We are well aware of the key ingredients that make for a superior customer experience — a meaningful value proposition, solutions across the entire customer journey, sophisticated analytics capabilities, omni-channel integration and so on. However, there needs to be a bull’s eye focus on four fundamental pillars to ensure a memorable customer experience - people, values (especially transparency and honesty), seamless integration among all functions and most importantly, a deep-rooted customer connect.
Consider a couple of my experiences with the service sector in the recent past. A technician who had been assigned to rectify an issue I was facing called to say that he was arriving soon, but also said something rather unprofessional and out of line. My reply included a rebuke. He promptly cancelled my order without informing me. When I called to find out why he hadn’t arrived, I found out he had said he doesn’t service rude customers! This service provider is from the DTH category and had been prompting me to recharge with an amount that was twice my regular subscription. I later discovered that the organisation had added a pack on its own, and charged me twice!
Then the other day, someone from a leading private sector bank called me, introducing herself as my new Relationship Manager, and immediately tried to sell me a product. When I told her to call me at 3 pm, she kept asking if it wasn’t a good time for me to speak. She called me again after an hour and sounded lost when I reminded her about 3 pm. Finally, she did not call at all at 3 pm! It’s unfortunate that some organisations still continue with their old ways of functioning, where the customer is only a source of revenue, and the quality of interaction is not important.
The above incidents underline the importance of staying the course on the fundamental pillars of customer experience, which if not taken care of, can make the higher order aspects rather irrelevant:
People: Frontline employees have to be trained necessarily in not only professional interactions with customers, but also brand proposition and organization values with a built-in monitoring mechanism of their interactions. No matter how sophisticated the systems in the organization, if the last mile does not deliver properly, the entire experience is compromised, impacting word of mouth and eventually brand reputation. In many cases, the last mile delivery is outsourced to third party agencies, which have a different set of KPIs as compared to that of the brand. Since people behaviour can never be standardized to robotic levels, the training needs to emphasise upon the brand purpose and value proposition, so as to inculcate an appreciation of how every action by every employee impacts brand reputation.
Honesty: When customers are assured of transparency and honesty in a brand’s interaction with them, it automatically brings credibility and trust, leading to a stronger brand reputation in the long term. In the example cited above, by prompting customers to pay an amount higher than they routinely pay, the organization will achieve a short-term boost to its revenue but will lose the customer trust and eventually advocacy. No matter how promising the brand’s offers are, it is the brand’s actions that stay with customers.
Seamless integration between functions: Even if different functions within an organization individually have superlative systems and processes, the customer is dealing with the organisation as a single entity. So, any transaction or complaint resolution needs at the backend collaboration among multiple functions. Customer experience can be delivered in a compelling manner when processes across all functions are seamlessly integrated and synchronized.
Unrelenting customer-connect: Finally, and most importantly, organisations need to have a constant check on their customers’ pulse. This needs to be done at two levels: pro-active customer understanding through insights research, social media listening, analysis of their transactional behaviour as well as regular customer feedback through NPS and customer complaints analysis. Being attuned to the customer’s voice needs to be an integral part of every organisations ethos and DNA, with customer connect not being restricted to the marketing or customer service teams, but every function and every employee in the organization. Every employee should have a KPI around time spent listening to customers, or contributing towards development of a product or servicing a customer problem. There needs to be a system wherein every employee in some form ‘owns’ the customer. This ‘owning’ of the customer needs to translate into a ‘respect’ for the customer and an appreciation of the reality that an organization cannot function without its core stakeholder, the customer.
In the current and emerging new environment, organisations will need to overhaul their ways of thinking before revisiting their ways of working. Once the fundamentals of customer experience are appreciated and delivered, growth and profitability will be natural outcomes.
(The writer is Founder of Brand Eagle Consulting. Her earlier roles include stints as brand custodian of Vodafone and ICICI Bank)