How to handle irrational customers, plus three other tips for improving CX


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In case anybody still needs a reason to justify why they care about customer experience (CX), there is plenty of research demonstrating hard business benefits, including increased revenue and profit. A study by PWC, for example, found that 73 percent of consumers rate CX as an important factor in deciding which companies they would spend their money with and one in three said they would walk away from a brand they ‘love’ after just one bad experience.

CX has gone mainstream, with companies paying much closer attention to how the sum total of their interactions with customers across multiple touchpoints can affect perceptions, both good and bad. It’s now well understood that the quality of the experience throughout the total customer journey has become an important differentiator in an increasingly homogenized world, with 90 per cent of companies saying they compete based on the CX they offer.

However, despite a growing understanding of the factors that affect customer experience, several important aspects of human behavior are often overlooked. Here are four tips for incorporating them into a successful CX strategy:

1) Don’t expect customers to behave rationally
There is plenty of research highlighting the importance of emotion and the subconscious on decision making. However, there’s a common tendency to focus just on the rational aspects of the customer experience, perhaps because they’re more tangible and easier to work with.

Some experts even believe purchasing decisions are becoming less rational. These days our brains are exposed to so much information about products and services – both online and offline – that we simply can’t process it fast enough; we let emotions and unconscious factors take over because it is the path of least resistance.

We’ve all experienced how emotion is used in the offline world to sell to us – for example supermarkets use smells (such as freshly baked bread) and music to encourage us to buy more; however, there’s also a huge amount of research into what you can do to influence customer behavior online. Specific colors and words have different effects on perception, and even the way products are positioned in online images can trigger different emotions; a slice of cake becomes more desirable if the fork beside it is positioned towards the viewer’s dominant hand, for example.

Interactivity is very powerful too. If you let customers interact with a product online by allowing them to choose specific features, shapes or colors you generate feelings of ownership. And showing products in an interactive way rather than sticking to static visuals helps drive more vivid mental images. Both result in greater engagement.

Humor – used sensitively and in the right context – can also have a positive impact. Customers may be more likely to accept that there’s been a mistake if you deliver apologies for errors in a humorous and self-deprecating way, for example.

One important learning point about the ‘reptilian’ brain, the most primitive part of the human brain, is that we remember mostly what happens first and last in a sequence of events, meaning that both the beginning and end of a customer interaction can leave a lasting impression on the customer. The frustration of an excessive wait on the line before speaking to a contact center operative will linger long in the memory. Equally, allowing time for contact center agents to check that a customer is completely satisfied before ending a call can have a disproportionately beneficial influence on CX.

2) Recognize the power shift between brands and consumers
Thanks to the internet, social media and online reviews, consumers now have access to much more third party advice and guidance to help them make informed purchasing decisions. As a result, the balance of power has very clearly shifted away from companies and towards their customers. Now, people’s buying choices are increasingly driven by what their peers or trusted influencers say, rather than traditional marketing communication from brands. For example, in one study 77 percent of consumers said that they are more influenced by authentic images from other customers than professionally shot promotional images from brands. So it’s important for companies to provide genuine input from other customers to help them make their own choices at critical points throughout the customer journey.

When it comes to influencer marketing, there’s a growing realization that consumers actually place more trust in micro-influencers than many celebrities with millions of social media followers. Micro-influencers are people with fewer followers, who are more relatable and ‘real’, usually with a deeper connection to their networks.

How can you proactively cultivate micro-influencers and customer advocates? You could start by identifying customers who are already speaking positively on your behalf on social media or online forums, and find ways to engage with them to make a deeper connection, such as inviting them to participate in trials for new products and services, for example.

Enter into a productive dialog with influencers by responding with positive comments and sharing the content they’re creating about your brand – as well as featuring it on your own online channels. Also think about how you can recognize their contribution and make them feel valued by rewarding them with exclusive offers or VIP events.

Be cautious, however, as there are increasing reports of unethical practices by some influencers. Examples include would-be ‘influencers’ trying to dupe brands by using bots to create fake engagement with their social media posts, as well as others who fail to declare that favorable posts are sponsored by the company whose product they are promoting.

3) Understand that consumers value personalization (and don’t think it’s creepy)
Consumers are now much more aware of how their data is used to target them with products and services. They recognize the value of personalization if it’s done in the right way; rather than thinking it creepy or intrusive. They know that stricter privacy regulations give them greater control over the personal information that brands can store and use, and are happy as long as the data is used intelligently for personalization that delivers real value.

For example, over 40 percent of consumers questioned by PWC said they were comfortable with retailers monitoring their shopping patterns, and they expect retailers to have up-to-date information on how they interact across all channels, including in store, online and on social media.

In fact, many experts believe that with so much marketing being targeted at consumers today, people are reassured by – and even crave – personalized communication. It gives customers a sense of control and helps them identify what’s important when sifting through the enormous amount of information they are exposed to.

Personalization can cover everything from re-targeted advertising to delivering individualized web content and inserting tailored marketing messages in bills and statements. However, it’s worth also looking beyond the potential of personalized offers to drive short-term sales and considering how to deepen customer loyalty by sharing valuable information such as personalized advice. A utility company, for example, could generate personalized charts that show customers the peaks and troughs of their daily power consumption, to help them better manage how they use energy.

Above all, it’s vital for personalization to be accurate and timely. One common bugbear is customers continuing to regularly receive ‘personalized’ ads for products they have enquired about, many months after selecting an alternative product. This type of poorly targeted personalization – or ‘mis-personalization’ – has the potential to be more damaging than no personalization at all.

4) Don’t overlook the connection between employee engagement and customer engagement
It goes without saying that demotivated, disengaged employees aren’t going to deliver great service to customers or give the right impression of your brand. However, while most of us acknowledge the importance of employee engagement, it still doesn’t figure in many organizations’ customer engagement initiatives. This is despite some pretty compelling evidence: research suggests that companies which invest in employee experience are four times more profitable than those which do not. And a study from the Institute of Customer Service found that a one percent increase in employee engagement leads to 0.41 per cent growth in customer satisfaction.

A whole range of factors can positively influence employee engagement, such as helping every individual to have a clear appreciation of how their job contributes to the company’s success; providing good training; and offering real opportunities for career advancement. One thing that often damages engagement levels is a poor relationship between line managers and employees, so organizations should put policies and processes in place to detect – and quickly resolve – any potential conflict situations, particularly in high stress roles such as customer service.

As entrepreneur Richard Branson put it: “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

One area in which Richard Branson excels is in leading and motivating the people who work for his companies. Like other successful leaders he inspires his teams by sharing a clear vision of the overriding purpose of his Virgin Group – “We aspire to change business for good” – and how every individual can contribute towards achieving that aim. It’s what the author and speaker Simon Sinek describes as “finding your why” – if as a leader you can communicate why you are in business, beyond simple monetary goals, you can create a sense of shared purpose that makes the people working with you feel much more fulfilled in their work.

To improve the customer experience it’s important to continually re-evaluate traditional approaches to connecting with customers and embrace fresh thinking. To engage with customers at an emotional level and appeal to their gut instincts. To engage with customer influencers in an open and authentic way. To use personalization in a sensitive way in order to cut through the marketing ‘noise’. And to recognize the critical role that employees throughout the company can play in forging closer and more rewarding relationships with customers.


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