Four Questions You Have About Customer Experience (and answers)

On January 18th I participated with Matt Kresch (Microsoft) in the first of three video webinars (vidnars? webdeos?) that we are presenting on Customer Experience.

It was fantastic, seriously – here’s the link if you want to check it out (registration required), and we had a very engaging (that’s what the comments said) conversation about why #CX matters now, and how to get started with your customer experience initiative.

We opened the session for questions and answers after the video for about 10 minutes, but it was nowhere near enough to answer all of them.  About 20 of them remained unanswered, which I applied my awesome analyst skills to (read, summarize the 20 into five) to create the following four questions and answers.

How do you see agent onboarding and training programs evolving to support customer experience initiatives?

One of the latest realizations I am seeing in organizations embracing customer experience initiatives across the enterprise is that agents matter far more to customer experience than previously thought.  There are three critical data points that have shown the trends for training agents better:

  1. Reduced churn, better retention programs.  I know, it sounds crazy at first – but happy employees tend to stay, thus reducing churn.  Remember the bad old days? 30% churn in contact centers was not unheard off, and there were a couple of companies I know that had 120-150% turnover in one year.  How can you provide good service when your employees barely know what they are doing?  Anyways, the “good ole days” are now gone, the new data from the last 2-3 years puts churn at less than 10% for the majority, and over 35% of companies have churn below 5%.  The reason for this? glad you asked because I did and can answer that question: better retention programs. More than 70% of organizations realized that the biggest value they have, beyond the platitudes of “our employees are the most important thing” is — well, their employees.  And so, they asked them what they wanted and what they wanted was better career paths, more training, and better systems.  Pair the drive to create better careers (including the agents handling more complex inquiries, and more empowerment to solve issues as they see fit) with more customers finding their own answers via self-service systems across channels and voila! We have happier, better-trained agents working in a career where they make a difference.  And wouldn’t you know it? Churn went down, customer satisfaction went up.
  2. Correlation between happy agents and happy customers.  Do you know the old saying “if mammy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”? In customer service, the agents are thought of as mammy… Many recent studies showcase the relationship between happy employees and happy customers (USA today does a good job of presenting the case using most of them in this article here), but the bottom line goes like this: we can put out as many self-service, chatbots, AI-based solutions as we want to work.  They can capture 40-80% of customer interactions and solve them.  Great.  What happens to the ones that are not solved automatically?  What happens, as your systems improve, when customer service goes back to handling exceptions (as it was always intended to do – not every interaction)? Then you need good agents, and those good agents are the last line of defense for your company to save a customer relationship.  Happy employees deliver prompt answers, and those make for happy customers — those are the ones that stay (and spend more which, between us, is what we want from customers)
  3. Data-driven decisions.  Now that we are past the hype of big data (and wading through the one in AI) it’s a good time to introduce data-driven decisions.  Let’s face it, for the most part, we are instinct workers: we will do what we have always done (if it works) repeatedly. Sometimes this means what the data shows to be not the best way, simply because “it’s how we have always done it,” or “this feels better” or similar.  Those are not data-driven decisions, and in some cases, they work – but mostly, over time, they don’t.  Since we are the point in life when we can make decisions based on what the data tells us, it’s time to do so.  This process of training employees based on data is relatively new.  We started a few years ago when we began to correlate feedback from customers with employee performance – but now that we have the era of big data flowing through the enterprise, it’s time to use more analytics to find better performance incentives, better interactions, and ultimately better customer experiences.  Tying employee training and onboarding to expected actions so it reflects in customers experiences is not a crazy idea – and it’s one that is beginning to pay off well for early adopters.  Among the many conversations I had last year related to the research projects on customer service, the most interesting conversations were with the early adopters that are moving to manage their service departments with analytics and the discoveries of better experiences and outcomes when they focus on the data.  Stay tuned for more details, but if you can – focus your decisions on what data tells you, not your gut.

In addition to the above, virtually all the organizations are beginning to realize that customer experiences are not single events, like one phone call or one email, but rather an end-to-end continuum of interactions between the customers and the company – and their focus is on making sure that every single one of those interactions is the best it can be.  And for that, happy employees are sine-qua-non (that’s Latin for “Just do it” (TM) – kidding, it’s Latin for “without which, cannot” — but you knew that).

Customers just want problems resolved. Is that how you leverage customer experience? Results oriented?

