Tuesday, May 21, 2013

8 Ways to Create a Competitive Customer Experience

In today’s connected world, customers have more choices than ever before. So, they have fewer reasons than to do business with brands that don’t provide exceptional experiences. After all, customer experience is the total of all interactions that customers have with a brand, and their perception is the end result.
Interactions offer opportunities for companies to learn more about the customer’s needs and to strengthen the relationship. In fact, customer experience is one of the few remaining sources of competitive advantage. If you want a competitive advantage, follow these eight steps to great customer experience from a new book, “Attack of the Customers,” by Greg Gianforte, founder of RightNow Technologies, Inc. and Paul Gillin.

1. Establish a Knowledge Foundation
The first step in delivering an exceptional customer experience is establishing a knowledge foundation that should contain knowledge about your products and company and your customers. Employees can rely on the knowledge foundation to enhance customer interactions, while customers can use it for self-service. Gianforte suggest that once it’s running, determine where the knowledge gaps are by capturing customer questions and business responses. Then, organize the information in the knowledge base for easy access and provide a way for customers to use it to answer their questions.

2. Empower Customers with Self-Service
Provide customers access to the knowledge foundation created in step one so they can find the information they need whenever they want it. According to Gianforte, self-service options benefit both customers and your company - providing speed, round-the-clock service, and effectiveness, load-balancing and first-contact resolution.

3. Empower Frontline Staff
When creating a great customer experience, you also have to empower front line staff who interact with customers to exceed expectations. By giving frontline employees the means to go beyond the basics of customer support, you can create raving fans. You can start by making sure that frontline employees have all the information they need about customer’s previous interactions so that employees can personalize the conversation.

4. Offer Multichannel Support
Multi-channel options aren’t a choice for organizations, they’re a requirement for business, according to Gianforte. To deliver consistently excellent customer experiences while offering customers a choice of channels, all customer interactions must be unified. Everyone interacting with customers should be able to see all relevant previous exchanges, regardless of the channels. A knowledge foundation  not only helps enable this, it also makes reporting a lot easier. If customers have trouble finding what they need via one channel, they should be able to quickly switch to another, otherwise they may become disinclined to use self-service again.

5. Listen to Your Customers
Delivering an excellent customer experience is impossible if you don’t have a systematic way to listen. Effective listening sharpens focus and enables you to correct problems before they escalate. Start by have a person who understands social networks listen for your products trademarks, as well as those of your competitors, market categories, and related issues of interest. In addition, instead of waiting months for the results of a formal customer survey, ask customers for feedback at the time of interaction.

6. Design Seamless Experiences
In many organizations, multiple teams interact with customers, yet they don’t work with one another. To break down walls, consider your organization from the customer’s perspective. Evaluate cross-departmental processes and how they might be automated with software to provide a seamless customer experience. According to Gianforte , Build rich customer profiles that show front line employees all the customer attributes they need; use customer information to drive specialized attention; make workflow rules flexible and give managers the ability to implement workflow rules without technical staff; move support online; give nontechnical staff tools that allow them to post Web content; and automate certain customer communications.

7. Engage Proactively with Customers
“Many companies take the ‘emergency room’ approach to dealing with customers. They wait until the ‘patient’ is brought in on a stretcher and then practice triage,” explained Gianforte. Little consideration is given to what caused the problem. Instead, organizations should be focused on addressing the factors that erode customer satisfaction. By understanding your customers and their history, you can move your customer experience from the emergency room to the fitness center.

8. Measure and Improve Continually
Keep in mind that success is a process, not an event, said Gianforte. Even if you do the first seven steps perfectly, you need to continually measure your performance and foster a culture that drives improvement. One way to do this is by paying attention to competitors that are recognized for service. It’s also helpful to network with peers, via conferences, or sponsored events. Keep measuring performance, via metrics like customer satisfaction, and conversion rates.

The above steps provide a starting place for organizations to transform customer experience. While it makes most sense to implement them in the order described, you can apply them differently depending on your situation. Gianforte  notes that what is most important is that they help you make customer experience the top priority.

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