A few months ago, I attended a public conference on customer service in Pakistan where a manager from the telecom sector shared their story on providing exceptional customer experience. The story revolved around the changes made within their team, policies in the customer service centre, customer wait times on call queue, complaint resolution process and so on. The presentation concluded on the same note and won accolades for what the company did around “Customer Experience”. Throughout the conference several companies made more references to the terminology, without really talking about more than one touchpoint in their service chain and mostly focused on activities in their call centre.
I left the conference with a realisation that the true appreciation of end to end Customer Experience is not very much there in the local context. On several other occasions I came across other professionals in the industry who do not seem to have a very clear appreciation of how Customer Experience is different from Customer Service. So here I am, sharing my thoughts on how companies need to up their game from customer service to focusing on the complete customer experience, if they want to get a real competitive advantage.
The classical way of thinking about customer service is to give customers a good experience when they reach out to you at your call centre or at a service centre. While good “after-sales” service is important, it is too far out in the service chain to start influencing your customers and quite often at this stage customers are approaching with complaints or service requests. To really influence the customers and turn them into promoters, a business needs to think about the end to end customer journey. Depending on your product or service, this journey could start from your website or your retail outlet or even before that, from your sales representative or an online enquiry.
In the case of a “brick and mortar” retail business, a typical experience could start from the time you arrive at the store – the ability to locate and identify the store, and even the ease of parking and access to the building, all define how you feel before even stepping in the main premises. Inside the store, the design, ambiance and ease of navigation, ability to find the product of your choice, the staff interaction, their ability to answer your queries about the product or service you are interested in as well as the opportunity to try out the product before purchase, the ease of payment and checkout – all form part of the ‘customer experience’.
The experience does not end there. If you are a retail store making and selling your own products, the experience goes on further to the unboxing and set up of the product. The ease of instructions, the usage and the design of the product itself, the value for money – everything counts. It is only after all this that the customer service centre or the call centre might come into play, that too, quite likely, if you have a problem and you need to reach out to the company to get it resolved. The role of the call centre or “Customer Service” cannot be undermined, however their role comes in very late into the customer journey.
A good customer service may help prevent you from losing your customers, but a great customer experience would ensure that they do not want to leave once they come into the first contact!
Understanding the Customer Journey & Touchpoints
Customer Journey & Touchpoints are two terminologies that you may hear often when it comes to Customer Experience. A Customer Journey is the complete end to end journey that a customer takes with your product or service, as in the case of the retail store. To understand what your customer journey looks like, think of where the customer’s interaction starts and where in totality does it end. Touchpoints are interactions on this journey where there may be an exchange of communication, information, service or transaction. These are the unique and key moments where the customer is interacting with the business.
Consider another example of an airline. Which is the most important part of the customer experience here? The airplane? The In-flight Service? Or the customer service centre that helps you with the lost baggage? While there might be several different views on this, perhaps the most important part of the experience starts at the airline’s website! In today’s digital world that’s where the customer first lands to find their flight and book their ticket. If they cannot find the right route combinations, their desired airfare and have a frustrating experience buying the ticket, they may get a very negative experience even before the start of their journey. This means you could end up losing the sale or initiating a negative experience that carries till the end of the journey.
Understanding the complete customer journey and the touchpoints involved and ensuring a positive experience at every stage of the journey, is what would help deliver a truly outstanding customer experience.
Back to the local (Pakistani) context. A simple online search for Customer Experience roles can confirm how uncommon the concept really is. While this role is hard to find in local companies, it is abundantly found in more developed markets. Companies talk a lot about customer centricity and the desire to become truly customer focused. But to truly become customer centric, businesses need to start thinking of how, when and where customers interact with them. They need to determine what is it that customers really expect from them at each of these touchpoints and how they can create truly exceptional experiences that consistently deliver on the expectations.
To achieve this, they need to focus their organisational design around the customer. The customer cannot be the responsibility of just the Customer Service department. Every department in their own capacity needs to think of how they can influence the various customer touchpoints and strive to create exceptional experiences around it. Only then can we truly take the step up from simply servicing the customer, to giving them products and services that they will rave about!
The views expressed in this Blog are purely based on the author’s own experience with the service and do not represent those of any organization, including the one being reviewed.
The author can be reached through the contact me page.