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Who’s Responsible for the Customer’s Experience?

Once while speaking to a group regarding attributes necessary to deliver a great customer experience, one of the attendees mentioned the difficulty he experienced when attempting to renew his driver’s license. “The employees seemed not to care or concerned with how long the lines were and the resulting customer frustration.” Now I can certainly understand how this might be an unpleasant situation for the customers, but are the employees totally at fault? Who’s really responsible for the customer’s experience. Here’s several points that I asked that attendee to consider.

Is Leadership Actively Engaged? – In the above scenario, here are several questions that come to mind: How does leadership respond to the situation? Are they actively engaged with the daily business operations? Are they in tune with the front line employees? Are they open to input from the front line? Is there commitment to providing adequate operational resources – not necessarily additional employees, but updated technology or improved processes? Do leaders regularly service customers themselves to stay in touch with the “real world”? Does leadership regularly review customer surveys? Are leaders required to contact unhappy customers to insure they remain a customer? All of these are crucial in leadership’s willingness to be actively engaged in creating positive customer experiences.

Does Leadership Exercise Positive Motivation? – While it’s the responsibility of customer facing employees to create great customer experiences, it’s also the responsibility of leadership to utilize positive motivational incentives. It does not have to be extra money (this might be nice though!). Make a big deal out of the reduction in customer complaints. Did someone offer an idea that resulted in cost reductions? Celebrate that! When a customer offers a compliment about an employee’s performance, let the whole company know! Who doesn’t want to be recognized for a job well done or the extra effort taken to insure a customer’s satisfaction with the product or service? Provide positive reinforcement as this helps in creating the right atmosphere for providing great customer experiences.

Does Leadership Encourage Teamwork? – In order to create great customer experiences, teamwork is a necessity. Is leadership encouraging teamwork within the organization? Do performance standards include an element relative to teamwork? Is the importance of serving one’s internal customer well communicated on a regular basis? Is leadership encouraging cross functional communication between departments or functions? Can employees communicate how they impact others within the organization? How well can employees identify the product they create within the organization? How well does their product meet the standards of their internal customer? Is anyone accumulating data on internal customer complaints? Leadership’s willingness to make teamwork a major ingredient in the organization’s culture is crucial to creating great customer experiences.

Is Leadership in Tune with Customers? – It’s always amazing what one can learn from personally servicing customers. What the customers like and prefer. What service delivery processes are effective or may need some improvement. Is leadership in tune with the customer? Do leaders regularly spend time with customers and or service providers? Can leadership actually deliver the services themselves? Are leaders able to effectively communicate the features and benefits of the companies products and or services? Do leaders set the example for other employees on how to treat customers. Are the leaders seen interacting with and or resolving customer issues? When leaders set the pace for the organization in regards to creating great customer experiences, a boost in morale is more than likely to follow.

When determining who’s responsible for the customer’s experience, I say hands down it’s leadership! Leaders should be Actively Engaged, Exercise Positive Motivation, Encourage Teamwork and be In Tune with the Customer.

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Filling the Gaps for Better Customer Experiences

Creating a great customer experience hinges on one’s ability to develop a well oiled system. Two key factors of the system are the people working within the system and the people served by the system as both have expectations of the system. When expectations go unmet, gaps exist. Let’s talk about several of these gaps.

What Does the Customer Expect vs What is Provided? – When what the customer receives does not measure up to what’s expected, a gap exists. This gap may pertain to the quality of the product or the level of service provided by your company. How does one determine customer expectations? Simply ask!! Utilize market research to get clarification on customer expectations . For example, when customers visit the post office during their lunch break, they expect to find an ample number of post office employees available to provide service at the front counter. If the majority of the post office employees themselves are on lunch break, a gap exists in the level of service the customer expects to receive vs the level of service they actually receive. Talk with key clients about their expectations. Regularly review your customer complaints to identify what needs to be addressed within your organization. Get feedback from employees who spend the majority of their time servicing customers. The information provided by these sources will certainly identify what’s important to the customer and assist in closing the expectation gap.

Who’s Committed to Service – Delivery Quality? – Commitment to quality is paramount to creating customer experiences. When leadership is more concerned with cost reductions and short-term profits, the focus on service-delivery quality is usually not a high priority. While companies may focus on quality from an internal point of view – production schedule or production efficiency for example – the customer has no interest in the internal measurements. What about your product or service is important to the customer? Is it the ease of operation of your product? Or maybe it’s the timeframe between ordering and receiving your product? Is it the ease to access product or service information on your website? What about the timeliness of your response to their service or product inquires? Might it be the quality of the interaction when being serviced by your company’s employees? These are just a few measurements to consider when setting quality standards for service – delivery. Fill this gap by focusing on customer – centered measurements vs producer centered measurements. When service – delivery quality is a high priority, one can almost count on improved profits via developing loyal long-term customers.

Can You Standardize That Task? – There is a belief in the service industry, that task standardization leaves no room for the provision of a “personal experience” for the customer. There are however, routine tasks that lend themselves to standardization. Consider the task of opening a new personal bank account. While there is a need to have a personal conversation with the new account holder, the tasks required to actually open the personal account are probably the same for each customer. Task standardization can actually help to insure that every customer receives the same level of service. Focusing on standardization can close the gap created when the customer interacts with different service providers within your organization. When all service providers are required to adhere to the standards, the customer is the beneficiary. Are there routine tasks within your company that lend themselves to standardization?

Identifying and closing customer experience gaps within your company is critical to long-term success. Understand your customer’s expectations. Commit to the quality of service-delivery. Consider standardizing routine tasks for consistent customer interactions. Focusing on closing these gaps will prove to be profitable endeavors for your company.

