The Experience Economy and the Crucial Role of Your Contact Center
Customers' holistic experience (CX) has more impact than a product's cost or features and is the most sustainable brand differentiator in an experience era. While the contact center isn’t the only organization that influences customer experiences, it does play a primary role.
Customer experience (CX). Have you been hearing this term more frequently of late? There is a reason why. We live in an age of referral economy where word of mouth advertising has more value than ever before. In this article, we will try and unpack CX.
In today's day and age, retaining your customers in and by itself is to be considered a top achievement, let alone customer acquisition. That statement stems from a multitude of proven theories, facts, studies and most importantly, business results. Thanks to the intense competition out there, plus the effortless process in switching brands, we have to agree that loyalties do shift fast. Make no mistake, such actions are driven by the experience that a brand delivers to its customers.
Top brands today that are premised on customer centricity and differentiate on CX continue to build their empires and gain market share. CX has edged cost and product features as the most sustainable differentiator to do business in an experience era. While we acknowledge that positive CX can power business growth, on the other side, negative experiences are what triggers actions most of the times. A negative word of mouth about your brand based on one bad experience would mean customer churn. 59 percent will abandon a brand they love after several bad experiences. 32 percent will stop doing business with a brand they love after just one bad experience. As we know, it is going to cost more to replace customers than retaining them.
The evolution of customer experience
The business world’s propensity to CX has been a slow one. It has taken some time, but there are some promising signs that it is close to being reached — from multiple domains such as marketing research, advertising, Servqual and total quality management [TQM] theories, CRM, call center and more. Although the methods are different, they have commonality in their objective (i.e., deliver a great experience for your customer). Why? To make them come back or influence them to stay loyal.
Research states that loyal customers spend more, are more tolerant to price increase, more forgiving and win you new customers. They are online advocates for your brand, products and services. BrightLocal concluded that 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
But why does the topic of CX garner top attention these days? The answer is the gap that exists between a business that delivers a product/service/experience and your customer who consumes this. This gap also continues to widen. In a study by Bain & Company, a 10x disparity was found between how brands perceive their customer service and how customers perceive that same service. They found that 80 percent of the surveyed firms believed that they delivered a “superior service,” while only 8 percent of the firm’s customers agreed with that assessment. While business may be driven to think that they are delivering an exceptional service, customers may not think so. CX is the discipline that helps firms identify and close this gap.
The perspective differs depending on where you are (shoes of business vs. shoes of customer). To close the gap, businesses get into the habit of measuring and managing customer experiences.
What happens when measurement is flawed?
Garbage in, garbage out. This mantra best captures a reliance on incorrect inputs. One of the established methods of measuring customer experience is voice of customer surveys. How much can you rely on VoC programs? First of all, when you send out a survey to your customers. response rate average is only around 12 percent. Top that with other factors such as survey fatigue, rushed schedules and short term benefit-driven actions such as the promise of a discount voucher. This reality leads us to question whether actions based on survey insights is worth the effort.
Businesses need to be aware of the ingrained biases in some of those answers. In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel prize winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman writes about two parts of the human brain (system 1 and 2) and how it makes sense of the world and the experience within it. System 1 is characterized by fast, automatic, emotional, non-conscious traits, and makes majority of our decisions — while system 2 is slow, deliberate, rational and managed consciously (doesn’t pitch in regularly). Because we are consciously aware of only system 2, we are led to believe that most of our decisions are thought through with proper rationale, but in reality, we are unaware that most of those are being made by the cognitive shortcuts of system 1. If this is the case, then how we author the surveys will also matter. Do the voice of the customer (VoC) survey questions do enough to bring system 2 into action?
One of the most noteworthy examples of these biases was witnessed in Johnson and Goldstein’s 2003 study, when Germany’s “opt-in” default setting led only 12 percent of their population to enlist as a organ donor while neighboring and culturally similar Austria’s “opt-out” default setting led almost 100 percent of their citizens to choose to remain in the donor pool.
That is just one anecdote about how defaults are displayed in the survey questionnaire and its mighty effect. Imagine what would be the effect and inference of other questions in surveys that your business conducts. This brings scrutiny and leads us to question the authority of VoC surveys for major decisions and investments.
