Going beyond the cliché of customer experience

Many of us have experienced that annoying, unhelpful call centre agent engaging with you like a robot reading from a rule book and woefully failing to address the issue at hand.  The examples abound.  

Take the customer who found himself arguing for several minutes with a call center agent about his name in responding to a security question. It took the call center manager to intervene, realising that that customer’s name may have been captured wrongly and used alternative means to verify the customer.  He realised the customer had a very unique set of names and that the way he pronounced his surname did not match the spelling of it.  He asked the client to spell his surname and very quickly satisfied himself as to his identity.  Why could the call centre agent not move beyond the rules and think outside the box?

Another customer trying to get a refund from an internet provider for 2 months when their service was down was shuffled between technical support that logged the claim with finance and finance who were to approve it with the two departments blaming each other. Customers could not care less about the internal machinations of a company, they see the brand and expect the products or services promised to be delivered seamlessly and not get drawn into a blame game between departments.  Why would the supervisors and managers think its ok to draw a client into internal issues?  Why do staff at times behave like poorly programmed robots when common sense judgements are called for in customer interactions.

Unfortunately, this and other examples are not isolated but all too common a frustration of clients in dealing with very big brands.  Its seems very obvious that delighting your customers consistently in all customer journeys, sales, service, complaints, renewal and exit should be any company’s focus.  Often, effort is put into a great customer experience at sale, but not in other customer journeys.  Research by Cap Gemini and Ernst and Young covering 2007-2013 found that customer experience leaders created 20% more value than the S&P 500 index. Worryingly only 5-10% of large companies get a great client experience consistently right.  So why do so many companies get it wrong and what can they do about it?

Professor Roger Martin in the Execution Trap argues that the reason why implementation of strategy often fails is because there is a false distinction between strategy and execution, with the ‘higher ups’ in the organisation setting strategy and the staff brainlessly executing it.  The problem with that characterisation he argues is that it leaves employees as choiceless doers implementing a strategy from the top.  What is required is to see strategy and execution as intertwined and involving a cascade of choices, with management making broader strategic choices and employees making daily choices aligned with the strategy.  This approach is important because it releases employees to use their brain, to make common sense judgement responding to a customer’s interaction. Too often this is not the case and employees are straightjacketed into rules of behaviour that fail to recognise the invaluable input they can bring to a client experience. Companies often say their people are their greatest asset, but they hire them and promptly require them to comply with how things are done rather than equipping and encouraging them to change things for the better.

Secondly, in many organisations management is out of touch with the reality of their business.  Managers measure the wrong things and fail to get the real pulse of their business.  Financial and productivity measures abound but real time or near real time customer measures lag behind in sophistication and use by organisations.  This is often compounded where an organisation has a good news culture that suppresses negative information as much as possible or coats it in a softer light than the reality would suggest.  Failing to invest in a ruthless focus on the customer at all levels and across all functions increases the risk of a slow puncture failure.  There are companies going through slow puncture failure right now that seem healthy because they are focused on financial and productivity measures (lag indicators) and not what their customers are experiencing right now.

The third important contributor is failing to think like a customer.  Organisations design processes for customer interactions that they would never design for themselves as individuals.  Why would a company ask you to fill in the same details that you supplied to one division when dealing with another?  This is because customer journeys have not been thought through pro-actively with a clean sheet approach but often evolved as an amalgam of processes over time.

Taking client focus beyond the cliché has become a competitive advantage that requires deliberate action.  Companies should consider the following:  

Make client focus a strategic agenda item and role model it from the top.  Top management must not just talk the talk but walk the business of understanding what happens in all aspects of the customer value chain and engage employees visibly on client issues.  

Hire the right people and align rewards to value-adding customer behaviour across the customer delivery chain.  Often customer interactions are seen as a sales effort, however, starting with understanding customer needs, to solution design, product development, manufacturing, finance, marketing, delivery, service and exit you need staff that can empathise with customer needs and respond accordingly.  Imagine if the CFO of the company introduced himself as – ‘I solve customer problems and also look after the company’s finances’.  

Measure the right things, and take action on the right metrics.  

Rather than a yearly survey on net promoter score with long term insights on trends, have a daily measure of number of customer’s waiting more than 5 minutes to speak to a call centre agent and take steps to shorten the wait time in the next week.  It’s amazing that it is a common experience for many customers to wait up to 40 minutes on a call before speaking to a call centre agent.   

Make top management accessible. Nothing gets an organisation’s mind focused on client like the CEO getting customer complaints direct to his office. Being truly customer centered is a continuous journey that if done with passion, thoughtfulness and rigour can transform a company’s fortunes.  Ultimately solving client problems and offering them a consistent and great client experience can be a source of great competitive advantage.

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