Will customer experience determine a brand’s success in the future?Interview
Adam ErhartMarketing Consultant and Author of 'The Customer Service Experience'
REGALIX: How do you define customer experience?
AE: Customer experience is all about what the customer goes through from the first time he/she becomes aware of your brand or your company, right through discovery to transactional periods, and carries on after the sale.
It’s a lot more involved than a lot of businesses give it credit for. It really surrounds and accompanies any touch point no matter how small an engagement customer has with you. This means that a customer experience can begin when a customer sees an advertisement, because advertisements set the tone or the mood, they make a promise and it’s up to the company to keep that promise and live up to the expectations that they were responsible for setting.
REGALIX: Can you share some light on the current state of customer experience management practices?
AE: There’s been an increasing focus, and this is a good thing, back to the customer. Thanks to the power and availability of the internet, we can now get anything we could need or want, without even having to talk to anyone.
What traditional industries have been trying to do is emphasize more of the human-to-human connection and interaction, which is really only available when dealing or speaking with someone in person, and trying to differentiate themselves that way, with a higher level of empathy or understanding, as that’s a lot easier to convey in person.
What new online industries are doing is quite similar to their traditional counterparts are doing. They’re trying to re-humanize what are often automated or canned responses. They’re focusing more on in-house training and trying to hire the right people for their customer service departments. Now, not every company is doing this, but best practices are certainly to try to re-humanize the experience for customers.
REGALIX: What according to you are the key challenges or obstacles that companies are facing today in providing superior customer experience?
AE: I think the greatest challenge is in some ways a kind of blessing, and that’s social media. Social media has blown the doors of bad customer service. You can’t treat people like means to an end without suffering some serious PR issues later.
This is great news for companies that are willing to embrace the customer service experience, and provide a better service. It is true that people are much more likely to post on social media about a bad experience than a good one, but that just makes it so much more important to constantly try to offer a better experience for your customers.
REGALIX: What do you think are the key benefits and drivers of delivering excellent customer experience?
AE: Passion, attitude, care, knowledge and etiquette – I think these are the 5 main parts to an excellent customer service experience. You’ve got to be passionate about what you’re doing or what you’re selling, you need a good attitude, you need to know about what you’re selling, and you need to be polite.
Companies that embrace these five things are miles ahead. They’re not overly challenging to implement, but they’re hugely important.
REGALIX: Can you define some key metrics that should be considered when thinking about CX and the effect it could have on businesses?
AE: I think the best metric to measure is the Net Promoter Score. This is essentially how many people would actively promote your company. We can also call them brand ambassadors.
The easiest way to figure this out is on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend our company to your friend. You’re looking for an answer in the 8, 9, or 10 range. 7 is neutral, and 6 or below are negative.
You can use this to track improvements over time and a company should always be trying to increase their net promoter score.
REGALIX: What according to you businesses should do to improve their CX?
AE: I think the best way to improve customer experience is to improve company culture. Company culture often starts at the top, but then it filters down, and reaches the front lines.
The most permanent improvement available to a company is to change the culture. This means setting new standards, providing some guidelines, and creating a culture where the customer really is number 1.
REGALIX: How has technology changed customer experience over the last few years and how do you think it will impact over the next decade or so?
AE: I think this point hits on what I was saying earlier about social media. The biggest change now in technology is our level of connection. We can share stories, good and bad, in a matter of seconds. Customers can research our companies and check our reviews and ratings, ask their friends, and get near-instant feedback. Companies can no longer hide behind lack of information, because now it’s everywhere.
I think in the next decade as social media and the internet reach every corner of the globe, it will show a greater impact on customer service. Yes, there’ll be different levels of exceptional customer service depending on the industry and price point they’re operating at, but there’ll be absolutely no place for rudeness, or lack of care. Customers have too many other options.
REGALIX: The ecosystem around customer experience is growing rapidly. Who do you think are the major players who are excelling at providing outstanding customer experience?
AE: The two that come to mind are the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company and Zappos.
