Thu, October 19, 2023
Whatever we do in our business lives, we’re all customers as well. When we choose one brand over another, be it in a shopping centre or online, we are exercising a preference based on something. We might not be able to articulate what it is – but something draws us to one vendor and not the other.
In markets where products are essentially the same – like utilities, telco, and insurance – brand, price and service are often the only means customers have of differentiating between companies and their offerings.
Customer experience (CX) encapsulates everything about a brand, including the quality of products, their price points, and the level of service the company provides to customers. CX shouldn’t be confused with customer service or even grade of service – it’s not always about how quickly your contact centre answers the phone.
CX is about what it feels like to do business with you. It must align with your brand and keep your brand’s promise to the customer. If your business is a pile them- high, sell them-low retailer, your CX (which includes your grade of service) is going to be very different to that of a luxury department store. And that’s as it should be.
Customers’ perceptions of CX are shaped by every interaction with your business, from the first click on your website to the support they receive after making a purchase. To truly understand CX, it is essential to grasp the pillars on which it is built. Based on work by KPMG and others, we’ve identified six pillars to guide your strategy when it comes to building customer relationships and creating customer journeys:
1) Integrity and Honesty
The best relationships are built on trust. Trust comes when you act authentically, consistently, and reliably. Be transparent about your organisation’s operations, products, and pricing. Clear communication about everything makes customers feel valued, which leads to increased loyalty.
2) Service and Problem Solving
It’s your job to remove any roadblocks that prevent customers from buying and using your products. The smoother you make that journey, and the better you are at turning negative experiences into positive ones, or rectifying customer issues, the more successful you will be. This includes things like user-friendly website design and efficient checkout processes to reduce friction during interactions, as well as seamless and intuitive journeys to enhance customer satisfaction.
3) Meeting Expectations
Not all brands are equal or promise their customers the same things. But there is one thing all businesses do have in common: they have up to live up to whatever expectations they have led their customer to have. It’s not just about meeting those needs, but about how you do it too (more on that later). Customer feedback is the way to measure whether you’re meeting those expectations. As customer preferences and expectations evolve continuously, businesses that act on feedback and quickly adapt demonstrate their commitment to enhancing CX.
4) Time and Effort
Generally speaking, reducing the amount of time and effort a customer must put in to access your products and services is a good thing for almost all businesses. This usually involves streamlining processes and leaning into technologies like automation (more on that later too). Whether customers interact with your business through an app, physical store or contact centre, the experience and efficiency should also be consistent across all channels.
One of the most important ways to differentiate a brand and grow an emotional bond with a customer is to offer a more personalised service. Customers are now beginning to expect brands to know and react to their unique needs and situations. They expect the experiences they are offered to be adjusted to suit them. By utilising data analytics, businesses can customise interactions to make each customer feel valued.
6) Empathy and Emotion
All genuine human relationships are based on emotion, and our connections to products and the businesses and brands that sell them are no different. If there is no emotional connection between your brand and your customers, any other company that offers more convenience or a cheaper price can take them away from you. Customers’ feelings during and after an interaction significantly impact their loyalty and advocacy. Positive emotions generated through great service, delightful products, or a demonstration by the company that it cares for the customer will boost loyalty.
1. Embrace an Omnichannel Approach
With the explosion of digital consumer devices, it’s never been more convenient to keep in touch with customers. But at the same time, it’s never been more challenging to coordinate communications properly as you have more channels to manage. To enable this you need to integrate all your channels and create a centralised data source that all departments and channels can access. Your customer journeys need to be omnichannel, or channel agnostic, and give the same experience and level of service to all customers. Or do they?
2. Prioritise Personalisation
Generic customer interactions don’t wow anyone. Even offering multiple channels these days is nothing out of the ordinary. What does impress customers is personalising your service or use of channels to their needs. Bonus points if you can anticipate what they want and hand it to them in advance (see #7 on this list). All of this means that you don’t necessarily need to provide the same service to all customers – as they don’t all want or require the same service. For some, you do need to go the extra mile to keep their business, but for others, you don’t. Personalising different channel experiences tailored to customer preferences, behaviours and purchase histories can be a way to save money, as well as improve CX and loyalty.
3. Establish Feedback Mechanisms
Understanding how your business, brand, and the customer experience you provide are perceived by your customers is the only way to get better. Measuring and tracking things like Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) gives you real-time insights into customer sentiment, which lets you gauge satisfaction, identify pain points, and highlight your weaknesses and strengths. At the same time, actively seeking feedback from customers with a Voice of the Customer (VoC) programme demonstrates your commitment to putting them at the heart of your business, all while enhancing the customer experience.
