Evolution of the Customer Experience and Impact on Businesses

The customer experience has grown into an all-encompassing vision for businesses. Where once it was the responsibility of a single department, it now comprises all functions and levels within an organization—from marketing to IT to operations to sales.

Before the Digital Age, customers interacted with companies at their brick-and-mortar stores, by (snail) mail and through their call centers. This often meant that customer service took a backseat to growing profits. But this worked out OK for businesses because the customer was fairly removed from product design, had few alternatives, and had a limited ability to spread any negative feedback.

Now that society is more connected, and the flow of information has intensified, companies have been compelled to rethink their customer service strategies. As far back as 2013, CMO reported that 76 percent of retail customer touches take place through websites, followed by 73 percent through email messages, 50 percent with in-person store visits and 43 percent through mobile. Now, growing profits means providing an experience that meets or exceeds customer expectations. Otherwise, you may be called out on social media platforms or be replaced by a competitor.

Opportunities in a connected world

The digital expansion of customer touch points adds complexity to the customer experience, but it also offers a variety of channels for reaching your key targets. Through social media, your website blog, forums, YouTube and many other channels, you can engage with customers and immerse them in your brand. With interesting, relevant and informative content, you develop trust and then loyalty.

What’s important is that you don’t let content about your brand move beyond your control. Consumers are constantly exposed to information that may make them reassess their choices—don’t let your brand take the fall. We are in an era of non-stop evaluation. Companies must use advanced analytical capabilities to follow and guide customers through the journey.

Accenture research shows that two factors are key to the customer experience: 1) trustability, and 2) continuous, complete and fast service. The consulting firm also found that a good experience with one company drives customer expectations for all other companies. This means that businesses should take note of best practices and deploy them in their operations.

Overall, a customer-centric organization will adopt customer experience management as a formal business process that is focused on developing deep, broad, long-term customer relationships.

Impact of improved customer experience

After implementing a differentiated customer experience strategy, you can expect significant positive results, per Accenture, such as:

  • New customer acquisition: Better customer management can lead to a 10 to 12 percent improvement in customer acquisition.
  • Customer retention: Higher customer satisfaction results in a 10 to 15 percent increase in retention.
  • More purchases: Nine out of 10 customers experiencing increased satisfaction would buy 8 to 10 percent more products from a company.
  • Lower costs: Organizations that manage the customer experience well can expect the costs of acquisitions and service to decline by 5 to 8 percent.

Expect these sorts of successes if your company has evolved to the point where all stakeholders across the organization are aligned to deliver a stellar customer experience.

It’s Not About You: Keep Your Employees Focused on the Customer

When customers call into your contact center, they are looking to have their issues resolved as quickly and effectively as possible. A recitation of your customer service processes and policies does not necessarily serve their interests. An ideal customer care experience will instead focus on the individual, not your business’s imperatives—except for the one that says “put the customer first.”

A customer care Communicator who responds to an inquiry with a statement of policy is anathema to the reason for customer service, as it puts up a wall between Communicator and customer. It shows disrespect for the customer as an individual. Instead, Communicators who feel they can’t positively resolve a customer’s issues should find someone within the organization who can.

Indeed, the experience you create for your customers will directly impact your business’s bottom line, oftentimes significantly, according to a 2017 Forrester report. While Forrester acknowledges the challenge of connecting customer experience (CX) quality with revenue growth, the research company demonstrated—using its own CX Index data—how CX improvements, for the most part, drive customer loyalty and, subsequently, greater profitability.

More important than being right is being considerate and helpful. Customers rate companies more on how they handle issues than whether their products or services have minor issues.

To improve the customer experience in your contact center, try to abide by the following list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Acknowledge the validity of the customer’s complaint, and show empathy for his or her trouble.
  • Seek help from an expert in the organization for customer questions you can’t answer.
  • Listen! Don’t be so committed to your script that you miss connecting emotionally with your callers.
  • Consider backing up your customer service actions with a promotional gift, such as a discount on a future purchase, to inspire the customer’s loyalty and good will.
  • Be human/authentic. That is, avoid sounding robotic and/or disinterested.
  • Treat the caller as a unique individual. Don’t lump his or her complaint into a global category that makes addressing it unlikely.
  • Connect customers with someone in service who speaks their language.
  • Distinguish between personal and professional behavior. While the Communicator may not be personally responsible for a product defect, for example, he or she is professionally responsible as a representative of the company.
  • Be polite and friendly.

