Customer expectations are higher today than ever before.
With technological advancements placing newer and faster product alternatives at the fingertips of consumers across the globe, businesses can no longer rely solely on effective products for attracting and retaining customers. Instead, they must prioritise the creation of positive customer experiences if they are to stand out in a highly competitive market.
Yet while 80% of senior executives in numerous sectors think their company provides a superior customer experience, only 8% of their customers agree.
But take heart, because this article will help you to better understand how you can avoid the most common detrimental customer experiences with minimal time and expense.
Here are the five mistakes to avoid at all costs:
1. Poor accessibility: With sales targets driving the majority of businesses, it’s easy to forget that the value a customer receives from interacting with a company comes both from product satisfaction and from the experience of obtaining the product. If a customer has bought or plans to buy something from you, he or she expects to be able to reach a human company representative when needed.
And yet it is becoming increasingly common for companies to use chatbots, automated emails and voice recognition-based phone lines for customer service. While these tools undoubtedly have their place, helping to save company time and manpower, they fail to address the fact that when customers reach out for help with an issue, they often seek human-specific behaviours – namely reassurance, empathy and sincerity – in addition to an answer to their problem. Indeed, Accenture’s 11th annual Global Consumer Pulse Survey found that 83% of US consumers prefer dealing with a human over digital channels.
Machine-based services are invaluable, but they should be used to augment rather than replace real-life customer service. Always strive to have a customer service phone number that’s manned by a knowledgeable human representative during daytime hours. And take care to clearly communicate these times of service to your customers.
Machine-based services are invaluable, but they should be used to augment rather than replace real-life customer service.
It is also worth bearing in mind that simply having a dedicated customer service line isn’t enough. Customers must be able to reach someone on that line in a reasonable amount of time. If call demand is high, be sure to adjust your number of call handlers to meet customer demand.
2. Forgetting the customer is always right: Businesses need clear customer service policies to protect their best interests. However, failure to apply a little flexibility on a case-by-case basis can irreparably ruin the customer experience. Great companies know that following the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law when dealing with complaints can make a world of difference to a customer’s experience, while having little impact on the company’s bottom line.
Do your customer service representatives stick rigidly to policies or readily point out when a customer is to blame for not reading the terms and conditions? If so, it’s important to train them to think more flexibly. Provide them with clear guidelines on when to use their judgement and when to escalate a customer complaint.
Staff should also receive thorough training on how to effectively handle difficult customers: encourage them to avoid pointing out when a customer is at fault and instead come up with imaginative ways of ensuring they leave every interaction feeling heard and understood. That way, they’re more likely to recommend you to somebody else. Remember that a good reputation when it comes to customer interactions is a powerful thing. The 2017 American Express Customer Service Barometer found that consumers were willing to spend 17% more to do business with companies that are known to deliver excellent service.
Of course, the above does not mean you have to yield to every single demand in order to keep your customers happy. For example, if a customer requests a refund for a product they have damaged due to negligence, it makes little commercial sense to issue refunds as standard in this scenario. Instead, staff members can offer a helpful solution, such as a repair service along with an upsell of insurance to cover future damage.
3. Failure to gather and implement feedback: It’s been shown many times that organisations which prioritise customer experience place the greatest focus on the collection and analysis of customer feedback. And this makes sense when you consider the aforementioned figures showing that companies grossly overestimate how good their customer experience is.
With this in mind, getting honest feedback from a wide variety of customers is vital for assessing how well a company is doing, in terms of its customer experience, and identifying what needs to be done to give customers what they truly desire. Customer participation in surveys can be encouraged by using methods that are convenient for them, keeping surveys short where possible, outlining how long it will take at the start of the survey and using anonymous methods to collect feedback.
Of course, while collecting feedback is essential for improving customer experience, it is a futile practice unless the insights gauged are implemented. This may sound obvious, but Europe-wide research has found that while 95% of companies gather feedback from customers, only 10% actually implement their findings. Make sure your company does not fall into this trap. When you identify a shortcoming, take immediate steps to deal with it.
When you identify a shortcoming, take immediate steps to deal with it.
4. Forgetting about the emotive side of business: ‘It’s not personal, it’s business’. We’re all familiar with the phrase, but where customer experience is concerned it could not be more false. Successful companies know this and take great strides to add personal touches to their service. From writing customer names on takeaway coffee cups to saying goodbye to all customers and asking them to come back soon, the likes of Starbucks and Apple have mastered the art of maximising customer experience through personal interactions.
And if your customers feel emotionally connected to your company you’re far more likely to get that all-important repeat business. According to research from the Harvard Business Review, ‘fully connected’ individuals are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied because they are likely to purchase more goods and services from you, or recommend you to others.
You too can connect with your customers on an emotional level, regardless of whether your company is online, offline, B2B or B2C. Consider where best to include personal touches in the customer experience, such as calling them by name, thanking them for their custom, asking if they have had their needs met and recommending other companies that can meet any pressing needs beyond your reach.
5. Putting unhelpful staff on the front line: Companies should always lead with their best foot, and this must involve placing well-informed, proactive and charismatic staff members in customer service roles. The results of a Spanish literature review by J. Cambra-Fierro et al., The role of frontline employees in customer engagement, conclude that frontline employees significantly impact customer satisfaction and that companies must therefore take great care in managing their performance.
There are also cultural nuances to bear in mind, so your staff training should take this into account. If we use the UAE as an example, it is made up of over 200 different nationalities, all of which may have different ideas about what can be considered ‘rude’ or ‘inappropriate’ service. Your employees must be trained to understand these cultural differences.
As suggested by the above review’s authors, creating high-performing frontline staff members should involve promoting positive attitudes among these employees, which includes ensuring they are happy with their salaries, training received and work conditions, and endeavouring to hire staff who are well-aligned with the company’s values.
In short, the above should tell you that it’s vital you understand and meet the needs of your employees, in addition to providing them with thorough training on your business, its products and effective customer service practices. By doing so, you will create a happy and motivated workforce, who are likely to treat customers like VIPs during each and every interaction.
From theory to practice
It’s easy for companies to focus on creating the perfect product, but the reality is that this is only half the battle. If getting hold of your company’s product or service is a frustrating or inconvenient experience, you will lose repeat custom, potential sales and referrals.
It’s easy for companies to focus on creating the perfect product, but the reality is that this is only half the battle.
So what have we learned? In summary, ask yourself the following five questions: Can customers easily reach a real-life member of staff when they need to? Is the customer always right? Have you gauged and implemented customer feedback over the last 12 months? Does your company always thank customers after every interaction? Are your frontline staff always helpful, happy and well-informed?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, then it’s likely you need to review your current company-wide practices. All you need to make a start is a management team that recognises that creating a first-class customer experience is vital to the success of your business.