There are many definitions of customer experience, but the simplest and most useful comes from Harley Manning’s 2010 Forrester blog post:
“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”
Of course, you can substitute support center or department for company in the definition if you are not in the business of providing external customer service and support. In case you were wondering, 61 percent of the organizations represented in the HDI 2016 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report provide both internal (employees) and external support.
Here are two important details in Manning’s definition:
- Customer perception is the determining factor
Interactions is plural
For the first detail, it’s important to note that the customer owns the experience. While we can focus on making it easy for customers to interact with us, listen to their feedback, and make continual improvements, it’s still up to the customer to react—both intellectually and emotionally—to our efforts. We cannot force a perception.
The customer owns the experience.
For the second detail, we need to remember that it’s the sum of all interactions the customer has with us. That means, for example, that a customer who only calls the support center once still has multiple interactions: Was it easy to find the correct phone number? How long did it take for us to answer? Did we understand the urgency? Did we provide a fix, fulfillment, or workaround quickly and correctly? Did we make sure the solution was complete before marking the issue or request as resolved?
The customer experience involves every single touchpoint the customer has with us: website, contact channels, feedback mechanisms, and so on. All of this comes together to form the experience, and one part of it can change the entire equation. The first step to understanding customer experience is to get yourself into the customer’s shoes and travel the journey they travel when contacting you for service and support:
- If the outgoing announcement on your phone system urges the customer to use your self-help knowledge base, will they be successful in finding a solution? (Get familiar with the concept of Level Zero Solvable.)
- If you provide a self-service portal, does it ask them questions they will have difficulty answering. Giving them a button for an incident and another for a service request can be confusing. It’s not their business to know the difference. (Ask instead, “Is something that was working now broken, or do you need something new?”)
- If you regularly publish updates, outage schedules, and other information that users should know, you need to make your website attractive, easy to find, and easy to navigate, just as if you were providing a product or service to the general public—and often we are. Work closely with your organization’s marketing and/or web design team to increase your visibility and usability.
If you are serious about doing as much to improve your customers’ experience as possible, consider creating customer experience maps. Creating these maps makes us think about all the various touchpoints and how customers and users interact at each one. They can be extremely helpful in creating the best environment for the customer. You can read more about creating them here (not an endorsement). Although we can’t force a customer experience, we can certainly anticipate pain points and eliminate them.
Customer experience is on everyone’s radar. If you haven’t thought about it, it’s time to start.
Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.