Don’t:

  • Use foul language. Ever.
  • Label customers or call them names, like stupid, fat, rude and obnoxious. (It’s happened.)
  • Quote policy.
  • Expect customers to know or care about your processes.
  • Pass the buck. If you can help, then do help; don’t ask an associate to do it for you.
  • Blame the customer for the product or service issue.
  • Refer the customer to another support source, such as a doctor or the Internet.
  • Say there’s nothing you can do to help.
  • Contradict the customer. If he or she says something happened, assume it did.
  • Be sarcastic; don’t act frustrated or angry. Be empathetic instead.

The Unexpected Value of Sharing Knowledge

We hear a lot these days about customer service that goes “above and beyond,” but what does that really mean? Customers themselves may not even know, but they know it when they see it. One way your Communicators can provide this level of service is to answer questions that customers didn’t even know they had when they called.

Think about the last time someone gave you an unexpected “tip.” Maybe it was at the paint store, where the clerk steered you—without your having to ask—to a ½-inch-nap lambswool roller, and let you in on the secret that it’s considered the perfect roller by pro painters (it holds plenty of paint without adding too much texture). Or maybe you were wandering around the plant nursery and a worker suggested a trick for opening closed flower buds quickly (put them in warm water first, then cold water). She had no idea you were buying them for company that very night.

If you think people are delighted when they get tips and tricks like these about a purchase, you’re right. Why? Everyone feels good when someone else takes time out of their day, even if it’s just a moment, to help them. Second, we appreciate the “inside” information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else simply because we didn’t know enough to ask in the first place.

Here’s where your Communicators can elevate the customer experience. As brand ambassadors, they are considered experts about a product or service. They’ve answered thousands of questions about it, had the same number of conversations about it, and are privy to a great deal of information that customers will likely never know. Taking a bit of extra time on the phone or typing one extra text message with a golden nugget of useful information could be just what the situation needs to turn an ordinary service interaction into an extraordinary one.

Three Qualities Apparent in All Outstanding Communicators

The job of a Communicator encompasses more than just handling phone calls. Today’s contact center is a demanding environment that requires agents to have a broad range of talents and abilities in order to do their job successfully. While there are fundamental skills that every agent should have—including excellent communication skills, a professional demeanor, and the ability to multi-task—there are, I think, three qualities that outstanding Communicators share: empathy, resiliency, and adaptability.

Empathy: “I can understand how frustrated you must feel right now.” It’s a simple but powerful phrase. This and other expressions of care and concern show customers that they are being heard and that their point of view is respected and understood. Outstanding Communicators don’t simply rush into the information and problem-solving phase; they take a “time-out” for a moment of empathy. Doing so puts the customer at ease and changes the tone of the conversation. Knowing that someone cares is often enough to calm a rattled customer, a tactic that immediately begins to change their perception of the service experience.

Resiliency: Challenging customer interactions are a fact of life in the contact center. Outstanding Communicators have the skills to cope with distressing situations and continue to perform at the top of their game no matter how the previous call went. They know how to manage stress and don’t let it affect their level of motivation. People who are self-confident and have a strong sense of purpose—they genuinely want to help—are likely to be more resilient. They also know when to seek help from others.

Adaptability: The contact center is a place of change: no two customers are alike, service interactions vary, and technologies evolve. Communicators who love to learn are an asset because learning happens on an almost daily basis inside the contact center. Those who have the natural ability to “go with the flow” are also usually less prone to stress, and feel positively about change—a feeling that’s likely to be contagious.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Focus on Customer Care to Skyrocket to Success

Good customer experiences are good for business. In the past, that meant having a smile at the ready and fielding a few phone calls, but we’ve come a long way since then. Today, the customer is in control. Companies are well aware that quality of service can significantly impact their bottom line; it also determines whether customers stay with a brand, and even advocate for it.

Yet, according to the latest 2015 Forrester Research survey, most companies are still delivering just an OK experience. In fact, several industries ranked lower in customer experience than they did just six months prior, with consumers saying that their experiences were poor or very poor.

What’s preventing businesses from delivering superior customer care experiences, particularly when we’re seeing so many companies reap the benefits of a well-oiled customer service strategy?

In some cases, it’s a lack of understanding as to what makes a good experience; in others, it’s a lack of planning and implementation. Business leaders must be not only dedicated to the cause but also determined to create a plan and see it through—no small feat in light of the technology tools and human resource training that it takes to do this successfully.

