Customer Experience Management and Training are probably the organizational success streams that are closest to my heart. Partly because they are usually relegated to the realms of “ticking off the Regulatory checkboxes“ and the “good to have but not the most critical corporate exertions”; but also because i have spent the bulk of my corporate life across 3 separate organisations, methodically trying to disprove the above mindsets. I have met with mostly success as my team and i have doggedly gone after service, process and knowledge breakdowns and shown time and again how, when left unaddressed, they unequivocally cause the enterprise to copiously bleed out customers and revenue.
The service industry is a unique ecosystem mainly because it is the sum total of the experiences and perceptions that its customers take away from it. The fact that it does not deal with delivering any tangible goods or products like a washing machine or an Xbox, means that there is no immediate gratification following a sale, regardless of the intangible/ impalpable awareness of that sale. In the service industry, it is all about the experience as the customer walks away solely with an impression of her hotel reservation or the perception of how easily (or otherwise) her term deposit was fixed. The service industry then, is the merchant of a cumulative array of commerce-driven emotions if you will.
It is no surprise then, that I have always found Customer Experience Management, especially of the financial services variety, a constantly intriguing thing. The service and process culture of any organisation represents its great underbelly; and if there are discontented rumblings therein, the whole corporate beast is innately compromised.
How does Management care for this emotionally and experientially complex creature – the Organization – that is both, its ward and its sponsor?
Via a robust Customer Experience Management and Training manifesto that is tailored to address the unique challenges of that particular organization.
Customer Experience Management: Right from the start, have a robust customer experience measurement and service recovery capability in place. In my experience, some variant of the below four-fold approach, depending on Organizational culture, size and life cycle, has proven to be the most comprehensive, simple and effective:
1- A Service health barometer: This translates to an all-encompassing and continuous gauge on the pulse of your customers. Emotions and therefore experience satisfaction are as fickle as the best laid plans. What is good for today may not be optimal in 3 months time. VoC* adroitness enables the organization to stay on top of what is relevant to our customers both in terms of current pain points, USPs* and future product and process goals. This VoC is mostly externally driven via customer-initiated feedback and complaints and (for bigger organisations) also internally driven, via company-solicited product and service feedback channels.
2- A Service measurement index: Once the feedback is received from across the external and internal channels, highlight the top 5 – 10 areas of customer concern, delight and aspirations to be managed as below:
- Build service measurement metrics for the areas requiring improvement to identify process, people and knowledge bottlenecks. Institute a regimen to gauge the ongoing health of these areas post a remedying intervention.
- Actively share the USPs with the product and service teams. Build metrics around the unique selling propositions and measure performance albeit on a less frequent basis to ensure they remain healthy and delivering.
- Ensure that the customer-identified product and service objectives/ aspirations are made a part of product steering committee meetings to discuss their viability and efficacy vis a vis overall satisfaction and returns.
This measurement and action cycle is not a one-time exercise but a continuous loop to ensure the organization always stays abreast of its issues while proactively safeguarding and growing its customer and revenue base.
3- Process and product Optimization: This is a critical next step to the bottlenecks emanating from the VoC and the Service measurement metrics. Without it, the CE cycle is like a toothless tiger – all roar and no bite. This is by its singularly curative nature, the most laboriously and strategically challenging function. The battles on the improvement landscape can appear many and daunting. Let the VoC be your primary guide assisted by overarching management insight into identifying the improvements which would elicit the maximum bang for the buck in terms of impact on the bottom line.
The last point deserves a special mention all its own because of its substantial effect on the overall wellbeing of the organization. And that is Training or Learning.
4- Training: The issues emanating from the VoC and the service indicator assessments are of 2 main varieties: process/ pricing related (the hard bats) and knowledge/ behaviour related (the soft bats). Usually, the hard bats are the first to be addressed because they bring to the table, the necessary professional complexity if you will, to seem like the exclusive conduits to creating satisfied customers. A lot of times the real low hanging fruits are left to the more astute competition to harvest and feast on. Those fruits are the basic knowledge and behaviour gaps that end up not only creating customer dissatisfaction, but also circuitously lead to an increase in complaint volumes and service delivery re-work, as easily avoided misdemeanours pile up for remediation at best, or walk out the door with, often times, our silently detracting customers.
Some Shrewd Wisdom: if organisations spent half as many resources on addressing the knowledge gaps that are identified via their VoC streams as they do on full blown, overarching learning initiatives, they can cut their complaints by a third and increase satisfaction by over 30%.
These knowledge and behaviour gaps can be bifurcated into 2 main types:
- The training needs that are more extensive and require a classroom setting to be delivered and learned.
- The training needs that are quick and easy to fulfil and basically comprise of minor tweaks in the way the frontline staff interacts with the customer at the first point of contact of the service delivery. These are the FPOC* Quick Kills that make up about half of the training needs identified via the VoC. These are veritable process refinement gems and are all too often ignored or just genuinely never perceived, ironically, because they are so obvious. We in the corporate world do suffer from what I call the Penchant for the Highbrow, thus missing the Simplicity of the Sublime!
In conclusion, a strategically relevant Customer Experience and Learning program is a 360 degree protocol, starting and ending with the VoC. The fleshing out of the structure in between is what gives the enterprise its fangs and its claws to cut through corporate gristle and get to the heart of things that are central to the well being of the organization. It is no secret then, that a successful CE enterprise requires knowledge, passion, empathy and grit. The professional that i am today has a lot to do with my embodiment of these values as I, without omission, undertook the role of the resident “fixer upper”. It was also a dogged perseverance in finding solutions even in the midst of the most turbulent corporate maelstroms, that led to success.
*VoC: Voice of Customer feedback streams allowing for customer complaints and suggestions to be formally recorded and actioned.
*USP: A Unique Selling Proposition refers to the unique benefit exhibited by a company, service, product or brand that enables it to stand out from competitors.
*FPOC: First Point of Contact or the point when a particular service stream commences.