Customer Experience is the new marketing
In our highly connected and competitive world it’s important to stand out through great customer experience. It can set you apart from your competition and ensure you treat your customers with respect.
Customer Experience or Support teams are often on the front line of your business and are some of the most obvious brand ambassadors. Customer experience is the new marketing – people rave about great experience, it’s actually not hard to stand out in a sea of terrible customer experience, and it will help to reduce costs from churn and acquisition and brand damage. Get your customer experience right and you’ll keep customers, build brand advocates and delight the customer. Get it wrong, and the customer will likely go elsewhere, costs will go up and reputation will be tarnished.
Why build a great customer experience team?
When you start building and selling any sort of product you will need to start supporting it.
Even if your product is high quality (which is of course, subjective) you will still have questions about it, or returns/refunds and other reasons your customers may want to get in touch with you.
Customer experience is about many aspects and dimensions from use, price, service and more. In this short guide I will focus on the teams supporting or servicing customers – a key aspect of customer experience.
Here’s the high level summary:
- Build relationships with your customers
- Optimise your tools and process for your customer’s benefit
- Solve problems once
- Don’t use metrics for individual performance reviews
- Measure everything, but use it to improve the process
- Provide the best environments you can
- Encourage Process Improvement
- Build Relationships with other teams
- Staple Yourself to a customer issue
- Quadruple your communications
- Follow up on all issues in a timely fashion
- Align your team
- Stop all negativity about customers
- Make it easy for customers (internal and external) to talk to you
Build relationships with your customers
Building relationships with your customers will pay tenfold. Many people say they don’t have time but it doesn’t take much to message them, field a call, listen to them, dig into the data about their account and show you are there for them.
Your ability to do this will depend on scale and location of course, but it’s entirely possible to build a relationship little by little. Some companies have so many customers that this task alone would be overwhelming, but contacting each customer and saying “We are here for you” will open the gates to a stronger relationship if you can do it.
Social networks, email and chat tools also allow you to get to know your customers, their businesses, their challenges and what problems your product is solving for them. Today’s social web means location is no longer an excuse for not connecting with people.
Introduce people in your team to your customers. Wouldn’t it be great if they know the person they are speaking to?
Tell your customers what expertise your team have and what roles they fulfil. This has the effect of humanising your team and it will make your customer communications with you all together more personable.
If you and your team build relationships with your customer, you will build in a level of care and trust you simply wouldn’t get if you don’t know the person on the end of the phone. This is customer experience in a nutshell – providing the tailored experience they desire. They should not have to bend and conform to your processes. They are not standard. They are exceptional.
Optimise your tools and process for customer experience
You should be using tools only if they optimise life for your customers, not just for yourself.
It’s common for people to optimise their tools and processes for themselves only, thus degrading their core function; the support of their customer.
Your inbound contact system, your CRM, your issue management process, your internal hardware and your communications process are all areas for optimisation. But try to do this to improve your support for your customer, not for delivering internal metrics or creating paths of least resistance for individuals and managers.
Optimising for both yourself and your customers is perfect, but your customer’s needs should always be more important than yours. Without your customers you have nothing. If you have to jump through hoops of fire (metaphorically) then so be it.
Solve problems once
Instead of each member of the team solving the same problem each time they encounter it, try to solve it once.
The best solution is to remove the problem from the service, but this is not always possible. So instead of solving and digging each time it is raised, solve it once and document the problem. Then communicate this solution to the whole team and if possible, to your customers also. Speak to those who created the problem and see if they can help to resolve it. Poor software quality, confusing signup processes, mis-steps in process – they can all lead to customers contacting you about a failure somewhere else. Can you turn that failure off in the first place?
When you yourself have a problem with a product, do you phone the support line first? Or do you do a quick search online? Provide your customers with answers online so they don’t waste time contacting you, and you don’t waste time solving problem over and over again. And make it easy to find the solutions. Several security gates, log ins and hard to find information will infuriate them. But don’t hide your contact number….
Don’t use metrics for individual performance reviews
The minute you start using arbitrary targets to motivate, measure and reward your team, is the time you start introducing ways to destroy the customer experience for your customer. Targets such as time on call, number of up-sells, number of resolved cases, cases in queues etc. can drive the wrong behaviour.
When you have customers with problems the important metrics are whether you solved the problem, and how fast you solved it. Customer experience is about the lack of friction and the gaining of rewards. If your customer has a problem they don’t care what happens in your company – they care about having the problem solved. And quickly.
When teams are managed by metrics and targets they begin to change the process in order to meet the targets, rather than to provide service to your customers. This is why any metrics and targets used should be in line with your team’s purpose.
