Executive need to listen

COLUMN | April 15, 2022 | 5 min read

Great customer experiences are no accident

Companies must design processes and systems to ensure customers get the fast, easy, convenient experiences they deserve

By Paul Greenberg, customer service expert and author

We’ve all heard the clichés: Businesses should always delight their customers. Customer experience (CX) is what matters most. The customer controls the journey. All engagements must be hyper-personalized. And the most recent CX trope: In our new COVID-endemic world, businesses must be sensitive to what customers are going through and cater to them.

It’s hard to disagree with any of these statements, but they all beg a critical question: How, exactly, does an organization produce great individual customer experiences?

​​What is digital customer experience?

The answer might sound obvious. Businesses need to make customer interactions convenient and easy. A company must empathize with customer needs and deliver a frictionless experience to every customer.

I’ll give you a simple example. UPS stores are set up to minimize friction for what UPS customers typically want to do: hand off a package, pay to ship it, and leave. When you walk into a UPS store, you’ll notice all the shipping supplies you might need laid out on shelves. At the counter you give the package to an attendant who punches in shipping details to a networked computer and hands over a printed receipt with a tracking number. You’re usually out the door in a few minutes.

UPS makes the shipping experience easy, fast, and convenient by creating a high-touch environment organized to provide the best and fastest service outcomes. It’s a master class in delivering empathetic, low-friction customer experience.


Understanding proactive customer service

When thinking about customer service strategy, many companies start with an article of faith: “Happy employees equal happy customers.” Yes, happy employees are part of the equation, as is defining what makes an employee happy. But that’s not the whole answer. No matter how happy your employees are, they will spend a lot of time apologizing to miserable customers if the customer experience is terrible.

What does great personalized customer service entail beyond contented employees? Key factors are:

  1. Personalized knowledge of the individual customer
  2. Highly effective processes and systems so customers (and employees) can do what they need to do—quickly and easily.

Most customer service interactions don’t involve problems that need solving. Rather, they pose questions that need to be answered. Depending on the study you look at (and there are many), between 90% and 95% of all service interactions are queries, not complaints. The good news is that many of the associated processes can be automated.

Today’s digitally savvy customers, many of them Millennials and Gen Zs, expect a speedy resolution to their query regardless of the channel they use. They also expect the interaction will address their issue and be done conveniently.

Because all the interactions are urgent, customers expect service reps to know enough about them and their history so they aren’t forced to repeat the same information over and over. How many times have you been frustrated by having to repeat the same information to different service agents or enter the same data via fields in a self-service interface?

Customers expect that a company will use the knowledge it has accumulated about them over time to tailor interactions with them and make them more convenient. This goes to our second requirement: The systems and processes you use to automate customer interactions must work cohesively and close to flawlessly. Perfection is an impossible goal, but you must have processes and policies in place to handle problems when they happen and correct them, preferably automatically.

Here’s a personal story that illustrates my point: On a recent Friday, my computer broke. I needed a new one by Monday. While I was ordering the new machine, the vendor said they could either deliver it that same day or have me pick it up. I chose the delivery option. Two hours later I was notified that my machine would be delivered the following Monday, the very day I needed it to be up and running.

I tried to change the delivery preference from “delivery” to “pick up” but could not. I checked the order status online and the system reported it being “in process.” I called the company and asked if I could change the delivery date. I was informed my order had already been shipped. I pointed out that their system said it was still being packed. The very nice customer service rep explained that it was impossible to switch my order from delivery to pickup because the company uses two different systems to track online orders and in-store inventories, respectively.

The upshot: I bought a second machine from another vendor. I accepted the Monday delivery for the first machine, and then returned it. What happened here? The customer service rep did his best, but the operational processes and systems that supported him were busted.

What happens when these processes and systems work well? Take the case of Rogers Communications , Canada’s largest communications provider. Recently, Rogers experienced a deluge of customer-service requests across all channels—from phone calls to tweets and everything in between. To reduce the caseload and provide customers with the outcomes they sought, Rogers had to change its customer service model from purely responsive to preventative.

To do this, Rogers deployed a ServiceNow Customer Service Management system to enable proactive engagement, customer-facing analytics, and action in the moment. Proactive engagement enables Rogers to monitor service performance continually and automatically. When the system identifies a potential problem, Rogers can move to resolve it or, even better, prevent the problem before it becomes serious.

This monitoring capability helped Rogers build deeper relationships with its customers. The new technology facilitated personalized interactions with each client to resolve or prevent problems. The results were positive: a 41% reduction in daily case volumes and a 19% reduction of inbound calls. And in customer satisfaction surveys, 71% of respondents gave Rogers a score of 9 or 10.

In summary, consider these guidelines:

  • Great end-to-end customer experience is the result of engaging, successful customer service.
  • Customer service experiences should be effortless, convenient, and speedy.
  • Successful customer service is driven by the customer’s recognition that the business knows and values them.
  • Business processes must be optimized to handle the jobs that the customer needs done. These processes should be automated to the fullest possible extent.
  • Companies should strive to deliver excellent experiences on every channel.
  • Great customer experiences require happy employees and fully optimized service operations.

By accounting for each of these principles, organizations can deliver great customer service based on great experiences.

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Paul Greenberg is the author of "The Commonwealth of Self-Interest; Business Success Through Customer Engagement" (2019)