Recognise a broken customer experience and do something about it

As a consultant I sometimes spend more than a reasonable amount of time on planes. Recently I travelled between New Zealand and Australia several times over the course of one week. During one of my many visits to an airline lounge I met the chief executive of an Australian retailer. He asked me what I did for a living. And I explained that our company is a customer experience and digital innovation consultancy. His response was as follows: “I hear people talking about customer experience a lot but don’t businesses already know everything about their customers? Isn’t the experience obvious?”

He had a point. It should be obvious. But in fact many companies have become so disconnected from their customer base that delivering a wonderful customer experience is a very hard thing to do – or even worse very low on their priority list.

It shouldn’t be. A recent report commissioned and published by customer experience software vendor SDL found that “60 percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for a product if the brand delivered a positive customer experience.” Another report by Watermark Consulting, released in April last year, showed that “for the 6-year period from 2007 to 2012, Customer Experience Leaders… outperformed the broader market, generating a total return that was three times higher on average than the S&P 500 Index.”

Clearly there is a strong business case for optimising the customer experience across a multitude of touch points. There is always something that can be done to improve the customer experience from a process perspective but currently the big wins are coming from significant innovation projects in the digital space – where new and exciting touch points can be taken to market quickly, and at scale.

Innovation can be a tricky beast to tame, especially in the digital space. It’s far too easy to get excited about ideas early on and jump into a project without understanding what impact it may have. The real trick is to find the areas of your customer’s journey that are beginning to break down and focus on innovating around these areas.

So how do you know if your organisation has a need to commence a customer experience innovation project?

There are a few key indicators that would suggest that your organisation is need of rethinking its customers’ experiences.

Customers are complaining
It can’t be much more obvious than this. If customers are complaining about an issue or some aspect of a process then there is an opportunity to innovate. The trick is to treat complaints as opportunities and use the information they generate. And go beyond industry norms. Just because your Net Promoter Score is on par with other companies in your industry it doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be greatly increased with the right focus. Why not try and be an outlier than average?

Internal silos creating communication “black holes”
When one department isn’t speaking to another in your organisation the end result can frequently be a broken customer experience. Take a critical look at the way your organisation operates. Has there been years of organic growth within company silos? If so then there is a good chance that you may be creating communication “black-holes”.

Inconsistency across channels
How many customer facing channels does your business manage? Retailers for example may have stores, e-commerce sites and partnerships with third party retailers. Service providers may have their core service, a customer service business function, digital value adds and other key touch points. If there is any inconsistency in the way that customers are treated and managed across these touch points then the typical journey will not be a smooth one.

Social media is viewed as risky
Social media is not right for every organisation but if your company is a consumer facing one there is very good chance it will have or be having an impact. Think about how social media engagements are viewed in your organisation. If it is seen as too much of a risk because of “what people will say” then you have to step back and think about why that is and what you can do to fix the overall experience.

Internal KPI’s are not linked to customer satisfaction
Measurement and accountability create focus. Are the key leaders in your organisation measured against a customer satisfaction metric? If not you are probably developing issues for the way that customer interact with your brand.

Now that you have identified within your organisation the need to address customer experience , what do you do next? Here’s my suggested list.

Use data to develop a 360º view of your customers
The world is awash with data. Social media, website interactions, in-store behaviours, email opens, product usage and every touchpoint in-between is generating data that you can use to understand your customers from every angle. The key is to spend time knowing exactly which data points are important to the relationship between you and your customers – then collect and use them effectively.

To do this marketing, customer service and IT must work together with shared goals. And data collection and usage is not just about sending out marketing messages. It is about creating real value for the customer. Use it wisely to generate deep relationships with your customers.

Focus on behaviours first – then transactions
When you are trying to redesign your customers’ journey it is essential to think about every touchpoint your customers will interact with – and not just the ones that are generating revenue. Taking this broad, holistic view of the world is essential to viewing people as more than simply the sources of a financial transaction. To create a fantastic customer experience you need to think about the behaviours that people are currently exhibiting at each touchpoint, and the behaviours you want your customer to exhibit.

Break down internal silos
This point is important, and it won’t be the last time I comment on it. Make sure that internal silos are working together well and, in particular, sharing data and insights. This will ensure customers have a constant and reliable experience. One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction is to ensure you meet expectations consistently.

Map the CX
A very important item on my list is ensuring that you have mapped out the entire customer journey. This means looking at the stages your customers go through while interacting with your brand, mapping out and understanding what your customers are thinking and feeling at each touch point. This map will serve as your guide to help identify and map each and every touch point. This, in turn, allows you to begin to design an innovation pathway.

Use human centred design processes to innovate
One you have mapped and understood the customer experience and decided where you want to take it you need to start designing innovations. Using design thinking or service design methodologies you can explore opportunities and build out concepts into prototypes – always keeping the customer at the centre of what you are trying to achieve.

To quote Kerry Bodine from Forrester “Unlike customer experience firms that take an approach akin to management consulting, service design agencies leverage human-centered design practices like ethnographic research, co-creation, and low-fidelity prototyping. The combination of these practices enables service design agencies to more quickly — and cheaply — identify the real customer and corporate problems that they need to address and develop effective solutions. These activities also serve as potent communication vehicles, exposing assumptions and marshalling early buy-in from employees and stakeholders.”

I didn’t explain all of this to the man I met in the airline lounge. I didn’t need to. All I had to say was “Would you pay more to fly on your favourite airline?”. That started him talking about why he loved flying with Virgin and how he would pay a extra for the privilege. I could almost hear the penny drop when he realised what value a well thought through customer experience could deliver.

And now you now know what to look for in your organisation.

One Response to “Recognise a broken customer experience and do something about it”

  1. Matt Johns
    March 5, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

    Great article…Some thoughts…

    When a customer complains, it is probably too late. In the modern world most of us simply do not have the time to bother with a complaint. Organisations who insist on written complaints need to move out of the mass production mindset and start listening to what customers are saying live time.

    A better way to assess the customer experience is by journalling the process of the experience. Ask a customer to record the interaction (or simply get an employee to do this) – and start a list with the following starter sentence: “It’s kind of annoying that…”. Even a company that is convinced all is well due to the low volume of official complaints will be surprised at how much gets written under that short sentence. Try it yourself the next time you interact with a retail store, take a flight or call a call centre. It’s the annoying stuff that really matters.

    Silo mentality, channel misalignment and even social media inactivity can all trace their roots back to a lack of well considered and and well communicated strategy. Strategy and tactics are regularly confused. In the absence of a well understood strategy teams and channels will implement their own initiatives based on their “interpretation” of what the most important thing is at a given point in time. It stands to reason that inconsitency will prevail.

    The flip side to starting with “It’s kind of annoying that…” is starting in a different mindset by beginning with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”. Often the first list can draw a direct line to an obvious cool solution, but not always. Again try thinking about this when you make your next purchase, enquiry or take your next flight. Identify a desirable outcome, then consider how technology could enable or enhance the experience.

    Customer experience should be one of the most important considerations for all companies. Caring about what your customers think, feel and most importantly remember, is simply too important to ignore.

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