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Defining the Customer Experience Role

Posted on : 02-10-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Leadership

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses big and small. I am sure many will point to social media as the cause but the reality is we often see Customer and employee experience gain importance as we experience economic improvement. I am seeing more and more companies hiring leaders for Customer experience at a much higher level than I have seen in the past. For someone like myself these are exciting times, but set to move with the whims of the business world.

The challenge for businesses may be very different today than any other time in history. The decisions (or bets) companies make can have long term repercussions for the brand and their position in the marketplace. The challenge is those making the decisions for these roles and the strategic direction are doing so based on their own experiences or beliefs and not necessarily a holistic approach across the organization. Stated in another way, they are not viewing the brand as a Customer. The key factors that are driving the current shift are:

  • Achieving Savings with the Shift to Digital
  • Seeking Competitive Advantage
  • Being Outpaced by Competitors in Ratings
  • Increase Sales
  • Social Media and Escalation Emails Causing the CEO to Take Notice

No matter the reason, I am glad to finally see the focus by senior leadership. Out of each of the reasons the one that causes me the greatest pause is the goal of achieving savings. I do not disagree that the right digital experience will definitely reduce calls therefore reducing a huge chunk of budget, but if this is the cause do you really care about the Customer and their experience? I would further caution companies to be careful what you wish for. If you are fully successful at stopping your Customer from calling you, you may find that the opportunity to truly build the relationship will be gone. This is when people will usually mention the efficiency of Amazon and their digital experience. I agree Amazon is an amazing company. I spend a great deal of money with them, but they built trust in their experience over years. The digital experience was core to who they are as a brand. Does your brand exude that same level of trust? Amazon has proven time and time again that they understand me, and their experience fulfills that. Do you understand your Customer? I would make the case that the reason Customer experience has been so poor in the first place was due to this lack of understanding. Yes I know companies often have the data, but the reality is they look at their Customer on a macro level or the “process”, not clearly understanding who the person really is. Amazon does not make you feel that way from the contextual way they present their website, to the speed they fulfill orders and their pricing is considered fair, or often, lower than any competitor. Cost of switching from Amazon is minimal, all I would have to do is change a favorite in my browser or add a new favorite, but the reality is their experience in my view is so above any of their peers that I have no reason to look.

One of the reasons the Customer experience is broken at many companies is we have tried to force the Customer into our view instead of taking the Customer view. We create processes for everything assuming that every Customer fits that exact situation, but at least in the Customer’s mind there is plenty of gray area. This gray area, which probably would never show up in a survey, has a deep influence on the Customer’s view of the brand. As an example, I personally love how Starbucks asks for your name when you order. It tends to personalize the entire experience. It was a great process to implement, but the challenge is on the micro level when incorrect names are heard or mispronunciation happens. To some this could become insulting (Starbucks please note I am not recommending discontinuing the practice, I personally love it). I think it is important to recognize any program is not a one size fits all Customers. The challenge for Customer experience is it goes well beyond our typical silo of operations that the role is often forced into. The experience is defined every day at all levels of the organization. Your marketing defines the expectations your brand wants to put forward, your legal department outlines risks often seen by Customers (terms and conditions often define your brand to Customers), compliance, fraud, even IT have direct implications on the Customer perceptions of the brand. I can go through every piece of your company and find the link. Often I hear CEO state that Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. I do not disagree with the statement but the reality is we all view things based on our own experiences. I doubt a lawyer would say you know Customers would love us if we got rid of the terms and conditions, so let’s do that.

I often find myself thinking about these macro vs micro experiences that brands exude. I doubt most brands even see these tiny issues that have an impact on some of the Customers. This post came about because I have been speaking a lot to many businesses about the Customer experience. I continue to find the same issues at play. We want this macro answer to this micro problem. I was speaking at a hotel recently. One I have spoken at numerous time. It is a beautiful place with world class service, but I often receive a different message while I am there. In the area where I have spoken for the past year there is a spot where their is duct tape on the ground. Each time I would see it I would think about the message this was sending how the brand does not care for themselves to fix this frayed carpet. That carpet is part of the experience, maybe not to the extent as the check in process, but the message no matter how subtle is there. Duct tape is so useful it can fix almost anything but not your Customer experience. Unfortunately because of our traditional macro view of the Customer our Customer experience today is filled with a lot of duct tape.

We are entering an age of context and it will change how we do business (to learn more about the age of context check out Shel Israel and Robert Scoble’s new book of the same name). It will require us to know the Customer like never before, and get it right. It will impact marketing to Customers shifting from hitting the masses to one of targeting the person, at the right moment. It will be a time of proactive Customer Service as opposed to the current lack of reaction that seems to take place. There will be huge pitfalls during this time as well, especially regarding the data that is available on Customers and how to best utilize that information in a way that the Customer desires, even though each Customer may have vastly different views. Keeping ahead of all this will be a challenge for all, but the Customer Experience role will help organizations lead the way!

The Customer Experience Role is to bring the Customers view, no matter how big or small, into the conversation across all silos of the business. It is not specific to a channel of communication or product line. It is this person’s role to connect the dots and ensure the brand lives up to the promise that they give to each and every Customer. This promise will vary dramatically from brand to brand and so will the challenges within the existing culture of the business. For this person to be successful, the senior most leaders must buy into the shift. Success can never be achieved if this role is silo’ed in any way, except in the way the Customer views the brand.

If your business is taking a harder look at Customer Experience, I highly recommend that you follow the Customer Service channel on LinkedIn. I also recommend following my hero in the space, Don Peppers.