Customer experience is the new gold standard for business. Forbes listed user experience as one of the top trends for digital transformation in 2017. But user experience isn’t merely a feature of design and UX. While designers are tasked with creating a friction-free software experience for the user, the most important opportunity arises when the touch point is human-to-human.
This big opportunity is also a big challenge. Businesses tend to automate customer-facing functions, and shy away from having conversations with their customers. Business communication systems are often impersonal and mechanical, and the people that are supposed give business a human face often act more like robots than people.
For a large corporation, the challenges of scaling a consistent, uniform experience prompted the creation of complex phone trees and scripted interactions -- leading to outsourcing and automation. But what has been an efficient communication strategy for business hasn’t always been efficient for customers--and it hasn’t resulted in more satisfied customers.
As a result, poor customer service has become something like a universal pain point. The large cable companies and megacorps have turned it into an art form, and the automated systems designed to reduce wait times and frustrations have often added to rather than relieved the pain.
This creates a big opportunity for small businesses to get noticed. Chances are, other businesses are creating products or services similar to yours. Where you can really outshine your competitors is in how you treat your customers.
The good news is that creating a great customer experience and providing superior customer service doesn’t have to be super technical or expensive. It’s more a matter of culture and intention then expensive platforms or equipment. Great customer service can be provided at every point of the customer journey and can create a value-added experience for users that sets your business apart.
In fact, customer experience matters so much to people that they will often remain loyal to a brand that treats them well even if they could get lower prices elsewhere. According to Oracle, 9 out of 10 customers immediately start doing business with a competitor after a bad customer experience. Conversely, the same percentage of customers are willing to pay more for a better experience.
In fact, poor customer service, rather than price or even quality, is the number one reason for customer churn.
Great customer service = great customer experience = better business outcomes
Building a customer-centric organization means centering the customer experience in all that you do.
How can you provide customer service that distinguishes you from your competitors and turns customers into fans and brand advocates?
A holistic view of customer service
The right time and place for customer service is anytime your customer interacts with your brand. Don’t create a customer service department, be a customer service organization. Customers might need extra help at initial contact, during lead nurturing or at the point of sale. Provide superior customer service from the very first point of contact with your company.
It takes a shift of mindset. It’s easy to think about customer service as a function separate from everything else you do, but true customer service is built into the customer experience at every level. Every member of your organization should be a customer service representative.
Great customer service is human
In a world of automated systems and endless forms, a human encounter is a unique opportunity to connect with your customer, to create meaning, and to build your brand. Providing DIY help on your website and empowering the customer with the info they need is important, but sometimes the customer needs to pick up the phone and hear a person on the other line.
Even ecommerce sites should be reachable by phone. Sometimes, even if they have all the information they need, customers want to speak with a representative, especially before doing business with a new company. The question in the back of their mind may be as simple as "who are you?"
Great customer service is proactive
For every customer that complains, there are 26 that are silent.
Only a few people will have enough time and energy to contact your company. They are most likely to reach out when they have an urgent, unsolved problem. Your business communication infrastructure and company culture should make it easy and even fun for customers to contact you--even when they're happy.
This might mean a phone system that’s easy to navigate, easy to find contact information, and even a warm, inviting tone on social channels. But it might also mean reaching out to customers, all along their journey, and asking them about their experience.
Great customer service is creative
Small companies have to press their advantage and build loyal following before they get too big. Margarita Hakobyacun, CEO of MoversCorp.com, turned her online platform for locating movers into a online community of company supporters. “I didn’t have a big budget to advertise,” she said, so she turned her understanding of the stress of moving into gold. She called her first customer on the phone to congratulate her on a successful move and offer her a $50 gift card. That personal touch translated into positive word-of-mouth and glowing online reviews.
Customers really appreciate creativity because it shows your company has gone outside the box. There are many inexpensive ways to show appreciation to your customers, including social media mentions, welcome emails, and an invitation to a personal phone call, where you walk them through the product or service and help them identify useful features.
Great customer service is empathetic
Good customer service without empathy just isn't possible. Insight into what customers really wanted arises out of empathy. By listening closely to customers, your employees can give you insights into their psychology before and after a sale. They can understand what barriers may be preventing customers from getting the full value from your product or service. And, when a problem has occured, customers want empathy above and beyond simple ticket resolution.
One way to cultivate empathy is to listen deeply and to repeat back or summerize the other person's message. In a report on empathy, The BBC found that “Radical listening can have an extraordinary impact on resolving conflict situations.... In employer-employee disputes, if both sides literally repeat what the other side just said before speaking themselves, conflict resolution is reached 50% faster.”
Great customer service is personal
Customer surveys tend to tell you what you want to know about the customer experience, but they may not pick up what your customer wants to tell you. A full picture of how you are seen only emerges from the combination of sources--both ancecdotal and statistical. Numbers are great, but only by talking to your customers, one-on-one, will details emerge that give your metrics meaning. If one customer has had a certain experience, it's possible that others have, too. And it may be the most unique experiences that will provide the most valuable insights--for example a different way of using your product that you can then share with others. Talking to your customers is a great way to connect, learn and grow your business.
In addtion to personal conversations, bring in data from a diversity of sources, and use it to change the customer experience. Listen to customers across your industry to discover their most tender pain points. You can get data from places like:
- Online review sites (both yours and your competitors)
- Social media mentions (and industry news)
- Observations from front line employees
- Community forums
- Best practices by competitors
- Comments sections in relevant articles and publications
Listening closely to your customer can do more than ease their pain. It can help you learn how to design better products, create more compelling messaging, and resolve issues before they become headaches.
Creating a culture where the customer voice is listened to and valued means emphasizing these values in your company first. A strong culture of communcation and internal customer service will model these qualities and create a ripple effect out into the world.
Customer experience isn't a fad or trend that will disappear, but a new finish line that will create the next generation of big winners.