I started this series by asking whether customer delight should be our ultimate objective. This was prompted by two seemingly contradictory articles in the July/August issue of Harvard Business Review – “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” and “Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers.” Based on a review of these articles, in conjunction with our experience with client data on the same issue, I would offer the following thoughts:
1) Superlative customer care, by definition, cannot be the norm – If everyone is providing outstanding customer care, then the bar is effectively raised, meaning everyone is average. The concept of Delight (or superlative customer care) suggests that it is rare. Moreover, in order to understand what will delight customers, we need to know what the minimum requirement for satisfaction is. That brings me to my second point.
2) There is a priority to how we should tackle the issue of customer care experience – Delight is a fine aspirational goal; however, without proper sub-goals, the notion of customer delight can be de-motivating to your staff. This is why the two articles are not contradictory – taken in total, they provide insight on the priority order of how we should focus:
a. First, make it easy for them to reach you (minimize the effort the customer must expend);
b. Once they reach you, make sure you address their issue (in as few calls/contacts as possible);
c. Consider the “unintended consequences” of the actions you recommend in the support process, and be prepared to address that at the time of the contact;
d. Finally, seek to delight – but only after you have satisfied the original need – and only if it aligns with your overall customer service approach. This also means understanding why the support issue occurred in the first place and conducting the appropriate post-case analysis to see if there is an underlying systemic cause that should be addressed in the core product or service design. Ultimately, what will delight customers is having a product or service that is so good that they will never need to contact support.
3) Make sure all your support channels reinforce your approach to customer service – If you intend to be the leader in customer delight, make certain all your support systems contribute to (and do not detract from) this goal. That means, for example, that your self-serve website must align with the same principles as outlined above – make it easy, thoroughly address the issue (in understandable terms) and proactively provide input on what other issues the customer may want to address. If a customer has to “channel jump,” then you have failed in not only your goal of delight, but also in the whole customer care exercise.
4) Ensure that you design your customer care system in an “outside-in” manner – Commit to conducting an audit of your customer care processes – is it easy to contact support? Is the telephone number for support readily available (or, as will often happen with M&A activity, are there many numbers that the customers must filter through to decide which is the right number)? The best way to deal with this is to periodically use your own support system (or, better yet, watch as a friend who is not associated with your organization navigates the support landscape). Ask yourself the following questions:
a. Was the system easy to use?
b. Was the rep confident and knowledgeable?
c. Did the rep adequately address my question?
d. Did the rep stay online with me while I tried to implement the recommended fix?
e. Did the rep ask me to confirm that my issue was resolved? If not, was there a logical escalation process that was used?
You might also monitor calls in your customer care facility so you can hear firsthand what customers experience.
5) If your goal is to be the leader in customer delight, go “all in” – Being customer-centric is easy to give lipservice to; it is immensely more difficult to implement. If you choose to be the customer-focus leader in your industry, avoid the temptation to cut corners to minimize cost. This is not to say that you should spend foolishly; rather, you should seek to maximize ROI. This can have an impact on what metrics you should goal – for example, is it more important to minimize average call handle time and to target first call resolution, or is it more important to focus on getting the customer’s issue completely resolved? Remember, what gets rewarded gets done.
Going “all in” also means investing in the right tools and infrastructure to enable your customer service team to achieve its goals.
6) Make sure you have the right people in place to deliver on the customer delight goal, and reward them when they achieve that goal – It takes a special personality type to be an excellent customer care rep – too often, though, customer support centers simply fill seats with bodies. This exacts a cost to your organization by eroding the brand equity you have worked hard to establish by being customer-focused. Make sure you are staffing the customer support with the best people for the role, and make certain their incentive structure is aligned with the customer delight objective.
7) If you conduct post-case surveys, make certain they align with the customer experience and be sure to take action on what you have learned – This article provides a good example of poor survey design. If you have conducted the process audit suggested above, you will be better prepared to design an effective survey instrument. You should also pre-test the survey (or follow-up with a few customers) to determine if the survey is effective and aligns with the customer’s experience.
In addition, make certain that you take action on the information – customers are investing their time to respond, and a lack of follow-up/action means they realize an ROI of zero. Over time, this means response rates will fall, and customers will view your claims of becoming more customer-centric as hollow at best. Some ideas to consider include:
a) Follow-up with a post-survey thank-you message;
b) Conduct close-the-loop exercises with customers who reported unresolved issues;
c) In a B2B setting, use the information gathered within an account across all survey touchpoints as a key input into strategic account planning;
d) Communicate – both in a mass-media manner as well as at an account-level – what you have learned and what you are doing to address customer issues;
Let there be no doubt – saying you are customer-centric and actually demonstrating it are two different things. Building a culture of customer-centricity/customer delight is difficult to achieve; I hope some of the ideas presented over this series help you in developing a framework that works within your own organization. We would be very interested to hear of your success – or challenges – please feel free to reach out with your stories.Mark A. Ratekin
Sr. Vice President, Consulting Services & Resource Management