Secret shop your way to better customer service


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Customer journey mapping is critical to understanding where friction points exist and to chart the most effortless experience for customers. It includes the entire lifecycle, from customers first becoming aware of a product or service and their use through to non-use. It’s a very formal process involving the many departments that participate in the customer lifecycle (marketing, sales, and finance, just to name a few); because of the many functions involved, it can seem like an overwhelming task to create a cross-functional task force to take this all on.

Even simply mapping a subset of that journey such as what occurs in customer service activities is a serious undertaking. Consider the myriad of questions and issues customers contact your service center for, across your multiple available channels. It quickly becomes a spider web of intentions, actions, and results to evaluate.

Yet as lengthy and complex as customer journey mapping might seem in its entirety or in part, it’s important to constantly evolve and improve the customer experience, fully end-to-end or focusing on a specific segment like customer service. Customer experience is the new competitive battlefield, after all.

Don’t allow the sheer size of such an undertaking daunt you. Instead, consider an alternative: a targeted secret shopping approach. Secret shopping isn’t just for purchasing products or services in retail stores; the concept works equally well to evaluate a company’s other customer-facing processes. Simplifying the process will ensure a greater chance of success and improvement.

Identify the target

Start by selecting a single customer service issue to address. How do you choose from the myriad of issues customers contact you about? Consider these:

  • An issue that takes agents a particularly long time to address
  • An issue that across-the-board receives low customer satisfaction scores
  • A high-volume issue

Any one of these will do. For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine you are investigating the process of registering a product warranty.

Next, select the engagement channel. This could be telephone, chat, email, or others. Though multiple channels could be evaluated, it’s easier and faster to evaluate a single channel at a time–you can always go back and review others later. For our warranty registration scenario, we will use the customer service website on a mobile device as the engagement channel.

Take it all in

With the customer situation and engagement channel selected, it’s time to put yourself in the customer role and set sail on your micro-journey. Like an explorer, record everything about the journey: the time taken from start to finish, the steps taken, and even how you feel along the way.

Going back to our example, we can assume the customer will start by performing some kind of search on your customer service website for how to register for their warranty. This could involve exploring the website menus, performing a site-wide search, or even using an outside search engine. Search brings its own set of unique challenges and potential frustrations. When searching on the customer service website itself, how close are the results? Does the likely solution occupy the top (or one of the top) results? Is it easy to narrow or filter the search? Are synonyms in use to better connect any variances in the customer’s language with your company’s? When using a search engine, has the appropriate page been indexed and appears for the customer?

We chose a mobile experience, and that’s an important distinction in this evaluation for a few reasons. Are pages rendering correctly on the device, not requiring zooming in? Are they optimized to limit the amount of scrolling necessary? How does the page behave on different devices and their respective mobile browsers?

Once the customer lands on the right page, evaluate the process. Are they asked to print out a form to register their warranty and mail it in? If there is a form to fill out, how easily can it be completed? For fields like telephone number and ZIP code, do you automatically select the mobile device’s digit keyboard?

Making the recommendations

Time to assess what you uncovered and make some improvement proposals. This is where documenting absolutely everything from your evaluation becomes important.

Did you encounter any manual processes, such as mailing a paper registration form? Can these processes be automated? If it is partially automated, can it be further optimized? For example, does the online warranty registration form simply generate an email of the details that must be entered manually by someone? (While the customer doesn’t care about backend processes, they will care if they need to make a warranty claim and their registration is still winding its way through the system, or worse, lost somewhere.)

Recall some of the challenges cited about search. If a process (like product warranty registration) is a high-volume, common process, bring it out of the shadows. Consider making it more readily visible and available (a button or top-level menu option, for example) on the customer service website.

Don’t forget the emotions you felt during the evaluation. What steps seemed especially confusing or frustrating? What brought delight and might be considered for use in other scenarios you evaluate? These points can help to prioritize or narrow the scope of how you improve the process if this becomes necessary. The unfortunate truth is not every improvement may be possible due to lack of time or resources. Resolve what’s possible now, and retain your records to return and address what remains in the future.

Small things add up

Complete end-to-end customer journey mapping is a big undertaking. While every effort should be made to set ongoing (yes, ongoing!) time aside for it, the reality is it’s not always possible. But doing nothing also isn’t an option.

The technique described here does not replace journey mapping–it’s a hack. But focusing on customer service micro-moments make iterative improvements to small aspects of the customer journey possible. Though not a big-bang transformation, those many small enhancements will add up, resulting in a better customer experience over time.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


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