Four Components of the Successful Customer Experience
by Randy Saunders

Contact center leaders are canny and battle-tested enough to know that each and every customer touch is a test of the service organization as a whole. But not everyone realizes that each and every customer touch is a test of the entire brand and its promise to that customer. When a customer and your representatives make a connection, that one experience will be the culmination of all the time, money, and materials invested by both parties – and the outcome of that encounter will be the impression and the memory the customer has of your company.

When your brand goes on trial, the only way to succeed is to deliver the kind of experience that transcends the ordinary and the everyday, and reaffirms the company’s entire brand premise. In the contact center, the front line of so many businesses, revenue is made and lost every day not on price or performance, but by the quality of the customer experience.

Connections. Not collisions.

The organization and its management are on the line every time the customer joins a call. Customer experience expert Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith + co warns against looking at customer interactions as compartmentalized moments in time. “Experience is every firm’s value proposition because no company can avoid delivering a total experience. A customer cannot not have one,” he says. “The million dollar question is: ‘Was the experience the one you intended?’”

Like it or not, consciously or not, customers evaluate their business relationships every time they touch your company. Learning to manage the experience every time the phone rings or the inbox chimes is an essential skill to maintain and build business with customers who are empowered to be brand-agnostic and effortless switchers. Above all else, the function of the contact center is to positively construct connections and to not negatively cause collisions between the customer and the provider.

Four components of the successful customer experience and positive connection

Customer experiences are not created in a vacuum. They evolve from industry conventions, customer demands, executive orders, peer exchanges, and expert advice, just to name a few influences. But up until recently, what the brand wants to stand for has not directly influenced the way that service is delivered in the call center. But that is changing fast. Relying on technology or expert advice alone to craft your customer experience is a losing strategy – those tactics are too easily copied. Doing what you have always done in the contact center (or worse, what everybody else appears to be doing) will not differentiate your brand. “Managing the customer experience is a complex undertaking, which requires strategic choices to be made, new competencies to be developed, and management’s will to execute,” Smith says.

Smith cites four criteria that are the base for any solid, sustainable customer experience management effort. A positive, managed customer experience must be consistent, intentional, differentiated, and valuable. Meeting them head-on is critical if the customer experience is truly a top priority.

  1. Consistent: Your customers are not interested in the many complex layers of technology and analysis required to manage each and every call they make. All they are interested in is their own experience, and it is disastrous to that experience if they believe the quality of that call is subject to a roll of the dice. Consistency at the agent level is about more than simply giving everybody access to the same screen pops, call scripts, and escalation protocols, however. It requires being able to identify and anticipate the needs and interests of a customer, and ensuring that the right steps are taken – every time – to satisfy those requirements in a timely, predictable manner, and in a way that is “on-brand.” Inconsistencies and lamentable misses will damper the experience – and returns from that customer. Consistency is a hallmark of organizations as high-tech as Amazon, whose shopping cart interface has become a web standard, and as everyday as McDonalds, where replicable taste and process is the fundamental strength of the business. In the contact center, consistency hinges on the organization’s ability to know everything relevant about the customer, regardless of the contact channel or agent handling the interaction. The integration of flexible, powerful customer information systems that are easy to use by both agents and customers alike can go a long way toward supporting consistency. But just as McDonald’s found, consistency alone is no longer enough.

  2. Intentional: The contact center must be able to clearly articulate and understand the customer experience it is trying to create and preserve in order to carry it out. Furthermore, the procedures and policies of that service organization must be specifically geared toward meeting the needs of the customer and, by extension, gratifying the customer experience. That is the failure of many CRM implementations; management assumes that technology will drive the customer experience, whereas, in fact, the opposite should be true. The customer experience must be designed first and then implemented throughout the organization. Note that this should not be interpreted to mean that the best customer experiences must always be directed from on high. Individual agents or teams may have developed their own, undocumented, but still intentional methods of delivering a superior experience, but these must be developed within the framework of the brand strategy – otherwise well-intentioned anarchy will result. Be on the lookout for customer experiences that outstrip the norm, and consider whether there may be an intentional aspect to them that could be used in the larger contact organization. Calculated intention can be expressed as a way of using channels that serve a clear purpose and deliver clear value to both the customer and the company.

  3. Differentiated: “Simply put, if your customers cannot discriminate between the experiences they achieve with your company and that of a competitor, they won't distinguish.” If they cannot distinguish you from your competitors, you will feel it in the form of a significant, quite possibly unconscious, lack of loyalty. The experience you deliver to your customers must produce a feeling on some level that no other organization can do quite the same thing for its customers as you can. Skeptics may believe that this factor is based entirely on issues of product and pricing, but such an assumption misses the entire impact of the customer experience. Nothing saps the joy of feeling part of a singular, irreplaceable community than a customer experience that is bland and run-of-the-mill. If Harley-Davidson treated its customers like a faceless quick-lube shop treats its clients – as an anonymous assembly line of vehicles and owners – it would not be the brand and customer experience standout it is today. No organization can afford sameness in its customer experience unless it is happy to allow price to become the determining factor.

  4. Valuable: In a sense, this is the validating step after the first three directives have been considered. Once a consistent, intentional, and differentiated strategy is devised, the question must be asked – will implementing this strategy produce value for both the company and the target customer base? For example, First Direct, an online U.K. bank with 1.2 million customers, wins a new customer every six seconds. The bank spoke to their most loyal customers and asked them what they valued most about First Direct. The research identified that being able to engage with a real person was an important driver of satisfaction. As a result, First Direct’s advertising agency created an ad that featured a customer speaking of her experience of calling First Direct and getting through to a real person, any time of the day or night and getting the kind of help that most call centers can only dream of. The ad’s engaging message and apparent empathy struck a chord with target customers. Customers have become its biggest advocates because of the value they receive. And by “value” we are not talking here about relative price, but the whole experience they have of the brand. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that 36% of First Direct’s customers come to them through referral.

Receiving value is the validating test of all brand experience.


This article is an excerpt from the white paper “Customer Experience Happens in the Contact Center, With Insights From Shaun Smith." Go to www.cincom.com/shaunsmith to download the complete white paper or to view a webcast titled "See, Feel, Think, Do - Creating Breakthrough Ideas to Deliver the Perfect Customer Experience," in which Shaun Smith presents a lively discussion on how to build great customer experiences. Randy Saunders is the marketing director for Cincom’s Customer Experience Management products. He can be contacted at rsaunders@cincom.com .

Many more articles in Customer Relationship Management in The CEO Refresher Archives

   


Copyright 2007 by Randy Saunders. All rights reserved.

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