At a recent two-day management conference, our management team took a look at the experiences we’ve had as customers ourselves.
Unprompted, 50% of the team recalled having a recent negative customer experience, and 50% reported a positive customer experience. Next, we looked into what made those experiences positive or negative. What we found was that the successes and failures hinged on four universal truths about the customer experience.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the customer experience is a major part of what keeps businesses afloat. A positive experience can lead to repeat customers as well as recommendations and referrals. A negative customer experience may not only turn customers away from a business, but a single social media post about the event can do significant harm to the business’s reputation.
So what were these four universal truths underpinning the customer experience? Let’s dive in.
Capability is all about ensuring that staff are equipped and capable of providing a positive customer experience. Employees must be knowledgeable and equipped with the skills they need for the job they’ve taken on. But it’s also important that companies provide their employees with the resources they need to deliver positive customer service. These resources can be broken down into three different categories.
In order to provide a positive customer experience, employees need to have the skills to provide the service customers need. Some of this comes down to hiring. It’s important to ensure that potential employees have the right skills before we hire them. Work experience can be key, but it isn’t necessarily everything. Think about entry-level positions. Even when employees don’t bring with them previous work experience, they may have picked up certain skills or have inherent personality traits that equip them to be future customer service stars. Skills can also be developed and refreshed through onboarding and regular training.
Skills are talents that employees have picked up over time, and they help employees provide a particular service. Tools are physical resources, often provided by the workplace. It’s the job of management to provide the tools employees need to provide the best customer experience. Sometimes it’s a matter of making sure our employees have the tools they need. Other times, it might be about making sure they are properly trained to use those tools.
Take a barista, for instance. Chances are that they have access to the espresso machine. It’s right there behind the counter. They can’t miss it. But have they been properly trained to use the espresso machine? If not, even though they have physical access to the machine, this isn’t really a tool they can use for a positive customer experience. The same rule applies to office-wide software that hasn’t been properly integrated into workflows or covered in training.
Customers ask lots of questions. Employees should be prepared for those questions and know how to answer them. It can be frustrating for a customer to be constantly transferred to someone who might not know how to resolve their issue. That’s why communication is so important in the workplace. When our managers share knowledge with employees, those employees can use that knowledge in their customer service.
Even though capability often refers to the individual employees, this universal truth is that it's the responsibility of the organization. We’re obligated to both hire the right people and empower them with the right training and support. So what can we do to boost our organization's capability?
Keep training regularly. Industries change, and processes can change from year to year. We can keep our employees’ skills sharp by holding regular training sessions according to industry standards and evaluating the results of that training.
Know employees’ strengths and play to them. Have an especially detail-oriented employee who gets a little nervous in social situations? Give them a task that involves crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s rather than interacting with customers. On the other hand, that charismatic employee with the bright, friendly smile makes a great first impression on customers or clients.
Incentivize employees to hone their skills. Recognize and reward employees for a job well done. Offer a program that gives them certain points or benefits in exchange for undergoing new certification or training. Make it so that becoming more knowledgeable and skilled is something they want to do, not just something they feel they have to do.
Delegate! It can be tempting for managers to want to do it all themselves, rather than instruct their employees and then correct their mistakes. An important skill of a manager or supervisor is knowing when to delegate and to whom. Not only does delegation allow employees to grow their knowledge and experience, but it demonstrates that the manager has confidence in the staff member which in of itself, is a momentum builder.
Another element that comes into the customer experience is the process. If our workflow is clunky and inefficient, it comes through in the customer experience. Products may reach customers late or have defects. Customers may be left waiting while employees scramble to tackle other tasks. A smooth process not only makes employees' jobs easier but also ensures a smooth delivery and timely service.
So how do you improve your process when that’s the problem? Typically, the word workflow is used to describe our process at work. Workflow is all about the way different employees and departments work together in assigning, transferring, and executing tasks. With good communication, a clear chain of command, and timely deliverables, the work flows.
Take a look at your current workflow. What works, and what doesn’t? When there are issues, they often come down to communication — especially between different levels of command. Prioritize communication and organization. Automation software may also help streamline the process. We live in a digital world, and customers are used to working at digital speeds. Collaboration software and automation make it easy to see the tasks that need to be completed, work through them, and check them off once they’re finished.
As customers, we often return to companies that treat us kindly. We remember that patient customer service member who walked us through that issue with our bank account while we were on the brink of tears. We go back to the restaurant with the friendly server who chatted with us about sports.
That all comes down to culture. It’s the persona that a company presents to the world: friendly, empathetic, a company that gives back to the community. If capability is the brain of the company, culture is the heart. But there’s also an overlap between culture and capability. Both are all about the human element. Capable employees are problem-solvers, creative, and imaginative, and that comes through in the culture.
Deloitte Insights listed five capabilities that can greatly benefit the culture of a company:
Curiosity: the understanding that there is always more information and knowledge to be found and the active search for it
Imagination: the ability to broaden our outlook by envisioning what is beyond the known
Creativity: the ability to discover effective solutions, even (or especially) when they’re outside the box
Empathy: the ability to put ourselves in customers’ shoes and truly understand their circumstances
Courage: the boldness to take necessary actions and risks in order to produce the best outcomes
Companies that consistently foster these qualities are the ones that build a culture of sustained customer service excellence.
Finally, the fourth universal truth of the customer experience as we defined, is reliability. Trust is the one non-negotiable element necessary to ensure that customers have a positive experience, come back, and recommend a company to their friends. If customers can’t trust our products or services, they’ll go to a company where they can.
What is our company’s track record for delivering quality goods and services on time and to the customers’ satisfaction? Can customers count on us to deliver when we say we will? Ultimately, it boils down to the old cliche, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
Capability, process, and culture all fall within the purview of the organization. Reliability, on the other hand, is in the hands of employees on an individual level. Good organizations know how to draw out this quality from their team by investing in the employee experience. A positive employee experience and a positive customer experience are inextricably linked.
To understand what creates a positive customer experience, we had to think about our own experiences as customers. What we found came down to four universal pillars: Capability, Process, Culture, and Reliability. It’s impossible to prioritize one over the other; all four are necessary in order to create a truly positive customer experience.
These four pillars are tied to an organization’s ability to demonstrate these qualities through all of their customer-facing intefaces. That’s where Aizan can help. Since 1999, when our founders established one of the first hosted interactive voice response (IVR) solutions in Canada, we have been creating intelligent, cloud-based voice and messaging solutions that streamline your internal and customer-facing communication and workflows.
Contact Aizan today to learn more about how we can guide you in creating memorable customer experiences.