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Keep the ‘person’ in personalized customer experience

Published: Feb 01, 2018
Author: Mike Bickel

Customer experience is critical to business success today, but few people consider the breadth of this fact and where technology fits versus personal human engagement. It encompasses every single interaction a consumer has with a company—whether that’s browsing a website, making a purchase or receiving after-sales care. Customer experience goes beyond customer service. To deliver a great, personalized customer experience, an organization needs to proactively look for ways to delight the customer. And this requires interaction and engagement every step of the way using a variety of channels.

Organizations are looking to technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and chatbots to help them achieve an improved, personalized customer experience. Clearly, technology is transforming how customers consume services and their expectations around ease of conducting commerce. But make no mistake. Your people are key to delivering a consistent and delightful experience that drives customer loyalty.

Technology isn’t there to replace the value of personal interaction, it’s there to eliminate mundane tasks to enhance the quality of the time your employees spend with your customers.  Based on my experience, there are four key things to remember when building a team to deliver the best personalized customer experience possible.

Hire the right people

This is where you start. It cannot stressed enough that finding the right people with key personal values that fits within your organization is the most important building block to creating and growing a team that will be successful in creating an environment of extreme customer loyalty. I have learned over time that skills and knowledge can be developed by virtually anyone who is eager to learn. However, you simply cannot change the core values of people no matter their skills and experience.   

Over the years, as a leader of customer service teams and an individual consumer of services, I have developed the opinion that there are five values one must hold that are critical in generating and sustaining customer loyalty. These same values are also necessary in building a highly functional customer service team.

  1. Honesty obviously is the most critical character quality I can think of.  In virtually every example I can recall of things going wrong customers tended to give my team another chance if they were honest about what went wrong, how they were going to make it right and the plans in place to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again. In fact, handling a bad situation with honesty tends to generate more customer loyalty than if a customer never has a negative experience.
  2. The ability to demonstrate empathy by showing that you understand how missed commitments impact the attainment of their business objectives. Remember, customers want to believe that you recognize their problem is your problem, you own the resolution and you possess a sense of urgency to remedy the situation.
  3. To build trust with your customers, coworkers and your employees, be clear about what you will do and always do what you say. If you tell them an issue will be resolved by Friday, ensure it is and call them to validate it was done to their satisfaction.  If for some reason things aren’t proceeding according to plan or what was previously expected, communicate with your customer as quickly as possible and be transparent about the situation.   People appreciate that information and it allows them to manage any communication that might be required of them.
  4. Ensure you build and foster a diverse workforce. Different perspectives simply drive more ideas and better outcomes. We operate in a global economy. Your customers have a broad variety of experiences that shape their views and having a team that mirrors the world offers the best hope of exceeding their expectations.
  5. Hire people who believe in the values of your company. While you can’t learn everything about an individual in one meeting, an effective and thorough interview process with more than one person involved can greatly enhance the evaluation and selection of the best talent.

Build a culture of empowerment

The most successful organizations clearly communicate to their employees their objectives and how their individual performance impacts customers as well as the company. After clearly communicating that information to your employees, it is critical to foster an environment of creativity that enables employees to address and resolve challenging issues for your customers.

For example, make it easy for employees to identify and offer solutions that resolve challenges your customers face when something goes wrong.  You can achieve this goal by limiting any bureaucracy that could stand in the way of a quick response to customers. Fast response times will build customer loyalty.

Once you’ve set clear expectations and given your employees the tools they need, trust them to do their job well.

Actively seek feedback to continuously improve

While organizations have numerous metrics on how well we think we are serving our customers there is no better barometer than soliciting direct feedback. That can take many forms: transactional surveys when you come in contact with a customer, relationship surveys at periodic intervals to gauge how customers feel about the entirety of their relationship with your company or even collecting and analyzing feedback from social media.

Reading through the information is always enlightening and often humbling. But the real learning comes when you pick up the phone and talk to someone who has provided feedback when you have let them down. This helps make it real and if you have hired the right people, this is where they will make it their mission to do whatever is necessary to ensure that a negative customer experience isn’t repeated. And as I mentioned earlier, this is a moment of truth for your relationship with that customer. Many times they don’t expect to hear back. Make certain they do.

Not only will you find opportunities to improve your service, you will develop the character and the passion of your employees.  Remember that customers like to be heard. When they understand you are working to make improvements based on their feedback, you might just earn a customer’s gratitude and loyalty.

Support ongoing employee development

Among the key items that foster satisfied, loyal and high performing employees is investing in their development. People naturally crave to learn and grow in their jobs and in their lives. Development can be in the form of structured, formal training, informal “brown bag” facilitated training sessions as well as assigning employees to key projects. It should be a part of employee personal development plans.

Once you have taken the time to select the right people and develop a winning culture, it’s much more cost effective to develop your existing workforce than to constantly have to hire new talent, especially in today’s environment of very low unemployment.

Technology changes will demand that employees evolve their skill set. You can either support your employees in their development, and have them serve your customers well, or the best ones will wind up going elsewhere and supporting your competitors.

Your employees are the eyes and ears of your business. The contact they have with customers could be a goldmine of insight to inform your decisions toward maintaining a personalized customer experience strategy. Find them, nurture them and listen to them to propel your company’s customer loyalty.

About the author:
Mike Bickel is Senior Vice President of Global Services and Operations at Verizon Enterprise Solutions. As a member of the VES Executive Leadership team, Mike is responsible for engineering, implementation, operations and lifecycle support for the global enterprise and US Federal Government customer base.