As the Vice President of Client Services for Blue Ocean, I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of companies. Clients of all types turn to our company to make sure their customers receive a high level of service excellence. Not everyone gets to follow their passion at work, so I consider myself lucky. But as some of you may already know, pursuing customer experience mastery can sometimes mean aiming at a moving target.
Customer experience is rapidly evolving, and to keep your finger on the pulse of it, you have to take initiative and educate yourself. I recently took the plunge with a certification program to hone my skills, and I’m happy to announce I’m now a newly minted certified customer service professional. Over the course of my journey into better understanding the CXPA customer experience core competencies, I came away with some key learnings and real-world anecdotes that are especially relevant on the heels of CX Day 2021.
Think about some of the monumental paradigm shifts we’ve gone through as a society. I’m certain that the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Age come to mind. But did you know that we’re currently living in The Age of the Customer? That’s just one of the primary takeaways from “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, one of my top recommendations for anyone looking to enhance their learning of customer experience.
Customer experience is the main differentiator for brands today. Let’s assume that you have a great product in a crowded marketplace. If you’re going to succeed and compete, you must put yourself in the place of your customers (i.e., an “outside in” approach) and consider their experience at every turn. Every touch point must be accounted for to understand their journeys—only then can you identify where their pain points are.
Gone are the days when “wow” moments of going above and beyond were the end goal. The real key to customer loyalty is reliability and consistency. Removing pain points FIRST, is far more valuable than trying to delight customers.
This shift has led to the advent of the Customer Service Officer, a role that didn’t even exist just a short time ago. Prior to the arrival of dedicated customer experience professionals in the C-suite, customer experience issues tended to fall at the feet of the marketing department, or worse, get put on the backburner. But as we’ll see in the example that follows, having a handle on customer experience from the start can mean the difference in avoiding catastrophe.
Like any new class you take, learnings tend to stick when you can apply them to real-life examples. Consider for instance the differing approaches of two major water utility companies in dealing with customer service issues. The first example is from “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine, where you can read about it in more detail.
The water utility company, based in the U.K., spent years planning the roll out of smart meters to their customer base. They looked at the entire customer journey and carefully approached this massive change so customers wouldn’t be surprised.
So after pulling in customer service consultants, the company decided to minimize customer distress by installing the devices over a five-year period. They carefully planned the logistics of installation, a communication plan for the roll-out, and an updated billing cycle to accommodate customers—they even arranged for trucks to circulate in areas of need to answer questions and hand out water-saving showerheads.
Monopolies don’t typically show this level of care or commitment to the customer—because they don’t have to. But by taking the time to educate their user base and walk them through every step of what could have been an unpleasant process, this water utility company made a positive impact on their relationship with their customers and, by extension, their community at large.
The other end of the spectrum is unfortunately more common (and costly). When a Canadian utility company concluded that new smart meters were necessary, they rolled out their efforts with far less consideration. Customers received letters that bordered on threatening, stating that devices would be installed no matter what. This led to widespread concerns over health, safety, and privacy. Contact centers were overwhelmed. Customers were furious. Lawsuits were launched. Negative media coverage was widespread. Only then did the company take steps to educate the public. But the damage to their reputation was already done and trust had been seriously eroded by then.
It’s a powerful lesson that even the most powerful monopolies must design and map their customer touchpoints to prevent causing unnecessary pain for customers.
One of my favorite learnings from my recent CX studies is this: customer experience ties directly into employee experience and culture. One of the guiding principles, in fact, states that “culture + governance = execution.”
You can look to one of our clients in the field of smart technology for a real-life example. Every customer experience choice is made based on in-depth customer personas that represent the needs of a hypothetical customer, be they a teacher, a director of IT, or a reseller in the field. Each persona is also given a name and a picture to bring the persona to life—these are real people with real problems, looking to connect with someone who cares.
Customer satisfaction surveys keep track of satisfaction trends for each persona, which ultimately leads to the kind of continual improvement that lets a user base know that a company is listening. After all, if you’re not fixing your customers pain points, they will go unaddressed and customer experience issues will only compound.
I’m proud of my status as a freshly certified customer experience expert, and the long hours of study were more than worth it. But even more than that, I’m excited for this new age of customer experience we are in. After so much uncertainty over the past 18 months, the needs of customers have changed in response. With so much stress in the world, designing an outside-in, customer-centric experience is sure to lead to loyalty—let’s pursue a new age of customer experience together!