It takes just one click for a great brand to get its image tarnished in this age of always-on, always-connected consumers. Take the case of the leading airline whose pilot allegedly insulted a senior citizen for requesting wheelchair assistance. Even as the pilot continued to insult the customer, live streaming of the episode on social media channels went viral. This resulted in the airline issuing a public apology and the pilot losing his job. Then there are instances of customers calling out exemplary service experiences leading to increased engagement and brand loyalty that the best sales teams dream to generate.
Apple and Amazon, both market movers, epitomise such customer-centricity. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ obsessive focus on providing stellar Customer eXperience (CX) is legendary. And in today’s world of connected customers, the customer loop is never-ending. Hence, it is important that companies build their sales playbooks around CX. Indeed, never has it been more crucial that customer experience supersedes sales experience. Market-leading companies have already got a role etched out, the Customer Experience Officer, who directly reports to the CEO/Chairman. Such is the strategic importance of good customer experience to fuel business growth.
Companies that are at the forefront leading the CX strategy are in the auto manufacturing, health insurance, hotel chains, omnichannel retail and wireless service provider sectors. However, despite the measures taken by companies, CX excellence remains elusive. The Forrester 2019 Customer Experience Index revealed that emotion plays a critical role in differentiating brands and has a bigger impact on brand loyalty than effectiveness or ease of use, regardless of industry. According to the survey, how an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their brand loyalty than any other factor. Further, consumers today are more conscious of their social responsibilities so an organisation’s corporate values also play a significant role in enhancing brand loyalty.
So how can organisations create an ethos of customer-centric values and make it a part of the corporate strategy? How can technology become an integral part of the customer experience journey? What role do employees have to play? Should the sales team lead the effort? Creating CX should be the topic of every board room conversation and strategic meeting, and if companies haven’t started thinking along these lines they must. Nearly all companies associate customer experience with cost, especially those in the service sector. Brands need to realise that good CX, nay great CX, is key to building brand loyalty and hence CX is a strategic investment. CX should not be relegated to the frontlines alone but include all employees and stakeholders. To make this a reality, companies will need to provide their employees’ tools, training and technology; to enable them to engage more meaningfully with customers.
Take the case of this regional telecom provider that was struggling to meet basic customer requirements. Customers in tier 2 and 3 cities and smaller towns reach out to call centres to resolve their issues and the cost implications were high. Increased customer frustration at not being able to get a speedy resolution and the interactive voice response loop saw the telecom vendor lose customers in hundreds till a new directive was issued. Mobile retailers were looped in and provided holistic customer service training so much so that 90% of customer queries were resolved by the retailers leading to higher customer retention. This example clearly illustrates that even minor enhancements to the customers’ experience can reduce service costs and customer churn, increase brand loyalty and have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Anticipating customer needs can be a great way to create an unparalleled customer experience. Marketing teams already realise this and are using technology to map the customer journey. In fact, digital transformation at companies is seeing an interesting intersection, that of the CIO and CMO building a strategy to enhance CX. Machine learning, data, IoT and artificial intelligence are being harnessed to understand and anticipate the evolving needs of customers and pain points to enhance CX. Chatbots are a great example of the application of technology to interact with the customer. But increasingly this can also sometimes lead to frustrating customer experience if the chatbots are unable to gauge human emotions and be sensitive in addressing issues. Fortunately, this is changing rapidly with AI-enabled chatbots.
Customers have come to expect the same customer service in today’s omnichannel era. This is a huge challenge for companies who are striving to provide a consistent service experience across all channels but discovering that there are laggards. Small and mid-sized companies end up burning a hole in their wallets trying to create a huge CX enablement chest. This is where training and Technology enabled Blended Learning – TeBL® can help. If companies can provide their people with the right skills and enable their customer-facing employees to provide a personalized experience, then there’s no reason why smaller companies cannot march over bigger, well-entrenched brands. These trainings can be undertaken in a cost-effective manner using TeBL®, by constantly upskilling and reskilling employees especially in handling customer complaints sensitively, in a time-bound manner with the aim of client retention. Cost-effective, flexible and interactive e-learning is a valuable addition to all customer service strategies. Creating a positive customer experience will continue to remain a challenge. However, if organisations make CX strategic, then they will be able to win brand loyalty and build deeper relationships.
A stellar example of highlighting the importance of CX has been our training intervention with India’s largest international airport, which prides itself in providing the highest quality of customer service. We worked with the client to align the key stakeholders and provide seamless service that meets the diverse needs of passengers. To do this, we designed a program with CX at its core and aimed at bringing the learners closer to the people they serve while enhancing the image of the company. The programs used a highly interactive methodology of activities, case studies, simulations, and instructor-based training. Interventions included team-building activities, WhatsApp webinars, app-based trainings and gamification among other strategies to ensure the transfer of learning across multiple stakeholders located in the airport.
The training interventions resulted in noticeable improvement of the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) scores. The participants were able to better align with the vision of the organisation and describe the importance of their role in achieving the vision. They were also able to identify and acquire new skills required to achieve the said vision. Participants also understood the importance of providing seamless service to passengers right from the time they enter the airport, irrespective of the airline they have chosen to fly. Many of the resources were already there, we just helped the participants connect the dots to achieve a higher level of customer service. The results became evident when the airport was rated the best airport in the World and also ranked as the ‘Best Airport by Size and Region’ in the Asia Pacific region, handling over 40 million passengers annually, by Airport Council International’s (ACI) annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards. The ASQ Awards represent the highest possible customer experience accolade for airport operators around the world, and together we have won this award for three years in a row now, all with one key aspect in mind – CX is more important than just sales experience!
Consultant, Centum Learning Limited