Competitiveness for many companies is often translated into external activities over which they have little or no control, such as focusing on tactical methods to attack competitors, to convince a customer not to buy from a competitor. These same companies overlook many activities that are completely in their control such as greatly improving and innovating product quality and reliability. Another area that can significantly enhance company competitiveness is working towards customer service excellence. Customer service excellence can produce a blatant ROI: Happy Successful Customers. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com makes a strong case for focusing on customers, rather than competitors:
When asked what competitors he worries about, Bezos replied that Amazon decided early on that it would be "competitor alert, but not competitor obsessed," Instead, his company is customer obsessed.
"The best customer service means the customer doesn't need to call you," Bezos says... That fixation on customer service appears to have paid off, Bezos says: The company has some of the highest customer service ratings in the retail industry.
Swinging in the other direction, it’s fairly easy to dig up lots of horror stories and statistics on the high cost (quantitative and qualitative) of poorly executed customer service. For example, Genesys came out with a study, The Cost of Poor Customer Service, where consumers were surveyed globally:
Nearly 70% of consumers said they had ended a relationship due to poor customer service alone. Consumers feel the most significant root causes of poor service are:
• Being trapped in automated self-service
• Being forced to wait too long for service
• Repeating themselves
• Representatives that lack the skills to answer their inquiry
On average, consumers in virtually every country walk away from a relationship due to poor service. Overall, consumers end more than 1.4 relationships each year on average due to a poor customer service experience.
The approach to customer service has been changing for many companies, and it clearly needs to change. Companies are facing not only the need to ramp up positive customer experiences whenever customers interact with the company, but now must understand and construct strategies for providing a seamless customer experience over multiple channels of communication. Many new customer communication channels are not even provided by the company. ‘Anywhere-anytime’ customer interactions, frequently driven by the customer, are happening now, and are likely to grow in diversity and occurrence over time.
But companies are not helpless in this “new world” of customer engagement. Companies have full power to create a consistent and differentiated service experience for their customers, across any and all channels. Making this happen is not an easy task, but making it happen can be a solid path to sustained competitiveness, and to providing continuous real value to customers.
A Continuum of Customer Engagement
Industry analyst Esteban Kolsky has been writing about the transition of customer communication channels from ones under company management to a proliferation of new modes of interaction, often pushed by customers. Kolsky considers customer-driven communication channels part of a continuum that is currently evolving:
This new continuum arose from the Social Customer becoming demanding, and expecting the interactions to happen on their own terms. No longer do customers want to be transferred from department to department – they want quick resolution by whomever they happen to interact with. They expect to get access to the relevant data regarding their transactions virtually anywhere, in any format. They want to dictate the terms of the relationship as they deem relevant…
…we see organizations today ill prepared across all channels to deal with it. Their people are not prepared to deal with customers and communities accessing all relevant information, their processes are not sophisticated enough to accommodate these dynamic demands for information and data, and the technology behind them definitely is not up to par to support flexible exchanges of information as determined by the customer – not the organization.
Beyond a continuum of communication channels, the path to improved customer interactions must focus on people, practices, processes, and technologies, with technologies subservient to the first three components. New accomplishments for engaging experiences with customer service functions can include knowledge co-creation that will benefit many, collecting customer intelligence to underpin ever-improving service, and highly relevant personalized exchanges that speed up acquisition of answers for customer questions and needs.
One Customer Experience Across Multiple Channels, Old and New
Guy Stephens writes in a recent post about the influence of social media on customer relationships with companies. Stephens’ wonderfully detailed post is a response to a report from the Institute of Customer Service, Return on investment in customer service: the bottom line report. A few of his observations:
The report points out:
- customer service is moving towards a fundamental shift away from a largely transaction–based cost center to a strategic driver that helps generate value for the organisation
- calculating the ROI in customer service is complex
- a profound change for the customer service world is taking place
(but) the preoccupation remains firmly on the channel, or the mechanics of the channels. The modern day contact centre has been built on the pursuit of tactical efficiencies and expediencies, but its future lies in a far more expansive, challenging and less familiar landscape.…although technology has created many new channels that affect customer behaviour, the traditional channels don’t disappear.
To succeed with all customers, creating and maintaining consistency of experience across and between channels of communication, through many interactions, is the priority. This goes beyond listening well to the customer -- this is about action, enablement and empowerment.
Developing Solutions for the Customer Experience Continuum
Recently I worked with software company Sword Ciboodle, collaborating with Mitch Lieberman (VP Marketing Americas and well-known SME for Social / CRM) and several others to co-create a thought piece on the current state and future direction of quality customer service experiences, including the evolving customer engagement continuum, – and the impacts on company success and on the value created for customers.
Sword Ciboodle, based in Scotland, has been growing its presence in the Americas. The Ciboodle software solutions are all about helping companies provide improved customer interactions and the many ways that this can be accomplished, including traditional customer service. Ciboodle technology powers a customer engagement platform that includes capabilities for CRM, customer intelligence, dynamic process management, and a good start on tapping into multi-channel communication interfaces. Ciboodle also gets into interfaces with social apps, plus sentiment analysis, a built-in community platform, and self-service portals. Ciboodle has a view in mind for the future of customer service and is exploring the customer engagement continuum as the ‘anywhere anytime’ customer interaction venue that is likely to become more important for many companies.
Collaborating with a Company That Believes In People-Centric Businesses
Collaborative projects are frequently distinct from one another, so “rules of engagement” should reflect the goals and needs unique to each project. “Rules of engagement” may be explicit or just informally understood. Collaborative communication is best when open and responsive, at a frequency that moves the work along. And companies that believe in collaboration and in connecting people for mutual benefit also end up creating solutions and deliverables that work well for what people want to get done and how they want to do it. All of the above notions have been part of the collaborative experience to create the white paper with the Ciboodle team.
The content of the white paper that we co-created is much richer for having the participation of multiple strong team members. The full team includes these experts who have been with Ciboodle for several years: Clare Dorrian (VP Marketing EMEA), Ian Henderson (VP Presales / Strategic Consulting), Rachel Tait (Marketing Manager Americas), and Lisa Goodwin (Design & Marketing Americas). I greatly appreciate all of the knowledge and insight that they have shared with me, and the great enthusiasm that this team brings to the work that Ciboodle does. Towards the end of the project, newcomer John Merritt (Product Marketing Manager Americas) jumped right in to shepherd the white paper through final production and publication. Then there’s Mitch, whose vision, drive and commitment contributed so much to the content and direction of the white paper.
If you are interested in reading the white paper Focusing on the Total Customer Experience (and I highly recommend that you do…), send an email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org And then please come back to my blog or to Mitch’s blog to let us know your thoughts, reactions, new ideas, and suggestions for improving customer interactions, achieving customer service excellence, and the evolution of the customer engagement continuum.
Mitch has been turning out posts on the white paper topics, including:
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Disclosure: Sword Ciboodle sponsored and compensated me for the white paper that I wrote with Mitch Lieberman.
About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished software industry analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategic Product & Market Intelligence Services