Companies are realizing the importance of customer experience, or CX, and are focusing on it more than ever. In fact, 91% of organizations aspire to lead their industry in customer experience, while “70% of service teams say their strategic vision over the past 12–18 months has become more focused on creating deeper customer relationships,” recent data indicates.1 The bad news is, customers still aren’t loving their experiences. Despite investments in personnel and technology meant to transform CX, “one-third [of consumers] say they’d rather clean a toilet than speak with customer service.”2 Especially with so much modern technology impacting the customer service landscape, and so many organizations rolling out hyperbolic slogans about their customer obsession, it’s not surprising that “60% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service now than they did just one year ago.”3 Companies have to ensure they are living up to their own promises in meeting customer expectations, and they have to do it soon. Otherwise, customers are sure to find companies to do business with that can deliver the experiences they’re after. Despite companies’ efforts and investments, customers continue to expect more, even from their favorite brands. Not coincidentally, Gartner recently declared CX to be the new competitive battlefield, raising the stakes for flawless customer service/experience.4 “These expectations don’t come out of the blue,” according to author Micah Solomon. “Customers expect you to provide better customer service because they’re already getting better customer service elsewhere.” That, in fact, is what he goes on to deem “the only customer experience trend you need to be worried about.”5 CX expert Shep Hyken highlights the larger issue:
There is a disconnect between how companies think they are doing and what customers are reporting. Customers are more service savvy than ever before, and companies are training customers to expect more tailored experiences. The companies that deliver great customer service have set the benchmark and with each improvement push the baseline bar higher. What was acceptable customer service last year is far below the bar this year.6
How great is this disconnect? One study revealed that while 80% of companies say they deliver superior customer service, only 8% of their customers agree.7 Clearly, organizations don’t know their customers quite as well as they think. As a result, 52% of U.S. consumers have switched providers over the past year due to poor service. And 68% won’t go back, costing U.S. companies an estimated cost of $1.6 trillion.8
The disconnect between company perceptions and customer realities is real, and isn’t something that will take care of itself over time. The truth is, customer expectations are always evolving. As noted by Erich Joachimsthaler, founder/CEO of Vivaldi Group, “the only thing that changes faster than technology is customer expectations.”9 Walker Information warns of the potential for the disconnect to grow in the coming years if companies can’t make meaningful progress in the meantime:
Changes such as the explosion of digital, the empowered customer, and the acceleration of innovation are having a profound impact on customer expectations. The customer of 2020 will be more informed and in charge of the experience they receive. They will expect companies to know their individual needs and personalize the experience. Immediate resolution will not be fast enough as customers will expect companies to proactively address their current and future needs.10
In other words, the status quo is proving insufficient in the face of evolving customer expectations and increasingly fickle customer behavior. Companies that consider themselves “good enough” will quickly find that good enough won’t be good enough to win new customers, or keep existing customers happy. Expecting customers to tolerate waiting, or friction, is not a sustainable endeavor. Although the customer landscape is changing, customer expectations still come down to one thing:
to have their issues resolved with minimal pain/effort.