Misplaced targets and metrics manifests itself in various ways such as the bouncing of issues around departments, partial solutions meaning the customer has to call back again at a later date, issues that get ignored or deleted, and a general culture of looking after individual performance levels rather than your customers.
I once saw a team bouncing customer cases between teams (queues) just as the weekly measurement snapshot was taken. Why? So the number of cases in their queue was low and they avoided being “told off”. Who suffers in this situation? The customer.
Your customer has an issue – solve it and work out how to reward/measure your team by some other mechanism.
One to ones with team members, a culture of process improvement, customer engagement metrics and open and honest feedback are simple ways to start building the right culture. Measuring based on arbitrary measures is a sure fire way of gaining a high performing customer experience team (against the wrong measures) but a poor customer experience function (their purpose).
Measure everything, but use it to improve the process
Measure as much as you can, even if you don’t think you will need it. The time you do need it will be the time you wished you had measured it.
Measurements can tell you important things. They can point you at trends and patterns. They can help you reduce waste in the system and they can help to tell compelling stories.
Numbers alone won’t give you answers to your problems though, but they will help you identify ways to make your service better for the customer. Customer experience excellence comes from understanding your customer, how they use your product, what keeps them engaged in your company and how they like to be communicated with.
Measure things like cycle time (i.e. how long work stays in your system), the lifetime value of a customer, cost to acquire, how frequently they contact you, patterns of issues (it could highlight a training challenge) and anything else you feel is helpful in lifting your customer experience to another level.
A good example of this is measuring cycle time between the customer raising an issue and you getting it resolved for them. This sounds basic but few teams I have consulted with are capturing something as simple as this. This cycle time should be as short as possible. Isn’t that a measure worth measuring?
Use measurements to find patterns and anomalies not to reward individuals. Try to avoid turning these measures in to targets – that’s when behaviour will change and not always for the better.
Provide the best environment you can
Provide an environment that is comfortable, well equipped and suitable for your team to get work done. Your customer experience is likely to be no better than your employee experience.
If your team need more than one monitor (which I suspect, they do) then sort it out. If they need test environments or hardware to replicate issues, then sort it out for them.
If they need training to run systems queries or to learn more about dealing with argumentative customers, then provide it. The cost will easily be off-set by customers being happy and staying with you.
Provide internal training sessions and opportunities for your team to share knowledge. Provide the best phones and computers you can. Provide quiet areas to make sensitive phone calls, provide standing desks to keep them alive longer, but most of all provide them with a safe environment to question how things are done.
Make it the norm to have robust and honest conversations about improvement. Don’t let them work in fear. I suspect your customers will suffer if you do.
Encourage Process Improvement
There are always things to improve. Always. Teams and people can always be better. Customer experience is the art of getting better at providing a great service.
Provide a way to get improvements noticed and worked on. Provide a way for your team to change the environment for the better, ideally without always asking managers. Give them the opportunity (and training) to understand how to improve their work. They already know what needs changing (trust me) but it’s your job, as a manager or team lead, to provide an environment where they can make these changes.
Listen to your team, engage with your team and take on board their ideas. Even if you cannot change everything, the act of listening to people will make them feel included in the process. There will always be things that cannot be changed; explain the reasons why honestly.
Build Relationships with other teams
If you support a product or service, then you no doubt have a delivery team. Get to know them and break down the barrier between teams. Do this with all teams in the business. Work out where your work comes from and where your work goes to – and build relationships at these boundaries.
Barriers between teams will mean you have to hand off work. This is fraught with communication challenges, is often slow for your customers and let’s be honest – can often be pointless.
The more you know the work of the other teams, the more you’ll hear about about a change or product or release that directly affects your team. If you work with other teams, then make that working relationship as smooth and seamless as possible. Work together to solve common problems.
It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time, but it is possible. Start by talking to the department managers. Take them out for coffee, invite them to join your team meetings, share your ideas for the business with them and get to know them.
Make sure it is not just you who does this. Your team will need to this also. Cross functional team relationships will mean you can support your customer in a more holistic manner, rather than bouncing their problems between departments who don’t talk to each other.
Staple yourself to a customer issue
If you staple yourself to your customer’s issue as it flows (or doesn’t flow) through your system, you will start to realise where the problems exist for your customer.
If you put yourself in the shoes of your customer and visualise the flow of their issues you may be surprised at how ineffective your system is. Looking at a system or process from the outside (and deep inside) can open up new ideas, observations and problems you’d never have considered before.
Optimise this process for your customers.
