted the feedback, and explain how you solved the problem in your company-wide communications. Continuous improvement is critical to providing a high level of customer support.
Once you have a clear picture of your internal customer’s journey, it’s time to work with your cross-functional team to determine what you need to change to improve the experience and which stories, successes, and improvements you need to share to better position your service desk in their minds.
The Pivotal Role of IT in Customer Experience Innovation
The service desk is in a unique position to become a strategic enabler of change within the organization, rather than just supporters of its IT needs, thanks to the tools, data, and connections it has. It can set the example for the rest of the company by putting the customer experience first. It can also take a leadership role in improving the customer experience throughout the organization by:
- Encouraging other departments to meet and brainstorm ways to improve or rethink customer touchpoints
- Sharing data and success stories about the improvements that have been made to the customer experience
- Collecting and sharing data that helps build the case for developing a company-wide customer experience strategy, and also articles and research that document best practices your company could adopt/adapt
According to the 2014 Call Center Executive Priorities Report, 68 percent of businesses plan to increase investment in customer management. It’s time to get serious about improving the internal and external customer experience in your company. Chances are, your competitors are either already doing so or are making plans to improve their customer support services in the near future. It’s not possible to stand still in this dynamic field—either you’re taking aggressive steps to improve your customer experience, or you’re about to fall behind.
Remember, customers will gravitate to those partners and suppliers that take the best care of them. Now is the time to assess your organization’s current approach to the customer experience and devise a strategy to radically improve it. Set a goal of offering the best customer experience in your market or industry and you’ll have a fighting chance of not just retaining your best customers but also attracting new ones in the years ahead.
Phil Gerbyshak works with organizations to increase engagement by leveraging social media to create and deepen relationships. It’s not about the tools; it’s about the conversations. Phil has been featured on WTMJ in Milwaukee and profiled in USA Today, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Previously, Phil served as a vice president of IT at a regional financial services company headquartered in Milwaukee. He’s a past Midwest Regional Director for the HDI Member Advisory Board and has served the Brew City HDI local chapter in a variety of roles since 2003. Visit his website to sign up for his newsletter and receive a free ebook on using LinkedIn to grow your business.