Building a Consistent Customer Experience

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Let's say you are a consumer who has a problem with a product or service. You contact the company only to reach a representative who seems completely disinterested in your issue. He transfers you to another representative, who is slightly more interested, yet her department specializes in other issues. So she transfers you to a third department, at which point you begin to yell, and the representative on the other end of the line starts pushing back. You escalate to a manager who is apologetic, yet still takes you through "the process." Eventually, the company resolves your original issue. Yet your primary focus remains on the negative customer experience, and you vow to take your business elsewhere.

As the empowered consumer comes of age, companies are focusing on improving the customer experience. And with good reason. According to the Watermark Consulting 2013 Customer Experience ROI Study, companies with higher customer experience scores tend to have higher instances of repeat business, as well as increased loyalty and customer advocacy. In fact, companies that embrace a customer-centric model experienced a 28.5 percent increase in financial performance above the S&P 500 benchmark.

And yet, customers remain unhappy with the majority of services provided. According to Forrester's 2013 Customer Experience Index report, which looked at 154 brands across 14 industries, 61 percent of the brands received just an "okay," "poor," or "very poor" score from their customers.

One reason for continued low ratings is that many companies rely only on processes to deliver experiences, and forget about employees. Employees can determine a company's success or failure with every interaction—more now than ever in today's hyperconnected world.

As technology and social media continue to empower an ever-more knowledgeable and demanding consumer with little brand loyalty, companies must: (1) create a culture aligned with their values and brand attributes—an intentional culture; and (2) introduce a new model that consistently measures employee engagement, and whether employees are making a positive difference with each interaction. Companies need to correlate three diverse sets of data: employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and core business metrics. Companies also need an approach that simultaneously focuses on evaluating current employee engagement drivers and customer engagement drivers and linking them to core business metrics.

To measure employee engagement, companies need to know how employees feel about their jobs, including the physical environment, management structure, and frequency and openness of communication. Useful tools to gather this data include employee surveys, performance reviews, face-to-face conversations, and employee feedback portals, as well as any other channels the company may have in place to capture two-way communication.

It is vital that companies ask for employee feedback regularly and that employees are given opportunities to provide unsolicited comments and suggestions. Such feedback enables companies to identify the key drivers of the most engaged employees. It also serves as the foundation for a positive, open culture that aligns with the brand and business objectives.

To understand the customer experience, companies must determine what drives the most engaged customers. Customer surveys, social media brand sentiment assessments, and direct feedback can help identify key drivers. Companies can then develop an action plan to build a better customer experience.

Establishing metrics begins by developing a governance structure that sets the strategy and objectives for the company's employee engagement program. Based on the strategy, companies will then want to set specific goals, milestones, and key performance indicators. Benchmarking across industries will establish a baseline against which companies can gauge their performance.

Above all, companies must remember that engagement is largely based on emotion. Employees must feel valued and respected and that they are contributing to the company's success. If employees feel they are making a difference, they will, in turn, make a positive difference for their customers.

Woody Driggs serves as the global advisory customer leader for Ernst & Young. He is a principal in the firm's Advisory Services Performance Improvement practice and is based in Washington, D.C. Barbara Porter is an executive director with Ernst & Young's Advisory Customer practice, and is based in Chicago.

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