When a customer decides to buy something, they’re looking for a combination of three things: a quality product or service, a fair price, and a great customer experience (CX). They also have certain expectations about the company they decide to buy from. To begin with, they’re expecting to be served by somebody who genuinely values and cares about them as a customer, whether in person, or over the telephone, email, or online chat. If they have a query or a complaint, they’re expecting that the person handling their query will not only understand what they want or what their problem is but that they will be able to take appropriate—and immediate—action, leading to a prompt resolution of their issue.
Companies that provide an amazing customer experience are inadvertently setting the CX benchmark for other companies, whether these companies are their direct competitors or not. Customers are looking at one incredible experience and expecting the same from every other company with which they interact. Sadly, the gap between expectation and reality is often more of a gaping cavern, with frustrated customers deciding to take their business elsewhere. After experiencing poor service, the damage is done, and the customer will walk away and slam the door without ever looking back. There are plenty of other companies out there competing for their attention, and it won’t be long before the customer encounters a company that is willing to meet (and ideally, exceed) their expectations.
According to a 2019 Gladly study on customer expectations, 84% of respondents surveyed stated that they would switch to a competitor that offers better service after three poor customer experiences, and 17% after only one. 52% of respondents stated that they would jump ship without giving the company a chance to make amends.In other words, brand loyalty fades quickly after poor service—three strikes, and you’re out (if you’re lucky), but few customers possess that level of patience.
Anyone who has called into a company to enquire or complain about a product or service is familiar with the frustration of working through complicated telephone messaging systems before eventually connecting with an agent. The subsequent grinding of teeth on your part is only exacerbated by having to repeat the same information to several call centre agents before a question is answered or a problem resolved. We’ve all been there. You call into a company, politely explain your dilemma to the operator, only to be told that your call needs to be redirected. It’s not difficult to appreciate that your first point of contact is going to be the oracle of all things customer-related, so you hum along to the on-hold music while your call is transferred. The call is connected, and you find yourself explaining your story from the beginning, only to find out that it’s another department that should be handling your query. After four different call transfers where you now know the words to “Baby I'm a Want You” off by heart, you finally reach the individual who is going to put you out of your misery. Of course, by now you’ve repeated the same story so many times that your saliva glands have dried up, your voice is raspier than that of Joe Cocker, and you’re ready to rip the phone from the wall.
How many companies take the time to implement the necessary procedures that would find the customer moving seamlessly from one agent to another, each one understanding the previous interaction, while simultaneously bringing the customer one step closer to an amicable resolution? As a business leader, how does your company currently measure up? According to the same Gladly study, only 24% of the respondents surveyed have had the good fortune of experiencing anything close to this. In the Northridge Group’s “State of Customer Service Experience 2019” report, only 53% of the 1000 respondents surveyed reported their problem was resolved at first contact.By moving the customer from pillar to post, and still failing to resolve their query, companies can rest assured that their customer is now somebody else’s. In this day and age, no company can afford to allow this to happen, and yet, how many companies are taking the time to empower their employees to offer outstanding customer service?
Customers want to work with companies that are able to resolve their problems quickly and professionally. They want a person with more than one brain cell to be at the other end of the line. Today’s customers expect to be able to engage with companies through a multitude of communication platforms. According to the Northridge report, while the telephone is still the preferred method of communication in the business-to-consumer (B2C) environment—with email being the preferred method of communication in the B2B environment—many B2C customers are starting to move away from email communication towards other digital modes of communication such as online chat. Although customers are prepared to wait a bit longer for a response to their emails, they are expecting their enquiries to be answered within hours, not days or weeks. Companies that take longer than twelve hours to respond to an email are likely to find their customer shopping around elsewhere. When it comes to live chat and text, the customer’s expectations are even higher—anything longer than a few minutes, and the customer has lost interest. Few companies currently offer online chat facilities—where over sixty percent of respondents reported having their query resolved in under an hour—even though more and more customers would like to have this offered as a means of communication.
Many companies that are experimenting with artificial intelligence (AI) have introduced chatbots to interact with customers for online support queries, but, as many of us who have used these chatbots will have experienced, they are not always effective, and can sometimes be downright frustrating. Over time, with support agents working hand-in-hand with chatbot technology so that the machine begins to learn all possible questions and solutions, AI will be able to understand language better, and therefore produce better results. We can expect to see enormous improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of chatbot communication and problem resolution in the not-too-distant future. AI-based customer support will improve as AI supports the support agents, rather than the customers.
No business will exist without a paying customer, and companies must realise that the consumer of a decade ago is completely different to the consumer of today—especially when it comes to the younger Gen Z consumer who is beginning to enter the marketplace. Today’s younger consumers are moving away from consumerism, valuing experiences over stuff and attaching less value to owning things outright. They care less about the product and more about the experience that surrounds that product. The Gen Z consumer is quite happy to pay a monthly subscription fee to listen to their favourite tracks on Spotify instead of owning cupboards full of CDs. Similarly, when one considers the runaway success of streaming services like Netflix, many consumers would far rather pay a small monthly fee to watch the movies and series they love without being encumbered by the physical DVDs that will, most likely, end up in a landfill site. Personalised recommendations, family sharing, and bonus content are becoming far more prized than the limitations imposed by physical “stuff”.
