Any company will say that they care about customers, but the frequency of bizarrely poor customer service stories serves to offer a very different narrative. While technology band-aids and behavioral mandates are often first choices for companies looking to recover from customer experience shortcomings, they rarely do anything more than annoy employees. Something as human as “care” simply cannot be faked or forced.

Care starts at the top

If a CEO doesn’t care about the customer, neither will employees. You might have an occasional heroic employee who will go above and beyond for customers, but consistent greatness is the result of a culture of care.

At the start of our customer experience work we work with senior leaders to understand how current operations make a customer feel. To the company it may be “just an installation,” but to the customer it’s “a stranger in my house and a disruption in my schedule.” We work with leaders to understand not just the functional aspects of how internal operations affect the customer, but the emotional impact these operations have on the customer too.

In an article titled “Behavior: The First Mile of the Exceptional Customer Experience,” Jack Dempsey bemoans how quickly leaders rush to technology when they realize their current customer experience is broken:

In my many years of navigating the corporate layers of bureaucracy, I have found that customer experience managers and leaders often shun their individual leadership responsibilities for an all-encompassing technology solution. Why? Because technology implementation and compliance is far easier to manage than individual behavior.

It can be easy for those in control of budgets to rush to spend money on technology, but caring starts and ends with people.

Care is supported through internal processes

In our Employee Engagement Trends Report we identified seven practices of a customer-centric company. In order to be effective, all of these must be practiced with consistency. And this is where technology can come in to support a culture of caring. Of the seven practices, four of these can be systematized using technology:

  • Practice #3: Invite customers to give feedback
  • Practice #4: Invite employees to share ideas and suggestions on improving the customer experience
  • Practice #6: Share customer feedback with employees
  • Practice #7: Tell employees when they have done a good job serving customers

Technology alone will not make an organization customer-centric, but it can be a powerful aid in systematically reaffirming senior leadership’s commitment to the change.

Care is delivered by employees

Dempsey argues that if leaders want to improve the customer experience, they must provide employees with the resources and training to deliver that experience. “I’m talking about specific strategies for proactively constructing, leading and guiding an interaction,” writes Dempsey, “techniques to lower customers’ perceptions of the amount of effort they are required to expend in having their problem resolved, and verbal and psychological skills that add value to the interaction.” Last month at Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum Mary McDuffie from Navy Federal Credit Union shared one way in which her organization does this.

Employees at Navy Federal Credit Union have access to an “empowerment fund.” This fund is for employees to use to make things right for customers. Employees no longer have to fight to do great work for customers, they have the ability to simply fix it. Whatever it is.

We also heard from Kevin Peters from Office Depot who shared one way in which his company provides employees with techniques to improve the customer experience. The Office Depot understands that their customers don’t come into the store to browse; they are there with a purpose. With that in mind they encouraged frontline staff to open with the question “What brings you to Office Depot today?” while handing their customers a shopping basket. This shift from the typical “Can I help you with anything?” has resulted in a 40% increase in customers who purchase something from the Office Depot before leaving the store. This kind of thinking uses customer insight to support employees in delivering a great experience – and in so doing increase sales.

Great customer experiences are the result of an internal culture that genuinely cares about its customers. Without that culture of care then technology, customer service protocols, and customer experience initiatives can do little more than temporarily distract the company from the consistency of its own shortcomings.