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Zero One: Winning the Customer Experience Battle

Bad customer experiences plague nearly every company, in every way, with only a few doing it right.

While companies lay claim to a “customer culture,” few actually have one. Just visit their contact center where the metrics speak for themselves: “handle time” for pushing agents to resolve matters quickly in order to save money; “save desks” as a last-ditch attempt to stop irate customers from jumping to a competitor; and now “chatbots” that promise to replace costly human agents with artificial intelligence interfaces.

None of these have anything to do with putting the customer first and reshaping the customer experience into a delightful one.

Even worse, too many contact centers operate as if they’re walled off from the rest of the organization. Systems don’t speak to each other, which means the contact center doesn’t always know what campaigns and special offers the marketing department is running. Mobile apps, websites and phone calls aren't connected. Such a disjointed customer experience makes the company appear two-faced.

We’re not here to bury the contact center, and certainly not to praise it. Contact centers are simply the most obvious target in a target-rich environment. Bad customer experiences plague nearly every company, in every way, with only a few doing it right. In the digital world where a customer has many and varied touchpoints with a company, the customer experience has become a virtual minefield. Most have no idea where they should be stepping, and explosions happen daily.

Nevertheless, customer experience is a battleground companies must win. Today, most companies compete on the basis of customer experience, not lower prices and product features, according to Gartner. Thanks to mobile and social, customers wield tremendous power over who they should be giving their money to and, critically, how they want to be treated.

Related: Zero One: Are You Ready for AI?

Forrester recommends companies start down the road to better customer experience by looking inward – that is, at the places where they already stumble. Through customer listening programs, they can detect customer frustration. Through customer journey mapping, they can identify touchpoints where the customer experience takes a turn for the worse. Through customer-facing employee feedback, they can learn when important customer needs go unmet.

It’s not easy, because basic assumptions about the customer experience might be very different from what’s actually happening. In a research note, Forrester described how a major clothing retailer removed a feature for listing favorite items from its website, only to realize later that the feature played an important role in conversion. Unbeknownst to the retailer, customers were using this feature to track when items came back in stock, not just to list favorite items.

Channel partners can help companies assess and improve the customer experience. Two years ago, health insurance giant UnitedHealthcare, tapped Bain & Company’s “elements of value framework” for mapping qualities that customers value most, in order to identify breakdowns in the customer experience and to begin fixing them.

Now UnitedHealthcare is a model for customer experience in the contact center, having earned one of the biggest gains in Forrester’s customer experience index. “Across the companies we interviewed, we found three main initiatives to improve customer-facing touchpoints: simplify experiences, increase personal connections to customers, and redesign digital interactions,” said Forrester analysts Harley Manning and Dylan Czarnecki.

At the heart of UnitedHealthcare’s efforts, the company needed to integrate data across all customer interaction points and retrain 5,000 employees. This has paid off in the following customer experience: A customer visits a self-service portal, views information about a claim, and calls the service center. The service center automatically routes the call to an agent who specializes in handling this particular case and has been given information about the customer’s portal visit and claim.

The customer isn’t bounced around from agent to agent only to describe their problem repeatedly. Nor does the customer have to re-validate their identity. This makes the customer experience fluid and seamless, but there’s more. It’s not all about taking away frustrating inefficiencies through technology.

As Forrester advises, the customer experience should have a personal connection. Given the emotional nature of healthcare, UnitedHealthcare also sends hand-written notes to customers under duress – more than 500,000 notes were sent in 2015.

Based in Silicon Valley, Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is eager to hear how the customer experience is impacting your business. You can reach him at [email protected] 

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