There used to be a time, seeming so long ago now, when customers can experience a product or service, the process related to it, and the authenticity of real people interacting with them in their journey. People then could walk around carefree and just choose for themselves when to buy things when they want them. Then, because businesses can’t just wait around all day watching potential customers walk by, interactions between businesses and customers evolved. Customer experience management became a thing and it became common for a business to have a customer experience strategy.
Rethinking The Two Ronnies
Before that, a counter, a brochure, or a piece of product information separated the customer from the product or service. Or instead of separating, those functioned as a stage for interaction between the customer and the company or store owner or representative facilitating the interaction. Imagine for example going over a menu while seated already for a dinner out, with the waiter facilitating or guiding you through the menu options. Or imagine letting into your home a door-to-door salesman with encyclopedic knowledge. Or relive The Two Ronnies’ hardware store sketch. The last one was a stretch but portrays, like the other imagined scenarios, the interaction the customer experiences with the product and the people representing the product.
The third element is worth mentioning at this point: the process. The process, or the running time in all those interactions, also needs to be recalled. How long did the interaction take? And then, was the customer satisfied? Did the customer have a positive experience?
Those kinds of handling and facilitation then needed rethinking. And so there were improvements towards a more positive customer journey and overall customer experience. Customers were then able to enter a store, choose the right product suited to their requirements, and pay for them. As they got to have interactions with a lot of products, customers became quite knowledgeable of what could be the solution to their specific needs. Sometimes, restaurant customers even calculate nutrition facts and calorie counts in their minds as the waiter guides them through the menu options.
As a workaround, salespeople then had to meet customers at store entrances or at wide spaces in the mall to pitch their product or service. Providing customers early on with product details hopefully matching customer needs became a go-to strategy to draw them in. Such drawing in is an invitation to a customer journey in relation to a brand’s product or service.
Then, there were ways to get the attention of the customer even before she leaves home or even while she’s busy looking into her mobile phone. The moment the customer notices the brand, the journey begins. Now, when it would end depends on how the brand could sustain the interaction. The customer can just easily dismiss the brand or product ad as soon as it shows up. On the other hand, the customer may also become interested and drawn in. Then, it could also just end anytime. Or, perhaps, the customer actually made a purchase but would need assistance later on. And so the journey extends even after the sale is made. Sustaining the interaction after purchase also became important to secure repeat purchases, customer loyalty, and word-of-mouth product promotion.
Customer service and customer care
Customer service, thus, became a necessity even for start-up businesses. Some businesses even went beyond and set up a customer care team, arm, or department. On one hand, when what you do after customer purchase is wait for customer concerns and just be ready to accommodate them, then that is customer service. On the other hand, you can also guarantee the customer, even before the purchase is made, that her concerns with the product or service will be taken care of. Not only that, but you would even follow up with her whether or not she is having any trouble with your product or service. So, beyond customer service, that is now customer care.
But customer service and customer care are just two aspects among other considerations in a customer journey. Businesses have also gone beyond that and have been considering also the customer journey as a whole. You can set up a customer service or a customer care. You can strategize to make your product, people, and processes more efficient throughout the journey. Also, you can be attentive to the needs of the customer even prior to meeting your product or service for the first time. Considering all these holistically means focusing on a customer experience strategy and management.
Blake Morgan, a customer experience futurist and author, in her 2018 Forbes article, said that “customer experience is the overarching sum of all interactions, and customer service and customer care are pieces of that puzzle.
Customer Experience Strategy
And so, customer experience became a thing. But, then, the COVID-19 also became a thing — a pandemic. Thus, a new problem: considering the pandemic, how can businesses further improve customer experience. Not only that, but the pandemic, as we see have observed, is shifting customer needs. The pandemic is changing business landscapes, requiring new customer approaches and interactions. As those shifts and changes are happening rapidly, at a global scale even, we are also approaching a new normal. Interactions and engagements, for example, have crossed over to the virtual space, becoming buzzwords, even getting their own online metrics. This new normal also seems to be coinciding with the new industrial revolution or perhaps making it urgent to be here, now. So, our problem also has to consider how to improve customer experience in the new normal beyond the pandemic.
Let us look at how we can build on what we have talked about thus far.
How to improve customer experience amid the pandemic
McKinsey & Company, in an April 2020 article, advised that customer experience must adapt in the time of the COVID19 pandemic. According to them, this means focusing on care, thinking creatively, and making use of new tools. It made sense since the market was already noticing then companies emphasizing care. The emphasis on care is not only for their customers but also for their own employees and communities out there. Businesses also had to really think creatively or risk closing shop. Since people couldn’t go to shops, the shops must meet the customers where they are. Business must meet their customers in their homes or on their phones. New tools then are to come from really harnessing social media resources to use them in whatever means necessary.
