Imagine this scene. You arrive at a party where you only know a few people, and most of the guests are friends of friends. A stranger asks you what you do, and you respond by saying: 'I work designing customer experience systems…' How long will it be before everyone at the party recalls their worst-ever customer service experience?
Within a few minutes is the most likely outcome.
It's similar to Tik Tok, stand-up comedy, and popular culture. A comedian only has to start by saying, 'I was calling customer service the other day…' and the audience will groan, anticipating the frustration of the comic.
This attitude can also be extended to the industry itself. In the 2013 movie 'Sunshine on Leith' a British soldier visits a rehabilitation center to meet one of his colleagues after they returned home because of a bomb blast in Afghanistan. One of the soldiers lost his legs in the blast, the other is now working in a contact center. The soldier without legs says: '…and I thought my situation was bad.'
What's the real problem?
Companies tell us they care. They spend millions advertising how receptive they are to customer needs. Yet, when we need help, they often leave us wondering about the disconnect between advertising statements and reality.
Stefan Freyer, the CEO of McKinsey-owned business transformation specialists Orphoz, put it well in a recent podcast where he said: "I've seen great strategies being developed, but then thrown over the fence to someone else who was not catching it. Then they start all over with an implementation approach that is effectively redoing the strategy again, but from the wrong end."
So companies want to deliver great service. They even build elaborate and comprehensive strategies that ensure every customer has a great experience, but when it comes to implementation, something often happens that destroys the good intentions.
Designing a customer experience (CX) strategy that focuses on customer-centricity is the intention of most CX executives. What is really preventing them from achieving this goal? This is what I will focus on in this article, and I will follow this up with a series of deep-dive articles that explore all the issues highlighted here.
Let's explore some of the reasons why grand CX strategies don't always result in a fantastic experience for the customer.
Creating genuine interoperability across all customer-facing functions requires an integrated technology platform, information ecosystem, and culture. Traditional customer service tends to focus on fixing problems after they happen. If all these customer-facing functions truly worked together, then wouldn't you be able to anticipate more problems before they ever happen?
We are facing a prolonged period of global economic instability. The Covid pandemic has been followed by high inflation and interest rate increases in many regions. The expected strong recovery is looking more like a rapid slide into recession.
In this uncertain business environment, many companies will be exploring options for automation. How can you reduce the cost of serving customers by using bots, or other automated services, to reduce the number of customer interactions?
Managers must consider how they can improve customer service agent roles. How can technology be used to make their daily tasks easier? Can Artificial Intelligence be used to support the agent, for example listening to calls and automatically presenting information based on the conversation, so the agent doesn't need to place a customer on hold as they manually perform the search?
Most people today believe that technology is a double-edged sword - it has made many aspects of modern life easier, but it has also introduced new complexities. Companies need to see their customers more holistically. Look at the Lemonade insurance company for a good example. Insurance is a complex product to promote to customers. Decisions are often based only on the price of a policy, and in many cases, the customer is forced to buy the product - mandatory car or travel insurance, for example. Lemonade has reversed all the usual stereotypes of insurance companies - slow to pay and constantly stalling customers. Lemonade uses AI to make very rapid decisions. You can buy a policy in under 90 seconds. The payment will be in your account in 3 minutes if you make a claim.
A genuine omnichannel approach should deliver a fantastic customer experience no matter how the customer arrives at the purchase. Customers may be on your app, your website, on Instagram, or searching on Google. Answering a social media question with a phone number and a message saying 'call us' isn't helpful for the brand or the customer. However the customer connects to your brand, they should be able to have a continuous conversational experience from wherever they are.
If you offer twelve different contact channels, customers will use all twelve and expect the same great experience. Consider which channels provide the most value and experience to your customers and focus attention on these. The most prominent brands in the world, with the best reputation for customer service, generally offer only a few ways to get in touch, but they excel at helping the customer on those channels.
Consumer behavior is changing faster than ever - with good reason. Nobody alive today has ever experienced a global pandemic featuring major lockdowns that persisted for almost two years. Now inflation and interest rates are shooting up - some consumers are being forced to choose between heating or eating.
Major societal and cultural movements are calling for social justice with louder voices than ever before. But where will this all lead? We can already see that major brands appeal to consumers' company primary goals rather than just offering low prices. Fashion retailer H&M is a good example. Their garment collection and recycling program is almost a decade old and is now the largest sustainability project organized by any fashion brand.
Environmental, Social, and Corporate governance (ESG) policies are now becoming essential for companies to consider because customers want to see that brands are responsible, employees want to work for a company they can feel proud of, and investors will no longer lend to companies without a robust ESG strategy.
The increasing focus on ESG and the already-changing consumer expectations will likely create some surprises. We know how streaming has changed how we consume entertainment, and autonomous electric vehicles may soon change how we travel.
CX executives need to be aware of how the Metaverse is expanding. They may need to consider securing virtual real estate to lock in a future presence, in the same way that 90s executives started buying URLs that reflected their company name.
However, the innovation and exuberance of an entirely new online community should be balanced against existing CX investments. If your customer interactions today are 67% voice - a commonly reported average - then it will only be possible to manage a very gradual transition to metaverse interactions.
The Metaverse in 2022 remains fragmented. There is no single virtual world. It is currently more like the various social networks - a Twitter account will not work on Instagram. For the Metaverse to become truly universal, open connectivity between the multiple platforms is likely required.
Any metaverse investment needs to also adhere to the earlier comments on omnichannel. However customers arrive at your brand and products, the experience must remain positive. Don't wall off any metaverse activity from the rest of your corporate activity - it has to be integral to your wider brand activity.
It can be challenging to name a single company that already takes all these factors into account and therefore delivers a fantastic brand experience. Still, if I were to name one single global brand today, then it is likely to be Apple. Apple has consistently focused on customer experience ever since their co-founder Steve Jobs said: "You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around."
I opened this article by describing how the corporate vision for customer experience usually exceeds the ability of companies to deliver. Advertising promises rarely resemble the reality of customer interaction.
But it is clear that the truth, as told by comedians, does not need to remain this way - we should be proud to be designing the CX systems that help modern customers. I have outlined some of the specific reasons why brands fail to connect and deliver a great customer experience. It is possible to identify where the flaws exist.
Stefan Freyer of Orphoz believes that most companies design their customer strategy twice. Once when they create the vision and once when they build the reality. I think this observation is true, but if attention is paid to the issues outlined in this article - such as the approach to automation or omnichannel - then the danger of creating a flawed process can be largely avoided.
It is possible to make big promises about building a long-term relationship with customers and then delivering on this promise, but it requires a strong focus on customer-centricity. You need to think about your products as if you are the customer, not a manager just trying to simplify the processes required to deliver your products. Think of the CX and work backward.
Jonas Berggren joined Transcom in 2020 as Head Of Business Development Northern Europe. Prior to this, Jonas was the co-founder and partner of Feedback Lab by Differ. Earlier in his career, Jonas held the position of CEO at Teleperformance Nordic.