Why “customer delight” programs fail


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Over the past ten or so years, the term “customer delight” has become ubiquitous in customer experience and service organizations. Take a look at this very site: “Delighting the customer,” or some variation of those words, shows up in literally hundreds of CustomerThink articles. I remember one client who said, “If I want to be delighted, I’ll go see a Pixar film!” While aiming for delight, most brands still fail to meet their customers’ basic expectations.

As a concept, customer delight makes complete sense: Now more than ever, customer advocates–and customer detractors–decide how the rest of the market views your brand and company. But it’s worth asking: Has the mission of “delighting the customer” worked in our favor over the past decade? Or did it actually work against us, in terms of our ability to gain internal buy-in for our programs, set our teams up for success, and, most importantly, deliver a great experience for our customers?

I believe it’s the latter, for two reasons.

First, customer delight programs, particularly within customer service and success, have historically been impossible to achieve at scale. If you leverage a traditional contact center or BPO service, you know that there are a handful of customer service reps who are exceptional and can deliver empathetic, personal, and effective interactions time in and time out. You might also have specific interactions that you can successfully automate with chatbots. But to scale those instances across every interaction is an insurmountable challenge for the vast majority of service and support organizations. The training technology and processes aren’t there for service reps, and the industry still faces huge rep turnover issues. Meanwhile chatbots simply haven’t lived up to the hype in most regards. The result is that, historically, most customer delight programs reach a threshold that they can’t surpass in terms of showing continued improvement.

Second, consumer expectations have drastically changed over the past decade. Major technology players like Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify have introduced CX innovations that have made it increasingly challenging for others to keep up when it comes to customer delight. They have helped usher in the era of what’s called the NOW Customer, consumers who have higher than ever expectations and lower than ever patience. They want their questions and issues resolved immediately and on any channel. Not only that, they expect brands they do business with to know who they are and what their interests are. I’d say most of us are NOW Customers at this point. We hardly remember a time when we had to wait more than 2 hours to get anything we wanted delivered to our home.

These two trends have placed customer experience and service leaders in a precarious position within their companies. Performance in the main metrics historically used to gauge customer delight–CSAT and NPS–have inevitably trended downwards due to the influence of Amazon and the new NOW consumer. Meanwhile, churn and employee dissatisfaction still plague the traditional contact center, and legacy BPOs have been slow to innovate.

This makes it tough for CX leaders to showcase that a customer delight strategy is working, or to reposition CX as anything other than a cost center whose investment needs to be mitigated. The result is less buy-in for CX program expansion and more pressure on CX leadership.

However, changes in how to measure CX, along with technology innovation, means we have another opportunity to think about customer delight in the right ways.

First, we have seen innovative ways to measure CX programs as not just a cost center, but as a strategic driver of the business. While CSAT and NPS are important metrics to track, they tell one, very small part of a larger story. They are beholden to the mood and specific interaction the customer had with your brand. Additionally, they are taken voluntarily by the customer. For every customer who answers the survey, there are dozens who don’t.

I recommend expanding the metrics you are tracking to better show how you’re impacting the rest of the business. Are you tracking leads that are captured through service and support channels like your site live chat? Are you tracking repeat customers who rely on support interactions to make a sale or learn about a new product? Are you tracking support influence on conversion rates, time on website, or cart abandonment? Is there a correlation between support experiences and positive social media sentiment? Are you tracking customer effort score, which has shown to be perhaps the number one metric to indicate customer loyalty?

Customer delight isn’t just about how a customer feels about a specific interaction they had. It is about the totality of their relationship with your company. The best CX leaders are showcasing that customer delight leads to more revenue, greater customer loyalty, and better brand perception, and they are using a wide range of board-level metrics to prove it.

Second, we as an industry need to recalibrate what “customer delight” means and to whom it matters most. We have long thought that customer delight can be achieved through making incremental improvements to the same old staid programs and processes. By increasingly focusing inwards, we have lost sight of the ultimate judge: the customer! Here’s where I should share the full quote from my client that I mentioned at the beginning of the article:

“If I want to be delighted, I’ll go see a Pixar film! What I want from Customer Support are quick and easy answers to my questions whenever and however I choose to engage.”

Simply put: today’s NOW customer just wants their issue resolved in a fast, effective, and friendly manner. It’s really that straightforward. In practice, this means we need to prioritize responsiveness by making it unacceptable to take a day to respond to email inquiries or longer than 30 seconds on chat. We need to guarantee an acceptable level of service every hour of every day. We need to stop thinking about deflecting and start focusing on engaging. We need to study the entire customer journey and identify those areas of friction that are slowing down our own ability to answer our customers’ questions. It’s this outside-in mindset, focused primarily on ease and speed of resolution that will clear the hurdle of what “customer delight” truly means.

In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that the term “customer delight” skyrocketed to prominence in our industry in the last decade. We didn’t have the tools at our disposal to actually meet its lofty goals. But this decade is different. We have the technology, we have the experience, and we have the ability to measure it correctly. This new decade begins the real era of customer delight. Those who begin to reexamine their customer delight program accordingly today will be seen as the true CX luminaries tomorrow.


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