Are You Neglecting Your Customers?

As an executive, every day I hear how much customer service matters – when it goes well, when it goes badly – and I spend a good amount of time thinking about how to make things better for our customers. And yet even though most companies know that the customer experience is a major differentiator, many are not committed to making it a priority, partly because it can be a difficult objective to ever completely achieve.

I started my career at what’s now a trillion dollar insurance and investment firm that caters to military officers and their families. I bet you can guess who that company is today. The company prided itself in service and serving active and retired military was core to its culture and DNA. I learned early on how important service is and how customer experience is the ultimate weapon with your competition.

Consistent, well-thought service can drive business and keep customers coming back for more. While you can deploy customer loyalty programs, there’s just no better way to get referrals and add more services with your existing customers than employing excellent service.

Earlier this year I attended the Disney Institute  where I learned from one of world’s best, on just how service is delivered and how quality standards are a key ingredient in providing employees with a framework in which to operate. ‘Cast Members’ — as Disney calls their staff — go out of their way to help and provide tremendous service. I was amazed at how engaged Disney cast members were and how every detail of what Disney does is to engage not just their customers but their employees. Disney knows how to make you feel welcomed!

It would seem then that delivering great service is all you need to do and that’s that. But while most companies recognize why service matters, many are not so fast to commit to what it truly takes to deliver world-class service. There’s a big difference between knowing that customer service matters and committing to making it matter in your own company.

Investment in people, training and a constant “rinse repeat” mantra is what it takes to deliver. Far too many companies deploy programs that last for a few years and then become shelved because they did not deliver or there wasn’t a long-term plan put in place. In the Financial Brand, “Banking Needs A Customer Experience Wake-Up Call” only 37% of firms surveyed have a customer experience plan. The customer experience objectives at most organizations focus on internal benefits (selling and cost cutting) and not customer benefits (simplicity, ease, responsiveness).

Getting Everyone On Board

Harvard Business Journal’s recent article, “Kick-Ass Customer Service” article brings to light what many companies are challenged with today. With so much self-service available to today’s customer, front-line staff and call center employees are now dealing with more complex issues. Customer are calling or going into locations to deal with problems not necessarily for new business. Having a customer experience plan or service standards in place will aid your people in handling more complex issues and delivering a better experience for your customer. It’s also interesting to note that hiring for this new phenomenon needs to be consideration. The way you hire and onboard today won’t necessarily work in the future.

This is why service standards are even more important in today’s environment. While customers can now self-service and transact more on their own, the interactions they do have with their bank, airline or store are even more vital than ever. Having a consistent framework for your employees will aid in how your brand is delivered.

Many times companies want to understand what’s the ROI in customer experience? How do I quantify the investment in training and supporting a service-first organization? Forrester has conducted research on how customer experience and referrals varies by industry. Not every industry follows the same trend line. Defining the value of customer loyalty and retention is not an exact science. Putting benchmarks in place, conducting surveys and measuring referrals can be a good place to start. Analyze your business and how your customers behave — explore what their expectations are and ask yourself how does my company and industry function today?

Focusing your CX efforts on key areas

Looking at these areas are good places to start — having commonality and consistency will great aid your company is not only how it serves today but how your customers will react and feel. Because without them, your company won’t exist.

Mission and Purpose – Revisit your mission and purpose statement — what are the key factors that your company has put in place to define culture? What’s the DNA of the company? What drives how you serve your customers today? It’s ultimately about what drives your team and why customers are your customers. This is core to how you can deliver standards on serving your customers.

Message – Disney get very granular with how their employees greet customers and how they interact. We see this in many companies today — Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Zappos and the Omni Hotels all have distinct messaging in how they speak with customers. Depending on your business you can put framework in place to provide guidelines for your team.

Problem Resolution – Great companies have a process on how they deal with resolving problems for their customers. Amazon is the best one I’ve dealt with recently. Having a structure and process in place ensures your customer is having the same experience when your team is handling a problem. Without a structure, everyone solves the problem differently and has a their own idea of how problems get solved.

Experience – Experience is what we all remember and recall as customers. Good and bad.  recently traveled and stayed in a sister hotel to the Omni Hotels where I am a member. The staff went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and the manager even called me to ensure I was comfortable and had everything I needed. I felt like a celebrity — that interaction with the staff and one phone call was what made my experience memorable.

The work is never finished.

Whereas many other operational goals can reach a level of completeness, the journey in committing to customer experience is never really finished. You can always improve, always find new ways to impress and delight your customers, but the point at which you might be tempted to think you are finished is the point where service will slide. To make your company stand out to customers, this goal of improvement requires effort every single day and commitment from the very top of the organization.