In the first part of this post, Defining a Great Customer Experience – Starting at the Top, we talked about the difficulties in defining a great customer experience, how its more than just “Delivery > Expectations”, and how a great experience starts at the top of the companies funnel. The expectations provided during the Awareness, Consideration, and Intent [to purchase] phases of the sales funnel process set the stage for Purchase/Conversion and bottom of the funnel interactions. But when most people think of Customer Experiences, both from the business and the end consumer perspective, they relate to the Purchase through Support portion of the funnel.
A startling statistic:
So are you part of the 80% or the 8% (or both or neither)? Odds are you are a part of the 92% that doesn’t deliver as great as you or the company believes. If that is the case, and it probably is, how do we move the proverbial needle to become part of the 8%? For the last 12+ years, I have been studying the most recognized service organizations, and have determined 6 traits of the Greatest Customer Experience Providers.
Great Customer Experience Trait #1: Clear Priorities
When you look at companies with great customer experiences, it is crystal clear to the end consumer and to the associates working for the organization that the quality of the experience is the company’s first priority. Note, the quality of experience may be end consumer’s experience (ex: Apple or Nordstrom) or the internal associates experience (Southwest Airlines). Apple’s clear priority is end user design, Nordstrom is focused on consumer courtesy, and Southwest drives end consumer experience by ensuring their associates are treated as the most important priority. Every company, and for that matter every initiative, has consciously or unconsciously ranked how quality of experience, cost and flexibility, time, and risk management are prioritized. Great experiences make it clear that quality of experience is the most important.
Great Customer Experience Trait #2: Culture, Vision, and Standards
There is an ancient proverb, “A fish rots from the head down.” More often than not, this phrase is used when something horrible happens with an organization, and it’s found leadership is absent (United Airlines). But it also applies to a lesser degree if leadership has not provided a definitive culture supporting the customer, a vision with the end customer’s experience in mind, and a set of values or standards that enable associates to act on behalf of the best interests of a customer. No company has articulated these standards better than the Ritz Carlton. For years, the Ritz Carlton has engrained their “Gold Standards” (Credo, Motto, Steps of Service, Service Values, and Employee Promise) into the daily processes of their associates. These types of values create a powerful trust bond from leadership to associate that enables them to continuously do the right thing.
Great Customer Experience Trait #3: Value Defined from the Customer’s View
Of all the 6 common traits the best customer experience providers exhibit that has become more generally demonstrated by more companies of late, Value Defined from the Customer’s View, has been discussed and attempted most often. You may hear it as “Work backward from the customer” or even the generic “delivering a great customer experience”. Over the past 10 years, the popular trend has been to move away from driving company value first, and to delivering value as defined by the customer. The most visible example is the difference customer experience providers place on metrics such as AHT (Average Handle Time). Years ago, driving this metric down, whether through outsourcing or internally, was the key to supporting the business. Eventually, realizing that customers wanted their issues solved fast correctly the first time was more important that quick, transactional solutions. Companies like USAA and LL Bean understood that by delivering value based on the customer was more valuable in the long run to company success. One of the first things I do in every consult is to look at the organization’s metric dashboard. The second is to ask managers (not executives) what metrics their managers ask about the most. The talk around the broader organization may be that you are there to provide a great customer experience, but “the walk”, shown through metrics and feedback, is often cost related metrics. Unless, your customer experience is based on an extremely low price point, your customers do not care about your costs. Customers, in general regardless of the industry, care about five things when it comes to customer service:
- Friendly, supportive service
- Efficiency with incremental value
- Product and customer knowledge
- Compliance (whether they know they want it)
Does your dashboard and senior leaders demonstrate that these types of customer centric metrics are what is most important? Or is your dashboard showing the value you are attempting to deliver back to the company?
