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Have advisers got it wrong on customer experience?

Think about the last time you received great customer service. You probably expressed that experience to others by describing it something like “fantastic service”.

You may have used stronger adjectives depending on your exuberance and natural disposition. But what you are most likely talking about is your overall experience with the company.

It is easy to see, then, why the terms “customer service” and “customer experience” can be confused. But they are very different. Many companies claim to provide good customer service but that does not mean their customers are having good experiences. This is a silent killer.

Customer service is an essential part of the overall customer experience, but it is just one piece of a very large equation.

Customer experience includes a customer’s perception of a company, a customer’s interaction with a company and a customer’s recollection of that entire process from start to finish. Customer service is simply assisting customers and meeting their needs. It helps to shape the overall customer experience but does not fully define it. Far from it.

Talking to advisers this week about their clients’ experiences revealed (sometimes significant) gaps between le beau ideal and where many of us are today.

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That is not to say things are bad but just that emphasis on perfecting touchpoints is not always enough and diverts attention from the bigger – and more important – picture: the customer’s end-to-end journey and how that feels.

Even when customers’ satisfaction with each transaction ranging from calls, reviews, online services, reports and product purchase were consistently high, focus groups reveal many customers still remain less delighted with their overall interaction.

Looking solely at individual transactions makes it hard for any business to identify where to direct improvement efforts and the (conversely) high levels of satisfaction on specific metrics makes it tricky to motivate employees to change what looks for all the world like it does not need changing.

The root of the problem is this: most customers are not fed up with any one phone call, meeting or other interaction. In fact, they do not much care about these singular touchpoints. What improves satisfaction is something few companies manage: cumulative experiences across multiple touchpoints and in multiple channels over time.

Businesses able to measure and manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer happiness, reduced churn, increased revenue and greater employee satisfaction. They also typically discover more effective ways to collaborate across functions; a process that delivers significant efficiency gains throughout the company.

Phil Wickenden is managing director at Cicero Research

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