How is the customer landscape changing, exactly? Three ways: Because customers know more about companies they deal with, they expect companies to at least know who they are. As one CEO puts it, “brands used to hold all the information…customers were limited to information from their own experiences and those of close friends.”11 In the age of smartphones and ever-connectedness, though, customers can learn everything they need to know about a brand, including its products and services, often entirely on their own. The availability of product/service information, while valuable to customers, raises the stakes for organizations to prioritize learning more about their customers and provide relevant experiences. While customers may understand that you can’t necessarily have every detail of their history and preferences internalized, the expectation is still that agents will at least be able to access/view pertinent customer details, across the organization, in real time. Customers, moreover, don’t particularly care about how that information is organized or accessed—they simply want to feel known, and valued…more than a series of individual (and unrelated) case numbers. They have more options, and less loyalty. As more options become available to customers, it’s understandable that they will shop around to optimize their own experience/ROI. The fact is, faced with poor customer service, more than half (51%) of respondents indicated they’d never use an offending company again.6 Technology compounds the risk of customers bailing. “Empowered customers are on the move,” concludes a recent Forrester study—“40% of consumers have a high willingness and ability to shift spend, with an additional 25% building that mindset.”12 This is not an isolated tendency, either, as recent research shows “70% of consumers (and 82% of business buyers) say technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.”1More than ever before, a customer’s opinions resonate. “Every customer is a global media company” is how one CEO put it. “Today, any customer can communicate information about your business to billions of people at a cost of zero.”11 And word travels quickly. An Accenture study quantifies this effect, noting that “77% of customers, following a bad experience, will tell others.” Additionally, “28% will post negative comments online” and those experiencing lackluster customer service are “50% more likely to share their experiences via social media” than those who are satisfied.13 To consistently create happier customers and generate more positive (and less negative) word of mouth, it’s worth remembering that customers expect one thing: to have their issue(s) resolved, with minimal pain/effort. And they expect authentic, human conversations—which means making them feeling known and understood. Ultimately, customer expectations are no mystery. Regardless of their exact reason(s) for reaching out, they “simply want their issues resolved as quickly and easily as possible, in a fast and intelligent manner, using whatever media they happen to be using at the time.”15
If there’s one identifiable thing customers want, and it’s not what they’re regularly experiencing, then a substantial opportunity exists. How substantial? According to Loudhouse research:
Just 7% of customers are extremely satisfied that brands provide a seamless, integrated, and consistent customer service experience across all channels, and 87% think brands need to work harder to create a seamless experience for customers.14
In terms of the specific pains that discourage them the most, customers don’t want to wait, be transferred, recontact the company, or re-explain their issue. Ultimately, it’s the “hassle factor” of unneeded friction that frustrates them the most. Fragmented and inconsistent experiences are clearly driving customers away. Customers prefer the exact opposite: seamless, integrated, consistent interactions that make them feel that they are known, that their time is valued, and that their issues can be resolved with minimal effort. Identifying customer frustrations is relatively straightforward. Finding the root cause is the challenge. Because agents serve as the “face” of the company in the context of service/support interactions, they tend to bear the brunt of customer frustration. They, unfortunately, become an easy scapegoat, with dissatisfied customers citing deception, rudeness, incompetence, inflexibility, and lateness as their main gripes with service interactions.7 That’s not the real story, though. Just as customers have their one thing they want (issue resolution with minimal pain/effort), agents also have one primary objective:
to resolve customer issues with minimal pain/effort.
As it stands, then, agents typically aren’t happy with the state of CX either. And the situation is always getting more complex, threatening to further expand the disconnect between a company’s perceptions of service levels and what their own customers are feeling/reporting. One of the main sources of complexity is the growing number of channels customers expect to have available. This means companies who pride themselves on customer service must adjust and keep up. Serving customers requires interacting with them how and where they want. It’s not a matter of customers merely wanting this capability—rather, they expect it. And with the ever-changing landscape of communications technologies, this particular target is always moving. As much as agents can try, if they don’t have the right tools they simply won’t be able to track the target. What’s the solution? As a starting point, companies need to work to achieve a full, 360-degree view of their customers—their transactional and service history, communication preferences, and so on. Then, they need to organize their systems and processes to keep this view up-to-date and accessible. The customer and agent frustrations highlighted so far can be solved by implementing a SINGLE CUSTOMER VIEW, or SCV. It’s a relatively simple concept. Establishing SCV entails collecting all relevant customer information to create a holistic summary of a customer relationship that is readily accessible across the entire organization. At a high level, what can this do for a business? An effective SCV gives you the platform from which you can do a great deal; detangling overwhelming information flows into a single, focused stream of business-driving data; uncovering deep insight into customers and their behaviours; and applying this understanding for targeted engagement that translates investment into demonstrable bottom-line returns.16 This perspective, though, does come with one important disclaimer: A single customer view alone will not suddenly transform your business effectiveness. What’s just as important is how a company commits to truly learning their customers’ expectations and preferences and transforms their processes and systems to meet such expectations. Solving the problem of lackluster CX is not a quick fix. It requires planning, patience, and diligence, but will solve problems among three distinct, yet connected initiatives:
Each of these activities is essential, and they build upon one another. Without one, the results are likely to underwhelm.