The Ritz Carlton famously gives each of its employees $2000 to handle any guest complaint in a manner they feel is appropriate. Now, this isn’t obviously practical for most businesses, but it shows that when it comes to the customer experience, they’re not messing around. This is a company culture that values the guest experience above all else.
Zappos is our new industry example as they’re an online shoe retailer. They train each of their customer service reps for 7 weeks, and don’t put a time limit on their customer service calls. I think the last time I checked the record for their longest call was 8 hours and 47 minutes. There are other stories that have become almost famous about what they’ve done for their customers, and while it’s sometimes a bit crazy, it again shows, this is a company that values its customers.
REGALIX: 62% marketers identified the lack of a clear CX strategy as being a significant obstacle to improving CX according to our recent customer experience survey, do you agree to this?
AE: Yes, definitely. Like most things in business, you need a strategy and you need a plan. I think in this case the plan can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. If you’re looking for something complicated, then definitely factors like training, manuals, guidelines, response procedures, metrics, and other tools like social media, internet or phone response systems count.
If you’re looking for something simple, it can be as easy as a company tagline like “the customer is always right” or “the customer above all else”. If this is something that your company truly believes in, then the answers to any customer service questions that come up in the future are pretty easy to answer.
REGALIX: What aspects of the experience that your company delivers matter most to your customers?
AE: I’d like to think we do a pretty good job at all of them, passion, attitude, care, knowledge, and etiquette, but the two, I think, we do really well are timeliness and empathy.
For the timeliness part we really value our customers’ time. That means we’re not late for client meetings, we respond to emails within the hour if we can, but always by the end of the day, we finish our projects on time, and overall we respect the customers’ time. We can do this by setting clear guidelines and customer expectations. You’re always going to have clients or customers who want things done faster, so it’s important to be realistic in your explanation of what’s possible and educate the client about why it takes as long as it does.
In regards to empathy, we’re a digital marketing company so a lot of what we do is tech-related and sometimes confusing for those outside of the internet marketing world. We’ve done a lot of work to find the best way to communicate what we do, so the business owner feels respected and doesn’t feel that we’re talking down to them, while at the same time gets a thorough understanding of how we’re helping them.
REGALIX: What methods do you employ to measure the effectiveness of good digital customer experience?
AE: We love the Net Promoter Score. After every contract and for our retainer contracts we check in all the time and ask, how things are, is everything as you expected, is there anything else we can do, what else we can do to improve your experience.
REGALIX: Which marketing component do you think is emerging as the most important? Is it automation, social, mobile, analytics, advertising and so on?
AE: That’s a great question. I think they’re all somewhat important.
Automation is important to offer to the customers who want to find their own answers and don’t want to deal with a customer service rep. Social is vital because it’s how the world is communicating and sharing information. Mobile is crucial because it’s growing faster than desktop sales and is what’s connecting us with the world’s developing countries faster than any other means. Analytics are important because you need to know what’s working and what’s not, and advertising is important because it’s what sets customer expectations in the first place.
So essentially, all of them are important. But if I had to pick one to focus on right now for companies, the easiest and most powerful would probably be social. Focus on a good social media strategy and then go from there.
REGALIX: What do you see as the next big trend in customer experience in 2015?
AE: I think the next big trend in customer experience is etiquette. I know it’s not as fancy an answer as data collection, video service, personal valets or anything else, but there’s been a slow and steady increase in the importance of being polite while serving customers, which has stemmed largely from social media horror stories of brands being rude or disrespectful to customers and then getting trashed online. Companies realize they can’t get away with having their front line staff being anything less than polite to customers, and so the customer trend for 2015 will be etiquette and the companies that miss this trend will suffer.
REGALIX: Any piece of advice you would like to offer to companies looking to provide enhanced customer experience?
AE: I think the most important thing is to simply be aware of where your customer service is now, and where you’d like it to be.
If you can take it a step further and make a conscious and company-wide decision to actively improve your level of customer service than you’re miles ahead already.
The key is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask – Would I do business with me?