In their September 2021 report, McKinsey & Company said that “customer experience is the challenge of the recovery.” That was, however, picking up from their 2020 report on the travel industry turning upside down (more on travel later). Such statement, nevertheless, goes as well for the entire global business and economic ecosystem: logistics, delivery, and fulfillment for example.
A shift in the business landscape
A not-so-good year has passed and there has already been a shift. The business landscape has changed and businesses found themselves as though in an entirely new dimension. Adapting to the digital world has been abrupt for many and they don’t have yet a full grasp of the available social media tools. Regarding customer experience, they seem to be getting mixed signals and don’t know where to look.
Not only for travel but also for customer experience, or CX, in general, the said report recommended three rather broad strategies to get ahead: aiming high, looking forward, and moving fast.
Now, how do you start? Well, let’s look at what we have and look at ways to improve your customer experience strategy. We’ll also see the significance of such improvements especially amid and beyond the pandemic.
1. Tools: Messaging Channels and Metrics
Josiah Johnson, a pioneer in data and analytics product design, said that COVID-19 has changed customer service forever. He wrote three takeaways in navigating the change in a recent article (October 2021) for Ad Age, a global media brand focusing on curated creativity, analysis, innovation, and forecasting. With customer connections transformed, the now seamless connection between digital and physical must be a wake-up call for businesses. Connections and conversations with customers must go on seamlessly between digital and physical. Second, testing and experimenting must also take place alongside those for continuous improvement. The third is reconsidering chatter because what used to be just noise may actually be used as road maps.
Having a website has long become a necessity. The problem, however, for some businesses is that no one seems to bother visiting. Others, though, have gone out of their caves and followed the noise. Virtual avatars are out there busy conversing on social media platforms. Now, some marketers are already out there meeting them, conversing with them. In fact, there are some others who are thinking of shifting to messaging and ditching their websites, or not putting up a website at all and just focusing on messaging apps.
Well, you can keep your website in the same way you can keep your office or your store. What you need to consider are channels so you can draw in and funnel customers into it. This is the same way salespeople meet customers halfway in the mall or outside their stores.
There is now a thing called conversational marketing, a new trend in customer experience strategy. Meet your target market at home, while they’re online, on their phones, and start conversing with them. Aim to make the conversation meaningful by really conversing with them as one naturally does, then make it continuous. Some brands have become familiar to customers staying at home during the pandemic because, in some instances, those brands were the only ones available for them. Those brands were felt as showing authentic care, making sure that customers are provided with whatever they need.
Aside from making your marketing conversational, also make it seamless. If you can, set up a system wherein the customer can just order and pay for a product or service in your conversation or message thread. It’s tedious, nowadays, to have to open another phone app, let alone a computer, to purchase something.
Metrics: NPS, CSAT, CES
In the same way that you conduct customer surveys to know how your customer-facing employees are performing, you can also do it in that digital dimension. However, since the landscape has changed, and with so many things to see in the virtual space, customer behavior has also changed, affecting especially their regard for surveys. When it comes to surveys, customers going digital have become more unbothered like never before. The good news is that, as part of the new customer experience management, there are now shorter ways to get surveys answered: One question. A scale of one to ten. Stars. Emoji scale.
NPS, CSAT, and CES: these are metrics you can use to measure customer satisfaction and your customer experience strategy. In any of these, you can use just one question and even with just emoji answers.
Net Promoter Score (NPS) asks customers how likely they are to recommend your products, services, or brand to other people. You can send out such question at any point in the customer journey. Now, knowing that you are going to ask such a question already prompts you to improve your brand, your process, and your staff’s performance. A customer’s angry face emoji could really make you rethink. The emoji, then, is not only a quicker way for customers to answer surveys. Analyzing the collected results in NPS could also make you go back to your drawing board.
A Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) measures customer satisfaction levels directly. You may have, for example, an escalated call of an angry customer who, through your resolution process, has calmed down already, you may want to send her a survey of how satisfied she is with the process. Or you may want to send it out while her dissatisfaction is still smoking hot for really unfiltered observations. In other words, CSAT is a flexible measurement tool you can use for specific points in your business process. This lets you know how you’re doing in that aspect or whether you need improvements and by how much.
Now, you can also ask how easy or difficult was it for the customer to do a certain action in relation to the system you set up. That could be a specific action needed to be done by the customer at any point in the interaction or transaction, or it could also be the overall experience at the end. You can measure this with CES, or Customer Effort Score. Make sure to limit your survey, if you can, to just one question. Having to do a lot for a CES survey may affect customer satisfaction and also the score you would want to see for a specific context.
