A few years ago, I wrote an article titled ‘Identifying the five key things that matter to the customer regardless of industry’. Customers’ expectations have evolved significantly over the last decade as they have been exposed to different levels of service across a broad range of industries. When a customer’s needs aren’t met, these poor experiences are likely to be shared immediately over social media. This dissatisfaction often comes from the company not truly understanding their customers and what it means to deliver an effortless experience. In the long run, customers will benefit when companies take an outside-in perspective – by looking at the customer and their processes first when designing products, service and communication channels.
Given that my entire career has focused on improving customer experience, I find myself rating companies on their customer experience with every interaction. Recently, I had to make a change to international flight plans with United Airlines. I went online and wasn’t able to make the change I desired due to the number of connecting flights I had booked. The website instructed me to contact customer service to make the change. Here is how United Airlines met the five things that matter to me in customer experience:
- Offer products and services that meet my needs – Being in the consulting business, I fly frequently. United rewards me for my flights and allows me to book personal travel using reward points. Customers want their needs met every time they interact with a company. Companies should invest in continuous efforts to better understand customer needs. Feedback can be easily obtained from customers via surveys, over the phone or in-person while conducting business. Today, companies have to listen to their customers’ needs and then take the appropriate steps to ensure they continually update their products and services based on valuable feedback.
- Make it easy to find, use and buy those products – Making flight reservations is easy for me. I primarily book flights through United.com. When I called to change my international flight, the agent answered my call in 20 seconds and had already pulled up my flight details. Customers like conducting business with companies that value their time. Think about the number of times you have waited on hold to speak with someone when you were short on time. What about the extensive time you have spent searching on a website that is poorly designed? An effortless experience begins by making the product/service easy to find, buy and use.
- Provide channel choices – With United Airlines, I can book my reservations online (my preference) or call a customer service representative to book the flight for me. I can also ask questions or provide feedback regarding my experience using an email form. Chat was the only channel missing. Calling a company and speaking to an agent is still the primary channel used for customer service; however, there has been a significant increase in other channels such as websites, instant messaging, chat and Twitter. Over the last few years, new channels have been introduced and are rapidly becoming more popular with customers. These include channels like click-to-call, virtual agents and mobile. How do your parents prefer to interact with companies? I am guessing it might be different than your preference. What’s important is that companies understand their customer base and how those customers prefer to find, buy and use their products and services. If they don’t understand these preferences and make channel updates accordingly, customers will likely move to another company that makes it easier for them to interact in their preferred channel.
- Maintain friendly, knowledgeable and empowered service associates – When I called to change my flight, the agent was very friendly. She had already pulled up my account and demonstrated her knowledge by giving me some new options with lower rewards points. Companies should invest in one of their most important assets – their customer service representatives (CSRs). CSRs are often the first and only interaction customers have with an organization. This person can create a strong perception of excellence or ineptitude. Companies should invest in their employees as well as associated technology so CSRs have the tools and knowledge needed to quickly handle customer inquiries. Companies can also invest in their employees by building soft skills that include empathy, active listening, a positive outlook, and the ability to build rapport and remain composed when dealing with an angry customer. And finally, we all want to deal with empowered service associates who have the authority to make decisions without placing us on hold or transferring us to a supervisor. Companies that have friendly, knowledgeable and empowered service associates usually have strong customer loyalty.
- Be known, heard, understood and appreciated – When I called, the recording said ‘I see that you recently contacted us on United.com regarding your scheduled trip to Beijing. Are you calling about that trip?’ They clearly knew who I was and understood what I was calling about. I did not have to repeat the same information I had just entered online. After the United agent made my changes, she expressed appreciation for my loyalty as a Premier member. It can be very frustrating and time consuming to repeatedly give a company all the information to access your account when you contact them on a frequent basis. How many times have you provided your information to one person only to be transferred to another department and have to start all over again? Customer-focused organizations not only automatically pull up a customer’s profile based on the number you called from or the account number you entered, they also have quick access to the contact history across all channels. This minimizes customer effort which goes back to valuing customers’ time. The next step is to have CSRs that carefully listen to customer issues, clarify any vague points and then confirm their understanding of the issue. Most importantly, customer-focused organizations genuinely appreciate each and every customer and find a way to show it.
As channels and options for customers continue to broaden, the contact center channel becomes more, not less, important to the overall satisfaction of your customer. It’s critical for successful organizations to take the time to understand their customers and provide support channels that deliver the most effortless experience. Whether in person, online, through a mobile device or on the phone – they expect a consistent and effortless experience – anytime, anywhere. Well done United!