Every user interaction is an opportunity to deliver on the brand promise, to strengthen the planks of the customer relationship. And with every interaction comes the risk of a disappointment that might partially, perhaps totally, undermine the larger relationship. Ideally, the user experience (UX) and the larger customer experience and relationship are seamlessly connected, much like a Mobius strip.
In a 24/7, real-time, user-driven world, everything is bigger, faster, more complicated and constantly being redefined. Not only is the user experience more dynamic. It also is defined by the individual user more than ever before, as users endlessly customize their own user environment. Companies, in effect, are enablers that must supply the tools that permit consumers to create their personalized product version and UX, while still being required to support the user and facilitate the desired experience. And the “smarter” the devices, the more variations on a theme the user can create, and the greater the burden on the company to enable and support the UX.
What’s a marketer to do? On the one hand, there are the-experience-is-everything advocates calling for the optimization of the design of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. At the opposite extreme are the “satisficers” (see, for example, Don’t Bother Wowing Your Customers, HBR) calling for minimalist approaches for delivering customer experiences. While doing less is always easier on the cost side of the budget, what are we sacrificing in terms of loyalty and future customer value (i.e., revenues)? How do we strike the right balance between micro and macro?
From Strategy to Tactics and Back
No company can survive using a scorched earth approach. Every business strategy is built around retaining customers. Strong customer relationships, in turn, hinge on interactions and experiences that meet and exceed customer expectations. Customer loyalty and satisfaction measurement and management are all about determining and acting on how various interactions and company characteristics and performance influence the customer experience and the strength of the overall relationship.
Turning this strategy into tactics necessitates understanding which specific aspects of the user experience need to be fixed and how. In effect, drivers of customer loyalty and experiences may tell the UX folks where it makes sense to Wow customers and where such efforts are less important. The customer sat and loyalty work might point to problems with check-in at a hotel, online ordering or telephone support, for example. But exactly what process, system or tool needs to be fixed and how should it be fixed?
Asking users what to fix and how to fix it is insufficient and often misleading. Simply put, what customers say is not what they do. Even when people know the type of user experience they may want, they almost always are ill equipped as to how to design and implement such experiences. This requires the hands-on involvement of UX experts. UX is about two things: (1) observing and measuring user behavior and (2) improving user experiences through better design. This intelligence avoids ‘designing in the dark’ and adds substantially to the overall value of the product / service experience.
A Practical Tag Team Example: Call Centers and Credit Cards
Cardholders contact credit card companies for a host of reasons, ranging from administrivia and mundane questions to resolving problems and managing their accounts. Call center experiences can be a defining moment of truth that affects the larger customer relationship. Most customers want informed, professional service reps that spend the time required to accurately address their issue promptly on the first attempt. In general, customers want a simple, straightforward experience – call it a ‘Goldilocks’ experience: not too much, not too little, just right.
One client enjoyed relatively strong loyalty scores from cardholders, but customers with specific experiences or interactions, however, suggested issues regarding the fraud alert process: while customers appreciated receiving such alerts, they found the experience of resolving the issue quite frustrating. Their disillusionment with the experience pointed to lack of clear information on who to contact and annoyance with the automated phone system and the time required to resolve the problem. The high-level pain points identified, it was time to call in the UX team to diagnose the specific process failures and prescribe a fix.
The reality is that the hand-on user experience often gets in the way. Simply finding the number to call – let alone which person or even department – was a challenge. The card issuer’s website – like that of many companies – made the phone number hard to find because they wanted customers to ‘self-serve.’ Already frustrated, cardholders looked on the back of their credit card, where they found the print is microscopic. Challenging, but at least getting somewhere.
Then the real ordeal set in. Customers dialed the number and went into a voice recognition system. Inevitably, the menu was considered too long and convoluted; the system wasn’t clear or customers misunderstood the keying of digits for routing the call; calls led to seeming dead-ends and disconnects; customers saying (yelling) “operator” over and over again. Pressure building. Finally, the customer would get a human. Assuming it was the “right” department, the rep took callers through the twenty-questions routine to verify them – even when the caller had previously conveyed the same information to the automated system. And even the live interaction often was ponderously long to complete seemingly simple requests because the systems are inefficient or the predictable ‘my systems are slow today’ response. So what should be a three to four minute exercise robs the customer of 20 minutes that they will never get back. More importantly, the memory of a lousy customer experience is sticky and prime fodder for sharing with others.
The result, process failures (actually, crummy design) were undermining the experience for some cardholders, cascading into lower levels of loyalty among those customers who had received the fraud alerts. Since cardholders initially appreciated the fraud warning, the failure in managing the alert process was all the more poignant.
The UX team disaggregated the process, examining each individual user touchpoint. Starting with an understanding of what cardholders wanted to accomplish, they examined each of the discrete mechanisms and channels for execution and how the various components interacted and then redesigned the process and supporting details. Subsequent feedback confirmed a sharp improvement in satisfaction scores for cardholders resolving fraud alerts and an associated bounce in loyalty among this group.
Connecting the Dots
In theory, a company’s strategy is designed to deliver on its brand promise, that strategy is supported by positive customer experiences, and those customer experiences are embedded in the tactical execution of both direct and indirect user experiences. When “done right,” the Mobius strip provides a smooth path for the customer journey. All too often, however, companies abandon customers to ride a roller coaster. More amazing, these same firms then act surprised when the customer doesn’t come back for another ride.
Completely agree with the Mobius strip concept. Throughout the years many of our client have not only remained loyal to us, but also broadened their engagement signing up to other services we provide, and recommended us to others in need of our service.