“Aligning operations” consists of three main considerations:
Values, Priorities, and ProcessesMeaningful change starts with the right mindset and intention. First things first: before embarking on a CX initiative, some soul-searching is necessary to make sure the process is truly about the customer. Otherwise, the results are destined to be compromised—ineffective, disingenuous…a waste of time and effort. While 82.5% of companies consider CX a primary competitive differentiator and evidence supports a $3 return for every $1 invested in CX, neither of those is a customer-focused reason for change.17 18 Once the right, customer-focused motives are established, a company needs to understand what their customers’ view of a perfect experience is. Only then can they dig into the work of operationalizing it. This part of the process has to be driven by real commitment and vision—not just rolling out a new slogan. Companies have to show customers they understand and value them, by doing more than just telling them they matter. The right mindset (and willingness to pursue the difficult work of change) is likely to make or break the initiative’s success. Organizations have to consider the best course for change, not necessarily the quickest. Historically, the easiest and quickest option to incorporating the communication channels customers expect has been to “treat each channel separately, having agent siloes and treating each interaction as being independent rather than part of a wider customer journey.”19 The problem here is that when the customer has to change channels or re-contact the business about an issue, they’re likely to have to repeat their details—a far cry from seamless, consistent interactions. It’s worth noting that what’s “quick and easy” for the business is rarely so “quick and easy” for the customer. Meaningful change cannot be approached as a one-off project or quick fix—one-off, quick fixes are neither scalable nor sustainable enough to be real solutions. A mindset shift can demystify what needs to happen. “Customer-centric” must mean customer-centric (on a level deeper than rhetoric). This naturally poses a challenge to companies with an established product-centered focus. “A lot of companies are still looking at things through a product lens…but that is changing fast,” according to Roland Rust, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Reorganizing around the customer rather than the product” is the better strategy, he adds. For companies that might need more motivation to shift their focus from product to customer, “the best way to think about profitability is not to look at the profitability of the product but at the profitability of the customer.”9 In short, when an initiative is pursued as the “easiest and quickest option,” it’s off to a rocky start right out of the gate—unless the company’s main motivation is to save themselves time and effort. Otherwise, while a quick and easy solution might make an individual interaction smoother, it will do little to enhance a customer’s ongoing experience/relationship.
Meaningful, sustainable change takes time and effort.
Customer Journeys Do you understand the customer and the journey? To truly understand their customers, brands must embrace customer experience over customer satisfaction. The crucial difference is in definition (and scope), with customer experience commonly being understood as defined by the Disney Institute:
…the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company. This can include everything from a customer’s initial awareness or discovery of a company, product, or service and progressing through the purchase and use of those products or services.20
Focusing on CX means understanding a customer’s series of interactions/transactions as elements of a cohesive whole, and working to streamline each customer’s journey. Each individual interaction should take into account the customer’s past (transactional and relationship history) and future (anticipated needs). Otherwise, customers are made to feel like strangers each time they interact with the company…despite a company’s compelling, customer-centric slogan(s). Harvard Business Review highlights the value of optimizing customers’ journeys:
Organizations able to skillfully manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction. They also discover more effective ways to collaborate across functions and levels, a process that delivers gains throughout the company.21
If understanding the customer experience—via the customer journey—is so essential, why isn’t it the norm? Because it’s difficult. As companies continue adding new channels to accommodate customer demand, the reality is that these channels don’t always communicate like they should, meaning the data cannot easily be shared across teams. Almost 70% of companies self-identify as being “a long way from having integrated channels and a complete customer picture, let alone speaking to them in one voice.”22 This results in fragmented customer experiences, and frustrating inefficiencies that will drive customers away. In fact, there’s a large disparity between best-in-class organizations (top 20%) and all others when it comes to quality of customer data, or organizations’ ability to use existing data to address customer needs and meet business objectives. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of best-in-class organizations are satisfied with their data quality, compared to a mere 28% of all others.23 Clearly, prioritizing data—in terms of both collection and accessibility—is a worthwhile endeavor for companies looking to enter best-in-class territory. Companies must rethink how they are collecting and storing customer information, as well as how they’re making it accessible to agents. In other words: there is a need for a knowledge management system, defined by the Aberdeen Group as “a centralized repository enabling organizations to identify, capture, access, and share numerous types of content.”24 Companies that utilize a knowledge management system not only boost agent productivity and customer satisfaction, they also more than double (2.3x) their year-over-year increase in company revenue. What companies and their agents need, then, is a single source of truth, to unify operations and make the customer experience more seamless and consistent. With a single source of truth, customers become more than just case numbers. And agents save precious time in resolving customer issues.
