5 proven ways to improve customer experience

Many of you might be wondering why the word customer experience management (CXM) is making a buzz across all the industries. I was quite unclear about this whole thing till I myself got into a customer facing role. I learnt from my experience that, for many customers, more than the business value you bring to their organization, the comfort level of working with you matters more.

5 ways to improve customer experience

Before I talk about the 5 ways, let me take a few moments to explain – based on facts and statistics – why customer experience is essential to the survival of a business.

According to SuperOffice.com, customer experience is the single most exciting business opportunity for 2019. They also go on to say that by 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator, and 86% of the buyers are willing to pay more for better customer experience. 

Many famous business men  give great importance to customer experience and even consider that to be one of the cornerstones of their business.

Steve Jobs considered it to be the core of his business strategy and stated: “You have got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around”.

You can have a look at some of the most popular quotes on customer experience at 15 Great Customer Experience Quotes and What They Can Teach You.

Now let us look at how to consistently provide good customer experience. What I intend to do in this section is to take you through all the 5 ways briefly. I will provide relevant links for you to do detailed reading if you wish to.

5 ways to improve customer experience
5 ways to improve customer experience 

1. Customize your product or service

As per the research results published by Deloitte, 36% of the consumers want personalized products, with that number shooting above 40% for consumers between the age of 18 and 30. Also according to a report published by Accenture, 75% of the customers are more likely to buy from retailers who know them by name and make purchase recommendations.

Customization is no more a differentiator for many businesses. With a ton of companies – especially online retailers and eCommerce companies – providing several options for customization. Previously personalization was limited to premium and luxury products. But today, companies are resorting to mass personalization techniques to improve customer satisfaction and encourage repurchase, 

Now you know customizing or personalizing is important. But how do you do it? If you start with the wrong strategy, you might do it all wrong. Here is a step by step guide to help you create and sell a personalized product or service:

5 ways to customize your product or service
5 steps to customize a product or service
  1. Put yourself into the customer shoes: This involves thinking from a customer’s perspective on aspects like the ideal product features, packaging, marketing & branding, the most essential customer features etc. 
  2. Rely on past data: Set up an analytics team or hire a market research firm to understand what has worked for your competitors, what features do they provide, what do customers like and dislike the most about your product and competitor products etc. 
  3. Estimate the ROI: Customizing does not mean adding tens and hundreds of features without taking into consideration the budget available/ ROI expected. The ideal way to go about it would be, to pick a few most compelling features and focus on customizing them, rather than trying to do everything .
  4. Make your website or platform user friendly: This is very important. And this acts as one of the key differentiating factors for personalized products or services. Don’t fill your website with too many buttons and text. Make sure that you do usability testing and incorporate improvements based on the feedback from the test.
  5. Let your customer know: Do proper marketing to inform your customers and prospects about your new products and features. Having an awesome product with little marketing is as bad as having a useless product. 

2. Establish solid channels of engagement 

Customers talk to businesses through people and technology interactions. We will talk about the people part in the next section.

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Here, by channels of engagement I refer to the technology platforms or applications businesses use to engage with the customer. These channels can be divided into four:

Systems of engagement
Channels of customer engagement 

Today in B2B, the most commonly used methods are text interactions. AR/VR/MR are picking up slowly. Whereas in B2C, voice interactions have also started becoming common with the usage of devices like Amazon Echo and Alexa growing exponentially. 

The right communication channels to be used will very much depend on your industry, business domain and service lines.  However, below framework illustrates the journey you can follow to create customer engagement channels. 

Framework to create systems of engagement
Journey of creating customer engagement channels 
  1. Research:  In this stage your aim is to figure out which channels would work in your business the best. You can look at industry trends and competitors for this.
  2. Create: This is where you create the channels based on your research findings. It is better to use a combination of channels instead of one or two. 
  3. Engage: Interact and engage with customers regularly. 
  4. Analyze: Here, try to determine what is the most commonly used channel by the customer and analyze their feedback. 
  5. Enhance: Finally, based on the analysis and feedback, you may create new channels or enhance existing ones. 

