Building better customer experiences

Posted by Ross Coundon on December 15, 2015

Building better customer experiences

Difficult conversations

A few days ago I wrote a blog entitled – The phone is dead, long live the phone.  That blog was inspired by the simple truth that a colleague’s poor experience of making mobile calls had made her change her behaviour and choose potentially less productive ways to communicate.

Since writing that blog and having thought about that simple event a little more, I think there’s actually something more important to say.

By coincidence a client of Leadent’s recently shared a very interesting Ted talk (link) by the ex-Apple product designer Tony Fadell.  Fadell is now responsible for the design of Nest, the learning thermostat.  The topic of that talk is that we all become numb to poor experiences, we come to accept them as the norm and by-and-large, fail to do anything about them.  He advises that, to make our experiences better, we should work to look at things differently, to ask why does something have to be the way it is.  To think like children and to question the world.

It’s a similar story within so many businesses around the world, that when confronted with change the phrases “…but we’ve always done it that way”, “it has to be like that, it always has been” or “that’s the only way it can work”  are used with staggering frequency and tenacity.

With these two events – the mobile phone experience and the advice from Fadell, it made me think.  Progress is, in most quarters, regarded as a good thing, and I think most people reading this would agree.  However, despite all the progress, there are human fundamentals that maybe we cannot improve upon.

If you’re anything like me, in response to a poor experience with a product or service you might have caught yourself avoiding a human conversation in favour of sending a “strongly worded email”.   You tell yourself it’s for convenience (often true, in part) but really it’s to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.  We then feel deeply affronted when the resolution is unsatisfactory and you’re fobbed off with a templated email apology or a meager 5% discount on your next purchase.

If instead that conversation were to happen in person, or even on the phone, I’d suggest generally the outcome would be better for both parties – a negotiated settlement and a human interaction.  The chance for each party to properly describe their position results in a beneficial, human exchange.  We increase the chances that we come away from that interaction with closure, not frustration.

When we communicate with text, we lose so much richness, particularly using media such as SMS or Twitter where we are necessarily restricted in the number of characters we can use. With text we lose the ability to gauge body language, vocal inflection, facial micro-gestures, cadence and many other important aspects of communication.   I’m by no means the first to say this but it’s worth reiterating.

I’d go as far as to say that, text is good for cold, hard data but for any communication that needs to convey opinion, emotion or nuance – speech beats text every time.  This, of course, isn’t always practical but I’d recommend we be conscious of using text as an excuse to avoid dealing with difficult conversations.

When dealing with your customers and your employees I think understanding this is crucial.  Of course we sometimes need audit trails of conversations for governance and regulatory purposes but that is easily solved by beginning with a verbal conversation and following up with written confirmation of what was discussed.  Again, of course, this isn’t new or radical, but I do believe it’s been either forgotten or deliberately designed out of interactions.

The problem of disengagement

If you’re running scripted contact centres, guarded by complicated IVR systems, with imposed time-constraints on conversations understand that you may be unconsciously removing the ability of your customers or employees to properly engage with you, and instead leaving them feeling unsatisfied with the experience of engaging with your brand.

I understand that building this kind of model makes sense from a cost perspective and that scaling is difficult without an IVR system or when contact centre staff aren’t incentivised to close down calls as quickly as possible.  It does however beg the uncomfortable question of why such scale is needed.  Is the quality of your product or service at the levels your consumers expect?  What your employees need?  What your customers want and pay for?

Setting a high bar for the quality of that product or service means that the amount of contact needed by your consumers is reduced.  Which in turn means that your contact centre can be smaller and that your staff can focus on effective conversations rather than hourly targets and scripted interactions.  I get it, it’s not that simple and that the cost of doing the former may not be offset, at least in terms of the immediate balance sheet, of the latter.  But realise this, if you’re not getting this right, prepare to be disrupted.  Somebody else, with the mindset described by Fadell, will come along and ask “Why does it have to be like that?  I can do this better”.

The threat of disruption

This disruption is happening, at pace, everywhere – Airbnb, Uber, Alibaba – no industry is immune.  Get your product right, engage your customers personally and respond positively and constructively to internal and external criticism.  If you don’t, someone else will and then it might be too late.  A colleague recently had a below par experience with Uber in Paris, he spoke to customer service, they answered quickly and politely, apologised immediately and refunded the cost of the ride – no questions asked.  He still raves about Uber.

Building better customer experiences

We’ve worked with so many companies and written many blogs on how to get this right in our area, that of field service and workforce management.  We’ve covered everything from managing successful change to transforming businesses, resource demand forecasting and ensuring the assets that underpin your product provide required value over their lifetimes.  Getting these things right means you can engage properly with those that will make your business successful – your customers, your partners, your employees.

The answer to the question of how to ensure you’re having effective conversations with those that matter to your business isn’t a simple one, it has many facets and stakeholders, but it does have an answer and if approached in a methodical way you can avoid the unintended consequences of unsatisfying conversations and instead lead to you building better customer experiences.

If you’d like to understand how to apply these principles to your business, please get in touch