On the Scene: New Beginnings from Within

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The mood at the recent Customer Experience Summit (CES) in Chicago was one of hope and opportunity, despite the stormy economy and the Windy City’s stormier weather. At a time when retaining and building deeper relationships with customers is of the utmost importance, corporate executives filled the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place convention center to figure out how their companies could thrive in today’s business landscape. The event’s title provided the answer: Improve the customer experience.

[Editors' Note: Christopher Musico's daily news coverage from the event can be found here and here, along with an additional blogpost on "10 Service Myths."]

At the first keynote session, John Wells, general manager of Hilton Chicago, told the packed crowd of attendees that they should be applauded for keeping their eyes on the prize despite the all-too-common C-suite temptation to cut the customer service budget. “Your commitment here says that, even through turbulent times, you’re taking a competitive position to benefit customers,” he said. “This will only help your organizations in the long run.”

New research supports Wells’ position. According to a joint benchmarking study done by the Customer Operations Performance Center (COPC) and Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SoCAP), 95 percent of companies “value a high-quality customer experience.” While the vast majority of companies claim to recognize its importance, the ways in which companies are trying to deliver a better experience vary widely. Of those surveyed, 98 percent said they provide customer service and post-sales support, but 21 percent still do not measure customer satisfaction. Additionally, 24 percent of those that do measure satisfaction fail to achieve their defined performance targets.

John Goodman, vice chairman of consultancy TARP Worldwide, believes the problem most companies face in improving customer experience is that they do not understand the true meaning of the phrase. “An organization can either get into trouble or…create a great opportunity,” he said during a panel session. “Most [companies] define ‘quality’ as ‘delivered according to specifications.’”

This definition, Goodman argued, is misguided. Of course satisfying customer needs is important, he said, but it’s also necessary to have an effective contact management strategy to stay on top of any potential customer complaints. It’s equally important to recognize that the old axiom “the customer is always right” isn’t always right.

Another common mistake, according to Goodman? Blaming contact center employees for all customer complaints. While 95 percent of respondents in the COPC/SoCAP survey claimed to have quality monitoring processes for customer service agents, Goodman urged the crowd to dig deeper. “Employees being the cause of most dissatisfaction?” he asked. “It’s a myth.” He argued that employees are the root cause of only 20 percent of all instances of customer dissatisfaction. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of the time, he continued, the fault belongs to the customers themselves. The bulk of the responsibility, though—the remaining 50 percent to 60 percent—falls on the company’s shoulders: “The product or service didn’t meet expectations, there are broken processes, or [a] marketing miscommunication,” Goodman said, adding that countering that kind of flaw requires what he called a “pre-emptive strike”—a move only made possible by the alignment of internal support.

Alignment doesn’t come easily. In another panel session, David Cliche, vice president of global interactive marketing for Aon Risk Services, admitted that, even though his executives grasp the importance of the voice of the customer (VoC), breaking down silos remains a challenge. “Everyone understands VoC—the biggest challenge I have is getting it into all levels of the organization,” he said.

Of course, this problem isn’t Aon’s alone. Only 27 percent of companies surveyed by Forrester Research in 2006 had a senior executive in charge of customer experience across products and channels. Even though that figure skyrocketed to 69 percent by 2008, Bruce Temkin, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, recently blogged that “the best of customer experience is yet to come.”

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