4. Invest in Employee Training
CX isn’t just something that’s delivered in your contact centre. Customers will be influenced by their company-wide experience of your brand and your products at all touchpoints. Every employee plays a role in shaping the customer experience through their interactions with customers. Comprehensive training programmes ensure all employees possess appropriate product knowledge, effective communication skills, and a deep understanding of your brand values. This empowers them to address queries efficiently, offer suggestions, and build a proper rapport with customers. Again, there is no single way to do this – the employees of a skater-influenced clothing brand are going to act quite differently towards customers than those of a high-end jeweller – it must be tailored to your business, brand and customers.
5. Adopt Digital Transformation
Digital technologies allow you to streamline operations while providing customers with greater convenience, speed, and choice. As well as the traditional and emerging channels that are now incorporated into many contact centres, look at how you can leverage upcoming innovations such as Augmented Reality (AR) technology or AI-powered chatbots (see #9) to give your customers innovative and useful experiences. By staying up-to-date with new technologies and embracing them when they add value, your business remains competitive and relevant in the changing customer experience landscape.
6. Give Something Back
Your organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities can play a pivotal role in shaping your brand image. A robust CSR policy, which emphasises ethical practices, sustainability and community engagement resonates with the desire of consumers to support businesses that make a positive impact. Participating in community initiatives and supporting causes that resonate with your customers can foster a deeper emotional connection with your customers, build trust, and enhance your brand’s reputation. Find a way to build these into your CX by getting your customers involved in these initiatives and – as long as it’s done genuinely – they will love you for it.
7. Proactive Communication
Talking of making customers love you – another way to do that effectively is to give them what they want, preferably before they even know it. There are both service and sales elements to this approach. Taking the initiative to provide customers with updates, alerts, and recommendations shows your care and dedication. But with modern predictive analytics, you can go one step beyond and anticipate customer service issues before they even happen. This could be as simple as pre-empting a customer’s call to book a service by sending them an SMS they can quickly reply to set a date. From a sales perspective, if you offer new solutions or products that historical customer data tells you are likely to solve a real problem for a customer, they are far more likely to thank you – and buy – than resent the intrusion.
8. Loyalty Programmes
The objective of CX is to retain customers as well as acquire new ones. By now everyone is familiar with loyalty programmes as supermarkets and petrol stations have been running them for decades. It doesn’t have to be onerous for customers, by making them sign up and carry a card around. Most businesses these days know who their customers are, what they purchase, and how often. It’s trivial to segment your customer base and offer them appropriate discounts and offers depending on their purchase histories. You can also use conversational analytics on your customer interactions to tease out customer sentiment and understand what offers an individual would be open to. However you do it, presenting personalised offers to customers in return for their loyalty makes them feel appreciated and drives engagement.
9. Self-Service, Automation and AI
Modern customers, in general, highly value their autonomy when seeking solutions to their queries or issues. Offering self-service resources like FAQs, tutorials, or chatbots empowers them to resolve problems conveniently and quickly. This not only enhances the user experience, but it also reduces the burden on your customer support teams. Emerging AI tools such as the large language models that power generative AI bots like Chat GPT can significantly improve self-service solutions by enabling customers to query a knowledge base using natural written or spoken language. In the front and back office, AI and automation software can significantly enhance the customer experience by streamlining processes and helping customer service agents to personalise interactions.
10. Invest in Analytics
Your CX, and the operations that enable it, will only ever be as good as the data on which your organisation’s leaders, managers and frontline staff base your strategic and operational decisions. These days, there is an incredible amount of rich and useful data stored in the contact centre, your CRM systems, transactional databases, website tracking and meta-data, and in the recordings or transcriptions of your customer interactions. Analytics software can help you mine and tag your structured and unstructured data, then apply machine learning, predictive analytics, and natural language processing to it in order to tease out insights and connections that would escape even the most diligent data analyst (although you do still need those to design your analytics programmes, prepare the data, run the software and interpret the results). Conversational analytics, for example, can give you insights into customer sentiment down to the individual customer. You can then apply this information to personalise customer experiences and offers.
Understanding the impact of your strategies and decisions is vital when it comes to understanding whether your CX is having the impact on indicators like loyalty, satisfaction, and sales that you want it to have. Tracking key metrics like lifetime value and retention rates gives you quantifiable measures of your results. Qualitative metrics such as satisfaction, NPS, and customer sentiment are just as necessary to let you know how your brand is perceived.
Regularly analysing these metrics gives you crucial insights that help you refine your strategies. It’s not just about the numbers – it’s about the stories the numbers tell. Delving into these narratives by transforming data into insights helps you ensure that your CX strategies remain agile, relevant, and impactful.