Today, customer experience has become a buzzword across the corporate world, and it has become a mission statement for most companies. Especially in a services industry, where we deal with intangible value delivery, customer experience has become an essential part of every firm’s growth strategy. The innovative aspect of customer experience has even overtaken the effort and investments in product and service innovation.
Behind all the hype and marketing blitz, it is still not very clear about who is accountable or how we measure customer experience, and what actions exactly translate into customer experience transformation.
There is a story about NASA’s Apollo space program, specifically, about a janitor who was asked about his job in the organization. The janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.” This story exemplifies the general sentiment shared by everyone involved in that project: regardless of how large or visible their contribution was, they all felt a genuine and direct connection between the work they did and the goal of putting the first man on the Moon. Likewise, most of the teams in information technology or business talk about their mission as “delivering customer experience.”
The main differences between the Apollo mission and customer experience is that the Apollo mission was a point in time goal, which had a finite start and finish points with very tangible outcomes. The customer experience story, however, is very different - it is an ongoing effort with very subjective measures of outcomes. Hence, the mere sharing of sentiment is not enough. Translating customer experience goals into actions and accountability are key to achieving the customer experience agenda.
There is another story about blind men and an elephant. As the story tells, six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body. One of the blind men, who feels a leg, says the elephant is like a pillar. The other one, who feels the tail, says the elephant is like a rope. The third one, who feels the trunk, says the elephant is like a tree branch. The next one, who feels the ear, says the elephant is like a hand fan. The fifth one, who feels the belly, says the elephant is like a wall. Finally, the last one, who feels the tusk, says the elephant is like a solid pipe. In fact, all of them were right. The reason every one of them was explaining the elephant differently lay in the fact that each of them touched a different part of the elephant, and their perception was limited to what they touched.
Likewise, customer experience has become like an elephant that gets defined by the part that is touched by each department. In the process, we fail to recognize the customer experience as an animal that is a sum of body parts. There are various components that define customer experience. Most enterprises are struggling to wrap their arms around how to measure the customer experience as an integrated whole as against an aggregation of disparate efforts seemingly aligned to customer experience agenda.
On a more serious note, customer experience is influenced by a series of touch points across the customer’s journey from the time of the first interaction till the time we part ways (and even afterwards). There are three big parts in this customer journey that portray critical determinants of customer experience, which translate into how long the customer association with the firm will be, and how productive the journey will be in terms of revenue and profitability. These three journey maps can be described as:
The “Inquiry through On-boarding” Journey – Includes all interactions from the time we invite a potential customer to when a new customer starts association with a firm, or expands the relationship by adding more products and services. Examples of related processes are outbound and inbound campaigns, account opening, customer onboarding, cross-sell and up-sell, underwriting, etc.
The “Request through Fulfillment” Journey – Includes all interactions over the life of a customer’s association, every transaction that is done by a customer, and how well we deliver the value in terms of cost, experience and time. Examples of related processes are provisioning of services and products, managing exceptions in product/service requests, product and pricing information, etc.
- The “Issue through Resolution” Journey – Involves all activities and interactions since the time a customer encounters an issue, be it lack of information, failure in delivering assured services or a complaint/grievance, to the point we have resolved the issue and a meaningful resolution is delivered to the customer’s satisfaction..
Beyond these traditional processes, there are emerging opportunities across product/services innovation, crowdsourcing and social collaboration that are key to customer engagement.
As information technology is driving a big part of customer experience, we see technology teams driving a big part of the “experience agenda.” The digital presence of a company and its services offered on digital channels can determine a big part of customer experience outcomes. Our ability to leverage technology across every aspect of customer journey maps and connect the outcomes to customer experience KPI’s (key performance indicators) is the key to ongoing optimization of customer experience.
Let us not forget that customer experience is also defined by human elements as much as by digital aspects. Starting with the sales or account management professionals to the call center and point of sale/service representatives, there is a big impact of human aspects.
The focus of this article is more on the digital aspects, which are pervasive across the customer experience journey, and which traverse the self-service and employee-assisted channels.
Remember that customer experience is a factor of five A’s - ACCESS, ACTION, ASSURANCE, AWARENESS and APPRECIATION.
ACCESS : customers need access to information at their convenience and at their finger tips. Lack of easy access to information is one of the biggest “turn-offs” for a customer.
ACTION : Beyond Access to information, customers want to act on it. Ability to buy, know status of requests and orders, ability to change requests, create escalations are just some of the examples.
ASSURANCE : Our customers need predictability on quality and turnaround time, for everything they have asked for across the customer journey maps. Not knowing when we will deliver is a big pain for our customers. Also it helps manage our customers’ expectations.
AWARENESS : Customers need to be alerted or made aware of events that are happening both within their profile as well as services / products they are interested in. We also need to update our customers on the status of every request in real time and on-demand.
- APPRECIATION : The word appreciation is more focused on “personalization and contextualization.” Knowing your customers' buying behaviors, interests, patterns and being responsive to their likes and preferences is a big factor in creating an awe factor for our customers. Once customers start seeing the services firm as an entity that is helping them make choices, keep ahead of trends, drive price optimization, offer advice, respect their feedback, seek inputs on products and services, engage on innovation and offer them to become a part of larger community of like minded and similar profile customer base who can engage in relevant exchange of information, we would have transformed the customer experience paradigm into customer appreciation.