The good news is that VoC, although commonly used, is just one of the available mechanisms or instruments that’s used to understand your customers. Thanks to data analytics and data scientists, the CX world has evolved to take feeds from other sources where customer experience traces exist, such as website analytics, CRM, contact center operational data and response to marketing campaigns, to name a few.
Going beyond measurement and metrics
Measurement, although foundational, is just the first step. Let’s discuss what fills in for the lacking strength in a typical CX program. On that note, let's take a step back to define what forms a customer experience, and how it is recorded. CX can be defined as the culmination of three factors: real experience, imagined experience and anticipated experience in relationship to a brand. Therefore it varies from customer to customer as the vantage point, context and perception differs for each of your customers. Customers at every touch point either have a positive, negative or a neutral experience. And as they continue to build on that experience tape, there could be one moment of truth that decides if they buy or you lose them.
These experiences are documented as traces at various touch points — could be your contact center notes, CRM case files, online review, survey response and more. All these traces have immense value to offer, including insights on demographic data and loyalty data. When this data is properly leveraged, businesses can bring down churn or work out a marketing campaign to increase the wallet share of existing ones.
While this sounds lucrative, the struggle in the CX world so far has been to agree on simplified methods to achieve this. At this point, it may seem that the onus of solving this puzzle rests heavily on data science capabilities, however, we can't forget that there are other cylinders that have to fire in order to reap full potential from your CX investments.
The following are some of the reasons that CX programs fail or may result in only partial success, and why requests for CX investments are met with sarcasm:
- The #1 reason will be the influence of CX on financial performance. It's a mountain of an effort to establish this link. There are no easy dashboards here.
- Lack of visibility about the top drivers that you need to act on to achieve the best possible outcomes.
- Inability to stitch data and offer insight to your frontline teams at the point in time when it matters.
- Unavailability of a turnkey, unified, holistic framework to orchestrate the following: marketing efforts, closing tickets/loop, measure results of CX efforts, effective surveying, powering your frontline for having meaningful customer conversations and driving the rest of your organization to align around customer as the circumcenter.
The role of the modern contact center
This is where the contact center plays a role. While it isn’t the only organization that influences customer experiences, it does play a primary role and should be positioned to solve all of those obstacles mentioned in above section, or at a minimal should have a roadmap to solve what it can't today.
Here is a list of top differentiators that a business should look to inherit into their contact center,
- Empowered agents: Your contact center should reduce the stress level on your agents that is often caused by rigid slow processes that are repetitive. Agents spend close to 1/5th of their time searching for knowledge articles to respond to maybe a frustrated customer. Technology should provide customer context (omni-channel) and information at fingertips for your agent to in turn provide a tailored experience for your customer parting ways with simple phone tree experience. Capability: Artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, virtual agents, agent augmentation and analytics by Google CCAI
- From the lens of CX, an incident pre or post contact center is the cause of customer experience disruption. Contact centers historically have not had access to customer history and sentiment. A modern contact center will be equipped to acquire customer sentiment and power your agents to engage meaningfully. Your contact center should make you aware of the customer journey before they came in and also the journey after they disconnected, that apart should give you data on customers who never contact your business. Capability: Customer journey management by Cisco Webex Experience Management
- Thirdly, a modern contact center should enable your organization to read three forms of feedback direct, indirect and inferred feedback and tie those to operational or transactional data. Imagine the benefit of integration with your CRM to combine transactional with experiential data, this gives you massive potential to unearth trends and similarities among specific customer segments. Capability: API integrations, CRM, HRMS and ITSM integration by Bucher+Suter, Acqueon and SpinSci
- The modern contact center will help you understand how potential changes to your customer experience program will affect business outcomes and impact financial metrics — before you even commit to them. Capability: Predictive analytics, speech & desktop analytics from Calabrio and Verint
Your contact center is still and will continue to be an indispensable unit that will play a major role on how customers perceive your brand. To this end, modernizing your contact center and arming it to make sense of the outside world will ensure the gap is bridged between your customers and the roots of the organization.