We recently spoke with twelve leading customer-focused companies from around the world to uncover their strategies and best practices for creating a successful customer experience. Our questions were directed to organizational leaders from a broad range of industries including financial services, healthcare, government, manufacturing, consumer products and services as well as business-to-business industries from the US, Europe and Asia. Our conversations uncovered eight key lessons.
1. Customer experience is what happens anytime organizations interact with the customer through any channel
Successful companies understand that customer experience goes beyond the interaction with customers at any single channel. They described to us how they are working to ensure their customers are provided an optimal and consistent experience at a wide range of channels such as their websites, phone centers and different sales channels. For example, one company told us of their efforts in providing the same experience over the web as customers receive in local retail branches.
They also understand that customer experience goes beyond channels managed directly by the company and extends to external touch-points such as third party agents, resellers or distributors. An insurance company discussed their efforts in maintaining their brand promise to customers through independent agents.
“It’s really about all the touch points you have as an employee inside the company or outside the company where we focus on the customer experience part- they are all our internal and external touch points.”
“We’re working to coordinate the experience at different touch points. There are so many places we touch the customer, but we’ve come a long way in making sure the customer has a consistent interaction online, in a local office or when they meet a technician.”
2. Customer focus is a priority in an organization’s core values
Today, leading customer-centered organizations are moving beyond the service function to making customer experience a core component of their overall corporate mission. For those we spoke with, the concept of customer-focus is communicated from leadership and throughout the organization so that it is becoming ingrained in the culture- almost a raison d’être for many. Indeed, customer experience is now an organizational concept.
“It’s not just a matter of customer service as it used to be in years past… Customer experience is more about the quality of interactions and the outside-in view from the customer of what facilitates a great customer experience.”
“One of our values is stated as ‘we are committed to understand our customers’ needs and proactively deliver products and services to meet those needs.”
“We have four corporate values and the first one is called ‘our customers,’ and under that we explain that it means: I ask, I am accessible, I listen, I am responsive and I am accountable.”
3. Organizational alignment is critical for meeting customer needs at every touch point
We heard often about the challenges of transcending departmental silos and understanding the customer experience across functions. Not only must each functional area understand how to deliver value to the customer within their own area, but they must understand how other parts of the organization touch the customer. That customer data and feedback needs to be shared across the organization. This ‘alignment’ ensures that everyone makes customer focus their job and they work together to ensure an optimal experience.
“Everyone knows where they fit in and how, why and what’s needed upstream and downstream from them and how what they do affects what happens later.”
“The whole company is a service-providing company whether in selling, maintaining or upgrading; it’s all about service so it’s important within each department.”
“More and more in the service experience, it’s that cross functional knowledge that’s so important to create that seamless experience.”
4. Customer service standards fail when the right person doesn’t have the right information at the right time
Products break, services come up short and errors are made. In short, plenty of things can go awry that end up upsetting customers. Beyond things out of their control, we asked service leaders to tell us what goes wrong when they are not able to meet the customer’s need- that is, why service fails.
With few exceptions, things go wrong when the right person doesn’t have the right information at the right time. Delaying resolutions to locate information or waiting for authorization, or having the wrong information make it difficult to correct problems quickly. Sharing information across functional areas and aligning the organization are critical requirements to reducing and eliminating service failure.
“Unusual product questions will come up and sometimes your CSR people just kind of get caught in a trap and may provide some incorrect information or not totally understand the question.”
“When we haven’t met that need, it’s because we have not been able as an organization to work together to get information back to our customer the information they needed.”
5. Different segments of customers have different needs and expectations
Not all customers have the same needs, nor do they have the same experiences with organizations. Different segments of customers have different expectations and unique paths through various touch points. For example, some customers prefer to go online, while others prefer conducting their business face to face or over the telephone.
Customer-focused organizations know it’s dangerous to treat all customers the same. While catering to every individual’s unique needs is not feasible, those we interviewed were clear about the importance of avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, using customer data these companies segment their customers based on distinct needs, preferences, expectations and their value to the organization.
“We know each customer looks at us from a unique perspective, they have different needs and experiences, so what’s important to them is unique to them.”
“You can’t just assume every customer wants the same thing – we don’t treat them the same – if you took that approach you’d have lots of unhappy customers.”
6. Customer-centered organizations measure more than just satisfaction, they measure the experience
Annual customer satisfaction surveys are not sufficient to identify customer loyalty and measure experiences and expectations throughout the organization. Companies must gather feedback on experiences relevant to all touch points. Rather than relying only on survey data, companies now collect data through various day-to-day interactions such as web chats, buying behaviors, and in-person feedback.
Many we talked to are now collecting data on the customer experience that go beyond measuring the nuts and bolts of customer interactions to gathering insights on such things as how confident customers fell that their needs will be met. There is also feedback on the emotional experience of customers, how they feel about the brand, and observational feedback on decision-making and identifying potential unmet needs.
“The old customer satisfaction is actually too much of a macro measurement. We really need to get down to what is it that customers really want.”
“We also look at things like return rates, customer escalations, any source of feedback that would tell us somewhere along the continuum about the customer experience.”
“We’ve got these touch points feedback programs in place where the customer is able to give us a lot of insight on how they perceived their experience.”
7. Incentive, reward and training systems reinforce that everyone is customer-focused
Performance expectations and standards for service delivery are integral to overall employee performance evaluations for these companies. Not only are there incentives and rewards based on customer feedback data, but employees are evaluated through observations and other less tangible criteria.
Rewards and incentives must be combined with training to ensure that employees understand what behaviors are expected and that they are committed to being customer-focused. Only when employees are engaged and buy-in to the value of customer centricity can organizations improve the experience they deliver to their customers.
“Our new staff training called ‘customer college’ brings them into the culture and the expectations that we have in delivering service to our clients. This philosophy has gone beyond our call centers to [other functional areas].”
“It’s not just a value that’s up on the wall, it’s not just a class that gets taught, but it’s part of our annual performance review system as well.”
8. Leadership support and commitment drive continuous improvement
Creating a customer focused organization begins and ends with leadership. From establishing the mission to aligning the organization to improving on the delivery of value to customers through each interaction requires the support and attention of leaders.
Leaders keep the message alive, propose new directions and facilitate innovation of the customer experience. In this way there is not only executive support, but executive commitment. The companies we interviewed are pursuing strategies of increasing investments in training, coaching, rewards and other enablers to create a culture of ongoing improvement of the customer experience.
“Our CEO always talks about the need to go to the next higher gear on customer experience. We’re relentlessly pursuing it and taking it higher and higher.”
These interviews indicate a shift is taking place from the traditional single-channel, department-specific view of customer interactions to a holistic view of customer experience. Many organizations are starting to recognize the importance of customer experience as a competitive advantage. But successfully implementing a customer experience practice requires organizational-wide efforts of alignment, communication, and employee engagement. And only when customer experience thinking permeates the organization in a framework covering all channels and touch-points can companies start delivering truly unique and differentiating customer experiences.
These interviews were conducted for and on behalf of AchieveGlobal which holds copyright to all quotes from these interviews. Analysis and comments are owned by Customer input Ltd.
Mark Marone is a Partner and Consultant of Customer input Limited based in Tampa, Florida. He has over 15 years of experience in research and consulting with a focus on customer service and sales process improvement.