Recently I spent some time with a group of leading executives from various industries across Asia. I asked each of them to remember back to when they wore the clothes of a younger person and they were just starting out in life, probably only teenagers looking for some extra money when they devised some sort of plan to sell something to somebody.
While many of the executives joked about their first teenage move into the business world, without exception each one said that he had had some degree of success—no total failures. Interesting, isn’t it? They all made the right moves with no training or prior knowledge.
I then asked each of them to look back at how they answered that very first, all important question: “Will anyone buy this?” They all said that they just thought about it from their own perspective (themselves as potential customers) to see if the product or service was worthwhile and of value. Jackpot!
‘When he visited these stores, he found the 18-year-old employees very condescending and distant.’
So … if we want to know more about what our customers think, we really need to start by looking at ourselves as customers and considering what we think.
As the forum went on, the executives talked about what made for a memorable customer experience. Story after story flowed across the room highlighting both good and bad experiences, and we examined many of them in a “root cause” style to look for triggers and enablers.
Many of these executives were originally convinced that a good customer experience meant that the experience was uniform across all channels. Predictable. Repeatable. Consistent. Etc. While this had some merit, as we looked deeper into the channels, we found that consistency was not of core importance. For example, many people reported that, while there was a definitive direct link in “brand” among the shop front, the above-the-line (or mass) marketing and the company’s web site, it did not have any real effect on the perceived experience.
One executive, in particular, related the story of buying a music CD for his daughter’s birthday. He was not an experienced buyer of the latest music and, as such, thought he would go online to do some research. He found two stores that seemed professional and knowledgeable. However, when he visited these stores, he found the 18-year-old employees very condescending and distant. He then went to a super-discount music retailer (that he had previously left off his web-driven list of possibilities) and was pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness and suggestions of the staff.
The more we discussed, the more we discovered that almost everything we used to gauge whether the customer experience had been good or bad was based on the human interaction! When asked about customer experiences around, for example, a web-based purchase, the feedback was, “It was OK, I guess,” or, “It was good.” However, when we talked about the last human interaction people had with a company, the real experience values (and stronger opinions) started kicking in.
One of the group told us that he had recently renewed his car insurance policy via a fully automated IVR application. While the transaction had been processed flawlessly, he said that he felt as though there had not really been any “interaction” at all because it lacked the human touch. He reminisced about when he had originally taken out the insurance policy and just how helpful the human call center operator had been, leaving him feeling good about his purchase. Interestingly, he mentioned feeling good about the purchase, without mentioning how he felt about the company, itself.
As we continued to discuss customer experience, we started to evaluate what it was about the human interaction that most influenced our perceptions of the value of the customer experience. The group brain-stormed many ideas onto a board and then started to squeeze them down to their bare essentials. It boiled down to just three value factors that most affected the perception of a customer experience:
- The expectation
- The knowledge
- The person
The truly amazing part was that they wound up ranked in that order. Yes, the person was the least important of the three. What crazy characters humans are!
The group really focused upon expectations. Members of the group argued that, many times, the customer experience was established in their minds before the event because of branding or advertising. So if they experienced anything less than this expectation, it forged a profound negative influence on how they rated the customer experience.
The executives also felt quite strongly that the knowledge leveraged in the human interaction was of significance. Expectations aside, the value of the customer experience was driven by the level of knowledge and learning displayed in the interaction. In particular, did the company learn anything from our last interaction and utilize it this time?
This one point appears to be in relative contrast to the “cookie cutter” approach of making every interaction a carbon copy of the last. In fact, it argues that each interaction should be completely different, based upon the history of the previous interactions. If you overlay this value factor with a “balanced” view of repeatable, consistent interaction processes, then you have the pinnacle of “mass personalization.”
Regardless of whether the experience happens face to face or over the telephone (interestingly, these executives did not class web chat as a real human interaction), the attitude and personality of the service representative plays a major part in the combined experience value perception.
I am often surprised by marketing people who actively promote a product, service or way of interacting with customers that they would not personally like. I know there often are demographic, psychographic and economic differences between a marketer and his or her target audience; however, the basics of the true value proposition in the actual customer experience are still very rudimentary human needs.
We all like to feel a little in control (our expectations were correct). We all like to feel important (you have bothered to learn about me). And, we all like to feel connected (the human interaction).
So the next time you are unsure how the customer experience will be enhanced or degraded by doing something new, try asking the nearest customer first. Just look in the mirror!