The primary purpose of customer service is to change feelings. Not the facts but the way your customer feels. The facts might be the price, a return or the frequency of reviews.
The facts are certainly easier to address compared to such a fluffy metric as feelings – being specific, measurable and all that. But while changing the facts can be a shortcut to changing feelings, not always. In fact, not often.
Investment in improving the customer experience (and ergo how customers feel about you) starts by understanding the customer lifecycle, making business changes that unify the customer experience across all channels and measuring the value of these changes to both the business and the customer. No mean feat.
There are a myriad of specific things that need addressing: timely response to customer requests; highly personalised customer interactions; delivery of the right information in the right way and at the right time. Nothing new here.
But the real value does not come in making incremental improvements to, say, the client contact infrastructure. Instead, it comes in shifting the strategic focus to providing outstanding customer experience. These two things may sound similar but they translate very differently. Truly embedding a culture of corporate integrity means empowering the people in the organisation who are connected to each step along the customer’s lifecycle to do what is needed individually and collectively to deliver compelling and consistent experiences.
Customer experience is the critical business differentiator because no one can successfully compete on products and/or price alone. If that is not compelling a reason enough, it is worth considering that negative experiences get quickly and broadly socialised now more than ever and can kill brand value. (After a poor customer experience, on average more than one-quarter of consumers post negative complaints on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter).
But customer experience is the cumulative result of collective effort, so everybody’s individual contribution is critically important. If you can build these factors into your organisation’s culture —and be vigilant about enforcing them in practice — you stand a much better chance of becoming a customer experience leader.
But here is what not to do: do not expect that everyone will automatically put the customer first every time, or that they will intuitively understand why customer experience is strategically important to the business. They will not, unless and until you instil it into the fabric of your organisation. And this cannot happen without good governance.
Phil Wickenden is managing director of Cicero Research