Great Customer Experience Trait #4: Reinforce Beliefs Through Associates
The great customer experience traits really start compounding at this point. Yes, customer centric metrics needs to start with the right priorities and strong standards, however, you cannot reach the fourth trait without having a solid understanding of the first three traits of a great experience. You need to understand where a customer experience fits in priorities; you need to understand and internalize values, and you need to focus on the right things to be able to reinforce your beliefs through your associates. There is a reason why the United Airlines experience is different from Jet Blue’s or Southwest’s. Jet Blue and Southwest take the knowledge of the first three traits and continuously reinforce their customer experience beliefs through all of their associates, from executive to baggage handler. Values and standards on a wall are good, but their real power exists when an associate uses the same decision making criteria as their executive. If your values are real, internalized and reinforced, associates can act with the priorities and vision in mind. How are your priorities, vision, standards, values, and customer centric metrics driven through to the associates? Are they a part of your performance management program? Are your incentives related to your standards? Is the trade off scenario frequently posed to associates in a safe environment? Wells Fargo now understands what happens when it is not.
Great Customer Experience Trait #5: Infrastructure Supports Priorities, Vision, Goals, and Beliefs
Again, its all well and good if you have the right mindset, goals, and beliefs, but you need the right infrastructure to deliver the experience. I am not saying you need the best or newest in technology to deliver, but it may help. Infrastructure is much, much more than technology. Infrastructure is how your People, Process, and Technology work together. You cannot say you are going to deliver a great customer experience, then only do quality monitoring on 3 random calls of each of your agents. You cannot ensure you are going have successful associates if you your manager to associate ratio is 25:1. You cannot deliver a great experience if your processes do not support customer centric metrics first. If your associates are consistently uncomfortable in your environment, they will never stay or be happy or be there to happily help a customer. If your dashboard, doesn’t contain your people metrics (morale, engagement, transitions), you really don’t care about them in your success. If you IVR has 15 menus, and exists to deflect calls, you cannot deliver a great experience. If social media is only handled by Marketing, you will very likely not provide a great customer experience.
You need to build your infrastructure from the foundation built in the first four traits. USAA probably does this better than almost anyone, and why they consistently have the highest NPS of any financial organization. Their infrastructure has been created and constantly improved to deliver for the customer. An example is that every time a marketing campaign is sent to a customer, the same campaign is sent to the customer’s account in their customer support system. So if a customer contacts USAA about a mailer, the agent knows exactly which one of a hundred different mailer this customer received, can talk to the mailer appropriately, and can let the customer know they understand their viewpoint.
Great Customer Experience Trait #6: Great Experiences are Marketed
It took me a much longer time to understand this is one of the 6 traits that great customer experience companies have in common. For a long time, I believed there were only the first five. But as I worked with many really good experience companies, I wasn’t exactly sure why they were never considered (by others) as great. Why is Zappos considered the beacon of a great experience? Many companies exhibit the same values in service. Many companies are as friendly, have a great customer first mindset, and deliver consistently. The difference is Marketing; whether the marketing is owned, earned or paid for. Now, Zappos has definitely earned many of their accolades, but how did the story of the 10 hour customer service call get out to the masses. It may have happened naturally, but I am sure someone in Public Relations or Marketing realized this supported their greater value proposition, and helped the story travel. If you truly want to be considered a great customer experience company, people need to know you are one. If you want to see this trait in real time, think about every Comcast/Xfinity commercial and marketing piece has created in the last 2 years. Comcast, like most of the cable and media companies, has a horrible reputation and consistently low customer satisfaction and net promoter scores. In actuality, Comcast service for the past few years is pretty good. They now arrive on time, service rarely goes down, and have a very comprehensive customer access strategy and tools. Their push is to improve their perception.
The 6 traits of great customer experience providers is not checklist, but it is what many of the top providers have in common. The traits do provide a great start towards building a great experience. These traits will also survive tests of time, as long as the companies maintain their priorities, values, and focus. The companies that demonstrate consistently great amazing virtuous cycles with their customers. With each experience, their value is reinforced. With each interaction, they ensure the customer will WANT to experience this again. Even small mistakes are forgiven, and are given a chance to amaze the customer again. How many of the 6 traits does your company demonstrate? How do you move to the 8% that customers actually think provide a great experience?