Optimizing the Customer Experience to Drive Customer Retention

Companies need to realize the single greatest asset they have aside from their product or service portfolio are their customer-facing employees, and, accordingly, ensure they are equipped and measured in the best manner possible to satisfy customers to the greatest extent possible.

You can download PDF version of this whitepaper here.

Think about it – aside from the products or services a company sells, what defines its brand image and perception in the marketplace more than anything else are its customer-facing employees. The depth of a customer’s relationship with a company is to a large degree and extent defined by the experience they have in their interactions with the company’s sales and service representatives. Once a product or service is acquired, these employees are the ones who are responsible for maintaining and enhancing the customer’s relationship with the company.

Yet, time and time again, in every country and sector around the world, it is these same employees that drive customer churn – a recent report estimates that 2/3rds of customers who sever their relationships with a company do so due to poor customer service. So what’s a company to do?

Get it right through running a project with a three-step approach:

  1. Identify existing deficiencies around the sales and service model
  2. Make the needed enhancements to the system
  3. Ensure consistency through the utilization of effective measurement and rewards mechanisms

Identify Existing Deficiencies Around the Sales and Service Model

The first step to take in enhancing the customer experience is to understand the existing pain points – that is, to identify the specific factors causing customer dissatisfaction, or moreover, churn. There are two key tasks here – the first, to identify all customer interactions points, the second, how those interactions are in terms of service quality.

In identifying the pain points, every single customer interaction channel must be examined – i.e. call center, dealer / branch / retail outlet, website, email, etc. – any method in which a customer could experience a letdown and feel the service they are receiving is inferior to what they might find elsewhere or feel undervalued.

To determine what to examine in these channels, the existing level of service must be understood. The most effective way to get this done is to talk to the customer base to understand how they perceive their interactions through these channels. Surveys should be conducted with existing and former customers to understand statistically what exactly is driving their dissatisfaction related to service. This should be complemented with focus groups, aimed at understanding in a qualitative manner what they expect vs. what they received in terms of service. Finally, existing complaints (if captured through recorded calls, for example) should be examined to ensure customer viewpoints are captured to the greatest extent possible.

Separately, management and front-line employees should also be interviewed. They may give insight into why there are customer service-related issues, and could point out root causes which customers may not be able to identify.

Chances are, the findings will show the root cause of customer service dissatisfaction lying in one, if not all, of the following areas:

  • Inadequate or Unclear Processes
  • Poor Expectations Setting
  • Lack of Problem Ownership
  • Excessive Processing Delays / Wait Times
  • Unfriendly / Indifferent Service
  • Giving of Incorrect Information
  • Lack of Convenience

Make the Needed Enhancements to the System

Once the problem areas have been identified, actions need to be taken to close the existing gaps. Based on the identified root causes, the resolution may lie in improving trainings or findings new ways to motivate employees, in changing certain processes, in modifying specific policies. Regardless of what needs to be done, utilizing best practices will help in ensuring the right actions are taken.

If other companies around the world have been lauded around their excellence in customer service, there’s no need to recreate the wheel in looking for solutions – identifying what they’re doing right around the things you’re doing wrong will help in deciding the course of action to take in determining which changes to make.

More often than not, the root cause of problems will lie within training and motivation. Lack of effective training, particularly around helping employees see how the service they provide to customers affect’s that customer’s perception of the company, likely lies behind much of what is leading to customer dissatisfaction.

Other common problem areas are processes – processes which are not designed with the customer and service in mind, but rather stress security and drive micromanagement. Lack of empowering front-line employees to make a decision on behalf of the customer will definitely come up here – few companies seem to be willing to trust their employees to make a decision without approvals from authorities higher on up.

Ultimately, it is recommended here that changes be made in gradual phases, allowing employees to acclimate themselves with the modifications, and allowing the company to make sure it got things right – a test and learn environment, if you will, should be what’s set up.

Ensure Consistency Through the Utilization of Effective Measurement and Rewards Mechanisms

The final phase to enhancing customer experience comes through making sure the changes are effective, are working, and have been accepted across the front-line and by the customers. One method to ensuring consistency in the quality of service delivered across all channels is mystery shopping – a practice which should be business-as-usual in those companies that truly care about the service they provide their customer base.

Mystery shopping (the use of a third party company and its employees who pose as customers to interact with one’s own company’s front line employees to determine the level of service being provided at varying frequencies and in different channels) can also be used to reward excellence in service – recognizing those employees that are truly making a difference in the service they are providing their customers. Random spot rewards (gifts, cash, etc.) should be handed out to such employees, reinforcing the fact the company truly values its employees and their dedication to caring for the customer base.

Other methods of measurement should also become common practice – number of complaints, number of customers elevated, number of appreciation letters, etc. A reduction in complaints will be a tell-tale sign things are headed in the right direction, but should be reinforced with quarterly or bi-annual surveys. For companies in those sectors that can (i.e. banking or telecom), exit interviews should be conducted to continually identify what may still be lacking in terms of service quality.

If the above phases are handled effectively, the ultimate measurement will come in terms of seeing a reduction in the company’s churn rate. By getting the basics right around customer service, companies should see an immediate change in their bottom line.

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