During the pandemic, some companies needed to reduce their manpower in order to survive. With a process in place requiring a certain number of manpower, those who are still employed had to double their time or double themselves. Those efforts, however, drove them to exhaustion. There’s just too much to handle all at the same time. Customers in the airline industry, for example, had to endure longer wait times. But such needed extra customer effort also drove them to exhaustion and dragged them to frustration.
A recent New York Times article (November 14, 2021), for example, reported a case of a customer put on hold for 275 minutes with no resolution at the other end. The customer service on the other end, already on overtime, exhausted, and couldn’t entertain thoughts of things to do when day-off comes, is drowned deep with customer concerns, cancellations, and confusions.
Patience, one could say, on delivery and wait times reduced significantly with the improvement of easily accessible communication tools and technology. The necessary dependence on these during the pandemic further demanded speed in processes and fulfillment. It’s not enough that the products or services are available. For an updated customer experience strategy, those must be delivered to customers in the shortest possible time. The Ever Given stuck at and blocking the Suez Canal in early 2021 even became a global concern and a logistics nightmare.
People, Products, Processes
Your products or services, your processes, and your people are all the more important amid and beyond the pandemic. Be sure that your products and services are available on demand. Be sure your processes are streamlined and checked constantly for even the slightest degree of error. And be sure that your people, your employees have the right skills necessary to meet the growing demands of digital customers. You may introduce AI or machine learning to your processes, but be sure also that your people can work alongside them. Although it is common now to be met with chatbots in messaging channels, when unusual concerns crop up, customers still want to talk to a real person. (For more on AI, see our previous article, How AI Has Revolutionized Customer Service.)
Now, regarding tracking customer satisfaction, traditional surveys take 18 to 24 days from launch to readout. If you’re meeting customers on social media platforms, you can then also make use of real-time trends and insights. These tools already come built-in when you make use of their business suite. Or you could build one yourself, or integrate tools available in different platforms, or you could outsource a BPO company to set it all up for you.
At this point, it is clear that our primary concern is the customer. Your customer is the reason why your business exists and continues to exist. To provide a smooth customer journey and a meaningful customer experience, it becomes more important to really go back and listen to the voice of the customer (VOC). It is VOC that informs you how you should set up and organize your processes. It is with a well-analyzed VOC that you can determine your critical-to-quality (CTQ) outputs. CTQs are the key measurable characteristics of a product or process whose performance standards must be met in order to satisfy the customer.
For Shane Mac, Conversocial SVP for Marketing, “Digital CX is now raising the competitive bar in every sector. In order to capture the opportunity, brands need to embrace a new operating model that dramatically improves performance. This operating model is one that puts the customer’s needs and wants at the center of their strategy.” There is nothing new, however, regarding the focus on digital CX－it is still the customer. At the beginning of your business process, even with digital customer experience, you have your VOC, your very first input. Pay attention to it and design your operating model and your strategy with that as your focus.
Final note on customer experience strategy: Focus on customer value
Now, with the still ever-evolving customer needs and wants, be sure to really know what your customer wants. Be mindful of this in order to deliver exactly what the customer expects of you. Gone are the days when businesses are able to control the market and the customers. But there is no shift either. The most important solution, perhaps, in any customer experience strategy is putting emphasis on customer value. Customers identify themselves with companies or brands that value the same things as them and value them as customers. Thus, a full circle with the care mentioned earlier. Putting emphasis on customer value, combined with paying attention to the voice of the customer, raises the bar of customer experience. Doing this today in a digital world, amid the pandemic and beyond, not only would improve customer experience but would also raise the value of your business.
Should you need help with your business－setting up for example customer relationship management (CRM) tools, AI, outsourcing customer service, or a BPO match for your specific need for your customer experience strategy, we at StratAccess are here to help.
StratAccess Inc., established in 2012, is committed to find its clients the best centers in the Philippines for successful BPO solutions. The company is focused on transforming the landscape of call center partnerships to meet the requirements of today’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). StratAccess consultants are attuned to helping clients take a hard look at their business objectives, current organization infrastructure, and operational practices.
We at StratAccess strive to build long-term relationships that extend beyond the typical vendor-client transactions. Our primary focus is to successfully promote and serve each client’s products or services as though they are our own. Combined with the skill and knowledge of the Philippine outsourcing industry, our company has positioned itself as a leader in delivering its clients access to qualified quality and cost-effective BPO referrals.
Ivan Deligero is a contributing author at StratAccess. He likes deep dives into the bottom of things and sharing discoveries and strategies towards desired goals. His years of exposure in different industries have led to a deeper insight into organizational structures and operations, as well as the importance of process improvement. In his free time, he also reads and writes about some recent thoughts in philosophy.