This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my colleague Joanna Jones writes about what customer service agents must know and do to provide our customers with consistently outstanding experiences. – Shep Hyken
If you were to query customer service team managers about their ongoing challenges, you would likely hear answers ranging from how to better enhance customer experiences to engaging employees to the frustration of social media. Managers are fully aware that customer service relations are continuously in a state of flux, but as you drill down a common theme emerges: The customer experience. What exactly do we mean when we talk about the customer experience and its importance? Here at Impact Learning, when we consider the meaning of customer experience, we think in terms of customers amplifying a product or company in a positive light on social media, customer loyalty, and increased revenue for your organization as a result of higher sales. By understanding how the customer experience and your customer service (CR) teams intersect, we’ll examine three ways you can empower your CR teams with the appropriate skills so your customers feel motivated to become brand advocates on your behalf.
Looking back to the early days of customer care, when call centers and live-chat became more common place, what was considered quality service came off as rote and scripted, leaving the customer to wonder if she was interacting with a machine or a person. Customer Service industry practices have evolved, fortunately, and there is ample evidence that backs up the importance of agent autonomy and individualized care. For some managers, the idea of allowing agents more autonomy makes them break out in a cold sweat, but with the proper structure, more autonomy has proven to be a success for many businesses such as Telus International and Dell Computers. If businesses set and maintain the appropriate expectations for brand standards and service, it allows agents to have some flexibility in personalizing their interactions with customers. Micah Solomon, an author on customer service, suggests that companies define their standards in a summary statement format explaining the why of what you’re offering; the emotional response you hope to illicit from the customer; and finally, the expectations on accomplishing the service. Defining any unclear terminology is also important when establishing the foundation of your customer service expectations. It isn’t enough to say your company is “fast and friendly” because it doesn’t really provide meaning in terms of customer care. Being clear and providing definitions with general phrases are important and help guide CR agents when interacting with customers.
TELUS International has successfully trained for and allowed for agent autonomy within its company culture. It co-created and implemented a program called “Moment of Truth” which empowers its agents to solve problems in a personalized way with customers and record their decision-making process with documentation. The “Moment of Truth” program was successful in part because it had buy-in from every agent and leadership team member. This collective ownership and the responsibility entrusted with the agents are what allowed TELUS to give its agents with the autonomy to work with customers and personalize their care. Because the agents were clear about what the company objectives were they felt empowered to share their insight and perspective with customers and seek a mutually beneficial outcome for both parties. Customers are more inclined to return to your business or product when they are tended to in a personalized way. It creates a win-win for your employees and customers alike!
The Arc of the Customer Experience
An article published last year by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlighted an intriguing phenomenon that examined customer experience metrics and the overall satisfaction a customer felt toward a product or business. The authors discovered that businesses often look at their customer satisfaction metrics in isolation and don’t consider them in the aggregate. When measured in isolation, customers seemed satisfied at various touch points, but when considered more holistically, there was a decrease in customer satisfaction. This illustrated that many businesses tend to silo their operations and feedback. While each department may be doing a satisfactory job, the overall customer satisfaction declines if the entire customer experience isn’t coordinated across departments and platforms. The good news is that the authors noticed that when companies holistically managed the entire customer experience, the rewards included increased customer satisfaction, greater employee satisfaction, and increased revenue.
To ensure your customers have a positive experience with your brand and think of you first, look at your operation from an aerial view and ensure there is seamless integration across platforms and departments. Looking at your operations from the customer’s perspective and thinking about their journey from beginning to end will illuminate those areas or departments that need improvement.
Customer loyalty doesn’t happen after just one positive experience. Excellent customer care requires consistent and relentless delivery. When customers experience inconsistent care between departments, they are less likely to regard your company in a favorable light. A level of trust needs to develop before a customer feels loyalty to a company or brand. When personalized customer service is consistently provided, the customer will slowly internalize the positive interactions and feel loyal toward your brand. An easy analogy to emphasize this pattern is eating out at a restaurant. The first time you eat at a restaurant, and have a pleasant experience, you may not register that this was anything special. If you go back multiple times and have a repeat of your first experience, you’ll begin to recognize the pattern of this restaurant providing an enjoyable experience. Most likely you are now feeling some ownership and identifying with this establishment. Even if the occasional mistake occurs, you’re willing to continue frequenting this place, so long as the mishaps are infrequent. You’ll notice that to develop a relationship with a customer takes time and the customer must feel compelled to return to your business, which is where the consistency of service comes into play.
However, consistency on its own isn’t enough. You can be consistent, but unremarkable, which doesn’t provide any incentive for your customer to return. Delivering seamless “meh” service isn’t enough. Building lasting relationships requires authentic connection with your customers. Yes, consistency matters, but customer service teams need to deliver consistently outstanding experiences. When experiences are memorable and mutually beneficial, customers feel trust and loyalty to your brand or product.
Exceptional customer experiences require more than delivering the basics. The expectation is for your agents to be experts, and it isn’t enough to simply meet their expectations, your agents must exceed them. Long-term customer relationships develop when they feel a personal connection and their expectations are consistently met. There are numerous case studies showing that customers will remain loyal and will share their positive views with others when they feel personally connected with your brand or product. You don’t have to wonder if these investments will pay off—they will!
Joanna Jones is a Marketing Manager and professional copywriter. She currently helps manage branding for MHI Global’s brands, which includes content and strategy oversight.
For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to customerserviceblog.com