An established company might already be in the Enhance stage. Relatively new businesses will most probably in the Research or Create stage.  Also, all the steps need not happen one after the other. For example, the Engage and Analyze stages can happen in parallel. Depending on which stage your business is in, you can devise your approach using the above framework. 

3. Setup a good customer team 

People are one of the most important factors when it comes to providing customer experience. John Aves, an author in customerthink.com, states that every successful customer strategy needs to focus first on the people within the organisation. Also, Kristin Smoby states in qminder.com that it’s time that we start building human-centric customer service through great people and clever technology. 

I can’t emphasize the importance of preparing your people more. So what does it take to build a good team of people who can handle customers smoothly and ensure a good customer experience? The following figure illustrates that:

Essential elements to build a good customer team
Essential elements to build a good customer team

When I say customer team, it need not be necessarily a separate team put together to manage customer issues. Customer team refers to all those people in your business who interact with customers. Training, employee engagement & motivation, and cultural modernization are three ways to prepare your team. Let us look at each of these in detail.

Training 

Training is essential when it comes to putting together an awesome team. Training needs to be given at three levels:

  1. Skills and quality of work: This will focus on learning new skills, technologies, methodologies and updating your employees’ current knowledge. 
  2. Communication and articulation: This is very obvious. It is always desirable to have people with good communication & articulation skills and clarity of thought. 
  3. Behavioral skills: It is necessary to give customers the respect they deserve. You have to be polite when you interact with customers. To some people, this comes naturally. But some have to be trained on how to maintain professional etiquette during customer interactions. 

Training can be conducted through a combination of training sessions, internal & external certifications, mentoring, mock sessions/presentations etc.

Employee engagement and motivation

Training helps to improve the skills and abilities of your employees. But what about attitude and interest? That is where engagement and motivation come into play. Employees should feel that they are a part of your organization and should contribute to work not as a necessity, but out of passion and interest. That will reflect in customer interactions as well. 

Here are a few ways to keep your employees engaged and motivated 

  1. Open up opportunities for short term and long term learning.
  2. Establish an employee reward program to recognize high achievers.
  3. Conduct competitions, hackathons and brainstorming sessions.
  4. Give your employees a flavor of your company’s vision, mission and strategy. 
  5. Establish employee support mechanisms such as counseling, medical care, professional services etc. 
  6. Facilitate senior management interactions to develop a sense of importance and responsibility among employees. 
ways to engage and motivate emlpoyees
Ways to improve employee engagement and motivation 

Cultural modernization 

A good culture is an essential catalyst for customer experience management. A good environment helps to create happy employees, thereby developing a workforce that will become the business’s flag bearers, not just in front of customers, but also among their peers in the industry. This will help to generate positive sentiments about your business in the market as well. Also, according to The Next Ten Years, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%. 

Employees are a direct reflection of a company’s culture and customers are smart enough to judge it during formal and informal interactions. Hence, it is necessary for businesses to take steps to build, maintain and improve their culture. 

Following are a few ways to improve your company culture.

  1. Encourage employee interactions through cultural events and celebrations.
  2. Establish an open door policy.
  3. Modifying company policies to positively impact culture .

All of the ways mentioned to improve employee engagement and motivation can also add to developing a good culture. 

4. Establish problem solving mechanisms 

Just like you have safety and security mechanisms in your company, it is necessary to have problem solving or crisis management mechanisms. This is for you to help yourself or your customers to overcome a crisis situation by coming up with creative solutions. Here I refer to those issues which have a direct or indirect impact on customer’s business. Problems can be broadly divided into three based on the cause and area affected:

Types of customer problems
Problems/issues that affect customer business 
  1. Business related issues: These arise out of aspects like business strategy, company policies & processes, financial transactions etc. Example would be a delayed refund owing to process level inefficiencies of the company. These have to be fixed at the business level and necessary modifications need to be made to suit customer requirements and convenience. 
  2. Technology related: These arise due to failure of technology and include server outages, network failure, application performance issues etc. The recent outage of Whatsapp in India is an example. Businesses need to have a solid IT infrastructure to cater to these unexpected failures.
  3. Product/service related: This is associated with the quality of your product/service. Issues include product defects, delay in service delivery, incomplete delivery of services etc. The reversal of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 back in 2016 is an example.  The way to overcome this is to take steps to improve manufacturing & supply chain, strengthen service delivery and implementing proper quality checks. 
7 steps for problem resolution
Problem resolution methods

Here, crisis refers to a problem that occurs to customer’s business, and not your business. The latter one requires a different approach, which is not the topic of discussion here.

