“If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.”
Is consistent customer experience beyond the reach of large organisations?
Ownership of the consumer relationship and trust is an ever-increasing priority for organisations. As they look to be providers of content as well as delivery, trusted adviser rather than lender, or the consumers’ service provider of choice, customer experience is now a major concern.
At its simplest, each customer experience is a real time emotional reaction to “if” and “how” an issue is resolved or a purchase made, judged against the consumer’s expectation of both the “if” and the “how”.
At its most complex, the experience is established over multiple touch points with interactions via self-service and several different people. So where should organisations concentrate their resources, first time resolution, product quality and value, handling the interactions or managing expectations? All have their merits, supporters and numerous business cases built to promote them.
Expectations are continually revised as today’s information rich consumer interacts with an ever-increasing variety of purchase and service options delivered through low and high-tech channels. Many organisations see their opportunity to influence expectations with marketing and pricing strategies. This is OK for new customers but previous experience will dominate future interactions. Bad experiences of IVR or offshore call centres are good examples.
Overcoming an experience, whether generated by your own organisation or not, can be very difficult and expensive.
Providing consistent resolution, the right product at the right price and the appropriate delivery depends on knowing your customer and aligning your capabilities to deliver to their needs – all affect the way the business design model is constructed and carried through strategy, culture, process and implementation. This takes place against a background of different personalities and their dislikes, compulsions, and passions, which ultimately require variations in approach and response.
The debate initially divides the participants into two opposing camps, “people people” and “process reliant”. Each has a valid but conflicting argument, a complaint due to a bad process can be recovered with good people skills, but how many times can you say no to the customer?
However nicely you say it, in the end it is a bad experience. Inevitably a customer centric organisation with great people skills will provide a superior customer experience at the optimum cost. How much you need from each camp will vary, depending on the product or service, its value, its quality and the customer you are talking to.
It is also important to consider the effects of the experience on an organisation’s own people. All the above is just as relevant to staff satisfaction, turnover and cost. There is also a great deal of evidence to show that advocacy has to start from within.
The clues are within us all
The basic elements of the experience are familiar to everyone. Are they listening? Are they interested in me? Is this fair? Do I trust them? Can this add value for me? How easy is this? Do they like me? Do I like them? Which of these questions will drive satisfaction, advocacy, abandonment or churn, will be determined in many cases by a gut feeling and yes, first impressions do count for a great deal. This is a scientific fact, a basic instinct, but also something with which we can identify as human beings.
Whilst easy to identify, these elements are extremely difficult to measure. The common short term measure is satisfaction and the long term effects are increasingly measured as advocacy. Real time measurements of, for example, empathy, are very effective but are seen by many as too transient to help us guide our businesses. As people we are able to measure, assess against expectations and make judgments in a very short space of time. So, how do we set our expectations and what do we measure?
The key skill is social interaction; the ability to participate in a debate and learn from others’ experiences rather than our own, and collective learning, these are the skills that distinguish us as human beings. Many would argue that the quality of these conversations has a greater influence on our development than our formal education. So conversations with friends and relations promote a consensus on common standards, providing a check on ever growing expectations.
The basics of what we as individuals measure also derive from these interactions. We unconsciously assess honesty, education, class and the health of everyone we meet within only a few seconds. We are judging how they look, (colours, neatness, coordination) how they move (agility, stature, body language) and how they sound (volume, tone variations) and how they introduce themselves, above all we are looking for consistency. A very scruffy, highly energetic and meekly spoken individual will not normally generate trust when he introduces himself as Captain John Smith since it falls outside the standards we would expect from our accumulated experiences. To change this initial opinion he will need to demonstrate a consistent message over many meetings.
The same is true for every organisation at each touch point with every customer, an impossible task without common expectations and personality traits. The message seems to be that we need to work with, not against, our instincts.
So every organisation contains the answer
Identifying when and how large organisations are influencing these feelings is of course a huge challenge – except that any one of its employees could tell you exactly how they “feel” about their own and a whole host of other companies during conversations with friends and relations. In most cases their view will be balanced by the group consensus. If the conversation develops into a debate, it has a good chance of producing ideas on how to enhance the experience. These will range from the fanciful to simple practical solutions. We can all bear witness to the censure and creativeness of the group dynamic.
If this group of friends were all actively engaged in the day-to-day delivery of services and products in a range of organisations, it would have the ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the ”if” and “how”, balance “people” and “process”, challenge the internal view – stimulating solutions that individuals or groups from one organisation could not begin to conceive.
How often do we win an argument on “this feels right”? We need comparisons with other experiences and a logical argument built on examples of good and bad practice.
Establishing such groups, representing a cross section of industries, is, I believe, the key to unlocking the power of a great customer experience. Every individual will be able to use the collective knowledge and experience to help them find answers to current and future customer experience challenges – and win approval for implementation.
The opportunity to be part of a group, not just to listen or talk, but to engage and challenge the collective view, benefit from the collective learning and be stimulated by its creativity is also vital to the implementation of the delivery of a consistent experience. Organisations are as individual as the people they contain, the customers they serve, and the experiences they generate. If the challenges lie within a collective consciousness, so will the answers.