To understand the customer, you have to understand the journey.
Operational Silos Data is a great thing (when it’s accessible and understandable). The primary source of customer understanding is data, and it’s the quality and accessibility of data that will make or break the development of a single customer view. But nearly all companies (96%) are dissatisfied with their use of customer data.24 What’s needed for a single customer view, at minimum, is to have all available customer data in one place. The three most-common barriers (among the 70% of companies struggling to create a single customer view) cited by respondents to a NewVoiceMedia survey are as follows:
As long as restrictive operational silos are in place, none of these hurdles can be fully overcome. While the concept of silos sounds orderly, they’re not a viable method for unifying fragmented customer behavior. Silos prevent data from being readily shareable/accessible throughout the organization. The silo approach to customer information is a utilitarian method for storing customer data, but merely storing data doesn’t necessarily help agents to more effectively resolve customer issues. Not only does the establishment of independent, operational silos fail to enable quicker, easier customer experiences, it actually compounds customer headaches, serving as a significant barrier to providing a seamless customer experience.22 Silos are the current reality, though, as “83% of executives said that silos existed in their companies” and “97% think they have a negative impact.” What’s the alternative/solution? Organizations must tear down their legacy silos if they want a clearer, more complete customer understanding. In other words, to be relevant in the coming years:
…companies must focus on leveraging big data to create a single source of truth and make customer intelligence accessible throughout the enterprise.10
Housing customer data in separate silos is not a sustainable way to leverage customer understanding or create more meaningful, efficient interactions. Silos represent points of friction—both for customers (who don’t want to repeat their information) and agents (who need holistic customer views to provide efficient, expert resolutions). By contrast, here’s how the Aberdeen Group teases the promise of big data: It’s not a technology, and it’s not a threat or mystery. It’s an opportunity that—when used wisely—transforms customer experience results.23 As a point of clarification, the “magic” of big data is in unifying two types of sources—structured data (information that’s collected and organized in a consistent and repeatable manner, like a database) and unstructured data (information that exists within files/documents, emails, social media posts, and so on). When companies can organize all of their customer data in a readily-accessible and easily-navigable agent interface, much time (and many customer relationships) can be saved. This is why SCV is an absolute must-have: if agents are spending precious time navigating systems to identify basic details about a customer and their experiences, the customer is likely going to have to wait, repeat their information, and so on.
Tear down the silos, free the information.
The “right” technology aligns with customer-centric priorities, and is flexible enough to be future-ready. To successfully move away from legacy silos and implement a unified view of the customer journey, companies must identify platforms and partners that will allow big data to be leveraged in order to facilitate their values, priorities, and processes. In these decisions, three major priorities come into focus for establishing a view of the customer journey that will allow the organization to more efficiently and effectively serve its customers:
By centralizing product/service information and customer transaction histories, and engaging in more inter-departmental collaboration, companies will start to see their customers with increased clarity. Once the right technology is identified/implemented, companies have a responsibility to make sure that technology fulfills its purpose of helping agents help customers efficiently and effectively. The problem is, as new technologies are added to a company’s arsenal, integration issues tend to create as many headaches as are resolved. Introducing new customer contact channels solves an immediate need—for customers to be able to reach out how/when their issues arise. If a new channel doesn’t mesh with existing data sources and applications, though, new problems arise. It’s not just about providing the channels customers want, but providing them how the customers want—which is tied to how much time and effort they have to expend. A company is wise to introduce text messaging, for example, but if “texting” just adds another silo, the gains in CX will be minimal. Satisfying customer needs through accommodating the channels they’re using is important, but it’s not everything. It’s how those communication channels communicate—and how they allow agents and customers to communicate—that ultimately determines success. The real gain/value, then, is in connecting each customer to the right agent, through the customer’s preferred channel. Best-in-class companies seem to be heeding this call more seriously than their competitors are. To reduce customer time and effort, they utilize two measures to optimize customer routing:
While the right technology platforms and partners can do a lot for an organization, it’s important to maintain the human element in customer-facing functions. The technology cannot dehumanize the experience, in other words, since customers expect to feel known, valued, and understood. While some companies may be tempted to sacrifice some of their human touch in order to better meet their customers’ expectations for quick resolutions, Micah Solomon cautions against neglecting the human element’s importance: Providing great customer service in our technologically-altered world isn’t a fundamentally different proposition than it was a decade ago, but it’s faster. More transparent. More twitchy. Unforgiving. Viral. Magnified. But still created by, and for, people.26 It’s helpful to consider the definition of technology, then, in determining how to responsibly implement it. Technology has a surprisingly simple definition, according to Merriam-Webster: “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area.” It comes down to first learning—in this case, about customers—and then applying that learning in a practical way. While automated systems may be effective in collecting and storing information, the practical application requires an empathetic, common-sense human component. In addition to technological capability (or incapability), there can also be an underlying, dispositional issue at play when examining the causes for customer effort. The people too often become secondary concerns to technology, which can result in agents and organizations being overwhelmed and confused by a parade of new technologies for technology’s sake. This gets in the way of resolving customer issues as efficiently and expertly as possible. To be clear, the establishment of multiple customer contact channels is absolutely not a bad thing—customers expect to be able to communicate through their preferred medium. The problem arises when these channels make it difficult for a customer to understand who your company is, due to a lack of consistent voice/personality. Companies have a key responsibility to “provide a single face to [their] customer.” And while it will be impossible to make internal complexity disappear, it’s of no interest to the customer and should not be something they necessarily witness.27 The introduction of new technologies can impact the human element of the company’s “face” if they aren’t mindful about how the technology is deployed. Accenture Research warns of a digital “tipping point” approaching:
In their rush to take advantage of all-things-digital, many companies have lost sight of the value of human connections. That’s a costly oversight. Consumers actually prefer human interactions for a number of sales and service situations: 58% prefer dealing with humans to get quick answers to questions. 73% prefer human interactions to resolve service issues. 73% seek out humans to get advice.28
Is more technology driving customers back into the arms of human agents? That’s the story the numbers tell. There is such a thing as too much technology. This is not a treatise against technology, though, but a call to rethink both how and why these technologies are deployed. To implement new technologies the right way, companies must identify specific CX goals, and make smarter, more tactical investments. Rather than trying to find individual technologies to accommodate each and every change in customer behavior, stakeholders need to instead work on identifying and remedying root issues. In the case of providing more seamless and consistent CX, companies should stop engaging in a series of quick fixes to add individual channels and functionalities. Implementing SCV serves to unify existing channels and data sources in a more future-ready solution. Successful implementation of SCV must be intentional, in other words. This requires technology that is not just aligned with the company’s CX vision and priorities, and capable of big data collection, management, and insight, but also flexible/customizable enough to meet current and future needs. There’s no doubt that change is hard, especially as the complexity of customer contacts is increasing (according to 73% of contact centers), further complicating agents’ ability to execute their roles effectively.29Customer behavior, too, continues to evolve—and will continue to evolve—meaning technology decisions must have an eye on both the present and the future. Instituting a “quick fix” to introduce an additional piece of technology to mitigate a specific issue is neither wise nor sustainable; decisions must be more holistic and future-looking. Companies likely have legacy technologies in place, which they’ve invested time and energy into installing and maintaining. The problem with much of this legacy technology is that it is inflexible, especially when considering customer behaviors and expectations that have developed (even in the time since their implementation). Most companies, when faced with a challenge like elevating and modernizing the customer experience, are likely to assume additional technology is the answer. Contact center vendors are more than happy to fuel that fire…but is it true? In addition to the legacy, silo-based challenges already discussed, contact centers are also struggling with their technology being too inflexible to accommodate changing behavior and preferences, and insufficiently able to provide visibility into how customer behavior/expectations are changing. Companies need to think strategically, and invest in the right technologies to catch up and be future-ready. Customer behavior is changing at a rapid pace—becoming more complex and more demanding. This fact alone makes it difficult for a number of companies to catch up and/or keep up with customer behavior.
Pursue better (as opposed to more) technology.