Now let us look at the 7 step approach to problem resolution:

  1. Make a crisis management plan for different types of issues: Planning helps to resolve issues effectively. Businesses need to clearly define the objectives  and the responsibilities of each individual.  It should list out detailed actions to be taken and the dos & don’ts.
  2. Conduct training on managing various crisis situations: This is inevitable. Training will help to formalize problem resolution and provide direction to your employees. It will also help to establish SOPs (standard operating procedures) to address a problem. 
  3. Identify different stakeholders and assign SPOCs. If the impact of the issue is wide, communicating the action items to all individuals involved might not be practical. A better way to do it is to identify the relevant teams and stakeholders involved, and assign SPOCs (single point of contact) from each of those teams. 
  4. Establish a proper escalation system: When a problem occurs, customers seek for avenues to inform your business. To cater to this, you need to establish a problem escalation system for the customers to reach the right people in your company. A call center support is an example for this. Also, ensure that you let your customer know the escalation systems you have in place. 
  5. Use technology to monitor, predict and proactively resolve issues:  There are various ways in which you can leverage technology and IT to predict and resolve issues. Depending on the industry you are in, there are various monitoring tools available. JIRA,  an issue tracking and monitoring tool used in IT project management is an example. 
  6. Conduct regular status checks and update meetings with the customer: This is very important for businesses. Issues do not always happen due to mistakes from the company’s side. Customers also make mistakes, and this is applicable especially to the service sector. Updating the customer regularly of your progress will help to relieve yourself of any allegations customer might make when a crisis occurs.
  7. Follow best practices to prevent crises from happening: This is kind of a combination of all the above six points. It is about having the best in class problem resolution techniques. Have a contingency plan to your main plan. Allocate enough resources to this. Finally, encourage your employees to follow best practices for every issue, even if it’s not business critical. 

5. Experience based customer interactions 

Customers are not machines, they have emotions, feelings and comfort. Over and above the business value you provide, you should be able to influence them at a personal level. You need to ensure that the customer is always in his comfort zone. For this, you can use what I call as ‘experience based interaction’ (or experience first interaction). Following figure is an illustration of the same:

Experience based customer interaction
Experience first interaction

Customers interact with various teams within your organization. The fundamental premise of experience first interaction is to provide a smooth and consistent experience to your customers across teams at all the three levels – people, process and technology. We have partially covered all these aspects in the previous section. However, let us look at certain other nuances here:

People

We have seen how to provide the importance of training employees on how to interact with a customer in one of the previous sections. To understand more about how to ensure a smooth interaction, please have a look at Dos and don’ts of customer interaction (this is my own response to a question in Quora). 

Process 

Processes have to be customer friendly. Avoid having more than 2 levels of approvals or human dependency in any customer related transaction. Configure rule based automated approvals if possible. 

Also be transparent when it comes to customer processes. Let your customer know the status/progress of the process. Include process modifications in the agenda of your update meetings. If required, conduct a session to run the customer through your processes and policies. 

Technology 

We have understood that systems of engagement like chatbots, voicebots, AR gadgets etc. can be leveraged to provide a good customer experience. But there are certain aspects that you have to keep in mind to achieve maximum benefits out of technology. Here are they:

  • Make sure your technology platform or system meets the business objectives of the customer.
  • Create a  good UI (user interface) that would appeal to the end users.
  • Don’t use tech just for the sake of using it. Use it wherever it makes sense.
  • Compare various tech platforms and do not blindly go with the most popular/cheapest platform or technology. 
  • Customize and configure the platform to suit your customer’s needs. 

It’s not just about what you do, but how you execute the 5 customer experience  techniques, will also impact the outcome. Customer experience is necessary to build a solid customer relationship. If you want to learn more ways to improve customer relationship, have a look at 10 ways to improve your customer relationship.  

Please share your opinion in the comment section if you have any. 

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