How to Develop a Customer Experience Strategy that Positively Engages Customers

December 2013 by

In today’s markets, Customer Service has given way to Customer Experience

Customer Experience is the emotional, psychological and physical investment a customer has in a brand (product, service, or company).  For many years, companies have mistakenly focused on customer service without really considering the customer’s experience.  

 Here are just a few sobering facts about customer experience…

  1. 42% of service agents are unable to efficiently resolve customer issues due to disconnected systems, archaic user interfaces, and multiple applications. (Forrester)
  2. 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)
  3. It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer.  (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  4. ** 89% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. (Right Now Customer Experience Impact Report)

Thomas Fulmer, a customer experience consultant, recently led a Webinar on the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network’s SSOPro platform that shared tips on how to improve customer experience across various products and services. What is most important, he explained, is to differentiate between the traditional “customer service” mindset – implying the one-way servitude of the past – and the “customer experience” that is sought by all today. With social media multiplying and magnifying our every thought and feeling, a poor customer experience will quickly snowball online and cause damage worth millions, and a negative impression that you’ll have to work hard to undo. Don’t go there, he warns.

Companies need to guard against this, Thomas explained, by focusing on what customers want to get out of the engagement right from the start. It’s not just about sharing information or pushing relevant statistics towards end-users. It’s about listening to their questions, it’s about entertaining them (yes it is), and it’s about capturing their loyalty. So be clear about what motivates your customer:

The question is: How do you stand out? First of all, you’ve got to turn customer excellence into a habit. That means it becomes part of your everyday activities, to be repeated again and again and again. You’ve got to promote a can-do culture that has this experience at its core, where everyone is trained, empowered, and sufficiently informed to turn a negative call into a positive experience; and that is not always correlated to a positive outcome. What this means is that even a “no” response can be construed as a positive engagement, if the experience is good, and trust is maintained.

“With social media now multiplying and magnifying our every thought and feeling, a poor customer experience will quickly snowball online and cause damage worth millions, and a negative impression that you’ll have to work hard to undo.”

One of the first things Thomas recommends is that you get rid of the global standard for customer service: “Your call is very important to us, but we are currently experiencing high levels of demand…” Not true, he says, or you’d already be on the phone speaking to the customer. So start by setting realistic expectations during the very first interaction. The important thing to remember is, no matter how good the actual experience may prove to be, if your process is poor from the start you’ve lost your opportunity.

Another element that causes disappointment is the lack of good telephone communication skills. Reciting from cards, inflexibility in resolution, lack of empathy… all of these combine to make the customer feel they are not being listened to. Invest your money in developing the kind of skills in customer facing staff that will create a positive relationship. Also, train your staff to look out for unexpected opportunities to engage positively: a follow up on a Tweet; an offer in response to a Facebook post; there are lots of opportunities to engage and your customers will spread the news: Good news, like bad, travels fast across social media.

It’s also important that your front-line staff are empowered to resolve an issue. Constant escalations or constant referrals to “my manager” send the clear message: I can’t help you. You’ll need to call again or hang on a bit longer.” There are plenty of great examples of customer engagement out there. Even in a Shared Services environment, you can copy a thing or two from retail companies that really stand out. Amazon was cited as an excellent example of customer service. If you want to learn some good tips, all you have to do is get onto their website and start interacting, or follow them on Twitter, on connect via Instagram. There are boundless opportunities to copy what the best are doing.

“The important thing to remember is, no matter how good the actual experience may prove to be, if your process is poor from the start you’ve lost your client.”

In summary, Tom shared the Top 7 Most Irritating Customer Experience Moments:

1. Staff are not trained properly or the training is not enforced. This will show immediately and your opportunity to engage a customer will mark the end of the relationship before it’s begun.

2. Lack of communication options, or these options are too complicated. This is especially important when engaging online. While the use of chat is rising, and tends to work very well (lots of vendors are now offering chat as a outsourced service) you need to make sure that if a client wants to speak to someone on the phone they can. And you should make these options clear – we all hate searching for hidden telephone numbers.

3. Failure to use the communication channels desired by your customers. If your customers want to communicate on LinkedIn, make sure you are staffed and trained to engage them there. Wherever you do interact with your customers you need to make sure that you are managing and responding this communication real time. Here’s a statistic that you should take note of: 81% of consumers on social media expected businesses to respond to them via social media. Not email. Not letter. Social media.

4. Difficult or unclear ordering process. If you’re asking your customers to fill out a lengthy registration form before you will answer their queries, you’re not going to be winning any friends. Again, consider that the customer has questions and expectations of you. You want to be able to respond to those clearly and simply.

5. Rigid company policies. Exceptions are a fact of life. They occur more than you like but you need to meet these exceptions head-on. Customers don’t want to pay extra for extra service. Or if they do, they’ll only do so until someone else comes along who includes this service for free. So build some flexibility where necessary.

6. Poor online experience. Look at your web portal with a critical eye. Are there too many colors? Is it easy to find someone to connect with? Does it answer customers’ questions? Is it cluttered? Keep these questions in mind when designing your site.

7. Failure to set expectations. Make it clear what you can deliver, and what you can’t. That will go a long way to limiting customers’ disappointment, and it will mean that even a negative outcome can result in a positive experience. Don’t promise the world when you will only let your customers down. Be realistic and offer options.

In closing, Tom recommended a couple of steps that can have a big impact on increasing your value in your customer’s eyes: Start by building customer friendly entry points. This seems obvious, but in reality, many sites fall short. Where and when your customer wants to engage with you, be available and make connecting easy and intuitive. And another tip: Wait time is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be like everyone else’s wait time. Differentiate yours by offering something meaningful: Travel agencies pop up with interesting travel facts; use a visual message depicting someone actively trying to help you; share something funny; post some metrics on what your Shared Services has achieved; introduce your Shared Services staff with photos and a brief background; make it personal. There are lots of original ways of using this time to engage in a meaningful way with your customer and to leave a lasting positive impression.