How is your agent experience impacting the customer experience? According to CEB, customers are likely to become disloyal after high-effort or time-consumptive interactions. Among the most frustrating issues cited by customers: “62% had to recontact the organization, 56% had to re-explain their issue, 59% were transferred, and 59% had to put forth moderate to high additional effort to resolve their issue.”30 Research also shows that “79% of consumers (and 83% of business buyers) say it’s very important to be immediately routed to the agent most knowledgeable about their issue.”31 This is all challenging because customers are increasingly diversifying their channel usage and preferences. Forrester data shows that in 2016, “84% of US online consumers used web and mobile help or FAQs, 83% used the phone, 76% used email, 65% used chat, 56% used communities, and 43% used Twitter” to initiate service.32It’s a lot for agents and organizations to keep up with. Not only are customers unhappy…agents are too, as this all leaves them in a tricky position. Their one core objective is unchanging—resolve customer issues—but the ever-changing nature of customer behavior and expectations, as well as the evolution of new technologies/channels, continues to complicate the mission. Customers simply expect the channels they expect. They don’t worry about organizational structure or agent interfaces; they just want their issue(s) resolved. The agent experience, though, in too many cases becomes less simple with each addition, compromising their ability to resolve issues with appropriate efficiency. “On average, contact center agents need to use three screens” to access the information they need to do their job.24 While the need to navigate multiple screens, in itself, is not the entirety of the issue, it does indicate a problem with real-time implications. Not only does this cause customers to have longer wait times, it also inevitably frustrates agents. There’s a financial implication to this, too, as the same study ultimately concludes that:
…making poor use of employee time due to ineffective technology tools and poorly designed processes results in employees spending 14% of their time looking for relevant information to do their jobs. On average, this costs organizations $1.45 million each year.24
Through establishment of a single customer view, agent job satisfaction can be expected to increase, while burnout and attrition decrease. The 14% of agents’ time that’s being wasted on unproductive tasks like navigating disparate legacy systems can be reallocated to serving customers. Frustrated customers perceive that agents are in the dark—and, essentially, they are (to no fault of their own). Their technology is providing restriction, not insight. In other words, by flailing around in the dark, agents are wasting time doing their jobs—unable to focus on the customer as fully as possible. A comprehensive 360-degree view of each customer keeps the lights on. By improving the agent experience through more streamlined and seamless technology, companies can expect to make significant CX gains, too. It’s a win-win worth pursuing. Because, in short, happier agents make happier customers.
Mitigating customer frustrations starts with mitigating agent frustrations.
A recent survey reveals the four things that are most commonly keeping CX executives up at night.33
Although customer behavior and expectations continue to change and diversify, they continue to expect consistent, low-effort experiences. This clearly poses a major challenge for organizations reliant on operational silos and a fragmented customer view. Customers are being driven away by organizations’ inability to demonstrate that they know and understand them. Implementation of a single customer view obviously benefits customers in a number of ways. Customers who are increasingly frustrated by customer service experiences that show little value for their time (those that require them to repeat information, be transferred, etc.) can experience much-needed relief. One recent study concluded that 84% of customers are willing to take their business to a competitor when experiencing poor understanding from a business. Customers admitted a willingness to walk away if/when “faced with companies that don’t listen (84%), bombarded with marketing messages for irrelevant products (52%), or contacted through channels they have specified as out of bounds (45%).”16 On the flip side, though, plenty of positives come with successful implementation of SCV, as “three quarters of all customers would take positive action in response to experiencing the benefits of SCV,” including recommending the company if asked (57%), pro-actively engaging with others to tell them about their experience (45%), leaving a positive review on the company website (26%), and forwarding email offers from the company to family and friends (12%).16Agents, tired of dealing with customers who are frustrated before they are even connected, can expect similar relief from successful implementation of a single customer view. Job satisfaction and level of service can naturally be expected to rise. Burnout and attrition should, conversely, be reduced. If happy agents make happy customers, this represents a true win-win, one where customers and agents can both accomplish the most important thing: effective issue resolution. For CX supervisors, the idea of such a win-win solves the headache that comes with being stuck between unhappy agents and unhappy executives. Even when the main issue of disparate information sources (silos) is clearly evident, it can be tough to build the business case for change, as anecdotal evidence rarely drives organizational transformation. Implementing a single customer view, through refocusing the organization around better understanding the customer journey through improved information collecting and access, is an essential first step to meaningfully elevating CX. In fact, Experian’s research survey uncovered a compelling case for change: “85% of companies report that they have experienced problems that could have been avoided had a SCV been in place,” and these problems tend to lead to financial implications (reported by close to three-quarters of respondents), inefficiencies (58%), customer suffering (49%), and poor decision making due to poor customer insight (29%).16 Financially, companies have a lot to gain through well-implemented SCV. Nine out of ten companies are confident that an effective SCV would enable a reduction in costs for at least one area of the business. More specifically, over 8 out of 10 expect to increase sales figures, cross and upsell opportunities, and customer retention—all of which are genuine bottom-line influencers.16 There is plenty of evidence to support these expectations, that implementing the right technology—capable of unifying systems and processes to help manage customer information and channels—impacts bottom-line numbers. Among the findings of an Aberdeen Group study comparing “Best-in-Class” companies versus others are that the top performers (top 20%):
It’s ultimately not about the bottom line, though. It’s about the customers first—resolving their issues, helping them to feel understood and valued, and creating loyal brand advocates in the process. Focus on them, and the rest will follow.
