It is indisputable that customer experience is like an express train, which we either hop on really fast and become “the leader of CX”, or it will cruelly run us over. Those service firms will be successful who are able to uncover even the unconscious impulses and can dynamically influence consumers’ and customers’ emotions.
Based on discussions conducted with top managers responsible for this topic and numerous client projects executed we can state two things: the topic has become highly important for most of the service and retail companies, however despite this very fact there is still a great confusion in people’s minds regarding even the definition of customer experience.
Therefore, it would be useful to start off from the same platform. Let us begin by defining customer experience, which we have created during our professional projects. Our definition is the following: “Customer experience is the impressions formed in a customer at touch-points based on previous experiences that are equally affected by emotional and rational, as well as conscious and unconscious impulses.” I would like to draw attention to two elements here. On one hand, emotions play crucial role in forming impressions, on the other hand there are factors that influence us even not perceiving them consciously. Those will be successful who are able to uncover even the subconscious impulses and can dynamically influence consumers’ and customers’ emotions.
Customer experience is primarily formed in us based on emotional impressions at customer touch-points. In other words, if we are able to emotionally touch the customer who buys one of our services and this impression is positive, than our case is won. The problem is that good level of service is far not enough (here we are not talking about unprepared and rude sales personnel, not to mention service center employees) because if there is no emotional attachment formed, this will result simply in basic customer satisfaction. Satisfaction does not mean commitment, loyalty or openness to buy further products and services.
New approach is needed
A prepared and polite aftersales person in a car dealership without the extra-mile does not create a real and lasting customer experience, at most a satisfied customer, who would probably choose a cheaper service place after his warranty period has ended, and his commitment to the brand starts decreasing right when he might begin to consider exchanging his car for a new one. Forming emotional attachment requires a new emotion-focused sales and customer service mindset, methodology and related techniques. Our 2013 Customer Experience Survey has proved that handling unexpected or a negative situation, where the client is already engaged emotionally, is particularly important. If we are well prepared and professional at handling the complaints of a problematic customer we can reach a much higher rate of commitment than as if no mistakes had happened. As we measured, NPS indexes grew steeply if complaints are managed fast, problems are solved properly, reaching even higher rates than in case of “average” clients without complaints.
Everything depends on the managers
It is a faulty approach to define the increase of customer experience as an expectation for only those working in the front lines. Internal readiness of an organization, as a kind of an upper limit, restricts the external service quality. It is not possible to permanently provide a better quality service outward than what characterizes an organization inside. Until we have not straightened things up inside, we cannot expect our colleagues to provide excellent customer experience. There is a unique measurement tool for organizational capability, called Customer Experience Readiness Index (CXR©) that shows what deficiencies are in the way of customers receiving an excellent experience in the three component areas: organization as a whole, internal processes and colleagues. It is necessary to first create the internal conditions of sustainable service, and only after this step can we start working with those who are in daily relationship with customers. Let us look at a leading multinational retail bank, where customer experience has been enlisted among their most important strategic goals, as an expectation of the European Headquarters. Even so, it has not been defined as goal, or listed as a bonus element, nor as a task for the back office departments: risk management, compliance or HR. As a result, it has not become part of the corporate culture and two-third of the company did not take responsibility for it. Does it come as a surprise that it is not possible to deliver exceptional service in such conditions? Though the answer may be evident, often we do not notice the same problem at our own companies. As soon as the Customer Experience index has been listed among the bonus criteria for the whole management parallel with defining the contribution of each department together with KPIs and they were regularly held accountable for it, the whole organization “has become aligned” from one moment to the other. It has not replaced other priority tasks; it was enough to re-think the already existing tasks with a customer-experience focus in mind.
Today we can boldly state that everything depends on the managers! Not only because they can do the most both directly and indirectly for the organizational readiness of their company, but mostly because they are key figures in a permanent change of their colleagues’ mindset and behavior in relation to customers. Change has to be started with them and if it has been successful, then it is worth investing in employee levels’ development programs.
Relabeling is not enough
Many think they can solve the problem by relabeling their sales and customer service trainings they have had so far. In many respects we cannot expect anything good if this is how we think. On one hand, there are already a lot of problems with most of the trainings and development programs because beyond knowledge transfer and the fading of initial excitement there is no real and permanent change in behavior. It is not necessarily the training’s or the trainer’s fault. Whatever we do in a classroom, if it is not followed by a consciously constructed application support program we can simply forget about it as a whole, it does not make sense to spend so much money and the time of the employees on it. We may soothe our conscience, but we cannot hope for any change. There is a customer experience development program still in progress in the Middle East, where we deliver only one-day classroom trainings, so called Expectation setting workshops. However, it is true that prior to the training there is an intense twenty-day-long on-the-job coaching at the shops and a four-month remote supervision provided. The regular and sophisticated measurement of the project has brought results that have exceeded the expectations in regards to behavior change and business KPIs alike.
This was only one element of success, the other one is the efficient operation of the Governance model developed for each managerial level focusing on the main customer experience points, and measured on weekly bases. A new independent Governance model department has been created at the company, which has become the driving force of development.
Walk the Talk!
We have learned from our own experience how important it is to “walk the talk”, namely what we represent to the outside as consultants we have to live it day by day. Introducing the NPS measurement as part of our Training evaluation, documenting our internal customer experience standards and their accountability, along with operating our own Governance model based on the critical customer experience points have brought a huge change.
We decided to get on the train rather than waiting for it to run us over.