We could represent these 5 factors as a pyramid where the lowest level means basic necessity and as we move higher, we transcend into an experience to appreciation journey. This pyramid reminds me of the “Maslow’s theory of Hierarchy of needs, which describes levels of human psychology that drive human motivation. The factor in the lowest level of the pyramid is considered a basic need to even engage with the customer and as we move up the pyramid, the factors take us to higher levels that move the needle from engagement to experience to appreciation.
These factors are determined by five core enablers, which differentiate a customer experience leader from a laggard. These core enablers for customer experience are described as below:
Unified Communications Strategy across Channels and Products - Provides a consistent, unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media types. We should be able to deliver services and information, seamlessly across all modes of interactions (Internet, call center, social media, stores and other channels), and address all the expectations that a customer would have in terms of service availability, ease of interaction, holistic context and speed. The biggest customer experience opportunity or imperative would be to offer the same experience across all the channels and ensuring ubiquity of services across the channels. This ubiquity also needs to expand to customer data, transactions, service requests and preferences.
Self-service Capability and Customer Empowerment across Digital Channels - The Gen X is all about empowerment; they want access to information at their fingertips. They are looking for instant decisions – be it online purchases or access to information. We need to focus on self-service capabilities as a big enabler to gaining customer loyalty and engagement.
Social media can be a boon or a bane depending on how we strategize. A powerful source of customer sentiments, idea sourcing and influence, social media tools need to be harvested for their strengths. We need to keep a watchful eye on potential customers who are looking for products and services, or disgruntled customers who are venting out frustrations in front of millions of other customers. If there is a wave of opinion on a recently introduced product or service or pricing change, and if it is unnoticed or unattended, the issue can go viral and bring down a company’s reputation and brand value.
Associate Empowerment - For all the associate supported channels (call centers, stores etc) associate empowerment and experience are a direct influence on customer experience. Enabling operators across employee-assisted channels to traverse systems of records with ease, providing contextual actions and knowledge, providing intelligence and not just information, empowering decision-making capabilities to make on-the-spot decisions are direct influencers to delivering customer experience and value. If we do not connect these disparate silos of operations with a common set of technologies that are mapped to customer journey maps, we will continue to treat our customers differently at each step of their association with the firm. This will lead to a broken customer experience that will make our customers feel that they are dealing with a different company every time.
Real-time Insight and Ability to Act - While we see a herd mentality in different customer segments influenced by social media, there is also a very clear discernment when it comes to choosing products/services and voicing their opinion about product/services. Across the customer journey maps, we win or lose our customers loyalty by not making our interactions relevant and contextual to a customer’s profile, tastes, buying patterns or issues faced.
We need to connect the dots between what we know about a customer as the profile information, and make sense of their transactions or buying patterns. We then need to convert this insight into meaningful responses that will awe our customers and make them feel respected. We also need to make sense of behaviors across chronological sequence as well as point in time events. Our ability to monitor vast data points in real time, make sense of opportunities and convert them into a real-time action can mean a radical improvement to our customer experience measures.
- Process Visibility and Commitment - Last but not the least, an easy way to lose a customer is by not sharing or committing to delivery SLA’s (service-level agreements) and not assuring our customers about the delivery of goods and services. Predictability and commitment across the fulfillment of value and customer journey maps are a big part of customer experience. Companies, which have not gained a firm handle on their core business processes and established a rigor around real-time monitoring and optimization of core processes, will have a very big challenge in meeting their customer experience goals. Business processes that are automated, ubiquitous across channels and offer a real-time status can delight our customers across the journey maps. Case management is a critical capability that spans across processes on how we deal with customer service requests, investigative / compliance processes and Incident management processes.
The leading companies that are known for world-class customer experience, have a connected customer experience that brings together the Omni-channel delivery, self-service, associate empowerment, real-time insight and process visibility through a measurable set of KPI’s driving the customer experience goals.
Establish clear accountability to deliver holistic customer experience on business and technology sides. This is an area of strong partnership between business and technology. If we do not have a “chief customer experience” officer role, it is difficult to marshal the organizational focus, funding and ongoing alignment of strategy to customer experience KPI’s.
Do not let technology vendors dictate a customer experience strategy, as no single vendor can address the entire value chain of customer experience delivery. We need a clear solution strategy that aligns to our technology and business landscape. Then, we can align the right products to deliver the goals as against defining the goals to align to a product’s capabilities.
Align the digital strategy to operations/human strategy by mapping the key business processes that span the journey maps. The convergence of social media, Cloud computing and mobile devices is creating a new paradigm which opens up huge potential for customer engagement and creating positive experience. Leveraging this convergence could be a single largest technology differentiator in a firm’s competitive positioning. Hence, create a unified digital transformation strategy that brings together marketing/sales, product management, information technology, operations and services.
- Customer experience is a confluence of data, process, intelligence and an ability to respond in near real time. We need to get our act together across these domains. Each domain plays a critical role across the customer journey maps and contributes to the customer experience KPI’s. Fixing problems in each of the domains in a silo will address the symptoms of the experience problem but does not tackle the underlying root causes.