How to Be a Customer Experience Standout

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This article is an excerpt from the white paper, Customer Experience Happens in the Contact Center, With Insights From Shaun Smith.

It’s no coincidence that a number of the companies delivering an unmatched customer experience are among the newest. Relative newcomers such as Amazon.com and Prudential Banking’s youth-leaning Egg brand in Britain have been able to start from ground zero with modern technology and no institutional legacies. These companies know very clearly who they are and whom they are trying to serve—and clearly communicate that both to the marketplace and to their own employees.

“Building that brand platform means articulating a promise to customers that makes very evident what they can expect from you, and why they should come to you,” says customer experience expert Shaun Smith of Shaun Smith + co (www.shaunsmithco.com.) But building a customer experience around safe objectives or simply doing business the way it has always been done is unlikely to score points and create lasting value.

Aggressive goals and unique offerings will differentiate you and create memorable experiences. Amazon nearly went bust trying to source 1 million titles—but the people who began Amazon wanted it to be the place where you could get any book. It was a proposition that could be communicated to the marketplace, and it became a successful one.

In the contact center, that means doing more than simply meeting last year’s service levels or attaining an industry average. It means creating a distinctive experience the customer cannot duplicate anywhere else. “If your processes adopt a cookie-cutter approach and people are forced to adhere to a system, it takes away any of the personality and personalization there could be,” Smith says. That is where so many companies shortchange the customer experience by tying it to conventional wisdom “best practices,” which place too much emphasis on sameness and assumes customers want to be treated the same no matter where they may take their business. In fact, Smith believes that, “in the absence of a clearly articulated strategy, copying other companies’ best practices is bad practice.”

Rather than focusing energy on devising rigid processes and procedures, Smith advocates spending the lion’s share of research time on determining whom your best customers are and identifying ways to create a captivating experience for them. “That’s not what most companies do. Most organizations have a very loose understanding of their customers and what they’re after but they have very tight control over the processes,” he says. “The very best brands—the ones who have the most enthusiastic customers—are very tight about who their customers are, what they value and, most importantly, what the brand promises. They can, then, afford to be looser about procedures, giving employees more freedom to deliver that promise in the best way for that particular customer.

“If you make it so cookie-cutter that you reduce it to a mechanistic experience for customer and employee both, it leads to turnover; you create the problem you were trying to avoid.”

Most organizations have a very loose understanding of their customers and what they’re after.

Customers take notice when they receive an experience that is clearly not delivered by the book. Smith cites a service interaction between smoothie-maker Innocent Drinks and a customer whose discarded bottle fermented in a trash can and exploded all over his office cubicle. Any responsible company could have simply sent him a free coupon. A curmudgeonly company could have simply cited that its drinks are meant to be kept cold and that fermentation is an obvious side effect. Innocent not only responded with a case of free drinks but also sent the customer a personalized message chastising his “very badly behaved smoothie for re-decorating his office,” putting a smile on a regrettable situation and creating a memorable customer experience.

This raises another important issue, and that is tone of voice. The best brands have a tone of voice that they use to communicate to customers in a way that is also differentiated. Google has one; so do Apple, The Geek Squad and Southwest—and they are all different. Unless the call center reflects that tone of voice, you might just as well outsource it and trust the experience to luck.

Performance metrics can be used to determine which agents are best delivering your brand message. Coordinated desktop applications also make it possible for agents to take the best possible action to resolve each customer encounter, in a way that can be tracked and executed on by the rest of the organization. Put simply, there’s no point in having aggressive agents willing to do anything to get the job done if they cannot clearly record the results of a call or ensure that it is acted upon through immediate communication with all responsible parties throughout the entire organization.

Note that creating a sublime customer experience expressly does not mean that you must execute on each and every dimension at a higher service or satisfaction rating than your competitors. “If Southwest Airlines were to do a customer service survey, they might find that to improve Southwest, they should offer food and advance seating and transfer baggage. But if they did all of that, they would go out of business or, at the very least, cease to create a great customer experience for their most profitable customers!” Smith says. “For Southwest customers, what’s of value to them are the speed, frequency and low cost of service.”

It is a powerful reminder that satisfaction ratings and customer experience are not necessarily directly correlated. A superior experience need not score a perfect 10 in all avenues of performance if those attributes are of lower importance to the target customers. But you had better be scoring 10 on those that are. The proper technology helps to identify and consistently measure the key customer-centric metrics.

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