Required Reading: Keeping Pace with Customers Is a Worthy Goal
In his new book, Leading the Customer Experience: How to Chart a Course and Deliver Outstanding Results, Brad Cleveland, founding partner and former CEO of the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), argues that businesses aren’t keeping up with increasing customer expectations. “You need to get customer service right or you may not survive,” he warns. But that is easier said than done, so Leonard Klie, editor of CRM magazine, asked him to elaborate.
CRM: You say customer expectations have changed. Can you elaborate?
Cleveland: The book identifies typical customer expectations, and many will be familiar: be accessible, treat me courteously, and others. The change is in what these expectations mean. With accessibility, for example, even if yours is a small flower shop, your customers expect to be able to engage though a couple dozen channels. It’s not pretty when organizations fall behind, but expectations offer opportunities to differentiate and lead.
You say businesses aren’t keeping up, and customers aren’t happy. Why is this, and what do businesses need to do differently?
Some businesses are faring far better than others. A common mistake is suboptimization—letting good work in functional areas undermine the overall effort. Everyone can agree that designing processes and technology with the customer in mind makes sense. But being customer-focused within a silo doesn’t fix the most exasperating barriers to good experiences. Great experiences are shaped with a clear-eyed view of customers as they traverse through the work done by marketing, product management, billing, customer service, and other areas.
You say every customer interaction must be personalized, inviting, and inclusive. What does that mean, and how can companies do this?
Every interaction needs to be fit for purpose. Some require a human in some capacity. Many can be elegantly and effectively handled with the right technology and process design. For example, technical support can enable the customer to hurdle what used to be aggravating steps in identifying needs, pulling up serial numbers, and so forth. My preferred airline pulls up my account automatically and offers a range of logical next options.
What are your five steps that leaders can take immediately to chart a course to customer loyalty and results?
- Take a realistic inventory of how things are going. Ask employees when and how your organization might not always be living up to promises or expectations.
- Create an inspiring vision.
- Build on a foundation of employee engagement.
- Align everything around customer experience: goals, what you measure, and what you celebrate.
- Have fun—customer experience is a team sport; it’s important and highly gratifying work!
You say call centers are companies’ most overlooked MVPs. Why is the call center so often overlooked, and what makes it so valuable?
The contact center can be a powerful source of insight. Why are contacts happening? Where are the innovation opportunities? A consumer products company, for example, found that 11 percent of contacts about a product was because the spray nozzle was damaged when they forced off the hard-to-remove cap. A package redesign fixed the problem. Some of the most innovative products and services have been inspired by customer input. Many contact centers miss these opportunities, but those that leverage them become innovation engines for their organizations.
You say companies need to harness customer feedback to ensure they’re making the right decisions? How can they do this?
Customer feedback includes far more than survey input. What are you learning through social media, customer behavior, employee input, operational data, and other sources? Cast a wide net. Then funnel all input into a single repository where you can tag, sort, and analyze it. This data is speaking to you, and there are themes and stories.
You’ll need a project owner. And there’s no one perfect technology for every aspect of these processes, though tools are getting better.
What is the one message you want readers to take away from this book?
Don’t let your initiative get hijacked by CX experts or academics. Customer experience should be understandable and exciting for everyone in your organization.