The gift of experience

Promoting customer experience is about more than just fending off dissatisfied consumers. Taking care of customers is actually the best way to boost the value of your brand

The gift of experience

Stereotypically, customer service might conjure up images of a packed call-centre fielding customer complaints – and for some enterprises that’s where considerations begin and end. But this fails to take into account the huge value customer experience can have in promoting your brand. Recent research conducted by providers of customer service technology Verint across EMEA and North America found that 45% of consumers felt that quality service was actually more important than price. Steve Rosier, Verint’s director of analytics, EMEA, gives his perspective: “What customers are telling us is: ‘A lot of times we’re not actually shopping around for price, it’s a case that we want to feel respected, loved and that people are listening to us’.”

Scott Cook, the co-founder and chairman of the executive committee of Intuit Inc, once said: “Instead of focusing on the competition, focus on the customer.” This underlines what makes managing customer experience so important.

“You can copy products,” comments Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). “The only thing you can’t copy is the service experience that you deliver.” She feels there is a very concrete correlation between the way customers are treated and the public perception of a brand, something that can quickly impact upon an organisation’s revenue streams.

To illustrate this point, Rosier uses an example of an insurance company Verint worked with. “Its marketing department said: ‘We need to compete on price,’” he recalls. “‘We’ve got a lot of churn, a lot of customers leaving us so therefore we need to be as cheap as our competitors.’” Which would be a fair assumption to make. But, once Verint began looking into calls and customer conversations, it found that price wasn’t the issue – the company had loyal customers who were happy to pay for a quality service. The issue was that its consumer-base weren’t happy with changes made to service provisions. “They were thinking that they needed to compete on price but actually they’d got the service completely wrong,” says Rosier. “They’d not consulted the customer at all; they’d just forced the changes upon them.”

One of the biggest mistakes organisations make when dealing with customer experience is they believe it is simply a case of dealing with customers that are actively disgruntled, not recognising that there is a large proportion of their customer-base that – while not actively unhappy with the service they’re receiving – could easily switch to a rival. “Customers are happy to go to brands or go to organisations that give a higher level of customer service,” Causon says. Rosier also feels this poses an issue, highlighting a worrying figure that suggests 26% of consumers have no strong ties to their service provider. “This is easy pickings for competitors to come along and scoop them up,” he remarks. “They could take that 26% and the percentage of people who are complaining as well.”

Joan Gurasich, senior director at customer relationship analysis firm Net Promoter concurs that merely having a satisfied customer is not enough. “Customer satisfaction is necessary but not sufficient,” she says. Deflecting complaints pales in significance when compared to the potential benefits of having a loyal customer base. “Actual customer loyalty means that a customer buys more products, they’re more efficient to do business with and they tell their friends.”

It is clearly true that you shouldn’t underestimate the damage that a dissatisfied customer can do to your brand. Particularly with the increasingly borderless communication aided by advances in technology, you can’t hide away from cases where your customer relationship management fails. “Now, with social media, if you make a customer unhappy there’s going to be a lot more people who hear about it,” comments Rosier. “It’s going to retweeted and shared.” But it is when you start to realise that these public avenues offer more opportunities than simply fielding complaints that managing customer experience becomes much more rewarding. He continues: “If you can get it right across all channels you can actually turn those customers into advocates.”

And for Net Promoter this is the ultimate goal of effective customer management. “With Net Promoter you both recover detractors and you mobilise promoters,” explains Gurasich. A company should always aim to be looking to nurture its customer base and value them as promoters in their own right. “If someone you deal with is a promoter, they’re going to tell their friends and you’ve got really positive revenue streams,” she says.

But how do you go about developing this sort of culture? As in all relationships, building a rewarding connection with your customer is down to two things: listening and remaining open.

“Listening is the most important element,” says Gurasich. “Actually doing the analysis.” Making use of tools such as Net Promoter allow in-depth analysis of your customers’ feedback and break down perception of your brand by product or region. One of the examples Gurasich points to is that of self-publishing platform Blurb. As she explains: “They do the analysis lots of different ways and they do different kinds of improvements.”

What often escapes organisations’ attention is just how wide an array of information their customer base is providing them. “A lot of organisations have got call recording in place but they might listen to 2% of those calls,” says Rosier. By contrast, with speech analytics, an organisation such as Verint is able to harvest information from thousands of calls and make the most of the feedback the customer is providing. This can quickly identify where an underlying problem lies and ensures you aren’t left in the dark. “You’re not having to go out and solicit that feedback – customers are willingly giving that – but without the analytics in place you have no idea.”

But the knowledge alone won’t improve your reputation if you’re seen as being incommunicative or uncooperative. “We’ve just done a piece of research at the Institute called ‘the future of customer service’,” comments the ICS’s Causon. “One of the key tenets that came out of that was about trust and reputation.” Being open and transparent about issues and communicating directly with the consumer can help them feel as though they aren’t being kept out of the loop and are being respected as an individual. Causon believes it’s ultimately down to the emotional intelligence the organisation displays – rather than treating a customer like a number, an enterprise should show it recognises its customer as an individual. “Even if the outcome isn’t what I want it to be, I want you to show empathy and I want you to connect with me.”

Part of this is down to overly rigid processes. If staff aren’t given a degree of autonomy and encouraged to make decisions, it is very difficult to overcome systemic issues that a customer may be having. “I think this is what’s frustrating customers,” says Rosier. “You’re ported around the business, you speak to four different people and you don’t get the answers you need.” While it is very important an organisation protects themselves from excessive risks that come from not giving staff sufficient frameworks to work inside, failing to empower staff to actually resolve issues can create a hugely frustrating situation for the customer.

Fortunately, engaging directly with customers and ensuring their experience is at the heart of the journey has never been easier. “Technology has really made it faster, better, cheaper,” says Gurasich. Elements such as social media and improved analytics tools are allowing organisations to remain in contact wherever the consumer is and make them feel like they are at the core of the experience. She concludes: “With these tools you can form a connection with the customer and turn it into something they feel strongly about.” 

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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