Consumer expectations of brands are higher than ever before in today’s experience economy. Customers can comment, tweet, chat, text, call, or email companies 24/7 with a question or complaint, and they expect a response almost instantaneously. Even waiting 24 hours for a response is considered unacceptable and doesn’t meet many customers’ expectations.
This rapid pace of change affects every aspect of business from product development and operations management to customer experience. Almost every leader I meet is concerned about keeping up with the accelerated pace to build and maintain their competitive advantage. In particular, they struggle with maintaining and improving customer experience when customer expectations are constantly changing. The customers compare their experience with your business not just with your competitors but with their experience at every other business.
Managing, meeting, and exceeding customer needs is becoming a greater business challenge than keeping up with the pace of product innovation because every single customer’s brand perception has the ability to affect the company’s bottom line for better or worse. Let’s say food delivery is taking much longer than expected, or a ride share driver is rude. If the customer decides to share their experience across social media channels and review sites, suddenly that sub-par customer interaction may extend beyond that single experience and affect company’s brand perception. Today, angry customers who get bumped from a flight can send a tweet with the airline’s customer service Twitter handle , instantly making the inconvenience public.
As a result, companies need to better understand their customers’ needs, proactively build personal relationships with them, and more accurately predict their fast-changing expectations. The ability to do these things will affect brand perception, customer retention, customer lifetime value, and ultimately, revenue.
So where do companies start?
1. Understand consumer expectations
Companies put a stake in the ground by looking at what their competitors are doing and try to match or outpace them, without first understanding what their own customers expect. This is a common misstep leaders make. Being customer-obsessed rather than competitor-obsessed can yield better outcomes.
Frontline employees are an often overlooked but are a critical starting point. They talk to customers every day and gather a wealth of qualitative and quantitative information. Ask these employees what their experiences are when they interact with customers, and more important, empower them to make changes or recommendations on ways to improve the customer experience. Enable managers and team leads to share aggregated customer data with frontline employees and surface recommendations to leaders. The more employees are engaged, the better you can respond to changing needs and improve customers’ experiences.
Companies should also regularly gather insights from public channels to keep a finger on the pulse of customer sentiment. Different tools can help aggregate data from different channels, but the data is almost worthless unless organizations have a single platform to analyze it, see and understand the trends and pain points, identify the insights, and surface actionable recommendations.
2. Implement the right technology
It’s difficult to activate an entire organization on improving the customer experience without having the right technology in place. Employees as well as the sales, marketing, HR, and customer service teams and others must be invested in the same, singular platform in order to create the most effective and lasting customer experiences.
The best technology helps leaders to break down the traditional silos among these teams. When the company’s goal is to be customer-centric, every team must agree on a clear set of priorities and outcomes. This is why Fortune 500 executives are adopting experience management across their organizations to manage the four core experiences: customer, employee, product, and brand. A cohesive platform is the most effective way to discover experience gaps, identify the correlations between them, and create integrated feedback loops. If employees are having an issue with a system or process, is that showing up in the customer experience? Most likely. A company can spend a significant budget on attempting to improve the customer experience and see almost no return because they missed the key to closing the experience gap: fixing the employee experience first.
For example, companies with antiquated or dated customer service response center systems can make it difficult for a service representative to find the solution to a customer question or problem. This may lead to low customer experience ratings because of the delayed response in getting to the answer (which also likely means longer hold times for other customers). Companies can increase employee training programs, try to speed up hold times, or drive a customer retention effort, but they aren’t addressing the key issue itself.
The best technology platform also helps leaders understand customer trends, surfaces recommendations and actions to improve experiences, and enables every person in the organization to respond to customer feedback. When evaluating the right platform, consider all the possible use cases, product capabilities, and the ecosystem of experts for your specific needs.
3. Develop meaningful customer relationships
Every person in an organization should be equipped to deliver great customer experiences. Empower employees and teams to improve “micro-actions”–these are experiences that an employee can resolve in minutes.
For example, there may be an experience gap from customers who have negative experiences with a restaurant chain’s employees. The company can empower employees to take micro-actions to deliver great experience and remediate failures on the spot. Provide the ability to offer customers a free drink or meal or give them the freedom to make a custom thank you script of their own. These micro-actions can be accomplished quickly, and when evaluated as a whole, companies can begin to create more meaningful customer relationships at the macro-level.
Every action and touchpoint matters in the customer experience. When all stakeholders across an organization are invested in creating value for customers, improved brand perception and business metrics will naturally follow.
Webb Stevens is the Executive vice president of CustomerXM, Qualtrics