What’s the wrinkle in today’s IT and business climate? That wrinkle, which might be better called a more sharp fold, is the dawning of the age of the customer. The rise of social networking, Internet reviews, and Internet access in general have taken information out of the hands of the service providers, which used to call the shots. In this new age, all information is public. Customers have access to all of the information on all of the possible options available to them, and they can easily take their business elsewhere if a business can’t fulfill their needs.
The first step in providing remarkable customer care is recognizing that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t fly anymore. The modern customer experience is about engaging the unique individual and providing a solution customized to that individual’s needs. The second step involves acknowledging the fact that the customer experience is no longer viewed as separate interactions when a problem arises. Instead, it’s an end-to-end journey that provides an easy, enjoyable, and entertaining experience from the first marketing contact all the way through the service offering.
Providing quality customer service is only the tip of the customer experience iceberg (and often avoiding customer interactions matters just as much as handling them well). The third step is getting out of the way. The vast majority of customer care involves limiting the interruptions that send customers to your service desk in the first place. Proactive IT enables the organization to avoid detours, prevent incidents, and address or fix problems before they impact the customer.
So, what’s getting in the way of providing this type of quality customer experience (as if it weren’t already hard enough)? First of all, IT often knows very little about the customer, whether it’s an internal customer or external end user. According to IT industry legend and Cherwell Software ambassador Malcolm Fry, the challenge of IT-to-customer communication plagues the industry.
Another setback is the difficulty of decision making. Interestingly, when we asked Fry to outline his view of quality experience today, the first major area he covered was service desk decision making. The service desk agent’s ability to make the correct decision in escalating, prioritizing, and taking the correct course of action dominated the discussion. Making matters worse, performance quality metrics often push the service desk to resolve questions faster, placing more pressure on agents and giving them less time to gather information and make the correct decision.
How do you overcome these setbacks to offer a truly enjoyable, end-to-end, individualized customer experience? You really only have a couple of options:
A. Hope to get by on positive customer interactions.
B. Become a business partner. Own the customer experience by being proactive, listening to your customer, and knowing your customer. Comprehensive tools like Cherwell Service Management enable more efficient response times and provide powerful metrics, dashboards, and self-service portals that allows customers to resolve their own issues at 2:00 a.m. or anytime the service desk is closed.
The correct answer is “B,” for those playing along at home. How do you go about offering this stellar customer experience?
Listening to your customer throughout the process is paramount. This will let you record who they are, what their goals are, what’s working, and what isn’t. Part of IT’s growing role is becoming a business partner that doesn’t just answer IT questions, but also helps at every step along the way to ensure that the business or customer is taking the correct steps toward its end goal. The overall goal could be unique and may require creating an individualized customer experience; it could be something you’ve seen before and already have standardized. Nevertheless, learning about who your customers are and what they’re trying to do is necessary for creating the experience customers want.
How do you listen in an organized and efficient way? Rather than having ad hoc conversations, build listening into the integrated end-to-end customer journey. According to Barclay Rae’s study on customer experience, only 13 percent of those surveyed reported having set, collective customer experience initiatives in place. Including your business in this group will place it on the cutting edge in the age of the customer. And the first step is easy: listen.
Listening isn’t a one-time thing, and it’s not always a direct interaction. Based on what you already know about your customers, coupled with a proactive IT service that enables you to detect incidents or predict FAQs, you should know the reason for a call before it comes in. In a recent article entitled “The Truth About Customer Experience,” the Harvard Business Review (HBR) reported that “understanding the context of a call is key.” By knowing how your customers’ short-term needs change, you’ll be able to offer a quality experience throughout the entire customer journey.
At least half the work of customer care happens when you aren’t even talking to the customer. Avoid only using touchpoints to understand the quality of the customer experience. In the same report, HBR found that consistently high touchpoint scores didn’t translate into customer satisfaction, and that businesses often scored consistently high on touch points but received poor overall interaction feedback. You could be measuring interactions that are important to your organization but don’t even register for your customers. Or, even if you’re providing great service at each touchpoint, the experience between each touchpoint could be going awry (perhaps your processes aren’t well integrated). In one organization’s case, HBR found that customer satisfaction fell 40 percent throughout the process, even when the touchpoints didn’t need to be improved. This suggests there was something wrong with the integration of the process, not the interactions themselves. Customers expect a coherent process. Plus, without an integrated end-to-end process, you have no way of knowing where your customer care is going wrong.
So, how do you fill in the gaps that traditional touchpoints leave behind?
Well, it’s important to remember that touchpoints have historically been relevant to the business’s perspective; they don’t often capture customer satisfaction. So, think about new points of contact that the customer would likely value, not just engagements that move along your organization’s road map. One easy way to start is by having IT and the business agree upon SLAs in advance. When both sides agree on these fixed points, customers feel as if the business understands their requirements and IT knows what’s expected of it.
But you can also put metrics together as components to better represent the customer’s experience of continual care. This is what Barclay Rae calls “metrics bundling.” For example, bundling SLAs, availability, customer satisfaction, and NPS/KCI together will provide a more comprehensive view of the customer experience. To address each customer’s unique needs, prioritize the metrics that are most important to them. Metrics bundling, especially when it’s in tune with the customer’s needs, provides a real-time look at the customer’s experience.
However, there is a flip side: You must listen and understand the customer to provide a quality customer experience. Not all customers are technologically savvy enough to ask for the right thing, so IT can’t just ask them what they want. Knowing the customer’s short- and long-term goals will empower IT to provide the right service and take the necessary steps to help customers achieve their goals.
According to Fry’s gauge of the industry, there are misconceptions about when incidents begin. Many think incidents begin when issues are reported to the service desk, and touchpoints are traditionally based on interactions where the customer calls in. Providing solutions in a timely, friendly manner makes for quality customer response, but quality customer care, as good metrics reflect, starts before the customer reports an issue in the first place.
With the access we have to data and metrics today, the service desk should be proactive when it comes to detecting and resolving issues before customers notice. This way, you keep your customers on track toward achieving their goals without having to make a detour to the service desk.
So, how do you make this leap from reactive firefighting to proactive care? Choosing an ITSM vendor that enables you to respond to incidents efficiently—or prevent them altogether—will free up time to add knowledge articles to your knowledge base. If knowledge management is well organized and well adopted by your service desk, once one person on your service desk learns something, the whole service desk will.
Let’s say that, because of your knowledge management, your service desk follows the steps put in place by someone who already addressed a similar incident, and you cut your call volume in half. This has exponential effects, since it also frees up more time for adding knowledge, which could be posted on a self-service portal to empower customers to resolve their own issues.
Imagine the effect on your customers: A customer calls in to your service desk and receives a timely answer, or, even better, a customer never calls in at all because the problem has already been addressed, without even registering with the customer as a problem. No touch point or interaction here. This may be the ideal customer experience.
Mind Your Image
The customer experience isn’t just about solving your customers’ problems or answering their product questions. It’s involves more than just meeting their emotional needs during a call. It’s entails minding every interaction from beginning to end—from the sweeping initiatives, like implementing a service catalog, to the smallest details, like resetting a password. Manage the your customers’ perception of your organization. The most successful brands do it all the time. They anticipate customers’ needs, addressing points of failure before they fail. Zappos, for example, knows their shoes won’t always work out, and that’s okay. It provides free shipping and returns—no questions asked—thereby overcoming on of the chief barriers to online shopping. It’s important to think big, but all the little things you do—or fail to do—for your customers will overshadow the big things, every time.