How to recession-proof customer experience

Customers look for a reason to bolt during a downturn. CX expert Shep Hyken says don’t give them one.

In an uncertain economy, companies need to put customer experience even more squarely in their sights. The pandemic showed that customer expectations increase in tough times, and to their credit, many companies stepped up—a global survey of 1,000 C-level executives showed that 70% have a growing focus around digital CX practices.

CX expert Shep Hyken says that customers can become even more loyal in a downturn, but they’re also primed to leave at any given moment. Hyken spoke with Workflow about what it takes to keep them in the fold.

Q
Is good customer experience recession-proof?
A

You need it, whether it’s good times or bad times, in the middle of a pandemic or not, in the middle of an economic crisis or not, in the middle of supply chain issues or not. Customers who are loyal to a brand continue to be loyal to that brand until you give them a reason not to be.

But it’s important to recognize that the service experience, or any customer experience, is about maintaining what you have, and customer loyalty is up for grabs right now. Why? Because people are challenged, and they’re looking for reasons to leave you. Don’t give them those reasons.

Q
What makes customers most likely to leave then?
A

Customers no longer compare you to a direct competitor—they’re comparing you to the best experiences they’ve had from anybody. A customer is comparing you to Amazon, to the great restaurant down the street, and to the tiny little shoe repairer where the owner knows you and your shoes are always ready before they were supposed to be. These are the experiences that consumers love, and they are starting to expect the same level of service no matter where they go. They know that any company is capable of doing it. It’s up to the companies to choose whether or not they will.

Q
What’s something companies can prioritize to help meet rising customer expectations around experience?
A

Communicating the right way, proactively, especially if there’s a problem, gives customers a sense of control. That’s an experience that they like to have. I see this go wrong at airports quite a bit. Passengers on a delayed flight ask the gate agent for updates, and I hear the gate agent say the same thing over and over again to each one. Wouldn’t it be easier for that agent to pick up the microphone and make a single announcement? Even though the flight’s delayed, people now feel like they have control because they have this knowledge and don’t have to go up and ask.

Q
If experience becomes even more important in tough times, and communication is central to getting it right, what tools can companies turn to for help? What about artificial intelligence?
A

I’m a big fan of companies that use AI the right way, and the right way means that it’s not a substitute for human-to-human interaction. Seventy-one percent of the customers that we surveyed said that they would use digital self-service options, like a chatbot, for something as simple as a knowledge base on a website with frequently asked questions and answers. It could be digital tutorials, videos on YouTube. However, when you do need to talk to a human, it needs to be a seamless transition, especially if you’re dealing with a chatbot.

70%

Percentage of organizations placing more focus on digital CX practices

The chatbot should be smart enough to recognize that the customer is not getting the right answer because of the words the customer is using and the followup questions they have. The chatbot should seamlessly transition to a human being. And that customer support agent should be able to take a look at what’s going on and not start over, but actually continue the conversation.

The greatest technology in the world hasn’t replaced the ultimate relationship-building tool between a customer and a business: the human touch. Push for digital, back it up with humans, and make it an omnichannel experience.

Q
Technology is giving dissatisfied consumers more ways than ever to express their angst. How can social channels support good CX?
A

Social channels like Twitter and Facebook are not typically the first choice that customers use. Many of them are making comments because they couldn’t get their questions answered or their complaints resolved using the phone, email, or through chat, so they’ve sought out a backup, and that backup is also a way for them to get revenge on the company that didn’t answer it the first way, because by now they’re angry and upset. And it’s important for that brand to come in and take a look at what’s going on, control the narrative, move this person to a direct-message format, and deal with the problem there.

Q
In a recent issue of your newsletter, you talked about the value of organizational culture in supporting customer service. How does providing good experiences for employees fit with high-quality customer experiences?
A

When you sit down to define the experience that you want your customers to have, you’ll realize that employee experience actually comes before customer experience. You’ve got to train your people properly and empower them the right way to be able to deliver the experience that you want your customers to receive. And it’s not just in customer support, it’s in every role.