The companies providing these digital services are taking the customer experience one step further by using AI to understand how to serve a customer in a particular moment. You might be on your way home from work listening to your favourite tracks on Spotify, only to find that the app is throwing out a customised playlist for that particular moment. The app may suggest a new song by an artist you like, or a track by an artist you’ve never listened to before. Netflix is doing the same by analysing the kind of films and documentaries you tend to watch during the week versus over the weekend and customising suggestions based on this information. Royal Caribbean, the Cruise Ship company, are using technology to enable their waiters to tailor suggestions to customers based on their allergies, their dietary preferences, their likes and dislikes. Discovery, a global health insurance company, are helping their members to live healthier lives by offering them, for example, discounted gym memberships, financial rewards for healthy eating and frequent exercise, and even a free Apple watch to track their health. This level of personalisation is incredibly attractive to any consumer who is tired of feeling like a number and would like nothing more than to be treated as an individual with unique likes, dislikes, and needs.
Although today’s consumer wants less “stuff”, they are actively seeking out a more tangible customer experience. While we live in a fast-based digital world where anything from a pen to a property can be purchased online without ever having interacted with it, people are craving real, tangible experience. Consider the return of the vinyl disc. People want to see it spinning and hear it crackling. There are hotels, casinos, and stores that pay good money to have custom-designed scents wafting through the air for customers to breathe in when they enter. Consumers don’t only want to download their music, they also want to attend live events where their favourite musicians are performing. Certain brands, like Nike, have flagship stores where people can physically interact with their products and services. They have developed an app that can not only track how far you run, how fast, and how regularly, but it also uses augmented reality to allow to you “try on” trainers after you’ve run a certain number of miles in your current set. Their app goes as far as measuring your foot, so that you have the perfect fit when your order arrives. Rolex is also successfully augmenting the customer experience using virtual reality. Their app gives the customer the opportunity to try out different models by bringing their wrist into the viewfinder of their tablet, with the watch superimposed upon it.
The more personalised a customer’s experience is, the more likely that customer is going to remain a customer. Companies that invest in improving this area of their business are going to reap the long-term rewards. When it comes to customer interactions, it’s people versus people. For this reason, the first thing that businesses need to start doing is training their customer-facing people to provide an outstanding customer experience. Once this training has been provided, customer interactions need to be consistently monitored to identify potential problems. The use of mystery shoppers to monitor customer service agents is critical, as is rewarding those agents who are performing. Businesses need to get with the times and start implementing technologies to enhance the customer experience. AI, machine learning, and feedback created through big data are invaluable tools in providing insights that can further improve the customer experience. Understanding where a customer enters the pipeline and where they leave, and why, can help companies prevent attrition before it begins.
Great brands with die-hard fans (aka customers) have done some serious work not only on the outside but the inside too. It’s easy to hook up the flashing lights and shiny veneers, but it means nothing if you don’t have a team of people pulling it all together behind the scenes. Just as no business will exist without its customers, a company without passionate, driven, knowledgeable employees to serve those customers pales in comparison to companies that have taken the time to build an inclusive culture, with everybody beating to the same drum. Investing in building a strong, diverse, and inclusive company culture—as tricky as it can be at times—brings with it massive rewards. Training leaders to asking the difficult questions and have those uncomfortable conversations, bringing the topics that nobody wants to discuss out into the open, goes a long way in terms of empowering employees to become the best versions of themselves without the fear of being side-lined or discriminated against because they are “different”.
The workplace of the future is vastly different from the more conventional—and traditional—workplace of today. The way that work is organised and the types of jobs that will become available to people will change dramatically. Technologies themselves will give rise to new occupations. Think of Google. Twenty years ago, you would have been looked at strangely if you told people that you were pursuing a career in search engine optimisation. With artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies taking over routine tasks (office support, production, customer service, food service, retail sales, construction, to name but a few), jobs are literally being replaced by machines. While this might be terrifying to some, the older segments of the workforce in particular, it is not all doom and gloom. For skilled and educated workers in particular, replacing repetitive tasks with robots allows the people performing those tasks to move into new, more creative roles requiring higher cognitive skills, using technology to enhance the work they’re already doing. As mobile apps and websites become more intuitive, live help will be reserved for more complex issues. Just as millions of jobs are being phased out, so millions of new jobs are being phased in. Jobs won’t simply disappear overnight, instead, they will shrink through attrition and reduced hiring. Individuals who are willing to take their head out of the sand and subscribe to a culture of lifelong learning will have no problem remaining relevant well into the future.
While not all customers share their good experiences with others, many will vent about their bad experience with anybody who will listen. Bad publicity will turn the blood of any company cold in an instant, because, as any company who has been bad-mouthed in the media knows, negative news spreads like wildfire. Companies with a customer-centric mindset that focus on providing an outstanding customer experience have a serious competitive advantage over hubris-filled competitors that are treating the customer as an afterthought. Companies that use technology, big data, and AI to extract insights about their customers and offer a personalised service will find themselves leaping ahead of their snoozing competitors. A customer who feels acknowledged and understood is far more likely to form an emotional bond with a brand than a customer who is treated indifferently, or (heaven forbid) rudely. Companies who train their employees to foster authentic connections with their customers will be streets ahead of other businesses who treat their customers as an inconvenience. Empowered customer service agents are far more effective at problem and conflict resolution than companies who prefer their customers to travel through a convoluted bureaucracy to reach a decision-maker. Businesses who offer their customers convenient points of contact and real-time communication will find more customers moving through their sales pipeline than companies who choose to stick to the more traditional platforms of communication. Companies who take the time to really understanding their customers, beyond who they are and where they live, will find themselves thriving into the future. Activelyadding value in customer service—rather than providing passive service—will go a long way in building exceptional brand loyalty among a company’s customers.