Everyone is talking about it—promising it, claiming it and marketing it. But what is the customer experience really? Is it a mystery, a myth, a mission or simply magic?
Considering the fact that we are bombarded by customer experience rhetoric, one might imagine that there is tremendous clarity around exactly what it is. Right? No, wrong! In my experience, the ability for organizations to define in specific terms what the customer experience actually means in either strategic or tactical terms is woefully limited. For many, it actually appears to be more like a mystery than a strategy.
Mystery is defined as “something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained.” Let’s agree on one thing. There are far too many people responsible for delivering on the customer experience who, when asked to explain it, display behaviors one might describe as being “baffled.” As these folks most likely have been neither asked nor told to define it, “it’s a mystery to me” becomes the condition.
If the customer experience mystery cannot be defined or explained, how then can it be operationalized? If you can’t explain it, you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, you can’t teach it, and you certainly can’t brag about it.
The mystery is supported by the lack of clarity around what exactly the customer experience is supposed to be. I have personally asked this question from the C-level to the Cube-level and often get answers such as, “We want our customer experience to be really great.” The mystery factor becomes clear when asking the follow-up question, “What exactly does ‘really great’ mean?” Far too often, even the executives cannot answer!
The fact that the customer experience is difficult to define and explain gives it an unfortunate kind of mystery. This leaves consumer needs unmet while the organization continues to operate under the belief that the customer experience is paramount and effective.
The best way to solve the mystery is by clarifying the customer experience elements. What do customers want or need to achieve their objectives? Here are a few examples from work we have done with clients on this topic.
Elements of the Desired Experience
- Personalized Service
- Knowledgeable Agents
- Caring and Empathetic Engagement
- Prompt Response
- Accurate Answers
- Single Point of Contact
- Multimedia Access and Reliable Technology
Once these elements are identified, the next step is to determine what the organization must provide to achieve its objectives. For example, if in fact we want to provide personalized service, we will need both processes and technology that support it. CRM (customer relationship management) provides insight to the customer. CTI (computer telephony integration) allows a match to be made in the system that brings up the customer record for the agent at the beginning of the call. This allows the agent to have relevant information at his or her fingertips.
These tools also require processes that support the objectives. For CRM to work, agents must be provided the time to do the work; for CTI to work, agents must confirm demographic information to maintain accuracy. Knowledgeable agents require excellent training, job aids and coaching. If the enterprise does not support these, the mystery continues as to how one can achieve desired objectives without the infrastructure to deliver them. The remaining elements in the list above provide an opportunity for you to determine supporting requirements.
What’s the Myth?
For some, the customer experience is more of a myth… “a piece of fiction that narrates a chain of related events.”
The myth of customer experience is when people actually believe they are creating a great experience when, in fact, they are not. This begs the question, “What are you pretending not to know?” Pretending that the customer experience is in good shape is a myth for far too many. It is, in fact, a piece of fiction that prevents one from seeing the deficiencies; in order to see them, one must first believe they exist!
Myth-driven customer experience is often wrapped in data and conveniently captured in scores—quality scores, grade inflation or customer satisfaction surveys that say all is well—while ignoring social media complaints.
The myth factor is often a comfort zone for business leaders. When they wake up to the fact that their customer experience is less than satisfactory, they face the challenge of having to bust the myth. That is an uncomfortable position!
Busting the Myth
Myth busters need to collect more and more data on what is actually happening to their customers. Are their needs being met? Are we listening to calls with an ear toward dissatisfaction? Are we tracking complaints and errors? Are we studying social media comments and reviews?
The customer experience is a fluid condition that requires constant due diligence to be managed effectively. It must be the focus of all leaders. So ask the question, “What are we pretending not to know?” And get to work on fixing the obstacles to excellence!
What’s Your Mission?
Many organizations actually have customer experience as part of their corporate mission. Simply stated, a mission is “a special assignment that is given to a person or group.” Those whose mission it is to deliver on the customer experience are likely to have all the elements identified. Processes are in place to closely monitor meeting the objectives; the experience of the customer is considered to be their most important assignment.
When the customer experience is the mission, working closely with the front line becomes paramount. But it cannot be within a demanding and factory-like production environment. Some contact center leaders can’t comprehend a world in which they are not tracking every second of the front line’s time. They provide more feedback on taking more calls or shortening handle time than they do on coaching to the desired elements of the experience.
The front line must be taught, coached, empowered and encouraged to focus on such customer experience elements as being knowledgeable, taking action, offering solutions and being empathetic. When this is the case, the productivity measurements will take care of themselves. When customer experience is the mission, the responsible parties must have what they need to deliver on the experience.
Coaches must coach to the customer experience mission and observe each and every contributing behavior. When these are ignored or overlooked, the experience is damaged. Coaches must understand that whether it is making a sale, solving a problem, booking an appointment or just listening, each interaction must be linked to the mission. Mission reinforcement is the means by which we link behaviors to outcomes… to the mission.
Is it Just Magic?
Maybe delivering on the customer experience is pure magic… “an illusory feat considered magical.” Honestly, when I see consistent enthusiasm across a contact center related to the experience and the brand, it feels downright magical. This is why you just can’t fake caring about the customer experience. It requires passion, knowledge, empowerment and feeling cared about as a member of the staff.
The customer experience is largely based on the experience the front line is having. If they are treated poorly, it is unreasonable to expect high marks on the customer experience. When we see magic, what we are really seeing is organizations that invests mightily in the employee experience. We need to make sure that frontline staff “feel” the power of the brand and enthusiastically engage with customers. To accomplish this, they must feel confident in their own value and the value they bring to the interaction and the transaction. They must be empowered to make decisions and take action on behalf of the customer to deliver on the “magic” of the customer experience.
When outsiders visit high-performance operations there is the potential for leadership illusion… we need to decorate, we need to celebrate, we need a glitzy presentation. Sadly, some leaders don’t recognize that we need to hire right, we need to be family work friendly, we need to train and coach relentlessly, we need to explain the brand, and ultimately, we must link the brand to the experience! That’s the magic formula.
Experiencing the Magic!
Delivering on the customer experience requires clarity, first and foremost. Clarity is followed by supporting processes, technology, people, training and leadership. These are dedicated to clarifying the mysterious, busting the myths, embracing the mission, and ultimately, experiencing the magic of making it all work!
Note: All definitions taken from Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus.