Getting Personal: The Importance Of Managing The Customer Experience

Traditionally, how we think about our customers has been focused on Customer Relationship Management (CRM). But CRM strategies are typically built around ‘rational’ aspects such as product, price and process, with minimal or no attention to actual customer needs and desires.

While it’s true that customers will always want better products at cheaper prices, it’s clearly not the full story. At least half of any customer experience is made up from largely subconscious factors such as stimulating the senses or evoking emotions; and these aspects play a tremendously important part in customer behaviour, decision making and loyalty.

In a recent Forester Customer Experience Survey, customer experience was more important than low prices across all 12 categories from banking and insurance to PC manufacturers and service providers.

The goal of Customer Experience Management (CEM) is to create customer loyalty that drives financial value, by moving customers from ‘satisfied’ to ‘advocates’ and by reducing the number of poor experiences that can lead to unsatisfied customers and the break down of brand value.

In fact, the brand of an organisation is purely and simply the sum-total of all customer experiences served-up. The brand is the experience.

So, the first step to improving the customer experience and protecting the brand is to remove negative emotions such as feeling stressed, neglected or frustrated. These can destroy loyalty and bear significant financial costs to the organisation; not just through customer churn, but through the time consuming process of dealing with complaint handling.

More recently, many of these destructive emotions have become synonymous with spam email and outbound voice marketing, inbound call queuing and ‘bouncing’ between departments; and poorly designed interactive voice response (IVR) lines that masquerade as self-service. These technical capabilities, introduced primarily to reduce costs rather than to improve the customer experience, have undermined the very essence of sound customer service.

While organisations clearly need to automate certain aspects of their services programmes to provide the breadth of reach and the required scale of operations, traditional approaches have often left customers cold, frustrated and deserving more.

A customer service experience can be a bit like a tropical holiday. The destination may be everything you dream of, but marred by the experience of a horrible journey. When you phone a contact centre, you expect a fast and effective result; and to have that expectation shattered by a dumb IVR system or call queue can be like being delayed and stuck in the airport or being bumped-down from business-class to economy.

The personal touch

It has become widely recognised that personalisation can significantly influence a customer’s perception of quality and enhance the overall experience. Customers who feel valued and cared-for are more likely to be loyal; and loyal customers are more likely to recommend a product or service to others.

Yet even today, organisations fail to acknowledge the fact that customers want to be treated as individuals. They will not differentiate the way they support customers on a daily basis. The emails they send, the products and services they promote and the way they respond to inbound enquiries are the same for everyone.

Like marketing, customer service should be proactive as well as reactive. Recent evidence has shown that customers highly value personalised status-updates, reminders and other information that they would otherwise have to seek-out for themselves. These value-added communications can be delivered in person or by a personalised email, text message or automated voice call.

Traditionally, IVR has been perceived by customers as a cause of irritation and frustration. But new dynamic IVR capabilities that automatically adapt to specific customer needs and preferences reduce the number of calls met by static push-button menus and generic call-queues. This personalisation enables callers to find the information they need much faster, resulting in shorter calls, fewer transfers to live agents and more satisfied customers.

Customer service is anything but routine and companies that treat it as such will find it difficult to create positive emotions about their brands that stimulate loyalty. They are more likely to create negative responses; and bad news travels faster and wider than good news – particularly with today’s social media networks.

While organisations can’t control what customers say, they can influence their experiences. More vitally, they can recognise that each and every interaction will add to that overall experience; whether the exchange is in person, on the web or by phone.

Delivering real results

Key business metrics such as market share, retention, profitability and customer satisfaction all directly relate to CEM performance. According to Forrester, companies that focus on the customer experience will grow, on average, two and a half times faster than their closest competitors who don’t.

With products and services becoming commoditised, price differentiation no longer sustainable and customers demanding more, forward-thinking companies are focusing on the customer experience as a differentiator and a competitive advantage. With customers shopping harder for value, showing a demonstrable commitment to the customer through more personalised service can reap significant dividends.

As businesses look to work leaner to reduce costs, the customer experience must not be compromised through the use of impersonal marketing and customer service automation tools. It’s bad business, and there’s simply no excuse.

Instead, businesses should look at the opportunity to harness their existing CRM data and acquire new data that can be used to micro-target their prospects and existing customers. By personalising the customer experience of automated inbound and outbound contact channels, costs can be kept low; but equally, customer loyalty can be improved. A real case of doing more for less.

Most of all, organisations should harness their data and communications technology in a much smarter way to bring back the values and standards of good old fashioned customer service.

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Marlon Bowser founded HTK in 1996, with responsibility for technical direction and core applications development. In 2003 Marlon adopted the role of CEO to lead the company into position as a leading managed service provider. Before HTK, Marlon worked for five years as a consultant engineer to BT Laboratories Advanced Research and Technology division, designing and developing some of the first systems to exploit speech technology in a digital telephony environment. Marlon graduated in 1991 from the highly regarded University of Manchester Institute for Science and Technology (UMIST) with a first class honours degree in Computation.