The concept of outcome-focused processes is relatively new to customer service.  For years, we have done things trying to strike a balance between cheaper (because customer service was, for the most part, a cost center that needed to lower costs more than anything else) and resolved (because that’s what customers are always asking for – fast and effective resolution of a problem).  In the road to achieving that balance, we found that efficiency (company-focused operations at the lowest cost and trouble for the company) not always gave customers what they wanted or needed.  With the advent of the “Age of the Customer” (TM), customer expectations began to grow – including demands for more than “resolved how the company thinks it should be done”.  Customers expect to have a wide array of choices at their disposal to effectively (right time, right place, right answer) resolve issues without regards to costs incurred by the company.  And in exchange, they will give the company what they are looking for: loyalty, and potentially engagement.

There is an understanding that customers want more than what’s easy to do, and they are willing to pay more, and commit more, to get it.  Whether we call that customer experience, engagement, loyalty, or just the right thing to do – the change has already begun: more than 80% of the companies I interviewed have a customer experience or customer engagement project underway, and more than 1/3 are focused on using customer experience as a discipline to oversee all operations, not just customer service.  And among the first steps in those initiatives?  A shift from efficiency to effectiveness – including a change to outcome-based operations.

What have you found is the best way to market to customers giving them the best control over the situation?

I am fond of saying, and being quoted often, that traditional customer experience management is horrible since what most companies took that to mean was they had to “design” experiences and journeys for customers.  Thus, the concept of customer journey mapping was born – where companies tried to document the steps customers took to interact with them, in the hope of being ready.  The problem with that, and with anything else – like marketing – that tries to guess or know where customers will be or what they want, or need is that they don’t take into consideration that customers don’t have set journeys or actions.  They do what’s best for them when they need it, or want it, and expect the company to be ready to deliver their end of the equation.  Another item that is making waves right now is the change in direction.  As customers become more empowered, via sharing of power in online communities and learning more about the company via self-service tools, they are changing how things are flowing.  in the past, and in traditional marketing even today, we create “push” campaigns (or outgoing campaigns) where the company mostly decides what, when, and where the customer will see.

This is diametrically opposed to the new model of incoming, or “pull”, where the customer gets what they need and want at any time based on their desires.  The response above talking about effectiveness vs efficiency also talks about the change in direction. Customers expect, want, and need to interact with organizations that are prepared to deliver on an inbound basis – that is, the customer is in control of the experience, information, and outcome of what they need.  The biggest discovery of recent years is that this not only applies to need-based interactions like service but also want-based interactions like marketing.  marketing, to be effective, needs to have the information ready for the customer to pull it as they see fit when they need it, and as they need it.  then, and only then, can it become part of the experience the customer expects and wants from the company.  Else, the company is imposing on the customer what they want them to see or do.

Finally, and this is a new requirement, thanks to GDPR regulations gong live in May 2018 in the European Union (but also affecting all organizations globally) companies will have to figure out relatively quickly how to give control of the flow and the interaction to the customer.

Putting it altogether then, makes sense, as I shared in the webinar, to have an infrastructure that focuses on the information and lets’ customers create their own experience, regardless of which interaction they are having, as they see fit.

What is a good source of reference if I would like to start doing customer journey mapping?

As you probably figured by now, I am not a fan of customer journey mapping.  I don’t endorse it, or think it works – mostly because once the journeys become documented the allure to cater to those is far greater than the limited value they can offer by telling you what your customers are doing.

Instead, I would suggest you spend time finding more about using data to make data-based decisions using analytics and focus on the infrastructure we discussed during the webinar and above.

Here is a picture of it – in case you don’t remember – the outside boxes are built by IT and technology partners, the two in the middle are what stakeholders (customers or otherwise) use to build their interactions and experiences ad-hoc.

We will cover this more in the second webinar – that’s February 6th, 10-1045 AM PST.  You can register here.

disclosures: yes, Microsoft is my client. yes, they paid me to put together the videos, participate in the webinar, and prepare data and content.  if you would prefer that i don’t feed the kids anymore, i’d be happy to stop charging people who want to support my vice of “doing research” and just go 100% pure.  however, CPS believes that i should feed the kids every day – thus, i do research on my own with no one telling me what to say, and i totally appreciate the nice, kind-heart folks that want to use that content in their webinars, white papers, blog posts, etc. and in exchange allow me to stay on CPS’s good side.  all opinions are mine, all data is mine, all — everything i do is mine and Microsoft is paying for my time and effort using it.  best part for them? i also own the mistakes, errors, and misstatements – so take it up with me if you have an issue.  glad to hear what you have to say and argue discuss debate properly exchange ideas in the comments below. one more thing, kind thanks to Jon Reed for allowing me to copy the crossed-over style now and then to overcome the objections of Sameer Patel to my (parenthetical) digressions.  much appreciated.

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