Popular wisdom holds that companies are putting more and more effort into identifying and addressing the challenges their customers encounter to deliver the best possible buying and use experience. Five years ago, Gartner research indicated 89% of companies expected to compete on the basis of customer experience (or CX), a big jump from the 36% indicated in a survey four years before that. Time has shown successful brands have been able to differentiate themselves from competitors by focusing on delivering an effortless experience, ensuring every touchpoint is consistent and contributes positively to the customer’s overall journey.
Yet as 2018 came to close, Forrester observed that “CX quality was flat.” This was attributed to two factors:
- Across, the board, the impetus for most companies to improve CX quality remained at low levels across the board. This minimal investment of time and risk meant nominal, if any, improvement.
- At the same time, customer expectations have been steadily increasing. They predicted this will likely continue in the current economy, pressuring companies to focus on CX if for no other reason than to not fall further behind the competition.
CX is not an easy nut to crack. While it would seem much of the effort resides in what the customer directly encounters, much of that comes as a result of processes behind the scenes–and if those processes are broken, there’s little chance of delivering a great customer experience, let alone improving it, without addressing them.
Focus on the customer
With as much research that exists and the ongoing discussion on the topic of CX, companies’ first mistake is often a fundamental one: they fail to put the customer first in their business. A focus on the customer is critical, and to truly adopt a customer-centric culture it needs to come from the top.
Executives must recognize the importance of CX and prioritize resources accordingly. In the Forbes article above, former Sprint CEO Dan Hesse stated, “The customer experience became the first subject on our team meeting agendas.” Actions such as this help drive a customer-obsessed culture in two ways: importance is placed on getting it right for customers and departmental silos are removed that might be preventing CX improvements.
Solve problems cooperatively
Aligning the company to focus on customers is a good first step, as is removing silos in the business. The next step is to develop the processes necessary to solve CX impediments properly and permanently.
When customers encounter problems–from tracking their order to getting started using it to breakage or failure–they contact customer service. Customer service exists to hear and respond to issues impacting CX. They provide answers to the known problems and play the role of detective when new problems crop up.
A company might provide truly amazing service, but the reality is customer service is unable to address the underlying reasons problems occur. Billing issues stem from errors in finance. Product quality issues arise from mistakes in manufacturing or engineering. Shipping issues are owned by the warehouse and fulfillment teams. Customer service can respond to the call, email, or chat for these and other problems, but it’s the departments outside customer service that can resolve the root cause.
The solution is that these other departments must take ownership of the issue, identify the cause and potential solutions, and agree with customer service as to the best solution. From there, customer service can notify affected customers of the availability of a solution and get the customer back on track.
A fast, cooperative response with a permanent fix can lessen the CX impact. The bigger win, though, comes as a result of addressing the root cause. This ensures future customers won’t encounter the same problem, resulting in CX improvement.
Deliver service proactively
It’s clear perfect CX is challenging to deliver: there will be bumps in the road, and it’s rare an issue would only affect a single customer. In fact, a problem typically strikes a subset or even all customers. That’s why it’s so critical to quickly identify the root cause and to provide a permanent resolution.
While this approach prevents future customers from encountering the problem, what about existing customers that might be on a collision course with it? The answer is simple: the company must notify customers they are aware of the problem and have a solution (or are working towards one).
CX is negatively impacted when a customer faces a problem with a product or service, and further erodes when they must spend time trying to find a solution themselves or contact customer service. By preemptively notifying customers of an available or pending solution, the situation can be salvaged. Proactively alerting customers also lessens the impact on customer service by reducing the volume of calls, emails, and chats on the issue.
Make the move
It’s easy to understand why Forrester observed CX improvements stalling. Customers will always encounter major and minor problems on their journey. This means improving the customer experience will always be a challenging, ongoing concern for companies. But with a customer-first attitude and processes to permanently solve issues and deliver proactive solutions, moving the CX needle is not only possible, but a lot easier.