Tie this customer journey back to a real customer and make it emotional. Real customers are dealing with you (and your processes and system) every day. Was it a positive experience for them, or not?
Would you like to have been that customer?
Quadruple your communications
Within your business you probably think you’re communicating well with others. The chances are you probably aren’t.
Whatever communication you think you are doing – double it. Then double it again.
External to your business you are probably not communicating anywhere near enough and you probably know this too. Again, double it, then double it again.
Within your business articulate what it is you do on a daily basis, the challenges your team face and the positive experiences that happen.
On the front line of any business there will be highs and lows, it’s important to internalise these with the wider business. Other people in your business may have no idea what you do and what you have to deal with, or how it feels to be a customer.
Tell your customers that you are thinking about them. Update them with product news and release information, visit them if you can and get to know them, but most of all, treat them well and build a long term relationship with them. They are buying a product or service from you and want to feel listened to, connected with and valued.
Communication is a superpower in the world of business – learn how in my masterclass here.
Follow up on all issues in a timely fashion
If a customer issue cannot be resolved on the immediate call, then the chances are it will hit some form of internal queue or handover. Keep tabs on it and check on it often.
Keep pushing or pulling the issue around and make sure you keep the customer up to date. Respond to all issues quickly. That case/bug/report/email is yours to own. Make sure it gets dealt with.
Keeping your customers informed of the progress makes the process transparent and gives an understanding of what goes in to fixing or resolving problems.
People don’t always mind waiting, if you tell them what they are waiting for.
If other departments are not working at a rapid speed on your customer issue – don’t blame them. Take a look at yourself and how well you have communicated the importance of that customer issue. Did you throw it in a queue and hope someone would pick it up? Did you articulate the details enough? Did you describe the problem well enough? Do they have problems that hinder their ability to help you?
Look at the hand-offs between you and the other departments and optimise for the customer.
Don’t blame others when talking to your customers; this makes you look like a dysfunctional company (you might be, but no need to broadcast this).
Push at all times to improve the feedback loop with the customer and reduce the cycle times of issues.
Align your team
Make sure that your team are all in agreement and alignment about roles and responsibilities and your departments goals and objectives. Ensure you encourage a friendly and safe environment for constructive discourse and creativity. Make sure issues are aired in a timely fashion rather than left to linger around causing more deep rooted problems.
At any hand-off within your own team try to make sure the process is simple and well communicated. Your team should know who is available to help out and who is not. They should know what communication channels your team operate on; this is even more important for remote teams.
Daily stand-ups and high visibility Kanban boards (or information radiators) are effective at aligning teams and tracking progress.
At the end of the day you need to get stuff done quickly and effectively and this means everyone needs to have the right knowledge and information. This means working on the highest priorities, identifying clear owners, and removing as many barriers as possible.
Stop all negativity about customers
Make sure no-one talks badly about your customers. Ever.
The customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so. – Mahatma Gandhi
Without your customers you have no business, let alone a customer service team.
A customer experience service team who don’t respect their customers will struggle to offer a good experience to those interacting with it. How can you offer a great customer experience if you don’t care about the people you are supporting?
Sure, there are customers who are sometimes mean and grumpy, but they have a problem with your product and want your help.
Is it your product that is making them mean and grumpy?
Use your training to deal with grumpy customers but don’t talk ill of them – they are the lifeblood of your business. (You are getting training on how to deal with customers…right?)
Make it easy for customers (internal and external) to talk to you
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get help but facing resistance in the form of complicated feedback forms, difficult to find phone numbers or overly draconian instructions on getting in touch.
Make it easy for customers (internal and external) to raise problems with you. Make your phone number visible. Clearly articulate what the customer needs to do and what information you’ll need.
Make the submission forms easy and simple by removing unnecessary fields and data. Don’t make your customers do more than is absolutely essential to raise a problem with you.
In an ideal world the product/service would just work, be super intuitive with a low learning curve and never do something your customers didn’t expect it to.
In reality, products are difficult to use, they break, they do things you don’t expect and have quirks of use; this means you’ll always need a customer service function providing a key part of customer experience.
The trick though is in providing a service that meets the needs of your customers and the only way you’ll know what those needs are if you understand your team’s purpose, talk to your customers and follow the work through your system to improve it.
Optimise all of this for your customers, not for you. This is easier said than done, especially if management request incomplete metrics and offer incentives that encourage internal optimisation, but if you can resist and change minds then do so.
Your customers don’t really care about your company process, metrics and measures, or the internal politics; they most likely just want a fast, effective service and someone to listen to them.