For all the time, money, and effort invested in customer experience (CX), businesses are still doing a lot to annoy their customers.
Think about. Frustrating phone menus, excruciating hold times, and requests to repeat information when you call customer service. Dynamic products ads for items you want but cannot buy because they are out of stock. Personalized emails inviting you to buy the exact article of clothing you just bought.
And the list goes on.
"We’ve been talking about CX for nearly two decades now, and it doesn’t seem like we’re consistently or positively evolving customer relationships," said Chris Spears, co-founder and Chief Marketing Technology Officer at Arke.
Technology Isn't Everything
Somewhere along the road to excellent customer experience, we've made an unfortunate detour — one that arguably elevates technology at the expense of the needs of people. The evidence is all around us.
- Customer experience investment fails to pay off as performance hits all-time low
- As technology has grown (from voice mail and phone trees to more complex computer systems), customer satisfaction with customer service has dropped, almost on a yearly basis.
As Anita Brearton, founder, CEO and co-CMO of CabinetM, wrote recently, "Technology is required to support customer experience goals and is a tremendous enabler. But taken alone, it is not valuable. It’s what we do with the technology that is important."
Today we have unparalleled ways to connect with your customers. On the surface, that's good because customers have never been more demanding, connected, or empowered. But success doesn't come from the quick adoption of every new technology.
It comes from creating deep, meaningful relationships with your customers, Spears said. "There is an expectation technology alone will bring every customer goal, revenue projection, and competitive challenge into alignment.
"And yet, as anyone who thinks about the issue intently will conclude, technology is only a way to advance a strategic plan, a cultural mindset, a desire to treat customers in a certain way. It's not a replacement for asking, 'What will it take for us to build a better brand — and how can we make sure everyone embraces that strategy as the company's priority?'" he said.
Put People First
Technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and no matter how great the solution, there is always someone needed behind the curtain to help create the magic.
"So put people first," Spears said. "Ask, 'How can we connect with our customers? How can we do more for them — and everyone else associated with our brand?'"
It's a powerful and increasingly relevant question for companies committed to exceptional brand experience.
Just last month, Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Waban, Mass.-based Temkin Group, labeled 2018 as "The Year of Humanity."
The Temkin Group is a customer experience research, consulting, and training firm. Every year, it selects a theme that it sees as particularly important for the customer experience community. In earlier years, the focus has been on Empathy, Employees, Emotion, and Purpose.
This year the Temkin Group wants people to better connect with customers by
- Embracing diversity
- Extending compassion
- Expressing appreciation
"With all the discord and tension throughout the world, it seems like a good time for all of us to refocus on what's most important, our collective humanity," Temkin said.
Relationships Drive Customer Experience
Chevron Chairman and CEO John S. Watson drove home the point about valuing people in business in a recent article on LinkedIn. After 37 years at Chevron, he's retiring Feb. 1. If he could start his career over, what’s the one thing he’d do differently? Build relationships early and recognize how important people are to business.
"During my early years in the company, I was fairly analytical in how I approached most situations. And although that served a purpose, I later realized that you can be much more effective if you recognize the importance of people in business. The sooner you learn about reading people, listening to others and building relationships, the sooner you will be more effective," he wrote.
When it’s all said and done, what really matters?
Do people care about the latest and greatest digital tools or the newest technologies? Or do they really care about outcomes — that is, how an organization improves their lives?
Obviously, people want empathy, compassion, understanding and the hope, if even unstated, of support when it’s needed. They want human connections and great experiences that make them feel valued and respected.
Apple founder Steve Jobs knew that. As he said in 1997, "You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology."
It's a good lesson to remember.