As a marketing consultant, I read great articles about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) every day on the job. Most of them focus on the sales and marketing aspects of CRM … what strategies to employ, tools to use, messages to send out and so on. But let’s not forget that world-class CRM programs also include awesome customer service, essentially creating a Total Customer Experience that fosters long-term, profitable relationships with customers.
For many companies, however, the customer service element in CRM is often an afterthought. Banished to a windowless office in the bowels of the company, customer service teams are quite literally out of sight, out of mind. Much of the time, this function is even outsourced entirely. But I have a sneaking suspicion things are going to change big time in coming years, and here’s why.
It’s no secret that companies are now dealing with super-informed, savvy and influential end-users who leverage Social Media and the vast research resources of Web 2.0 to make their purchase decisions. Let’s call this new end-user ‘Customer 2.0.’ In this new paradigm, the balance of power is shifting away from the sales and marketing teams, as firms are discovering that Customer 2.0s are by and large unresponsive to traditional sales and marketing tactics.
This means that customer service is, quite literally, becoming the first and only line of defense. If customer service is poor, it follows that the overall Customer Experience should be lousy, too. Given these facts, it shouldn’t be too controversial to suggest that in the business world of tomorrow, excellent customer service will not only the hallmark of a successful firm, but a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) by which success is measured.
Providing top-notch customer service necessitates transforming the way a firm does business and engages with its clients—aligning it to a model where customer service plays a central role in the firm’s operations. Welcome to the world of Customer Experience Transformation.
For customer service, I define Customer Experience Transformation in three broad swathes:
1. Personnel—It’s time to view customer service as a profit center, not a cost center.
Say goodbye to the days in which customer service is viewed as a cost center, staffed with bottom-of-the barrel employees who can easily be replaced. To the contrary, customer-focused firms hire smart, savvy and highly motivated customer service representatives, knowing full well that these valuable employees are the firm’s principal ambassadors to the outside world.
I recently read an excellent article in Ad Age titled “Are You Ready for a World Without Menial Jobs?” The crux of the article is that instead of cutting costs, the world’s most successful retailers are actually investing heavily and spending for more than their rivals when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining customer service staff. Turns out, this steep up-front investment ends up paying off in spades down the road, in the form of higher sales and increased profitability.
2. Systems—World-class service needs world-class infrastructure supporting it.
Truth be told, customer support is only as good as the systems a firm has in place to support its operations. In the world of Customer 2.0, a Web presence acts as a primary point of engagement with customers. In that vein, it’s crucial to provide customers a Web presence that is not only clean, clutter-free and easy-to-navigate, but also—especially when it comes to providing personal or account info—personalized and secure. Furthermore, a website must be also optimized for ALL major Web browsers and operating systems, including—and especially—mobile.
In the age of Social Media, no firm that’s serious about providing customer service can avoid having a social media strategy. Without getting into a nuanced approach required for firm-wide Social Media engagement, as regards customer service, Social Media can and should be used to listen to, engage with and monitor a company’s customer base. There are some great SCRM (SocialCRM) and Social Media monitoring tools out there. Supported by savvy staff, they can be used to ensure customers are being engaged with quickly and effectively.
Internally facing, there are myriad important questions to ask, as well. Where are customer data stored, and how often is this database updated? How often are these data being synced with information from outlying systems, including IVRs, marketing tools, etc? What CRM solution is being used, and are best-practices being followed? If not, good luck tracking KPIs.
3. DNA—Change the way you act, and you’ll change the way you’re perceived.
In many ways, corporate DNA is the most important element in Customer Experience Transformation. Corporate DNA is synonymous with corporate culture, which permeates the way in which an organization engages with its customers. For many companies—especially those in legacy industries—becoming customer-focused requires a major pivot.
To illustrate this point, let’s focus on the healthcare industry. Because in the US, health insurance is almost always procured by the employer, the primary point of engagement with end-users is usually when they call up to see why claims haven’t been paid. Now if you’ve never had healthcare in the US, you know this is most definitely not a pleasant experience. No wonder people don’t care for healthcare companies, in general.
Now, of course, denying and approving claims is far from the only thing that healthcare companies do. But, as a customer, you’d never know it. What this implies is an industry ripe for transformation.
If a healthcare company wants to be regarded as a healthcare company—as opposed to a health insurance company—then why not start by acting like one? Better yet, act like a health partner, providing customers with practical healthy lifestyle tips and ideas that will improve their health and, presumably, lead to fewer claims down the road.
Better yet, find out more about customers and send out highly personalized healthcare information they can use in their daily lives. Or, taking it a step farther, how about using that information to create fun contests and social media engagements customers can participate in, ‘gamifying’ the user experience.
In this model, although the business model has not changed, the overall customer experience has been transformed, resulting in a more positive brand perception, higher lifetime value and, of course, increased profitability.
Is your organization creating an awesome customer experience? If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in your comments.