Whether you work in products or services, in B2B or B2C, McKinsey is formal; almost all exceptional business successes are based on the customer experience. Therefore, the customer experience is considered a strategic factor for virtually all companies.
In theory, because in practice things are quite different.
Customer service is dedicated to resolving the company’s problems, not the customer’s.
Few 20th-century companies are customer-centric. Employees are focused on their careers, thus on their bosses, internal politics, and products… The customer is way back at the end of the line.
In this era of the social web, companies want to avoid facing a crisis on Twitter, or spending too much time on the phone with a customer. So they try to find solutions.
In reality, they only consider the customer in terms of what he may cost them.
The customer is viewed by most brands as an expense, rather than an advantage.
Besides, let’s admit it… Conquest and seduction is more exciting that cultivating loyalty.
That’s why companies try to turn customer service call centers into revenue streams.
Don’t you find it annoying when you call customer service for a problem, and they try to sell you other products?
“I’ve just told you I don’t like your t-shirts. They don’t fit me. So don’t make up for this lousy experience by giving me credit to spend on your website. I can’t do anything with that…”
It’s nothing new, but it’s definitely a reality.
Most companies consider the customer experience to be a program, instead of a way of doing business.
Therefore, the initiatives are simply geared toward improving the existing processes, to keep the customer satisfied.
But you shouldn’t just want your customers to be “satisfied”; you should want them to love you!
The customer experience pyramid
I really like this customer experience pyramid that my friend Augie, a customer experience expert with Gartner, came up with. He explains the different steps and how to work up the pyramid, starting from the base:
Furnish information I can use: This is probably the weakest form of customer experience. It means simply providing instructions in case of a problem. If you have a flat tire, here’s how to change it.
This customer experience proposal won’t generate much satisfaction amongst customers.
Solve my problem when I ask: The louder I yell, the more I’ll be heard. If I have lots of Twitter followers, my experience will undoubtedly be a better one.
The company wants to avoid a situation that could potentially cost even more.
As a result, it tries to solve your problems and sell you something else, if it can, on the basis of a problem…
Resolve my needs when I ask: There’s a difference between “problem” and “need”. Let’s say you’ve lost your bank card. The bank has blocked all charges on your account, but you still need to contact Visa/MasterCard/American Express to receive a new card and follow the necessary procedure. Your needs aren’t entirely resolved, even if the problem itself is. Here, the bank immediately takes care of the entire process, on the basis of your call.
Provide what I need without me asking: Your bank picks up on a fraudulent charge before you do, contacts you and replaces your card without it costing you a penny. You receive the new card by mail. This step helps create trust between you and the brand, along with an emotional bond.
Provide what I need without me knowing: This step implies totally rethinking the customer experience, by taking into account the analysis of precise data related to both the customer and external factors. An example would be the Nest thermostat, which helps you save energy “behind your back”.
Make me better, safer, more powerful: Obviously this is more within the realm of inspiration than reality, in most vertical businesses.
Only the most powerful brands have succeeded in doing this. Apple, for instance, totally revolutionized access to information and made it intuitive, thanks to the iPhone.
This is also the case with Facebook or YouTube, who have provided a platform that allows the masses to stand out, carve a reputation, build relationships and even launch (multi-million dollar) careers.
This is equally relevant to the many “unicorns” of the collaborative economy, such as Airbnb, Lending Club and others.
As Augie explains, viewing the customer experience as a program requires appointing people to be in charge of it, while the rest of the company works on improving profits, making acquisitions, etc.
Many brands struggle to make their way up the pyramid’s steps, often getting stuck on “Solve my problems when I ask”. They don’t push any further, which is where the problem lies.
The customer experience requires a cultural shift
Today’s innovative brands don’t work off a perception of existing products or services. They integrate an understanding of the consumer’s needs and expectations. In reality, they don’t look at the bottom of the pyramid and wonder how to make their way up. They start from the top, which is how they “disrupt” existing businesses.
To create a unique customer experience, you have to break down the silos. You have to do anything within your power to satisfy the customer, even if this means recommending a competitor’s product or something he can do/make himself (this allows for data collection which will ultimately improve the experience).
The employees who are in direct contact with the customer (salespeople, customer service representatives, service personnel…) have to be taken into account, and it’s important to grasp this.
These employees need to feel valued. They need to be able to provide answers and be rewarded for taking good care of the customer.
Often, these employees avoid customer interaction because they don’t have the answers or the right tools.
These front-line employees aren’t just carrying out a plan. In a way, they’re really the ones in charge of the customer experience.
The example of Uber is so obvious and easy to understand.
If you think your sector is different… you’re probably wrong.
Uber didn’t take the taxi industry into account when going through consumer complaints (car quality, unpleasant drivers, etc.…). They started from scratch and totally rewrote the book on urban transportation.
It’s not just about being able to pay by credit card. It’s about predicting where you might need a car and making one available, based on their algorithm. Or about ordering a car wherever you are, without being charged from the driver’s starting point or having to wait outside.
Uber isn’t a convenience. Uber is a “painkiller”, and that makes all the difference.
So, if you’re content to merely benchmark your industry to assess your own performance, you may bypass your own company’s reality.
The customer culture must be your business’ central nervous system, not just a program. It has to be the priority, because we all know that with satisfied customers come flourishing businesses.
The future of the customer experience will be proactive
Many things work in a way that challenges a modern view of the customer experience.
Companies put patches on problems, instead of trying to view the customer experience differently. They react to complaints, create programs that are designed to up-sell and cross-sell, and unfortunately focus too often on the company’s problems.
Tomorrow, the customer experience will have to be proactive. It will at the very least have to reply to consumers’ needs in advance, before these consumers even think about them or identify a potential problem.
Here are some examples:
- Ordering food automatically when your refrigerator notices that you will soon run out of one or more items that you regularly consume.
- A mirror that can predict what make up to take in your bag, because you’re going to a party and it’s probably going to rain.
- An alarm clock that wakes you 10 minutes ahead of time, because there’s a problem on the subway or an accident on your regular work itinerary.
All of these examples rely on significant progress in terms of internal and external data use and advanced analysis algorithms. But most importantly, they entail a real cultural shift.
Simply ticking the “customer experience box” isn’t enough to resolve the problem.
Digital transformation alone won’t do the trick either. A strong cultural shift at the heart of the company is required.
Each employee (not just marketing and communication staff) has to be aware of the brand’s mission and live for it. He has to base his decisions on the brand’s values, which should always be directed at satisfying the customer rather than reducing the expense he might represent.