Customer Experience – It’s All About the People, Stoopid!

When it comes to customer service we know some things pretty intuitively:

  • people enjoy helping other people
  • the human brain is social and people naturally want to make connections with each other
  • there are “moments of truth” in your relationship with your customers that define the relationship
  • these moments of truth have a charge of emotion so powerful they will overrule logic.

These days pretty much every company claims that it wants to improve the customer experience.  So, what is it about old habits that stops us making the smart decisions to do just that?

Inexplicably, when companies have a choice between investing in their people or investing in a system, or Big Data, or a product range extension they tend not to choose the people.  In fact, even more inexplicably, they often choose to fund “the new toy” by saving money on their people – driving productivity, reduced annual pay review, or headcount reductions.  To mash some metaphors this is like building a house of cards, on quicksand.  Why build new stuff when you are not keeping up your support investment?  When something goes wrong your customers will quickly forget the new stuff, they will only notice the gaps in your support strategy.  Companies are pushing their luck until the system becomes so taut it breaks – it is like my two year old pushing the boundaries to see what he can get away with.

When it comes to the brands with “super loyalty” you never hear their customers identifying the difference as their website, or their apps, or whatever other widgets they are touting.  No, when customers talk about Zappos, or First Direct, or Patagonia they talk about the people.  And the reason for that is that customers turn to companies when they need help, they look for a connection in a moment of truth.  That moment of truth – which will undoubtedly influence the next purchase, or the subscription renewal – is delivered by a human, being themselves, doing the right thing for another human.

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Your people, not your products or your policies or your processes, create the loyalty and advocacy that draws customers to your brand.  It makes sense then to engage your employees and treat them well.  As leading customer experience expert Shep Hyken says “Treat your employees the way you want your customers treated – maybe even better!”  Why not?  It just makes sense – lead like you want your people to behave, role model the behaviours.

But despite the common sense, there are so many examples of taking the dumb route…..

  • running a contact centre operation as tight as a drum to save money and surviving by managing tight schedule adherence.  If your people are micro-managed like children, what do you think the odds are that they will behave like them?
  • making up rules to stop the operation “getting out of control”, for example in giving refunds.  Guess what happens when you remove an individuals discretion – they hide behind the rule, the customer hears a stark “I can’t…”!
  • planning for aggressive benefits such as call reduction and resourcing for the glory days to come.  When the call reductions inevitably don’t arrive as expected the workforce is stretched tight to handle the workload within service level.  Without a moment between calls why should ownership of a customer problem be top of their list?

The paradigm has shifted, the old incumbents are no longer immune.  The best employees are more mobile and less tolerant of leadership that doesn't engage them.  The customer is more discerning and more emotionally attached to where they spend their money.  Look at the age of the companies in the original Fortune 500 - in 1955 was 75 years old.  It is now 10.  Customers are choosing who they trust and who they want to do business with.  Brands need to adapt to the new economy or wither.

What is it about the common-sense relationship between consistent leadership, employee engagement and superior customer experience that challenges leaders and prevents them from backing themselves to win for their customers and their business?

No, we don’t know either.