First, Define What a Valuable Experience Is for Your Customers

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About nine years ago, when I was senior vice president of Customer Experience at one of the largest global telecommunications companies in the world, I was called into the CEO’s office. He had a new task for me. Little did I know that task was to change me life! As I sat down, he said, “Colin, I would like you to improve our customer experience, but do this at least cost.” After a brief debate, I walked out of the room and went back to my office to contemplate his request.

To “improve” something implies that you know where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. As I sat there, I asked myself a very simple question: “What is the Customer Experience that we are trying to deliver?” To my astonishment, I didn’t know the answer! I was running more than 3,500 customer service agents around the globe, but I couldn’t answer that simple question. I was embarrassed! My team didn’t know, either. We then went round asking other departments, and no one knew. Everyone had a view, but all the views were different.

It seems I had hit on one of those very simple, but fundamentally important, questions that no one could answer. During our client and conference engagements, I must have asked hundreds and hundreds of people that question. Every time, I would get the same blank faces, with a glimmer of a light bulb that has just turned on, as people realize they don’t know the answer. Try this. Next time you have a team meeting, ask everyone to write down the experience you are trying to deliver and then read it out. I’m sure you will discover all the descriptions are different.

Alignment

Why is this important? Without defining the experience you are trying to deliver, typically, everyone winds up doing what he or she thinks is the right thing. Characteristically, this means that customer service does what it thinks is right, as do sales and the web channel and all other departments. Little surprise, then, that customers “feel” differences in their experience as they interact with your different parts of your organization.

Moreover, what do your customers value? How do you know if you haven’t asked them?

If, as is the case, more than 50 percent of a customer experience is about emotions, what do your customers want to feel? What are the emotions you are trying to evoke? Ask your team. You’ll be surprised at the diverse answers you get.

In my opinion, the first thing you have to define is what we would call a “Customer Experience Statement.” John Ivens and I outlined this in our first book, Building Great Customer Experiences. This needs to be something that is valued by the customer. To discover what this is you need to conduct research. Once established this, then, should drive all actions in the experience, from all of your channels, including the web, contact centers, sales and marketing.

Consider what happened at Yorkshire Water, a U.K. water utility we worked with to define its customer experience (I describe it more fully in my second book, Revolutionize Your Customer Experience (2004, Palgrave Macmillan).


Yorkshire Water’s Customer Experience
In the figure, the first thing that you will note is that the utility decided to depict its customer experience in a hierarchy form. You will see that the bottom two layers are made up of “physical” or “rational” words. The top two layers are emotional words.

Having done this many times with many different organizations, we have now identified a pattern of what we call a “Customer Experience Hierarchy of Needs,” similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The bottom two layers are the baseline business stakes. The only emotional word tends to be “trust.” The top two layers are typically where the organization’s differentiators are. These are the emotional words.

So what are the practical implications of this? Quite simply, this should be fundamental to everything an organization does. For example, when you call Yorkshire Water’s call center, agents would answer the phone by saying, “Good morning, Yorkshire Water, can I have your post code (ZIP code) or reference?” Now ask yourself, when a company answers the phone like this, what is the subliminal message? It is that you are simply a transaction, something to be processed.

Our challenge to the utility was: “Does this make the customer feel valued or cared for, the words in Yorkshire Water’s customer experience statement. Clearly, the answer was no. So Yorkshire Water changed the way the phone was answered.

Another example was the way managers were measuring call center people on “average call handling time,” a productivity metric. I am sure you have felt rushed when on the phone to a call center. It’s most likely because of average call handling time, with agents trying to wind up calls quickly to meet their target. Our challenge again was: “Does this make the customer feel valued and cared for?” Again the answer was no.

So management decided, after some debate, to remove this as a target, despite a concern that the utility would need more people to handle calls. Guess what happened? Call volumes decreased, and customer satisfaction increased. Why? Because when customers are forced off the phone without a satisfactory answer to their question, they call back! Thus, if agents deal with questions properly the first time, customers will be happier. Their issue has been dealt with, and the company saves money as the call volumes are reduced.

To create a valued customer experience, your organization needs to define what it is; it needs to be based on customer research; and it needs to consider emotions. The great news is that once this is defined and implemented, you can save money and, at the same time, provide a customer experience that is valued.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.

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