Many companies are finding that they can grow faster in this area by outsourcing. A Radiant Insights research report states that the global outsourced customer care services market is projected to reach $84.7 billion by 2020, propelled in part by an increasing need for interaction through non-voice channels.

Contact centers bring to the table a wealth of knowledge about the customer care industry, as well as a specialized expertise in the related technology tools that provide deep insights into customer attitudes and buying patterns. They also offer a sophisticated set of service options (including non-voice channels), and dedicated customer service staff. Businesses that choose to outsource benefit greatly from the assistance—and gain a partner in their quest to deliver superior service.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Five Customer Care Trends to Consider Implementing In Your Strategy

Once again, it’s time to take a look into the crystal ball. Which of the latest ideas in customer care are likely to have staying power in the months ahead? Forrester published a report predicting customer service trends in 2016; we’ll highlight five of them here.

Trend #1: Companies will make self-service easier. People want to solve simple issues quickly and easily, and even if your customer service is outstanding, the idea of speaking to an agent may be seen as hardly worth the effort. Evaluate your company’s existing level of self-service offerings. If your website isn’t easily searchable and equipped with resources to address common issues, it may be time for an overhaul.

Trend #2: Field service will empower customers to control their time. Technology can be used to forecast precisely when field staffers will show up at a customer’s home, and extra effort will be made to stay in constant contact with the customer. Field staffers will also jump on the self-service train by offering ways for customers to track the status of repairs.

Trend #3: Prescriptive advice will determine decisions and connections. The analytics so readily available today will be used to make customer care processes more efficient. For example, customers will be routed particular agents based on agent knowledge and skill sets, or, analytics can help generate prescribed steps for resolving issues.

Trend #4: Connected devices will deliver insights for preemptive service. The Internet of Things will start transforming companies from being product-based to service-based. For example, devices attached to cars will transmit information that could be valuable in understanding how and why something goes wrong, possibly even preventing it from happening in the first place.

Trend #5: The customer service technology ecosystem will consolidate. Our customer care world revolves around three areas with separate technology tools: queuing and routing, customer relationship management, and workforce optimization. Quality customer service depends on how well we’re able to integrate information from all of these tools. Forrester predicts that they’ll soon start to consolidate and become easier to use.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

 

What Will Your Contact Center Do This Summer?

Finally, summer is almost upon us. Most people feel more relaxed, move at a slower pace, and, typically, are focused on everything else besides work. These quiet days are a welcome change of pace for sure, but many managers see the distractions as obstacles to productivity.

Instead of battling against summer, why not embrace it as a chance to reflect on your business? It’s the perfect time to try out some new ideas for boosting engagement levels among your Communicators, and for enhancing business operations.

Some ideas to sample this summer might include:

  • Battle burnout among your Communicators. If your customer care agents are working to the best of their ability, it’s natural that they will occasionally feel the effects of burnout—particularly due to the stress inherent in their jobs. Attrition has been shown to be the top contact center challenge, so devote some attention this summer to reacquainting yourself with your Communicators. Customer care agents who find meaning in their work—solving problems and helping customers—are more likely to stay, so find ways to help them do this. Summer is a great time to conduct stay interviews, which can help you connect with your employees and how they’re feeling.
  • Offer professional development opportunities. All agents have had basic customer care training, but there are plenty of reasons to continue learning. Maybe your contact center has recently implemented new technology, or plans to in the near future, that Communicators would benefit from knowing more about. There are also agent development programs that not only educate but energize agents, teaching them how to deliver outstanding service and starting discussions about why it’s important. After training, work with your Communicators to set individual professional goals.
  • Try new technology. As you know, there’s no shortage of tools available to assist your agents in delivering superior care. It’s hard to commit to learning new technologies anytime, but summer might prove to be a wonderful opportunity to try something new. The change will help to engage employees and give them a chance to help and teach one another collaboratively. Whether it’s workforce management software, data analytics software, or any number of other tools, the business will benefit from technology updates.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

 

Why ‘Carpe Diem’ Should Be Your Communicators’ Motto

Amazon:  Warmest greetings…, my name is Thor.

Customer:  Greeting, Thor. Can I be Odin?

Amazon:  Odin, Father, How art thy doing on this here fine day?

Customer:  Thor, my son. Agony raises upon my life.

These are the beginning lines of an (unauthenticated and unscripted) exchange between an Amazon customer care agent and a customer. The transcript was widely published on the Internet, with readers everywhere delighted by a customer service experience that was genuine, amusing, and, most of all, successful—the customer got his lost book, and with one-day delivery to boot.

