Take a moment and think about a time when you had a memorable experience at a store or business. What details do you remember? What differentiated this experience from all the other daily interactions you have with businesses? It probably doesn't stand out because the shoes you bought are now your favorite pair or because the shirt you were eyeing was out of stock. It's most likely memorable because of what you were feeling during the experience.
Business success is fundamentally determined by customer experience. How customers feel about their interactions with your company can make or break your credibility, and ultimately impact your bottom line. This is what shapes each individual's attitude toward your company and influences buying behavior. The key is determining how to create an environment that is not only colored with positive customer experiences, but also is capable of measuring and leveraging those experiences in order to create a truly engaged, enriched brand advocate.
While the root of customer service remains constant, providing exceptional customer care never goes out of style. I foresee four trends that will impact the customer experience field throughout 2015.
1. Catapulting from Nps
Feedback is an unmatched resource, which is why many companies utilize Net Promoter Score (NPS) or something similar. Companies have determined this magic question is of the upmost importance in predicting future business results. This has resulted in some companies surveying their customers to death and developing an overreliance on the question, "Would you refer us?" to gain an understanding of consumer loyalty. NPS is merely a number, and what people say and what they do can be two very different things.
To avoid this common feedback pitfall, I suggest companies catapult beyond NPS by creating open-ended questions, limiting customer bias and allowing respondents to answer in a more natural way that is capable of uncovering true customer feelings.
It is critical to own the customer experience by showing customers their feedback was heard and will be used appropriately. Two years ago we received consistent customer feedback stating Hallmark Business Connections needed a new variety of birthday cards. When the new line was introduced to our online store, we assigned a special "New" sticker to highlight the addition of a unique offering. By helping customers differentiate new cards with the sticker, we were able to proactively alert customers to the new card, therefore acknowledging we heard their concerns and made changes. We successfully reduced variety complaints to almost none the following year.
2. Renewed focus on internal employees
Customer engagement success requires both internal and external effort. Externally, it's all about the customer and their experience with your company. Internally, your company needs employees who care enough to create an exceptional experience. Each and every employee impacts the customer experience, either by being the face of your organization, or by supporting those who interact directly with customers.
An increased focus on internal employees will become prevalent in 2015 as companies continue to realize the impact employee attitudes and behavior have on customer happiness. More companies are taking new, and sometimes dramatic, approaches to arming their workforces with engaged employees. One such approach is to offer less engaged employees a financially attractive option to leave.
This idea may seem outlandish at first blush, but this enables a company to concentrate on truly engaged employees who want to be there. By fostering a work environment focused on those truly engaged employees, companies are better able to provide associates with tools to not only understand their brand, but also to integrate it into every customer interaction, thus creating a consistent, unified customer experience.
3. The battle for empathetic employees
Empathetic employees are crucial to providing excellent customer care. As more and more companies strive to out serve the competition, it's important to have employees who naturally relate to customers and create relationships to keep them coming back again and again. With fierce competition for customer service associates, most companies are finding that they must have solid systems, processes, and training in place to create high-performing customer care associates. Great recruiting and hiring doesn't guarantee highly empathetic associates.
The customer experience skills of service employees often fall on a traditional bell curve. While most are in the middle, providing average service with limited differentiation from competitors, with the correct training, tools, and coaching they can be shifted into the high-performance category. Competition for naturally empathic employees is only going to become fiercer. Companies must develop the right support and motivation to create empathetic employees to fill the skills gap in the amount of available, naturally empathic customer care representatives in the marketplace.
4. Getting Advocates to Advocate
There is a clear distinction in business between creating a positive experience that has left the customer satisfied, and creating a moment that is so powerful you create a true brand advocate who is willing to sing your praises. But how do you get there?
By creating experiences that are both meaningful and memorable, businesses begin to bridge the gap between satisfied and advocating customers. A meaningful experience goes beyond simply the average or pleasant, but is something that touches the customer in a way that they remember the interaction. These are experiences the customer will remember for days, weeks, months, and years. Without that memory we cannot impact loyalty, retention and the business results driven by customer satisfaction.
The days of mediocre service are over. If the customer service you're providing isn't up to par, you better believe your customers will take their business elsewhere-and they won't do it silently. Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, the water cooler, and the backyard BBQ act as the megaphone to convey their disappointment.
I challenge you to provide excellent customer care, both in face-to-face and digital interactions. Develop empathetic employees who will not only turn loyal customers into advocates, but also be advocates themselves. Listen to feedback. Not all business problems can be identified and solved in boardrooms. Remember, customer feedback can expose solutions to questions you are having difficulty solving or didn't know you had.
Creating customer advocates doesn't happen overnight, but with the right combination of internal and external engagement strategies and an effective feedback system, your customers will become your business and brand advocates.