I ’ve been in the support and service industry for more than 25 years, and there’s one defining thread across organizations, no matter the industry – there’s always room to grow in better understanding your customers’ businesses. We broadly use terms like customer success and customer experience interchangeably, but at the core of that is customer service.
As we kick off 2023, if your company is looking to improve this critical facet of the business, you should ask yourself how much of a culture of service you have in your organization that helps drive that relationship with your customers. Then ask, is it consistent across touchpoints? Is your company clear in the way it communicates with existing, new and potential customers? And does your company carry through on the promise?
Technology in and of itself doesn’t solve business problems or challenges. When it comes to improving customer service, everything should pivot around people. First, your own people and then, the people you are hoping to positively influence. Software is not by definition a de facto customer service solution, rather it is a tool that, when effectively deployed, improves the customer relationship and experience. But first it is necessary to look inward to inform your decision-making.
Enterprise technology and software is very robust and can allow your business to grow and scale like never before, but what it doesn’t do is define a business problem and/or identify a process that will solve this challenge. In the case of customer service and experience, perhaps Aristotle said it best, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” It is vital to understand the entire process and dissect which parts need to be fixed to make the whole customer journey positive. Here are three areas that you might consider when revamping your customer experience this year.
1. Is your company customer service oriented? Often, I find companies confuse the front-office and backoffice folks and might say their interactions with customers are mutually exclusive, e.g., those that are customer facing and those that are not. This is false. While back-office employees may think it’s not within their role to provide customer service, there are internal customers and conduits to those customers that play into the wider sum of service.
Let’s start back at the core – anyone can be taught technology, but not everyone can be taught to be nice. Therefore, an emphasis on talent is critical to customer service. I ask everyone at our organization to take their title, add a comma, and add customer success to the end of it. Everyone at your company plays a part in the overall success of your customers, and the line doesn’t stop just because it’s outside a conceived silo of responsibilities. An audit of employee attitudes is the first step in finding where work is needed in the customer experience journey.
2. Do you deeply understand your customers’ businesses? Customers often come to the table with objectives that are great at a high point, but what sets a company’s customer service apart from its competitors is taking a deeper dive into understanding what the customer really needs to achieve their goals, which they might not even know. Digging into customers’ KPIs and what their own leaders are looking at on a day-to-day basis will inform you on how to best meet those criteria with your product or solution.
3. Be your own “undercover boss” – take a walk through your omni-channel customer journey. To truly understand where customer service challenges lie, the best course of action is navigating that journey with your customers. Customer service is the sum of many parts. There’s a marketing journey on how a potential customer became aware of your brand, there is a presale journey, a purchase journey and many more depending on your industry.
We overuse the phrase “customer experience,” but many make the mistake of not examining where that experience took place. Take travel for instance – if you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve been with an airline for many years. While you may have had a bad experience or two with the airline, you stick with the airline due to your overall experience with food, seating, ticketing, etc. All these processes need to be reviewed individually. From there, you can begin making calculated moves, such as bringing in technology to improve this over time.
Planning for 2023
Now that I’ve addressed what to consider before making changes in your organization, the next step is how to go about implementing them in 2023.
Customer experience is the sum of every interaction that your customers have when doing business with you, in perpetuity. Customer success is how you understand your customers’ business objectives and how you programmatically improve the customer journey for everybody – not just a segment, vertical or key/ strategic accounts. Think, how can you do that for everyone?
A lot of times, executives preach that their businesses need to focus on “over-delighting” customers. This “goal,” however, can be problematic, especially in the initial stages of a customer service refresh. With this sentiment, it’s possible that you’ll give customers super high highs and very low lows. Create a standard that everyone can agree to and start small – for example, one to three standards that a customer can expect every time they interact with your company.
Pick one problem – don’t boil the ocean – and walk that journey with your customers. Look for the low-hanging fruit that will have a large impact quickly. Some of the biggest mistakes that companies suffer from in the customer service space is process documentation and process workflow. Improvements in these areas through digital transformation could be a natural start to improving the overall umbrella of customer experience at the highest level.
Customer experience (CX) technology buzzwords and trends, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and chat bots might be enticing enough to deter you away from the appropriate first steps to strategically analyzing the customer. But customer service isn’t a toaster, you can’t just plug in new technology and correct your challenges.
With that, I’d like to leave you with a list of questions to keep in mind when embarking on your customer-centric digital transformation journey:
- How do you gauge your level of customer service in every department?
- How much do you know about your customers?
- Where does your customer knowledge and data reside and is it being documented?
- Have you taken the journey with your customer along the way in how they interact with you? Your customer service is not how likely a customer would recommend your company to friends and colleagues, but how easy it is to do business with you.