Last week I was at a leading coffee chain at Indira Nagar in Bangalore. I was there to have a quiet meeting with one of my clients. However, from the moment we occupied the table, a server insisted on hovering next to me waiting for my order. I requested her to give me some time but she didn't budge. After she brought my order, she came again in seconds with the bill, obviously much before I finished the coffee. Her whole objective seem to have been to quickly take the order, ensure I consumed it fast, settle the bill and empty the table for the next customer. I was disgusted at the attitude. This was at a place which promises to create great experiences over coffee.
Other examples abound: an air conditioning company that makes a customer jump through hoops for repairs despite having an annual maintenance contract and promising a hassle-free experience. Or a bank which makes its customers wait in a contact centre despite having a tagline of being with customer every time. Or a motor insurance company which promises smooth and efficient claims processing but makes customers run around when their vehicles break down. Or a hospital which claims patient-centric care but employs doctors who snub clients who dare to ask why a certain medicine is being prescribed.
Many companies have the mistaken belief that it's enough to set up a customer service team and wait for a miracle to happen.
Whether it's a café or a bank or an insurance company or a consumer goods company, these are examples of companies who are not delivering the right customer experience. Their websites may say all the right things and their top management may wax eloquent about customer service delivery, but little of this will be translated into action where it really counts. Many companies have the mistaken belief that it's enough to set up a customer service team and wait for a miracle to happen. The customer service department have appropriate teams for training, problem resolution, experience-management, metrics, strategy and yet they fall short of delivering their promises to customers.
So, why is it that all these positive intentions don't lead to getting the customer experience right? While CEOs and business leaders may come up with many reasons, I have observed three fundamental issues.
They don't live the "brand promise'
A brand promise is what customers expect a company to live up to across all its touch-points --
while interacting with its product, service, people, processes etc. Most progressive companies have a brand promise which is created by the marketing department and this is communicated to customers through TV commercials, print advertisements, social media etc.
However, where companies get it wrong is that they don't look at it as the overarching philosophy driving customer experience. The formulation of the brand promise is led by the marketing team, while matters related to "experience" are taken care by the customer service department. Both of them operate in isolation and have little connection in day-to-day functioning. The attributes of the brand promise and experience don't get embedded into products, internal processes, organizational culture, employee mindsets and behaviours and customer journeys.
The formulation of the brand promise is led by the marketing team, while matters related to "experience" are taken care by the customer service department. They operate in isolation...
Ideally, the brand promise should consistently resonate across customer journeys. However, this will only be possible when the brand promise is an integral part of everything that the company does. For example, if "transparency" is an attribute of the brand promise of a mortgage company, it should embed it not only in pricing, processing times and products features but within the organization too, in areas such as performance management, talent development, recruitment, promotions, employee policies etc. Even the décor could reinforce the value of "transparency' with see-through meeting rooms with walls of glass, open cubicles for leaders and one pantry where all employees right from CEO to the janitor have their meals.
Remember, the challenge for companies is bridging the gulf between "brand promise" and what the customer actually experiences. And this bridge is more likely to be bridged if the entire organisation works in a common rhythm to live the brand promise day in day out.
Having a limited view of customer touchpoints
Touchpoints refer to moments wherein a customer (or a potential one) comes in contact with the company before, during and after the purchase of a product or service. This could be through products, staff members, advertisements, websites, packaging, retail stores, billboards, logos etc. These interactions could be physical or virtual or could just be a communication that happens between the company and the customer.
Traditionally, companies have focussed on direct "touchpoints" and the eliminating of customer pains and concerns around each one of them. This is what many companies still do. However, what influences the perception of customer is the path-to-purchase journey over a large number of touchpoints. So focussing on a few touchpoints has little meaning and one needs to map customer's entire journey across all channels in the physical and virtual world. A company needs to ascertain what customers are doing, thinking, feeling as they negotiate the experience terrain. A "customer journey map" also helps to manage the high and low points of experience so that customers have a positive take-away from it all.
Many companies still focus on touchpoints and not customer journeys and thus fall short of creating the right impression.
For example, researchers Richard Chase and Sriram Dasu found the sequencing high points relative to low points positively impacts customer perception. Customers tend to remember the terrible endings in an experience and this has a negative impact on their perceptions. So, a restaurant that had to make customers wait for a long time could provide a happy ending by providing a discount coupon for the next visit. Many companies still focus on touchpoints and not customer journeys and thus fall short of creating the right impression.
The leadership offers lip service but nothing else
The agenda of customer experience has to be owned by the CEO and the entire top management. One cannot have senior leaders making big promises and tall claims about customer service in public forums but paying little attention within the organisation. The CEO and top management can't have a mind-set of "we have a customer service leader so why bother?"
Organizational silos majorly impede effective customer service delivery if each member works towards their own agenda rather than focuses on what the end consumer needs. The top management should come down heavily on silos that come in the way of creating a positive customer perception.
Also, an organization serious about providing consistent customer experience cannot have separate leaders for customer service and marketing. Companies should appoint a Chief Customer Officer or a Chief Experience Officer who reports to the CEO and acts as a custodian for the customers and is responsible for experience strategy, customer service, marketing (brand), customer journeys, analytics etc.
If an organization is able to get the above points right, then great customer experience journeys won't be far behind.
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