Customer Service Woes

Customer service is one of the biggest paradox of our times.

The more we move towards self-service, chatbots, the more we have to interact with humans. The more we interact with humans, the more it feels we are talking to machines.

It is a vicious circle all of us want to avoid.

Lately, I have been talking to a lot of customer service reps from different industries – retail, banking, visa processing services, e-commerce, over different channels – phone, email, chat.

I know it appears that I am on some sort of mission here, but it was just my (bad) luck!

There was one common thread across all these interactions, lack of human intelligence or empathy.

At one instance, I almost told the person at the other end to please behave like a human, because it seemed she wasn’t reading any of the messages I sent in the chat window.

In another instance, the rep of my telecom service provider was trying to up-sell when I made the call for the cancellation of connection.

To top it all, when I got a follow-up call to check why I gave a bad rating for my interaction, the person at the other was only interested to improve the rating of that particular call, rather than addressing the actual issue!

Customer Experience and Customer Service
Every interaction with customer care

The only saving grace for me was the fact that someone is monitoring these ratings, whether it results in customer satisfaction or not that is a separate discussion.

Where did it go wrong?

How did customer care turn into customer unaware department?

Who trains these humans to mindlessly repeat sentences like “Surely, I will assist you”, even though they have no idea what is going on?

What happens to all those calls that are ‘recorded for quality and training’ purpose?

Standard operating procedures are required, protocols are necessary but why don’t they help the customer?

The bigger the brand the more frustrating is their customer’s experience, why?

What is so difficult about delivering these experiences that disgruntled customers are almost equal if not more than satisfied customers?

Is it the technology? Is it the process? Is it training? Is it the organization structure?

The customer experience is not only fragmented, but it is average at best.

Who in the organization is responsible to report on customer satisfaction? By customer satisfaction, I don’t mean the NPS or average of any kind of score, I mean ACTUAL satisfaction.

How many times a customer contacts us?

How many times they have to contact us to solve one issue?

If this information is easily accessible on the website, why are they calling us?

Is it wise for the agent to say please look for this information on our website when the customer has been waiting for ten minutes to speak?

Is someone smart enough to deduce that increase in waiting time for the customer is an indication that we need infrastructure upgrade or additional resources?

What is so difficult about the questions above that only a few organizations seem to have answers to them?

Any thoughts?

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An Anatomy of Customer Experience Strategy

If I told you, to survive in this competitive world, you need to focus on your customers and meet all their expectations. Would that surprise you? Isn’t it Management 101?

Since the beginning of time, none of these fundamentals have changed.

It is still as simple as delivering something of value to your customers to become or remain profitable.

The most important aspect still,  is whether your customers perceive it to be of any value?

All the content they read or watched to know you better, all the attention they showered you with, did it make them feel something? Different, exclusive, special, intelligent?

This, in a nutshell, is Customer Experience.

What is that you want your customer to feel about your brand and offering?

As a concept it is simple to understand and follow. But in reality it is complex.

Typical Customer Experience

My bank sends me seven e-mails in a week, one says “dear a/c no XXXX”, other says “Dear Charu”, another one says “Dear customer”.

Three interactions, three different experiences. Add to this the text promotions, calls with my relationship managers, a visit to the branch.

At all these touch points it doesn’t seem they are talking to me, it seems they are sending messages, which can be ignored, hence I ignore them.

Frankly, I do not expect to be treated like royalty.

I am fine receiving emails with “dear a/c no XXXX” however, I do have a problem when these interactions are shoving products in my face. Personal loans, car loans, two-wheeler loans etc just because I opened an email on their home loan offer.

This is one of the many problems we face as customers. There are organizations who think every interaction is about sales, then there are some who don’t realize when there is an actual sales opportunity. There are some who give us amazing buying experience but their customer support is abysmal.

Customer Experience in Digital World

Often customer experience is used in conjunction with digital. How is a website or app experience? Did your customer easily find what they were looking for?

Customer Experience Strategy

No doubt, customer experience is important in the digital world, but your customer experience strategy should be holistic. It should factor that every microinteraction with the customer will cumulate to their experience.

Another important element to consider is that customer experience is industry agnostic now. I expect similar services from my internet service provider and home appliances company.

In an event of a service request, I want their customer support executive to understand my problems and suggest an appropriate solution. The visit from their representative should be at my convenience, etc.

Customer Experience Strategy and Business Strategy

Sales and Marketing are the face of a business. So, it is obvious to assume that onus lies on these two teams to manage it well. Otherwise, it is often confused with Customer Support function.

But, a Marketing team cannot expedite the process of a refund for a customer? Or the customer support cannot comment on implementation issues.

Therefore, it has to be an integral part of the business strategy to ensure that organizational silos do not hamper the customer experience. If a refund needs to be processed immediately, the finance team should change their process rather than asking the customer to wait.

How To Build Your Customer Experience Strategy?

Many organizations have a different function catering to the customer experience. In SaaS world, they are often called Customer Success Managers.

But, in most cases, their work starts after a prospect has become a customer. So, their influence in the earlier part of the pipeline is non-existent or minimal.

Since business pipeline or funnel is one of the most important metric for a business, it can be used to design your customer experience strategy.

Customer experience Strategy - Funnel
Conversion Funnel example from ClickMinded

However, there are few important factors to note:

  • Often Sales and Marketing teams have different data in their respective funnels. It makes sense because both teams have different goals.

But, for designing the customer experience strategy it is beneficial to refer to one funnel.

  • Retention is often not considered as part of the funnel. Somehow it is assumed that once a customer has converted, we need not engage anymore.

However, the times of today demand retention be an integral part of the funnel and the strategy.

  • Lead are nurtured to move them from one stage to another. An exceptional customer experience would mean that teams collaborate on this aspect.

If Sales is leading the conversation, then Marketing should provide relevant material or events to enhance the experience.

Constituents of Customer Experience Strategy

There are three main constituents of the customer experience strategy:

  1. Business Goal – What are you trying to achieve for your business? Are you trying to increase revenue or expanding into new markets?

  2. Customer Persona – Before you can improve the customer experience, you need to know who your customer is and what are their preferences.

    The number of customer personas vary on the size of your organization. A DIY home decor blog may be targeted at people interested in crafts or an on-budget homemaker.

  3. Customer Experience Map –  is the simplest way to visualize your customer experience strategy.

    Customer Experience Strategy - Customer experience map

    For each stage of the funnel, identify the interactions you will have with your customer to move them to next stage or for retention.

    Define the value you want to deliver to a customer at each of these interactions and what would be the best channel/medium to do so.

    Define the milestones for their journey. There might be more than one way to reach to the destination, you need to ensure that your customer takes the path you design for them.

Like all strategy exercises, this is an iterative process. Unlike all strategy exercises, it will be more dynamic in nature because a lot is dependent on the customer’s reaction and acceptance. There have been times when customers don’t appreciate change.

The simplest way to get it right is by asking the customers themselves.

Have thoughts on Customer Experience Strategy? Share them in comments.

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