Every company says it wants to be “customer-centric” and deliver great “customer experience,” but only a handful are able to turn their customers into brand advocates.
Roughly defined, such advocates are not only willing but eager to say great things about a brand or defend it without any incentive. Studies show that brand advocates spend twice as much with a company as regular customers do and have five times the lifetime value. Yet 77% of customers still say they have no relationship with a brand, indicating that companies are leaving a lot of business on the table.
Companies serious about improving their customers’ experiences and boosting brand loyalty must do their own analyses to determine the root causes of the disconnect and the gaps to be filled. To assist you in mapping out a plan, here are five basic “Inside Out” steps and five “Outside In” steps to consider.
1. Excel at individual interactions. It almost goes without saying that companies—especially their sales, service, and marketing departments—need to provide an excellent customer experience in individual interactions such as phone calls, emails, and field visits.
2. Engage customers via multiple channels. We’re all accustomed to engaging with companies through whichever channel is most convenient for us at the time: phone, website, email, physical location, social media, smartphone app, text messaging, video. So every company’s sales and service departments need to support multiple channels and be equipped to engage and respond with resources skilled at answering customer questions and resolving problems at any time and in any venue.
In addition, because customers now post complaints on Twitter in the hopes of getting a quick response, businesses should consider integrating social listening and Twitter support with the rest of their customer service operations. They should also ensure that their customer support team members are skilled in engaging with customers and diffusing issues on social media that could create public embarrassment.
3. Provide a consistent, connected customer experience. Even if a company excels at individual interactions and supports multiple channels, many companies still haven’t integrated those systems, making it impossible to provide a consistent experience across channels. While customers might become frustrated with an individual phone call, field visit, or other interaction, their satisfaction levels plummet as a result of a poor cumulative experience across multiple touch points and channels.
In addition to integrating marketing, commerce, service (phone, email, chat, web self-service), sales, and social media systems, companies should undertake a “customer journey mapping” exercise to identify gaps. “Customers don’t care about our org chart—they just care about getting answers as quickly as possible,” notes Dave Mingle, General Motors’ executive director of customer experience. “We can’t win doing this in individual silos. We need to look like one team, one GM.”
4. Make it easy to do business with your company. This may sound like another no-brainer, but it’s more difficult than companies realize.
Evaluate every kind of interaction customers have with your company. How quickly can customers find your products or services online, and then the right product to meet their needs on your website? How long does it take to buy from you, and how frictionless is the contracting process? How long are customers typically on hold when they call for service, and how much customer effort is required to resolve an incident? How fast is the response to web or email service requests? Do you staff a web chat with live agents 24/7?
Test out some of these interactions yourself as if you were a customer, and see how easy or hard it is, then bring that experience back to your team to drive improvements.
Meantime, step back and identify company policies and practices that could be alienating customers. For example, a company was widely lambasted in June for a new user agreement that would have allowed the company to robocall and autotext customers at will. If customers objected, they were told they could take their business elsewhere. (The company changed and clarified its policy after the internet backlash and warnings of potential FCC fines, but it shouldn’t have gotten that far.)
5. Collect—and then act on—customer feedback. Collect customer feedback across various channels (advisory boards, surveys, call center feature requests, sales rep feedback), and have a formal process for incorporating that feedback into company decision-making and innovation.
For example, Polaris Industries, a maker of riding machines such as snowmobiles and ATVs, uses social listening tools to collect customer feedback. After it tapped into social conversations around the word “pink”—related to breast cancer awareness, Pink Ribbon Riders, and an interest in pink-styled snowmobile designs—Polaris decided to let customers order custom sleds in pink and other colors during a six-week period. And lo and behold the pink offering delivered strong sales, leading the R&D team to go even broader on the pink theme.
6. Connect silos to gain the most complete view of customer data. It’s almost impossible for employees—everyone from the CEO to front-line sales and support reps—to make informed, data-based decisions if they don’t have a clean, complete, and accurate view of customers, including all of their different interactions with the company. And this is a particularly difficult challenge given the variety of touch points and channels through which customer interactions occur.
By connecting silos to obtain the long-sought-after “single view” of each customer, management teams can also understand which journeys drive the most revenue, loyalty, and advocacy—and thus focus their limited resources on the most valuable journeys.
7. Involve employees in all steps of the process. Service and support staff usually have the best insights into the biggest gaps and failure points in delivering a great customer experience. Beyond having an ongoing process to solicit and respond to their input, companies must also empower employees to do the right thing for customers even if that might be inconvenient for the company.
For example, John Deere understands that a critical “moment of truth” for its customers comes upon delivery of its technical machines. And it found that its Brazilian dealers were delivering different technical information on equipment operation and maintenance, resulting in a customer experience inconsistent with the John Deere brand. So the company invited 14 dealers with different characteristics to help redesign the ideal experience they wanted to deliver to Deere customers.
8. Rethink customer service metrics. Most common metrics used to assess customer satisfaction—average call handling time, agent quality scores, cost to serve a customer—have more to do with operational efficiency, Ventana Research found, yet only one—first-contact resolution—concerns a business outcome.
9. Evaluate cross-organizational performance around customer experience. It isn’t enough for companies to assess the performance of a single organization, such as customer service. Companies must assess all customer-facing functions, including sales, marketing, and ecommerce.
Give employees modern tools and technologies—such as live chat, case management, guided resolution, customer engagement tracking, social contact center, and social listening and engagement—to engage customers more effectively.
10. Cultivate a customer-obsessed culture. Writes Forrester Research’s Cliff Condon on Forbes: “Companies that shift to customer-obsessed operations will gain sustainable differentiation; those that preserve old ways of doing business will begin the slow process of failing.”
Condon continues: “Those that invest in culture to fuel change will gain significant speed in the market; those that avoid or defer culture investments will lose ground in the market.”
Companies can start making cultural changes in several places. Customer satisfaction assessments such as the aforementioned Net Promoter Score provide an excellent base level for measuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, from which companies can set new business-outcome goals tied to executive and front-line-manager compensation.
Companies should conduct monthly customer surveys and publish their results internally. Leaders in all departments should meet with customers on a regular schedule, even in the absence of problems. Have a strategy and formalized program for social customer advocacy, and be sure to recognize and reward those advocates.
Customer orientation should be a criterion in hiring new employees. Changes in leadership—both individuals and leadership structures—may be required.
There’s no single silver bullet that will enable you to turn your customers into enthusiastic advocates who voluntarily spend their time and risk their credibility to promote your brand. But you have to start somewhere. If you master one or two of the steps above, the difference for your customers and your top and bottom lines will likely be enormous.
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