It has been almost 15 years since Bain & Company delivered its jaw-dropping statistic on the customer experience delivery gap. The firm’s research showed that while 80% of companies surveyed believed that they provided a superior experience to their customers, a mere 8% of customers held that same view. The study’s authors pointed to two fundamental reasons for this disconnect: First, businesses were more focused on acquiring new customers than retaining the ones they had. Second, companies simply didn’t put in the time and effort to understand customers’ needs as they continuously evolved.
A lot has happened since that study dropped in 2005. Back then, the Motorola Razr was the most popular cellphone; now, smartphones are ubiquitous. Customers have become more informed with instant access to information and multiple contact channels at their fingertips. They have become less tolerant of poor customer service, and a majority are willing to switch to a competitor after one negative experience.
For companies, the past decade has been a race to keep pace with customers’ expectations for more contact channels and mobile access. Today, more businesses are undergoing digital transformation and making the necessary shift in mindset from product-focused to customer-centric. A wide variety of solutions, programs and tools have emerged, providing businesses with the ability to collect, analyze and instantly share customer insights.
Still, as more recent studies have suggested, there is more work to be done. While the overall gap between what customers expect and what companies deliver may not be as severe as it was in 2005, even the smallest fissure in alignment can lead to negative outcomes and lost customers.
Getting Closer to Customers
What can you do to bridge the expectations-experience gap? The following are just a few techniques that customer-centric businesses employ to get closer to their customers.
Voice of the Customer
The contact center has always been a rich source of customer feedback in the form of surveys, comments, complaints, call recordings and transactions. Digital channels provide an additional dimension of insights about customer behavior along the end-to-end journey. Voice of the customer (VoC) solutions capture this feedback across touchpoints and provide businesses with the tools to analyze the data for opportunities to improve products, processes, policies, agent training and other issues that impact the customer experience. (Read about Fannie Mae’s innovative VoC initiative).
Importantly, VoC programs allow companies to instantly identify a poor experience, resolve the issue and retain the customer. Real-time alerts inform managers whenever survey feedback falls below a set threshold so that they can immediately follow up with customers to gather additional input and address their concerns on the spot. Over the long-term, VoC data analytics tools can reveal more detailed insights into common complaints to allow companies to take a more proactive rather than reactive approach to service delivery.
The Power of Emotion
When it comes to the customer experience, data doesn’t tell the whole story. Customer behavior is primarily driven by emotion and how the experience makes them feel.
Forrester points to emotion as the key to customer loyalty. The research firm’s Customer Experience Index CX rankings track the customer experience quality of 260 brands in 16 industries. The 2019 CX Index survey of more than 100,000 U.S. customers revealed that, regardless of sector, emotion played a more critical role in differentiating brands and had a more significant impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease of use. “That’s why it’s critical to understand the intersection of in-the-moment customer feedback and which CX drivers matter most to customers and your bottom line,” according to Forrester Chief Research Officer Carrie Johnson.
“Measuring consumers’ emotional experiences during and after their interactions with a company is much more effective than simply relying on data and Csat scores,” says consultant Dennis Redden (“Strategies to Improve Quality of Service,” Pipeline, September 2016). “Contact center executives should also consider seasonal trends, global news, system failures, in-company policy changes and the like when interpreting the data they collect in order to measure true emotional response. Technology also provides helpful tools for measuring consumers’ emotional responses during points of contact. Contact centers can monitor and record calls and ‘punch-in’ to calls as needed when agents need additional support. Speech analysis, speech recognition and real-time analytics software give sophisticated insight into the emotional content of calls, allowing for instant mitigation and later retraining opportunities as needed. As contact centers dive deeper into data and learn more about how consumers feel during points of contact, they will naturally become more efficient at giving consumers what they need, and service will improve.”
Develop Customer Personas to Walk in the Their Shoes
Personas help internal teams to visualize and identify with customers’ emotions, motivations, behaviors, goals, needs and the pain points along their journey.
Importantly, contact centers can use customer personas to improve frontline agents’ ability to listen, understand and empathize with callers. C3|CustomerContactChannels, a global BPO, uses customer personas in its new-hire sensitivity training program for agents assisting Medicare members. For many elderly members on limited incomes, daily decisions often come down to whether to pay for their prescription medication or food. Since most call centers are staffed mainly with millennials, C3 leadership wanted to ensure that frontline agents could recognize and empathize with the needs of an elderly customer base.
To help new agents develop a better sense of who the callers are and what they face in their daily lives, the center installed an exhibit in its front lobby that displays different personas of elderly callers. Each includes the things that they may have in their homes, such as rotary dial phones, multiple pill bottles, various medications they might use, and medical aids like dentures and blood pressure monitors. Also included is information about each persona’s chronic conditions, as well as the number of drugs prescribed and costs.
The displays help new agents not only to envision the person at the other end of the call but also increases their awareness of the impact that the cost of prescription drugs has on an elderly member’s household budget. Being able to visualize the caller and the challenges they face in their everyday lives helps agents to better understand how they can assist each member.
Gain Deeper Insights with Empathy Mapping
Empathy mapping is a crucial component of design thinking. It is a collaborative approach that allows businesses to add more layers to customer personas by mapping their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors into four quadrants: What the customer says, thinks, feels and does. Empathy map inputs come from qualitative sources, such as call recordings, survey feedback and customer focus groups.
Empathy maps can add valuable insights into the customer experience by delving deeper into what drives customers’ behaviors and uncovering needs that customers may not even be aware of.
Develop an Outside-in Perspective with Journey Mapping
If you want to feel your customer’s pain (or joy) as they navigate the touchpoints that comprise the customer experience, customer journey mapping is a valuable exercise. It allows you to define their experience—through their eyes—from the initial engagement with your company (such as a marketing campaign or promotion) through the buying process, using the product or service, to renewal, repurchase or deciding to leave.
Customer journey maps can be used to identify obstacles and breakdowns in the end-to-end experience, as well as opportunities to optimize service delivery. They can be particularly useful for breaking down departmental silos and engaging non-customer-facing functions in a shared customer-centric vision.
A customer journey map captures an “outside-in” view of:
- Needs: What are your customers trying to accomplish?
- Processes: What steps did customers go through to achieve their goal?
- Perceptions: What was the experience? How did the company perform at each touchpoint?
- Emotions: How did the customer feel at each touchpoint?
Ideally, you would create a journey map for each customer persona that you’ve defined.
Tap the Wisdom of Your Customer-facing Employees
Don’t forget to ask for input from your service and sales reps—after all, they’re the internal experts on your customers. Gather frontline feedback about what the customer experience looks like from their perspective, as well as their input on opportunities to streamline and improve processes, policies, product information, self-service channels and practices.
Customer-facing employees who are actively engaged in CX decision-making can help businesses to get ahead of continually evolving customer expectations. At global outsourcer TaskUs, operational flexibility is mainly attributed to its focus on employee-centric decision-making. Company leaders continuously engage employees through multiple feedback touchpoints, including employee roundtables, focus groups, eNPS surveys, town hall meetings, and monthly brainstorming sessions. Employee feedback has contributed to improvements in clients’ products and more customer-friendly policies.
Putting Customers First
To ensure that customers are the central focus of customer experience strategy and decision-making, you need to know who they are and what makes them tick.
The majority of companies today consider customer experience to be a competitive advantage. Developing an in-depth understanding of customers’ wants, needs and challenges can mean the difference between a mediocre and a superior experience.