Why were people so taken by this conversation? Because it’s rare for business exchanges to reveal such personality, yet it’s an absolute pleasure when they do.

Many customer care exchanges involve the use of scripts, which are designed to provide consistency. But there’s much to be said for occasionally and strategically leaving the script behind—the key word being “strategically.” Sometimes it’s better to go outside the lines. It’s also up to you to help your Communicators recognize when and why this strategy works.

Customer personalities vary, and Communicators may need to adapt accordingly. While two callers may have the same problem, they may not be handling it the same way, with one person more relaxed and the other much more anxious. In that case, the same script won’t work equally well for both parties. One may require more empathy and assurances for a positive outcome, which means having a more genuine conversation.

Also, service across multiple channels requires a more natural flow. While scripting was intended to promote consistency, it falls short when customers start communication via a website, for example, and continue it by phone or texts. Whether it’s a few minutes or a few days between exchanges, Communicators need to keep the flow going, preventing the customer from having to start over again every time.

There are plenty of other reasons to “seize the day” and go off-script, and the more you talk about these openly with your Communicators the better off you’ll be. The more flexible you are, the more successful your Communicators will be at building relationships. For that, reading people is more important than reading scripts.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

How to Solve Common Social Customer Care Shortcomings

The future is here. Ten years ago there was no social media, smart phone apps, web chat, and very little email. Today, according to the 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, 35 percent of all interactions between customers and businesses are digital and, of the contact centers surveyed, 43 percent currently have active social media channels, and an additional 24.5 percent expect to have these channels active in 2016.

While expectations and usage continue to rise, the reality is that many businesses struggle to succeed in this area. Social media presents unique challenges, in everything from managing response time expectations to staying on top of multiple contact points. Here are three common social customer care shortcomings that, if managed properly, can be overcome:

  • Falling short on response times. Eptica’s U.S. Retail Multichannel Study 2015 reveals that more than 75 percent of consumers expect a response within two hours on Twitter, or four hours on Facebook; in reality, response times are averaging 24 hours plus. To provide around-the-clock service, consider hiring contractors or part-time employees to monitor social media channels during off-hours. If this type of service is impossible, make sure your social channels have clearly labeled “hours of operation.” Even without an immediate answer, Communicators should make it a priority to acknowledge incoming messages, and, when possible, give expected time frames for responses.
  • Too-formal, scripted interactions. Social media messages are inherently more informal than other types of communication; your company’s responses should follow suit. Having an individual’s name attached to social media messages adds a personal touch. Encourage Communicators to be more conversational in social media responses, including the occasional dose of humor where appropriate.
  • No consistency or uniformity in service. It will be nearly impossible to implement superior social customer care if your agents are working in isolation, or formulating service strategies on the fly. As you would with any other channel, proactively manage your social media interactions by documenting and sharing best practices. Include your Communicators as partners in developing these guidelines, including roles and responsibilities and ideal responses to common situations.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Outsourced Customer Care Services Are On the Rise, Here’s Why

Sometimes, you need a partner to survive.

It’s tougher than ever to achieve superior satisfaction levels among customers today, mainly due to three new realities: 1) Businesses are striving to be in constant touch with their customers in an effort to attract and engage them with their brand. 2) Customer interaction is happening across multiple platforms, from phone calls and text messages to live chat and emails. 3) Contact centers are taking on a more high-profile role within businesses, as the impact of superior customer care becomes apparent.

Businesses across all industries are struggling to address these realities, and many have already taken an important step that will not only help them to stay afloat, but also to gain a competitive edge: They’ve joined forces.

Organizations that work together have a better chance of success. The three realities listed above are driving more and more businesses to look for an outsourcing partner that can help them improve their company’s customer experience. Just look at the numbers: According to a 2016 report by Hexa Research, the size of the outsourced customer care services market around the globe is expected to exceed $84.5 billion by 2020.

Bringing the customer experience into the 21st century presents a real challenge. Grandview Research cites mobility and the sheer number of customer communication channels as key factors leading to the growth of the customer care market. The right partner can help manage these channels, giving you access to the latest and best technologies for multichannel customer care at a greatly reduced cost to you. You’ll also benefit from specialized expertise in the field. Vendors who specialize in customer care have valuable marketing experience and tried-and-true solutions you can leverage to reach new audiences more effectively.

Working together is always better than working alone. Consider how the right partner could positively impact your business; I’ll bet the results could be extraordinary.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.