As is the norm these days, I hit Amazon.com when my family needs something. In fact, we would use Amazon even when we just want to “window shop”! The other day, my wife saw a pair of sandals she liked. However, she wasn’t sure she wanted them, but she ordered them anyway. The sandals arrived two days later. She tried them out and decided she didn’t like the way they felt on her feet. So, I went back to Amazon (as she ordered them with my account) and submitted a return request. Within two minutes, I got the Return Authorization form and the shipping form to be used to ship the sandals back. I dropped them off at the local UPS store the next day. Within a few hours, I received a notification from Amazon that they have credited the full amount to my credit card. It was an easy and painless customer experience and Amazon nailed it. So even though we didn’t buy the sandals this time, you bet we will buy something else the next day or next week. Amazon really knows me as a customer and has designed the process around my needs. But how?
How do you deliver great customer experience? It is a consensus that to succeed in today’s customer-empowered environment, delivering exceptional customer experience is a must. But I believe the answer lies with the well-known strategy called Customer Centricity. At the end of the day, a great customer experience, particularly for customer service, means giving the customer what they need – or even what they didn’t know they needed.
A lot has been written about Customer Centricity (see J. Galbraith), putting the customer in the center of everything that you do, etc. so I won’t get into the definitions of Customer Centricity. Generally, taking this approach begins with knowing your customers. Then, you design your customer service processes around meeting or exceeding the needs of your customers. Seems pretty basic, right? But many organizations still haven’t gotten it right. There are many reasons, but knowing your customers should not be one of them.
Obviously, customers come in many different shapes and sizes, depending on the industry you’re in and the type of service you provide. But for those in the business of servicing consumers, it’s pretty simple to get to know them. Start with your own personal needs and then refine from there. Let’s take an example in the cable/internet service provider.
As a customer of a cable and Internet service, if you encounter a problem and need help, what do you do? Most likely, you would reach for the phone because you may not have any Internet connectivity. And when you call, you will expect that the number will connect you to someone who can help you. You will also expect that when you call you won’t have to wait for more than a few minutes after you’ve given your pertinent information. You may also expect the service rep on the other end of the line to know the specifics of your cable setup and to be able to intelligently help you diagnose your problem.
You would also expect the cable company to have experts available to solve more complicated problems. Now, if the problem can’t be resolved remotely, and someone has to come by and take a look, you would expect the agent to tell you specifically what time and what day – and not ask that you be available the entire day on Monday. And if the appointment needs to be changed, you would expect that it is well in advance and not 30 minute before the appointment. And when the technician shows up, you would expect him to know what’s been communicated previously on the phone and what tests and diagnostics were performed so you don’t need to start all over again.
With these understandings as guidance, this is how you would design the customer service for the cable provider to minimize what is called “customer effort”. Obviously, contact center could still be your primary channel of service. You may and should supplement it with other channels such as Web, email, and social media – to empower customer interactions through every channel and touch point. Then, you would need to staff your contact center adequately, especially during non-business hours, to meet the expected demand (in fact, your “prime hours” maybe the opposite of the standard business hours). These service agents must also be empowered with training and relevant customer information to solve majority of the problems on the first call. And you must have tools that enable your organization to offer small service window and meet these commitments 95% (pick a target achieved by best-in-class organization) of the time. With these as foundation, you can then continue to refine your customer service processes and structure as you get customer feedback and better understanding of your customers.
Of course, this is a very simple example of customer service designed with a customer centric approach. However, it is not that far from reality. And with abundance of customer information, social data, and trend data out there (frequently called “Big Data”) organizations can really get to know their customers very well. Then, it is just a matter of applying your understanding to serving your customers better than ever before.
I truly believe if you start with a customer centric design and process approach – knowing your customers and catering to their needs – you will ultimately deliver the type of customer experience that your customers will be talking about to their friends, colleagues, and social circles.