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Oct 03, 2016

How to Improve Customer Experience: 5 Experts Weigh In

[Estimated read time: 5 minutes]

The customer experience. Everyone's talking about it.

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And rightly so: Analysts and industry experts have been telling companies for years that we have entered the Age of the Customer. In this new reality, executives and marketing teams are no longer the sole arbiters of the brand -- any customer with internet access is. What's more, today's consumers care about the experience of doing business with a brand more so than their products.

Companies are beginning to understand the importance of the customer experience, or CX. According to Forrester, 57% of executive teams want to position their companies as CX leaders in their respective industries. But how?

Here are five ideas for how to improve the customer experience, straight from the experts:

  1. Make CX a cultural priority.
  2. Know your customers.
  3. Keep it simple.
  4. Empower your agents.
  5. Prioritize delivering on expectations, not "surprise and delight."

Learn more about these customer engagement ideas below:

1. Make CX a cultural priority.

"To improve the customer experience, start with the employee experience. Most companies today operate in a top down 'waterfall' environment. Values and priorities at the executive level trickle down quickly becoming the reality of those in all departments. If customer service doesn’t have what they need to be successful, it’s because it’s not a priority to those making decisions at the top. If customer service has everything they need to serve the customer, and they seem eager to satisfy the customer, that’s because it’s a priority of the executive leadership."

-Blake Morgan

The quality of every customer interaction reflects how important (or not) your executive team believes CX to be. Blake's advice for improvement? Focus on hiring support staff based on their values, and then train for skills. Also, it's crucial that everyone in the organization knows customers are the top priority. One way to demonstrate commitment to customers is through investment in giving customer-facing teams the tools they need to do the job right. A customer engagement CRM like Astute ePowerCenter gives even brand-new service agents all the information they need to resolve customer questions and issues, and even cuts down on training time with in-context guidance and recommended next actions.

2. Know your customers.

"In today’s era of customer engagement, the customer self-selects, using products, tools and consumable experiences to sculpt the kind of experience and the level of engagement they want to have with companies. They look for highly personalized interactions. They want to feel valued, and they want to know that you 'know' them, even in interactions that are not human-to-human." 

-Paul Greenberg

In the Age of the Customer, the balance of power has shifted to consumers. It's up to brands to provide a continuous, omni-channel experience that's tailored for individuals, not segments or demographics. A key part of personalizing experiences is having the context of previous interactions and purchases. For example, 72% of consumers now expect an agent to know their contact information and history from the moment their support interaction begins. Software from Astute Solutions allows customer context to be passed from one interaction to another, even during interactions with a bot or virtual agent.

For more on this topic, check out our whitepaper, "This Time It’s Personal: Using Bots for Smart Self-Service and Intelligent Escalation."

3. Keep it simple.

"Most of the time, innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you."

-Micah Solomon

In everything, ease-of-use is crucial. Beware of experiences that you have attempted to enhance, but have actually made more complicated for your customers. For example, say you have recently introduced a new search feature on your website that sorts answers into different categories. However, if the customer goes hunting for an answer in the wrong category, they'll never find it. As intuitive as those categories may have seemed to your team, you have actually introduced more frustration for your customers. Consider a natural-language-based self-service option instead.

Micah's advice for avoiding blind spots like the example above is to walk through every experience in your customer's shoes. He recommends that companies "park where your customers park, come in the same entrance your customers come in, and read what your customers read (for example, online reviews of your company — and of your competitors)." This will help you root out experiences that made sense on paper, but not in the real world that your customers live in.

4. Empower your agents.

"Good service comes from happy agents. Empower them with information, a comprehensive customer history, and channel specific content." 

-Kate Leggett

The strong correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction has been proven time and time again. Yet, 71% of contact center agents believe the technology they're given makes their jobs more difficult, causing frustration for them and their customers. (No wonder annual agent turnover averages 21%.)

Kate's recommendation emphasizes that knowledge is power. Agents should be able to access all the information they need without leaving their case management interface, whether that's a customer's profile, previous interactions, or answers from within your knowledgebase.

5. Prioritize delivering on expectations, not "surprise and delight."

"I challenge the idea that you must always WOW the customer. In fact, WOW needs to be delivered only sporadically; always WOWing a customer is not cost-effective. Customers expect to receive what is promised without unpleasant surprises."

-John A. Goodman

Surprise and delight aren't usually what customers want -- they simply want their expectations met. It's true that, for some brands, customers expect to be delighted. But for most companies, customers just want to accomplish their goal, whether that's buying the right size pants, returning a damaged product, complaining about an unsatisfactory meal, or praising a great experience. Brands must focus on making it as easy as possible for customers to accomplish their goals without any unpleasant surprises.

If your brand is able to put into practice just one or two of these five expert suggestions, you will be well on your way to achieving what so many executive teams desire: to be a CX leader in your industry. For even more consumer engagement ideas and tips, talk to an Astute expert.

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