CRM Evolution 2016, Day 2: Customer Experience Is the Path to Customer Retention

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Because customer retention has proven more cost-effective than seeking out new business, and competition is often won with experience, businesses must strategize to meet a buyer's expectations, even if that requires additional efforts to bolster their various channels, speakers agreed on day two of this year's CRM Evolution conference.

A chief proponent of this philosophy is Richard P. Shapiro, president of The Center for Client Retention. "Customer experience, to me, starts with that first encounter you have with the customer, and should never end," Shapiro told attendees of his management strategies session. "You have to think of ways to show [customers] that they matter." To Shapiro, for instance, it goes without saying that a company should make a customer feel welcomed, give them their undivided attention, answer more than just their questions, provide them with guidance and expertise, and never refuse one of their requests. Furthermore, those companies that really want to ensure that customers are loyal will invite them to return, show that they care, and continually surprise them in meaningful ways.  

Of a similar mind-set are representatives from the customer contact centers at Merck, the pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor. In late 2014, the company realized that to meet the demands of customers—and particularly those of Millennials—it would have to make a commitment to shift its operations to the cloud and thus enable reps to connect with them wherever they choose. "If we can meet customers in their preferred channels, then that's going to enable a better customer experience," said John Marrone, leader of contact center operations and performance management at Merck. According to Marrone, streamlining interactions and making them more efficient enable the company to increase the amount of calls it handles each day, as well as the total number of impressions it makes, ultimately helping to boost sales.

Representatives from AOL agreed that reaching customers in their preferred environments can yield unforeseen benefits that reverberate throughout the organization. Erin Robinson, who directs the Internet company's voice of the customer program, shared a number of statistics to prove why social media is becoming increasingly worthy of attention. "Thirty-three percent of customers prefer to contact brands using social media rather than the telephone," Robinson emphasized. "We're starting to see a lot more customers signing into Twitter—and creating complaint accounts—just to say negative things." Robinson pointed out that her team of 15 works to listen to, and address, the concerns of customers on Twitter and Facebook. The team reports to the executive once a week, with customer insights gleaned from various social channels, including YouTube, blogs, news, and forums.

Still, despite the benefits of such flexibility, many professionals are still choosing to ignore the writing on the wall regarding customer preferences, said Justin Robbins, group community director of ICMI. Citing research that illustrated the gaps between what companies believe about their customers' expectations and what customers actually want, he revealed some of the most common lies companies tell themselves. Among these is that their focus on excellent customer service is evident to customers; that poor service doesn't do much harm to their brand; that customers don't expect a choice in follow-up communication options; that customers expect to speak with different reps when contacting a company more than once; that the phone is still the preferred method of contacting a company; and that people will not pay more simply to do business with companies who have a better reputation for customer service. And, the worst lie of all, Robbins pointed out, is that many companies believe they can fail to act on these and continue to thrive. "There's an interesting list of companies that were [leaders] in the early 2000s, but didn't focus on the customer experience, and it's incredible to see how many of them got acquired, or sold, or just downright aren't there anymore," Robbins said.

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