Developing a customer centric culture means nailing what your customers really want and responding to that in a way that your people can deliver.
Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe retailer, bought by Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2009, has 500 employees in a call center in Las Vegas who have all received seven weeks of intensive training on how to make customers happy.
The stories are legendary and include Zappos customer service reps doing everything from sending flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments to overnighting a free pair of shoes to a best man who had arrived at a wedding shoeless. There’s also the small matter of the longest ever reported customer service phone call coming in at 10 hours and 29 minutes.
The point of the story is that Zappos is a great example of a company who publish a customer service mantra - “to deliver WOW through customer service” - and who then align the organisation to deliver on it through comprehensive training, empowerment to act and customer metrics focused on ‘wow’ (i.e. satisfaction) not efficacy.
It takes more to make a success of Customer Experience than implementing isolated initiatives like a customer feedback process, responsive call centre staff, interactive technology or measuring NPS improvements. These things may seemingly allow improvements to the customer experience – but they are likely to be incremental and the customer may not even notice. Often what’s most important to the customer, what they really value and more importantly what’s of greatest value to the organisation, is missing. (Think back to our lady with damaged feet and our shoeless best man).
To be powerhouses in customer service, organisations need to explore how well positioned they are to deliver on their key customer drivers - in other words how aligned the needs and dreams of their customers are with the culture and capability of their company, now and in the future.
We’ve been Customer Experience practitioners for getting on 15 years now and have been involved in numerous Customer Experience design and change projects with many clients in various sectors all around the world. There’s usually two scenarios we come across.
1. Those at the very start of their Customer Experience journey - they know they need to do something but they’re not sure where to start
2. Those who have begun on a Customer Experience programme but are not seeing the improvements and value they hoped for
In the first scenario, we find organisations are usually overwhelmed with deciding on how to establish with absolute clarity what their customer needs and how well the organisation is currently set up to deliver it.
In the second scenario, we find companies have been quick to implement a whole host of initiatives based on customer feedback and NPS scores without taking a step back to look at what organisational factors are currently preventing them from delighting their customers.
In either case, we recommend the following simple principles:
Companies need a shared vision for what they want their customer experience to look like and an understanding amongst all employees of how that adds to the bottom line
All Customer Experience activity should fit within a clear framework that people can understand and relate to, with a line of sight from each initiative to the overall customer promise
Communicating clearly on how Customer Experience will be measured is key to driving the right behaviours. Remember our Zappos customer service reps on the phone for ten hours, delivering flowers and replacing faulty goods free of charge? Metrics are focused on customer delight and consequent loyalty not sales call volume and efficacy
Clear empowerment and accountability for customer smiles. This means motivating and empowering people to do the things you need them to do to make your customers happy, with clear accountability and recognition.
Developing a customer centric culture means nailing what your customers really want and responding to that in a way that your people can deliver. Organisational structure, processes, information and insight, people and critically, the overall vision all need to work together in one total customer experience. If just one of these elements is out of kilter, your customer will be too.
The airline industry is a highly competitive one. Technology, hand in hand with a human touch, will deliver better experiences for customers. The challenge is in the alignment of the culture, processes, systems and capability of the organisation, with the needs of customers in a way that employees are empowered and engaged to deliver. That goes for at any point in their customer experience, but is even more of a priority in times or disruption.
Customers need their experiences to be seamless and without friction. Importantly, they also hope that any problem will be proactively owned and resolved quickly and satisfactorily by the company or organisation with whom they are interacting.
When talking about touch points and channels, we refer most often to those within our control e.g. the call centre, email, the physical store, social media. We don’t often consider those which are delivered by another organisation for example a business partner. Companies seem only too ready to hand over responsibility for the customer to their partner. Yet some seem quick to blame them when things go wrong and act as judge and jury when their NPS scores, say, are not up to scratch. Delegating companies often seem to want it
What Alamo have done is they have not only managed to improve the customer journey and eradicate pain points or friction but have succeeded in elevating the customer experience and at the same time, become more operationally efficient. Smiles all round.
If we were to compare the energy sector to that of aviation, Richard Branson summed it up very well: “Look, I think that when we started Virgin Atlantic 30 years ago, we had one 747 competing with the airlines that had an average of 300 planes each. Every single one of those have gone bankrupt because they didn’t have customer service. They had might, but they didn’t have customer service, so customer service is everything in the end.” What will the energy sector look like in 10, 20 or 30 years if things don’t change?
AI in its current form is only part of the solution. AI requires a deeper understanding of customer needs so that it is an enabler rather than the answer for its own sake. The balance of AI vs. human interactions in the Customer Experience needs to be carefully orchestrated.
Does your C-Suite champion the Customer Experience? Is your CEO committed to Customer Experience success? The protagonists in your customer experience need to be shrewdly put in place.
As is often quoted, Customer Experience is not a department; it is a culture, a mindset and a way of doing business. CEO’s need to lead from the top, instilling this philosophy whilst harnessing their employees to deliver a consistent and valuable experience for customers over the long-term.
There are many more ‘excellent’ brands in the US in terms of customer experience. Some 58 brands (up from 24) in the US this year are categorized as delivering an ‘excellent’ or outstanding customer experience, according to the KMPG Nunwood calculations. Compare this to just four companies who cross that threshold in the UK. Evidently this means that brands in the UK are lagging by a factor of 15.
What would happen if your favourite coffee shop started acting like a bank? With an automated order system producing your caffeine fix based on assumptions, there would be no chance of a tall, soya milk cappuccino with sugar free vanilla syrup and an extra shot of Guatemalan espresso!
Customer Experience transformation requires a joined-up understanding of the end to end customer journey and the role that the call centre plays in this customer journey. Add to that, the challenge of how to align the role of technology related touchpoints and establish how humans and technology co-exist seamlessly (another subject for another day)!
Surveys are a key part of the big business of Customer Experience Management and Voice of Customer programmes – but they have become a victim of their own success. Your survey should be just one tool, supporting a wider customer experience measurement model.