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Elementary Questions Lead to Customer Insights

In today’s marketplace, customers have multiple methods to interact and or purchase goods/services. It’s important to have a clear understanding of your customer’s habits as it assists in developing products/services, marketing methods and customer service strategies. Most of us were taught a simple method of gaining information back in elementary school – ask Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why?. These basic questions are invaluable for gaining customer insights. My analytical side takes over on this topic! Let’s take a look at these questions.

Who? – The first step is determining who is your customer. It’s important to obtain as much information as possible about your individual customers. Gender, age, and location are just a few items to capture about your customers. One can then determine purchasing habits of particular age groups, male vs female in those age groups and locations of males and females in those particular age groups! The results can be invaluable when determining who’s utilizing your products/services.

What? – Now let’s add the next question – What do my customers want? To gather insights for this question, add What? to Who? What are your customers of either gender purchasing? What are your customers of particular age groups purchasing? What are your customers of either gender in particular age groups purchasing? What are your customers of either gender in a particular age group from a particular area purchasing? What are your customers of a particular age group requiring assistance with when calling your organization? Of what particular gender or age group are the customers requiring the most assistance? These are just a few insights one can gain by asking the What? question.

When? – The next insight question to add to the Who? and What? is When? When are your customers purchasing your products/services? When are particular age groups purchasing your products/services? When are your customers of a particular gender within a specific age group purchasing a particular product or service? When are customers visiting your brick and mortar locations to conduct business? When are customers of a particular gender within a particular age group visiting your brick and mortar locations?

Where? – Okay, now let’s ask the next insight question – Where? Where are your customers purchasing your products/services? Where are your customers of a particular age group purchasing/your products services? Is there a preferred location or are they purchasing online? Are females more apt to purchase online than males? Which age group prefers to purchase online? Answering these questions can assist in aligning customer experience strategies with customer behavior.

How? – This insight question seeks to determine how your customer chooses to do business with you. Is a particular age group utilizing the mobile phone to interact? What about a particular gender within an age group – are females between the ages of 25 to 40 utilizing mobile phones more than females in a different age group when conducting business with your company? Are males in a particular age group making online purchases from the laptops vs their mobile phones? How are customers choosing to complain? Are they emailing or calling? Which age group prefers emailing? Which gender prefers calling? Which age group prefers to utilize your web chat channel to communicate? The answers to How? helps one to develop methods to reach those customers as well as develop customer experience strategies for those channels.

Why? – To get answers to this question requires interaction with the customer. You can accomplish this via surveys or personal interaction. Seek to gain insights into – Why are customers of a particular gender more likely to purchase online vs. visit your brick and mortar location? Why does a customer choose a specific location over others? Why does a specific age group prefer to make reservations via your mobile website vs making a phone call? Why does a specific gender within a specific age group utilize your web chat channel to request assistance? In knowing the “Why?” an organization gains insight into the way its customers think when making decisions to utilize your products or services.

Remember, in order to gain insight into your customer’s behavior just begin with elementary questions – Who? What?When? Where? How? and Why?

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3 Tips for Managing Customer Expectations

During a recent consulting assignment, it became apparent that the customer service personnel were experiencing an excess amount of stress each morning. When asked to elaborate on the cause, here’s the answer I received – “Errol, employees at the various store locations are committing our installation crews to a timeframe without verifying if our appointment schedule allows us to meet that commitment. Now we have to call the customer to reschedule their appointment. Having to do this puts us in an awkward position.” Not a great way to start the day! Here are three tips to make sure you’re taking the proper steps when setting customer expectations.

1. Create Effective Internal Communications. – In the scenario above, the store employees were making installation commitments, yet they are not responsible for fulfilling the commitment. Their ability to set expectations creates both internal and external issues. Internal friction develops as the customer service personnel eventually develop a level of resentment toward the store employees. Externally, the customer is provided an installation timeframe, yet receives a phone call to reschedule the original given timeframe. The customer’s perception of the organization may be somewhat diminished as a result. It’s important to make sure that everyone’s on the same page when setting expectations. Departments must be aligned in order to provide great customer experiences. Take the time to include those who are responsible for meeting the expectation (and in the above scenario, those responsible for scheduling personnel to meet the expectation) when developing the expectation message.

2. Promote Consistency – When an organization has multiple locations; restaurants, banks, grocery stores, or hotels to name a few; it’s a good idea to create standardized policies and procedures. Customers have a way of believing that the experience should be the same at all of an organization’s locations. These policies and procedures should be customer – focused of course. While the need for a certain level of autonomy is understandable, it’s best to provide a customer focused operations template to those tasked with meeting customer expectations. This template simply provides the framework for ensuring consistency across the organization. Autonomous actions should enhance the customer’s experience. Promote communication across locations to allow for sharing of these autonomous actions. This could lead to incorporating some of the autonomous actions into the operations template.

3. Promise What You Can Deliver – As technology has somewhat leveled the playing field in a multitude of industries, companies are feeling the pressures of maintaining a competitive advantage. The tendency to overpromise just to get the customer to make a purchasing decision is sometimes the result of such pressure. Think long-term when setting customer expectations. Your ability to deliver on your promises is key in your quest to create long-term relationships. Future sales and referrals hinge on your customer’s perception of what you promised vs what was actually experienced. An expectation can be set either through verbal communication or advertising. Does your advertising set such expectations as “same day service” or “we’re always available”? Do your commercials show happy employees servicing the customer? What about the pictures utilized in your print advertising – do they accurately depict your product or your facility? Whatever you promise or promote sets the customer’s expectation. Make sure their experience is consistent with the promise.

In today’s highly competitive business environment, it’s critical that an organization set the proper customer expectation. Create Effective Internal Communications, Promote Consistency and Promise What You Can Deliver as you strive to provide great customer experiences!

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