Engaging the Customer:
Delivering a Superior Customer Experience
By Linda G. Shea and Warren Frankel
Delivering an optimal customer
experience goes beyond the dimension of merely providing good
customer service. Companies who succeed in this area will be those
that have effectively aligned their people, processes, and
product/service offerings with the needs and expectations of their
Today, best-in-class companies are
increasingly recognized more for the overall experience they provide
than for the individual products or services they sell. Companies
such as Wachovia Bank, LL Bean, Ace Hardware, and Ritz Carlton are
winning both accolades and customers by offering an experience which
is as highly valued by customers as it is difficult for competitors
to duplicate. These customer experience leaders are gaining market
share and improving the value of their brands.
When ongoing cost-cutting measures,
ineffective policies or lack of planning come into play, the result
is an impaired customer experience. The ultimate outcome can be
long-term, expensive to correct and, in some cases, catastrophic –
as these examples illustrate:
built on a foundation of providing superior customer experience,
lost its way in recent years – resulting in a decline in market
share leadership to Hewlett Packard. Consequently, Dell has
spent an estimated $100 million on measures geared to reviving
the service experience.
made an equally serious error. After phenomenal growth under
the leadership of Bob Nardelli, it cut out the heart of what was
driving its success: superior service provided by motivated
employees. The result: a decline in the company’s ACSI
(American Customer Satisfaction Index) ranking from 75 to 67 –
the lowest in the entire retail sector – while archrival Lowe’s
ranking increased 3 points from 75 to 78.
embarrassing blunder was front-page news. Having cultivated a
well-earned reputation for a superior customer experience at
comparatively low cost, a single ice storm, for which the
company was seemingly unprepared, wreaked havoc on its stock
price (6% drop in one day), flight reservations (1,000 flights
cancelled in one day), and forward-looking earnings potential.
Delivering on the Brand Promise:
Knowing Which Questions to Ask:
Maximizing the customer’s experience
is equally as important as introducing unique products and services
in today’s marketplace. But how well do organizations understand
the relationship between customers’ expectations and experiences to
the brand promises they make? To understand this dynamic, questions
management should be asking across the organization are:
How well do our employees deliver on
our brand promise?
What are our customer’s expectations
of and experiences with our organization?
What is the gap between our brand
promise and the customer experience/ customer expectations?
How consistent is the delivery of
our brand promise across all channels of customer interaction?
What are we doing to deliver a
differentiated experience from that of our competition, and/or in
comparison to other non-competitive organizations?
How is all of this information
utilized by our organization to close the gap between the promise
and the experience to ultimately enhance the overall customer
If thorough answers to these six
questions about the company’s service strategy aren’t available,
it’s time to start gathering them.
Managing Multiple Channels of
Interaction: An Ongoing Challenge:
Traditionally, most customer
interactions were conducted either in person or through call center
agents. However, to cut costs, companies have increasingly turned
to outsourcing live customer interactions to near-term or offshore
locations, or have opted to implement technology-driven self-service
solutions. While such business decisions are not inherently bad, a
focus on shorter-term savings without regard for resulting
compromises to longer-term retention and advocacy strategies is
arguably a mistake.
There’s little doubt that customers
will have an increasing number of options beyond traditional and
emerging contact centers, which companies will need to support. It
is also critical to realize that customers who use different
channels tend to have different profiles which directly affect their
needs and expectations. Further, as the number of channels required
to interact with and support customers grows, so does the risk that
the customer experience will be eroded through inconsistent
management of these multiple “touchpoints”. Disconnects between a
call center experience and a self-service experience are not
acceptable when the stakes are so high. Simply put, channels of
interaction must be managed to produce the promised experience
consistently every time.
The role of customer preference in
choosing the channels of interaction most convenient for them
further complicates the task of customer experience management. For
example, customers may make several “visits” to a provider in a
single week – from ordering online to calling a toll-free number to
making an in-person stop at the local retail outlet. Customers
expect to be recognized regardless of which “outlet” they visit.
Accomplishing this necessitates the sharing of their shopping and
service histories collected from point of interaction (POI) and
customer relationship management (CRM) or other data collection
systems across all channels of interaction in order to deliver a
consistent - and superior – experience through each.
Creating a Differentiated Customer
delivering an optimal experience demands the ability to “look around
the corner” - anticipating what the customer’s needs may be months
from now - and meeting or exceeding those expectations before they
are ever voiced by the customer.
The following tips can help organizations deliver an exceptional
of customer feedback as a way to identify the gap between the
brand promise and how that promise is delivered through the
Identify the aspects of greatest importance to customers and
prioritize those aspects in need of improvement or
Provide employees with clear direction on what is valued and
expected by customers, enabling them to fully understand and
deliver on the brand promise.
Recognize and reward employees for exhibiting the behaviors that
are in line with the delivery of the brand promise.
customer feedback over time to gauge progress and to allow for
it is important to realize that customer needs and expectations are
ever evolving. Closing the gap between the brand promise and the
customer experience is a journey, not a destination.
G. Shea, is SVP/Global Managing Director, Customer Strategies for
Opinion Research Corporation. Warren Frankel, is VP, Customer
Strategies for Opinion Research Corporation.
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