A major disconnect exists between how well companies think they are serving their customers, and what their customers are reporting. Customers continue to have higher expectations for service, and companies are struggling to keep up. It is imperative that they make an effort, though, as CX has become the new competitive battlefield. Organizations that don’t take the mission seriously risk losing valuable customers, and it’s costing U.S. companies an estimated $1.6 trillion.
Customers’ priorities are simple. They just want their issues resolved, without requiring much of their time or effort. They value an authentic, human touch, and they want to feel known, understood, and valued. Their expectations are higher than ever before, though. They know more about companies and products, so they expect those companies to know who they are. They have more options, and tend to be less loyal. And, especially considering digital word of mouth, a disgruntled customer’s opinions resonate and influence other potential customers. Simply put, in order to satisfy and retain customers, companies must focus on elevating their CX.
There is a major opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves based on CX, with only 7% of customers satisfied that brands are providing the seamless, integrated, and consistent experiences they crave. What these customers don’t often realize is that agents are frustrated, too, as they just want to resolve issues without requiring much time or effort of their customers. The solution, for both agents and customers to better understand each other and bring about effective resolutions, is the implementation of a single customer view. To achieve SCV, organizations must align their operations, find the right technology, and optimize the agent experience.
Values, Priorities, and Processes Meaningful change starts with the right mindset and intention. For an initiative like SCV to succeed, it has to be undertaken for the right reasons. While there are undeniable financial benefits linked to successful implementation of SCV, companies are better served by focusing on it for customer-centric outcomes. Organizations are also wise to resist treating SCV as a quick fix or one-off project, as proper implementation will require time, effort, and diligence. Customer Journeys To truly understand a customer, a company must think in terms of customer experience rather than customer service. This means considering and catering to the customer’s journey/life cycle as opposed to handling each single interaction as an isolated event. What companies truly need, then, is to establish a single source of truth to handle customer data. The entirety of a customer’s personal information and history needs to be collected, organized, and easily accessible across the organization. Operational Silos At the root of customer understanding is data quality and usage, which is precisely where a majority of companies concede there’s room (and a need) for improvement. The most common barriers to better data usage are the inflexibility of legacy silos, the increasingly complexity of customer behavior, and the difficulty of unifying disparate sources of customer data. As long as restrictive silos are in place, none of these hurdles can be cleared. The alternative is to tear them down and get to work on establishing SCV.
Finding the right technology beats simply adding more technology to the mix. The right technology, moreover, aligns with customer-centric priorities and is flexible enough to be future-ready. To successfully move away from legacy silos and implement a unified view of the customer journey, companies must identify platforms and partners that will allow big data to be leveraged in order to uphold the values, priorities, and processes of the organization. To implement new technologies the right way, then, companies must identify and commit to specific CX goals and make smarter, more tactical investments. While the right technology platforms and partners can do a lot for a business, the human element remains a vital aspect of customer-facing functions—without it, brands will struggle to make their customers feel known, understood, and valued.
Customers’ increasing expectations for service, coupled with the increasing complexity of their behaviors and preferences, puts agents in a tricky position. They want to resolve customers’ issues, and they want it to be quick and easy for the customer, but disparate channels and inflexible technologies can make that simple objective virtually impossible. Agents bear the brunt of customer frustration, though they are often just as frustrated. Through establishment of a single customer view, agent job satisfaction can be expected to increase, while burnout and attrition decrease. And happier agents will produce happier customers, amounting to the ultimate win-win.
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Sharpen is a cloud-native contact center service that helps businesses create perfect customer experiences.