“Every company has a customer experience, it’s just not always a good one,” said customer service and experience expert Shep Hyken, speaking as part of a recent Q&A session I led on customer experience (CX).
Today customers are in the driver’s seat—they have a growing number of brand touch points and a growing number of channels to share their thoughts. Creating an exceptional customer experience is more important than ever. At the same time, it’s become more of a challenge due to increasing channels and rising customer expectations.
Shep was joined by Sheryl Kingstone of Yankee Group, Keith Dawson of Ovum, and myself in a wide-ranging conversation on how businesses can focus on CX, engage employees to improve the experience, understand the journey, and take action.
Idit Aloni-Halfon (NICE): There’s little disagreement that CX is a business imperative. According to Forrester Research, CX is a top strategic priority for 90 percent of surveyed firms. So why is it important to focus on CX now more than ever before, as a key business differentiator?
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Sheryl Kingstone (SK): Customer experience is not new. It’s always been important. It’s never going to go out of fashion.
Keith Dawson (KD): It’s striking how common a problem is lack of vision into the customer experience.
SK: CX can be an area where a little perspective can go a long way. You have to understand that if you are just inside your own view of the world, you are never really going to understand what experience you’re delivering. You have to get an outside-in perspective—and stand in the customer’s shoes—to be able to make an impact.
KD: People operate in such intense silos in their businesses. They don’t necessarily see that CX is being addressed by their closest competitors—until it’s too late.
Shep Hyken (SH): Even when a CX program has been put in place it’s difficult to get everyone on board and make sure that customer experience is a priority and doesn’t get pushed aside by the various departments because they feel they have other important responsibilities.
NICE: Entrenched business silos, conflicting departmental KPIs, slow or no flow of communication across departments and a piecemeal (versus holistic) view of customer experience—these common corporate flaws can make it difficult to deliver on any CX strategy.
NICE: A great customer experience requires engaged employees at every level of the organization. Leadership can set direction, provide tools and processes, but employees must be on board. How can employees help deliver the CX experience?
SK: CX must start at the top. Change happens when the CEO really understands what’s going on with the employees and how that impacts the customer. Why do you think we’re so addicted to the Undercover Boss, the popular reality show that secretly puts a CEO into a front-line position?
SH: A good example comes from Anheuser-Busch. It instituted a program requiring all its executives to drive a beer truck for a day, so they would experience what it was like to be on the front line, interacting with customers.
KD: The same concept works well at a lower level. I think it’s probably more useful to have a key marketing person get in the customer’s shoes than the CEO. You want people with actual control over the operational day-to-day projects to have their eyes opened about what these interactions are really like for those customers.
SH: No matter their level, for company leaders, it’s important to nurture what the customer says, bring it back and then make it part of your process. A truly customer-focused company is truly employee focused to begin with. What’s happening on the inside of the company is felt on the outside by the customer.
It’s also important to understand that CX isn’t just a frontline issue. We commonly fail to realize that the supporting actors, the people that aren’t on the front lines—those who load trucks, code pricing and offers, process claims—have a profound impact on CX.
KD: The people and processes that are most visible are often not the ones that have the most impact on the experience either positively or negatively. A lot of enterprises have problems isolating where things go wrong and who is responsible for them and what that really looks like from the point of view of the customer.
NICE: To be working in unison, fully engaged, employees need a technology support structure that enables them to work effectively, collaborate, and be motivated and incented to deliver excellent CX—even when they’re not in the same department or in direct service roles. Software that can, for example, elucidate process issues across the customer journey, mobilize analytics to predict and improve the viability of sales offers, alert relevant departments to emerging customer issues, and measure and reward customer-centric performance, can ease and even automate collaboration for a strong customer-centric culture that is aligned on common goals and ensures the customer has a great experience across every touchpoint.
Understand the Journey
NICE: The pattern of touch points a customer navigates as she interacts with a company is often called the customer journey. For companies seeking to improve that journey, where should they start?
SH: When I think about the customer journey I think about a map of what that journey looks like. Then I look at what supports all the touchpoints that that customer is experiencing—the impact points behind the scenes. You can take a look at every department involved in the journey, listen to what your customers are saying via feedback, watch the journey and then simplify the journey for them. Mapping this out correctly, you’re going to find ways to streamline and improve the process.
NICE: A big part of understanding how customers move through their interactions with—or experience—your company is to listen to, analyze and share the Voice of the Customer (VoC). VoC initiatives go beyond simple surveys by gathering and analyzing unstructured data across channels and touchpoints (web, contact center, retail store or branch, social media, and chat), and turning masses of this big data into clear insights on what’s working and what’s not. Most importantly, it drives the actions and investments that improve the customer experience. Tapping into the root causes of dissatisfaction, for example, is key.
SK: If you understand root cause of customer frustration you can automate that and provide guidance for your employees, and you can take steps to improve that overall customer experience. This helps you be proactive and engage other customers. It’s beyond customer service; it’s the foundation of improvement.
NICE: Most importantly, businesses need to take action. However it’s important to not be overwhelmed by the drive to do everything at once, or distracted by the next big thing or most critical customers. What next steps do you recommend?
KD: There is an impulse among businesses to have to solve every problem, to address every contact channel, to make the best possible experience. This “overshoot” can include rushing to adopt the latest gadget—an exciting new social or mobile project—at the expense of the fundamentals. If you can’t get something as basic as the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) right, then no amount of flashy, whiz-bang social or mobile media will mask the fact that you’ve created a frictional experience.
SK: Absolutely. The IVR is one of the highest customer frustration points in most companies. So, if the project allocation comes along where you can improve or eliminate the IVR and lower the frustration point, do it! It’s a no-brainer. Frustration’s high, fix it. Take care of the low-hanging fruit. From there, you can start to embrace customer preferences—improve the experience using channels customers actually choose to use.
NICE: Your technology strategy should make plain both friction points and preferences in interaction patterns across channels, and how they may change over time. That kind of insight helps organizations identify and react to the new channels as their customers adopt them, and move toward new ones as preferences shift.
CX – Small Steps and Big Transformations
Our panel of experts shared many common themes, including the notions that customer experience is everyone’s job, that you must intimately understand the customer journey, and that technology can make a difference. And they emphatically urged organizations to take action. Whether it’s mapping your customer journey, aligning your organization, implementing technology, Shep, Keith and Sheryl said, take a simple step. Find those points of friction—pick one—and eliminate it. Repeat. Let the small steps complement the big transformational ones to create an experience customers love.
About The Panelists
- Idit Aloni-Halfon has spent the last decade consulting and leading CX initiatives in large organizations in Israel and at Vodafone New Zealand. As she works with industry influencers, her passion is finding new ways to build exceptional customer and employee experiences. Website: http://www.nice.com/.
- Shep Hyken is a leading customer service and experience expert, and author of Moments of Magic, The Loyal Customer, The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution. Website: http://www.hyken.com/.
- Sheryl Kingstone is a director of Yankee Group’s Mobile Leadership Strategies service, with a focus on improving the customer experience across all interaction channels for customer acquisition and loyalty. Website: http://www.yankeegroup.com/home.do.
- Keith Dawson is part of Ovum’s customer interaction team, where he covers contact center technologies, including infrastructure, software, and services. Website: http://ovum.com/section/home/.