Customers are now more empowered than ever before. They have greater access to information about sellers and the ability to voice opinions in real time, in a variety of forums. For these reasons, good customer service, built around a great customer strategy, is one of the most important aspects of having a successful business.
Despite this, issues in customer service continue to rise. A recent USA Today article references a 2013 Customer Rage Survey that found that "the percentage of people with customer service problems rose to 50% from 45%" and "most of those who complained (56%) said they got nothing as a result, up nine percentage points".
While leadership teams across industries are investing heavily in improving customer service, it is tougher to make a substantial positive impact than many expect. So what changes should businesses be making to their customer strategy? We have identified three steps that companies should consider implementing if they want to improve customer service and stay competitive.
Firms must accept that a customer forms an opinion the moment they first come into contact with a brand or product, and that they continue to shape that opinion through a lifecycle that can last for decades.
To understand this lifecycle, companies must define what the customer experience looks like for all customers and along all touchpoints, including phone, email and web. Analysis of this data will enable them to identify causes for complaints and rectify them immediately. In turn, this will help them to drive customer service improvements and meet – and exceed – customers’ needs. We recently worked with a car manufacturer that fully understands this approach. They know that their customers are not one-time buyers and that, on average, each customer will buy eight of their vehicles in a lifetime. This prompted them to re-examine and redesign every process and customer touchpoint to strengthen service delivery and customer experience.
Ensuring that messages are moving fluidly between the customer and the company is also important. Aligning information that comes via many channels is a crucial step towards understanding the customer experience and finding gaps in the delivery of the customer promise.
Customer service employees and sales staff should be given the same remit to build relationships with customers. Typically, both have a similar level of customer interaction but customer service employees are given fewer tools to sustain a relationship. Businesses that give their customer service departments more power to help customers are ahead of the game when it comes to proactively fostering relationships with repeat consumers. This approach to customer service requires buy-in from leadership, as well as a cultural shift and a major transformation of how resources are managed, trained and treated by leadership.
When it comes to empowerment, it is important to not only allow all customer service staff to deliver on the customer promise but also to empower them to suggest ways to improve internal policies and processes.
Delivering value to the customer must be front of mind for each employee every day. One way to do this is to build customer satisfaction metrics into performance measurements for employees at all levels. Obviously, great performance is not achieved through metrics alone – employees must be motivated and enthusiastic about contributing to the customer experience.
The voice of the customer has never been stronger and companies have an opportunity to turn each customer from isolated buyers into an army of loyal ambassadors. These methods of improving the customer experience can provide tremendous competitive advantage and lay the foundation for continuous improvement.