In the past, service providers were in a position of authority. Customers who needed information and help regarding services or products would turn to the service provider for assistance.
Today, the balance of power has shifted; customers are in the driver’s seat. We can all feel it, as we are customers ourselves.
This power shift is the result of:
- Access to information: customers have many sources of information at their fingertips.
- Information that builds knowledge: customers are often more up-to-date about the latest advancements in the market.
- Large choice of communication channels and mobility: customers are able to contact service providers from anywhere, at any time, and through any channel.
- Social media tools: these have given customers leverage over service providers – with a simple tweet or post, they can affect a service provider’s reputation.
Mind the gap
In this reality, there’s an inherent gap created between the empowered, knowledgeable customer and service providers. This gap is at the heart of what we call “the customer experience challenge”; and it has some key implications for service providers.
- The fact that customers interact over multiple channels makes it hard for organizations to gain visibility into the entire customer experience or to understand the full picture, including the accumulation of actions along the customer journey and the handoffs across channels.
- The partial information that service providers have about the customer makes it difficult to understand each individual’s unique expectations and needs at any given point during the journey.
- Analyzing an interaction only after the fact lessens the ability of the organization to impact the experience as it happens, when the right action really matters.
Aligning the workforce with customers’ needs is key to providing a perfect customer experience. But when service providers struggle with understanding those needs and preferences, it’s harder to guide the organization in the right direction and make sure that employees efficiently provide a better customer experience.
Closing this gap is the key challenge for satisfying customers and delivering a perfect customer experience. Organizations need to be able to identify the unique journey of every customer. Only then can you understand its context and what happened at each step of the way, so that you can efficiently and effectively handle every subsequent interaction.
Know your customers. Only then can you actually impact their experience. First, you shape the journey. That means understanding, and sometimes predicting, what a customer wants or will do next, then pointing them to the best channel to use, proactively engaging with them, or simply being ready with the right service and information when they come to you.
That’s one part. The second - and critical part - is being able to identify and own those make-or-break moments that define the customer experience. These are the moments that determine if a customer will stay or leave, buy or pass, recommend you across his social network or slash your reputation… Ultimately, these are the moments that determine whether you deliver the type of experience that customers remember and use the opportunity to promote your business goals.
But what does it take?
Here’s what I believe are the key ingredients for providing a perfect customer experience:
- Know your customers’ needs and preferences, but don’t assume that all customers are alike. Understand what makes every customer tick.
- Understand the context of every interaction. What happened before? Through which channels? What is likely to happen next?
- Identify the critical moments of the customer experience and take the right action in real time, when it really matters.
- Leverage insights and information about the customer to close the loop and optimize customer-related processes – across the entire organization, not just in the customer service department.
Now, with your permission, I’m going to be a bit poetic…. Life is about the journey, not the destination.