RANTS & RAVES!
Randomly Timed Musings
Customer Experience … It's All About Partnership
By Kathleen M. Peterson
Chief Vision Officer, PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
Have you ever read First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Corporation? If not, you may want to consider it. The overwhelming message of the book is how to be a more effective leader by taking a new and fresh look at what you are trying to accomplish and how you are doing it. This is great stuff and although the book is several years old, I still highly recommend it. First, Break All the Rules is primarily focused on leadership and buried within it are findings of 20 years of Gallup research on what customers really want.
The research is the result of 20 years of surveying over a BILLION people to identify what really matters to them about service. The findings are organized into four categories which are labeled as low level and high level satisfiers. The low level satisfiers are Accuracy and Availability. Achieving these “only prevents dissatisfaction.” The high level satisfiers are Partnership and Advice. The authors state that achieving these are "not easy to do, but are difficult to steal” (as in replicate).
I would like to use these findings to stimulate some thinking around simplifying the process of understanding and reacting to customer needs. They serve as a foundation for assessing the operational side of the Customer Experience in the Contact Center; in fact, they apply quite nicely. So here's my take.
LOW LEVEL SATISFIERS
If we begin with the low level satisfiers, we need to recognize that there are no “points” earned for achieving Accuracy and Availability. But there are operational elements that assure their achievement.
Customers expect information to be correct. Duh, of course they do! But has anyone called you lately to say thanks for getting it right? I doubt it! It is not enough to simply acknowledge this obvious fact; we must identify the elements that the objective of Accuracy requires.
Hiring - Competencies must be very clearly defined. If you don’t intend on teaching basic computer skills, TEST the candidates to make sure they have them. If your agents will be required to write emails or edit email suggested responses, TEST their writing ability. When Customer Experience is of high importance, TEST their definition - Is it a match? Certain competencies cannot be trained; it is more effective to hire smart than be stuck with someone not right for the position.
Training - Agents must be well trained, and depending on the complexity of the business, also skilled in the area of critical thinking to enhance consistency across the operation. Training is an ongoing process, not just a new-hire requirement. It is important to train agents in the manner in which they will do their jobs. When trainers have access to a “training” or “dummy” system, they are able to integrate system, product, and Customer Service into the same module. The result is training that models the actual job and where all functions are utilized and practiced together.
Communication - An effective communication approach must be in place to "move" relevant information to agents in a timely fashion. Centers vary in their approach - from updates to paper manuals, memos, emails, intranet, large plasma screens, ”ribbons” on the desktop, whiteboards, etc. More and more operations today are investing in technology to facilitate communication in the Contact Center. And, there is a question that must be answered: “Who is the information gatekeeper?” This is critical! We have seen many cases in which supervisors become overwhelmed by information coming from too many places; anyone with a distribution list seems able to send changes or requests to the floor. This is a frustrating situation and challenges Accuracy at its very core. It is critical to establish a “communication liaison” function to serve as the gatekeeper and to take a good, long, and hard look at the means by which you communicate to the front line. If you have resorted to the dreaded brightly colored paper on agents' chairs, it may be time for serious reengineering.
Think about it. What else contributes to Accuracy in your Contact Center?
Availability is another low level satisfier that must be met before any Customer Experience points are earned. Availability includes these elements.
Hours of Operation - Many companies have had to evaluate whether their hours of operation are an asset or a liability in their market. We worked recently with credit unions that made what at first was a painful decision to move to extended hours. Tough as it was, the decision was made prior to the banking meltdown and they have faired quite well. They can now compete with the big guys in terms of hours of operation while being more stable in terms of the meltdown.
Customer Access Channels - Customers want to do business with you on their terms and on their schedule. If your business is behind in the area of digital access, you could be behind on market share as well. Customer tolerance for access failures is low while expectations are high. We have reached a point where multi-channel access is requisite and dependent on effectiveness of the functional activities within a channel. While voice contacts are measured by delay to answer, web/mobile visits are measured by ability to effectively complete the transaction (i.e., I didn't have to "call"). Checkout procedures, promo codes, loyalty programs, mobile interfaces, book an appointment, solve a problem, etc. These must all work flawlessly for access to be considered successful.
HIGH LEVEL SATISFIERS
Now for the good stuff ... Partnership and Advice. This is where the Customer Experience becomes a market differentiator. Let’s assume that you have competitors; this is a relatively safe assumption. Many, if not most markets today will look to match or beat their competitors on price, services available, promises, etc. But the real differentiator may just be in the experience. How easy is it to reach you? How easy is it to understand the 'user manual?' How easy is it to use/access your warranty? How easy is it to get helpful answers? Study your call types; some of these answers will emerge and you will know that it is time to ACT.
When discussing with or training staff regarding the Customer Experience it is critical to assure the understanding that building the relationship IS in fact establishing the Partnership. Relationships are built in many ways and the front line often has a heck of a lot to do with it. A relationship is being able to recognize the customer’s need, not only in specific terms, but on an emotional level. Providing a WOW or a THRILL leads to establishing an “emotional” connection. I believe that this is even possible electronically. For example, when I go to Amazon.com I like the fact that it is MY page that shows up, MY recommendations, and MY account history. Amazon.com has made it easy (maybe too easy) to do business with them, at least in part because the company has managed to establish a relationship with my unique needs. When you have customers on the phone, building a Partnership with them is about needs and nuances. It is about being able to represent fully your brand and deepen the relationship.
It should be understood that if you are in a position to give true Advice - the kind that will possibly increase sales or order size - very few consumers accept Advice without there being Partnership in place. This is often illustrated when an unhappy or frustrated customer is escalated to a supervisor; the supervisor may be more sensitive to the customer’s frustration, de-escalate the situation, and give the EXACT same answer as the agent. Yet, the answer from the person that built the Partnership (the supervisor) is accepted, while the non-Partnership Advice is rejected. Ask yourself if your front line has in place the tools necessary to build that Partnership. Do they have authority to take action and resolve issues in a single contact? Check out the front line’s capabilities in this area; identify weaknesses and move to correct.
Advice is the ultimate factor in the Customer Experience. Advice about products, services, etc., is often in the hands of the frontline contact. Advice takes the Accuracy and the Partnership elements and translates them to a market differentiator because they yield an emotional connection. People like to take Advice from those they have confidence in. We all have hung up from a call and called back not only because we may not have “liked” the answer but because we felt it could be “wrong.”
When you consider that it is the Advice function that solves problems and makes additional sales, the concept is easy to embrace. Add-on sales (also known as cross-sell and up-sell) offers are the ultimate in Advice. The front line is going to advise the customer on other products or services that are available and appropriate.
Advice is about confidence, critical thinking, brand knowledge, and of course, products and services. No matter how smart we may be, smartness only has value to those with whom we have built a relationship and, in fact, a Partnership.
There are challenges to achieving the high level satisfiers and they often lie in the low levels. If you cannot achieve Accuracy and Availability, you may never get the opportunity to get to the Partnership and Advice level, no matter how good you are at it. All of these elements must work together, but somehow in order. We need to view our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make each and every important aspect of the Customer Experience count.
Take some time as fall begins to evaluate how you will approach the final months of this year. What level of satisfiers will you reach? We would love to hear your thoughts!
PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.
360 Route 101, Suite 6, Bedford, NH 03110
(Customer Experience … It's All About Partnership, September 2017)
 First, Break All the Rules, What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, Buckingham, Marcus and Coffman, Curt, Simon and Schuster, 1999.