Made-to-Order Customer Experiences

Twenty years ago, customers would patiently stand 10 to 15 deep in a single-file, perfectly formed line at the back of a department store or utilities office waiting for their turn at a subpar customer experience. Today, show me a line of five customers and I'll show you 20 more who will use any option, or combination thereof, to avoid being part of that line.

Welcome to the world that will not wait, where each customer service interaction is driven by the "me" mentality and what each individual needs to accomplish, how much time he has, where he is, what he's doing, how many screens he has available, and even his mood at the time. Dismantle your customer service silos, enterprise organizations. They will not hold.

What Happens When Customers Are Left to Their Own Devices

According to Google's "The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior," the average consumer moves among three screens per day, sometimes sequentially, other times simultaneously, to search for information and perform a variety of tasks. In addition to potentially being multiscreen, customer service transactions are also often multichannel, performed across a varying combination of communication platforms including but not limited to phone, email, chat, social media, smartphone, or tablet. A recent Ovum study of more than 8,000 consumers shows that 74 percent now use at least three channels when interacting with an enterprise for customer-related issues—and this stepping-stone approach to resolution is forever changing the way service and support agents communicate with customers.

There is no more waiting in line, because there is online. There are no more customer service scripts, because service is a real-time continuing conversation, with more resolution combinations than a Rubik's Cube. The consumer is now in control, demanding service anytime, anywhere, via the channel of his or her choice, with each customer a modern-day Veruca Salt, proclaiming "don't care how, I want it now." And if their hows and nows are not met, beware the reverberations of a single frustrated voice on social media.

Mastering the Made-to-Order Customer Experience

Many big brands, such as Best Buy, have tried to bring back the structure of single-file service by making certain customer support contact information either less accessible or inaccessible, and then siphoning customers through just one or two more cost-effective channels, such as email, self-service knowledge base, or live chat. But between the bloggers, the media, and the public outcry on social media, these velvet ropes could not contain consumers who demanded a made-to-order customer experience based on expectations and convenience. How does a brand master all the combinations?

1. Offer as many customer service channels as possible. Expectations of today's customer are for service at least via phone, email, and online support portal. Additional channels that prove to be customer service differentiators include live chat, self-service knowledge base, mobile, social media, and video.

2. Embrace agile channeling. While an organization may offer a variety of customer service channels, you'll increasingly frustrate and disappoint customers if they're not connected. A new survey sponsored by Aspect Software notes that when contacting customer service, 64 percent of responding consumers say they do not feel like they are treated like valued customers, and 65 percent cite their frustration at having to repeat their account information, service history, and issue at various customer service touch points.

More and more customers are expecting service and support to be agile—that they can start an interaction at one point, whether that's phone or email or help desk, and the brand or organization should be able to carry over that information and continue the conversation as the customer arrives at the next touch point (perhaps social, mobile, or chat). This could be across a few days or hours, or, with real-time channels such as social and mobile, just a few minutes.

3. Know thy customer. Locked hand in hand with agile channeling is the personalized customer experience. Without aggregated data, information, and feedback from across all channels, you will never have a true 360-degree view of the customer to create a made-to-order customer experience. The little data that you're missing, especially from highly personal channels such as social media, could be a big key to customer retention and brand advocacy.

With a new generation of customers demanding more from brands and reaching out and voicing their opinions across more channels, brands can only contain the empowered consumer with their outmoded velvet ropes and siloed service channels for so long. Customers have figured out their own way to put themselves first—and expect you to do the same. Can your organization deliver on the made-to-order customer experience?

Duke Chung is the cofounder and chief marketing officer of Parature, a provider of cloud-based social and customer engagement solutions.

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