Even though we haven’t always talked about the concept of customer experience, it has always been a crucial element of business.
Whether to you customer experience (CX) represents an overused buzzword or a competitive battlefield, it has existed—and has mattered—for as long as customers have.
Going back to the days before call centers, the customer experience was pretty straightforward:
A customer might need a tool for something he or she is working on. So he/she goes to the hardware store, explains what is needed, and browses the available options. The shopkeeper helps guide the purchase, and answers any questions that arise. The customer weighs his/her options, makes a purchase, and heads back home.
If the tool doesn’t work out, or isn’t what was actually needed…a return is in order. To troubleshoot or return the tool, the customer returns to the store. Ideally, the shopkeeper remembers him/her, and is able to address the situation. The customer, now with the right tool in hand, heads home.
Pretty routine stuff, and not overly complicated. Does that scenario sound optimal, though?
Our instinct is to assume this “old-school” method, dependent on a customer having the time (and transportation) to complete one or more transactions, is wildly inefficient—maybe even obsolete. And in many ways (and especially by today’s standards), such an assessment seems valid.
What we have to understand, though, is that customers only care about (and have only ever cared about) one thing—to have their issues resolved with minimal time/effort.
Is modern technology making things any easier for customers?
Fast-forward to today. Customers have changed in a few ways, most prominently:
- They know more about the companies they deal with (and the products and services they are interested in), and they expect to be known in return.
- They have more options, and less loyalty.
- They have higher service expectations, and their opinions resonate.
The game has changed. There are more competitors, and the stakes are clearly higher…
In 2017, expecting a customer to travel to a singular, brick-and-mortar location for each and every interaction is an absurd notion. So businesses have had to evolve with their customers.
It was natural that, shortly after the invention/adoption of the telephone, customers would want to be able to call a business rather than travel to their physical location…and that was just the beginning. As more communication channels have come into existence, customers have naturally expected them to be available when contacting a business.
Make no mistake: businesses, especially those who tout themselves as being modern and customer-centric, have been wise to accommodate. They rightfully understand that making matters quick and easy for customers starts with making it convenient to initiate contact. If contact channels are difficult to find/understand, or customers’ preferred options are limited or nonexistent, issues are sure to arise.
Let’s assume you’ve made all the right channels available for customers. They still might be frustrated, reminiscing about “simpler times” in CX. So what happened?
It started with good intentions.
Acknowledging what customers want/expect, and giving it to them, is great. Essential, even.
Acknowledging what customers want/expect, but forgetting about the basic/human fundamentals of CX, is not so great.
In other words, how new channels are implemented is what determines success or failure.
When customers are clamoring for something—a new communication channel, for example—it makes sense for an organization to accommodate the demand in as timely a manner as possible. Typically, this means creating the new channel and opening it up for business.
The problem is, this quick-fix approach can (and often does) backfire. While customers may enthusiastically adopt the channel, and find it to be a frictionless way to initiate contact with the brand, if the channel operates independently of established channels, a silo results and the experience soon turns discouraging. (What defines a silo? An information management system that is unable to freely communicate with other information management systems.)
Even the most basic frustrations can quickly cost you customers. Any time they have to repeat their personal or situational details, be transferred or put on hold, or recontact the organization, their patience and loyalty are being tested.
And that’s the issue with the “quick-fix” approach. While the results are meant to make customers’ lives easier, the experience turns frustrating the second customers encounter the inevitable friction created by silos.
They recoil the second they hear things like:
- Hold on a sec, while I look up the details of your order…
- Please wait, I need to pull up some more information…
- Just a moment, I need to switch screens…
- Before we move on, can you confirm your account number?
The intentions were good, but the results aren’t ideal. And it’s due to the nature of these operational silos, which effectively store collected customer data…but do little else.
While silos effectively serve the utilitarian purpose of storing customer data, merely storing customer data doesn’t help agents resolve issues. Channels implemented as silos are incapable of communicating data back-and-forth with already-existing channels. In this kind of setup, the customer is likely to have to re-introduce themselves, re-explain everything, and so on…and it can feel like starting over.
Organizations must consider not only how customer data is not only collected and stored, but also how to ensure that it is organized and accessible.
When the information generated from an email-based interaction does not populate a chat agent’s screen when dealing with the same customer hours, days, or weeks later, customer loyalty is tested. Having to reintroduce him/herself (and his/her issue) makes the customer feel like a stranger, and it certainly does not pass the customer-centricity test.
And that’s the irony of these silos. They are often erected with good intentions—to make it easier for a customer to contact the organization—yet in many situations they wind up frustrating the customer.
The existence of silos sends contradicting messages to customers: we know and understand what you want (e.g., to be able to text us for quick service), but not all of what you want (the underlying importance of an effortless experience).
There is a lesson to be learned here. While a customer might be excited that you finally offer live chat, if the first few moments of a live chat interaction amount to a customer having to introduce him/herself for what seems like the first time…live chat has become just another way for customers to be frustrated.
If you’re realizing the problematic effect of silos in your organization, know that you are not alone. In one recent survey, “83% of executives said that silos existed in their companies,” and “97% think they have a negative effect.”
Still, silos are a difficult topic to bring up in most organizations. Often, they come into existence for customer-centric reasons, but those good intentions simply don’t matter when they don’t result in an improved customer experience.
And they’re not easy to rectify. Once silos exist, there is no “quick fix” or simple solution. There are first steps, though, which would include assessing to what extent (and in what specific ways) the existence of silos is impacting your organization’s agent and customer experience.
Moving forward, while it’s important to adjust to customer’s evolving expectations and preferences, it’s equally important to always remember the one thing customers want above all else—to have their issues resolved with minimal time/effort. Anything that ultimately makes it more difficult for agents to resolve customer issues effectively represents a major problem…good intentions aside.
Taking care of immediate customer wants (like a new channel) isn’t in itself a bad move, but it can’t come at the cost of the most fundamental of customer needs.
What can be done about silos?
Considering the main issue created by operational silos is the lack of communicability between teams/departments, the most direct path to creating more seamless customer interactions is to establish single customer view, or SCV. At its core, a single customer view is simply a system for organizing customer information from across the organization and making it accessible, in real-time, to any customer-facing individual.
To learn more about to better know and serve your customers with SCV, click here.