Customer experience (CX) is the new marketing battlefront.” These are not the words of me, Stephen Pappas. That’s Gartner talking. That’s right—the research and advisory leader is advising you to raise your CX game. They lay out the trend in their key findings article: “More than two-thirds of marketers responsible for CX say their companies compete mostly on the basis of CX, according to the 2017 Gartner Customer Experience in Marketing Survey. And in two years’ time, 81% say they expect to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of CX.”
I’ve helped scores of companies improve their customer experience, and I can tell you the handful of mistakes that were tripping them up. They had failed to follow these seven rules:
- Know your customer
- Be where your customers are
- Develop a single source of truth
- Empower your employees
- Guide employees in the delivery of superior CX
- Create a visible customer feedback loop
- Make CX central to your culture
Let’s take them one by one.
1. Know Your Customer
The following techniques can help you to get to know your customers better.
- Personas.You have a lot of different customers approaching you for lots of different reasons. If you have not developed personas of your different customers, it’s time. (If the concept of customer personas is new to you, a quick web search can help you discover how to create them. In a nutshell, a persona is a fictional person who represents an entire class of customers.) The persona that represents a casual shopper will be different from the persona of the customer with a problem. You’ll do different things to deliver exceptional customer experience to each persona.
- Journeys.Part of knowing your customers is to map their journeys. Doing so will enable you to anticipate their needs and wants. Journey mapping will also tell you where to enhance CX. Keep in mind that an in-store experience will differ from an email experience.
- Channels.How are customers finding you? Are they visiting stores? Calling on the phone? Emailing? Responding to your Twitter feed? Online chats? Map those customer channels!
- Departments.List all of the departments within your organization, and note whether each department conducts transactions with the customer, simply interacts with a customer, or acts on behalf of the customer, such as billing and credit and credentialing and provisioning. Then weigh the importance of those departments on a scale of one to three, with three being the most important. For example, if they talk every day, that’s a three. All departments are important for different reasons, but for overall customer experience, some are more important.
- Gaps.Once you figure out all that, analyze performance gaps. If you’re starting with customer service, look at the top 10, 15 or 20 calls you take and how important each is to the overall customer experience. For example, is a customer calling about a defect or problem with their automobile, or could be people coming in to have their tires rotated? Consider:
- What’s the contribution to the customer experience?
- What happens if it goes wrong? Can it really detract from the experience?
- If it goes right, can it be something that really pushes the experience over the top?
Also note whether representatives need access to information, which we’ll address further on.
2. Be Where Your Customers Are
Allow customers the choice as to which channels they prefer to interact with your brand. An omnichannel approach allows customers to interact and transact as they wish, even if it’s to chat with a bot at 2 a.m.
If your customers are using mobile devices—and who isn’t?—then you’ll need to be accessible via mobile. That means your website needs to be mobile-friendly, but it may also mean that you should offer a mobile app that provides relevant information and the transactions identified in Step 1.
3. Develop a Single Source of Truth
Develop a central knowledge and guidance system so you can bulldoze the multiple silos of information that confuse users and waste their efforts.
A single source of truth is a repository of all the policies, procedures and instructional guidance that employees need to know— exactly what they need to do or say, or how to navigate (in apps) for the benefit of the customer. The aim is to drive them to the realization that a single-source repository of information allows them to provide the best experience. In most transactions, company representatives have to look for information, then have to turn it into some type of action. Today, in most companies, access to information is used in almost 90% of all tasks.
In the pre-web days, the distance a customer had to travel made a difference in where she shopped. Today, distance is important, too, but it’s the distance between access to information and positive action that makes the difference.
Exceptional CX is based on making sure that the information needed for the transaction is accessible and in the proper format.
4. Empower Your Employees
Train and manage employees to be part of the CX solution, because they are closest to the customer and know best how to improve the customer experience.
Many CX solutions do a fine job of discovery, analysis and mapping, but fall short when it comes to execution. In the throes of an interaction, no employee is going to take out a customer journey map to determine their next step. Employees need a simple mechanism that knows who they are and what they are attempting to do, and can provide actionable guidance the moment they need it.
The CX question is: How is call center agent No. 26 in Omaha, Neb., who has received a call from an irate customer, going to access and understand the information needed to resolve the call? Are they going to take out a big process map from a drawer and say, “Ah, OK, now I can follow the logic flow here and know what to do, what to say and how to take care of the customer”?
The same rule applies if a customer is at the pharmacy with their child and they need an inhaler right away. Is the person behind the desk going to understand how to provide the best customer experience at that moment?
Customer experience has to be something that can be not only given into the hands of every employee, but given in such a way as to make that employee part of the overall CX solution.
5. Guide Employees in the Delivery of Superior CX
Use guidance technology to ensure that all employees are continuously improving the overall experience.
Merely searching for information, Google-style, falls short of the exceptional experience that makes for performance-boosting CX. For one thing, searches result in EVERY bit of information that includes the keywords, yet the agent just needs the one, two or three items necessary right now to provide the best experience.
Just as technology exists to organize knowledge, technology exists to feed the right knowledge at the right time. In other words, the old days demanded extensive training to make exceptional call center agents and customer service representatives. Today, that training can be digitized and delivered as real-time guidance to your organization’s representatives.
6. Create a Visible Customer Feedback Loop
Enable easy and near-real-time course corrections, and be more sympathetic to changes in customer behaviors.
For example, the Panviva platform encourages continuous improvement in two ways:
1. Users put their own notes on it, such as: “Remember to call Steve at extension 1234 before doing an international wire.” The admin sees such notes and can harvest that tribal knowledge for a better process.
2. The feedback button enables users to rate processes and alerts the Panviva admin of an issue. For example, a user may notice they get a better response when they ask for address before asking for a Social Security number.
Armed with that insight to improve performance, the admin can revise the Panviva guidance to reflect that improved sequence. In short, content is never done. You need feedback to improve it.
7. Make CX Central to Your Culture
Move to a more customer-centric model for your business. Culture is a top-down phenomenon. When senior leadership includes CX among its reward criteria, the whole organization follows. (Consider the case of Enterprise Rent-A-Car in the Harvard Business Review article, “The One Number You Need to Grow,” by Frederick F. Reichheld.) It’s not simply a matter of better technology.
That said, a word about IT: Developers and information technology teams definitely play a role in cultivating a culture of the customer. They need to be brought to the table to make superior CX possible. They need to be given the credit for providing the technological foundation of CX. Tech’s support of CX is as important as any training that takes place in marketing, sales, service or any other team.
CX Is an Evolution
There you have it—the seven steps to a superior customer experience. Remember, CX is not a one-and-done process. It’s an evolution. No one gets it perfect the first time. It is a refining process with constant feedback and input to make the experience better.