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From Great Service to Amazing Experience
In Experience Economy, a seminal book from management consultants Joseph Pine and James Gilmore talkabout how products have evolved from being simple commodities to being about customer experience. One of the best examples of this is Starbucks. It’s no longer about the the cup of coffee itself, but about delivering a personalized coffee experience.
Two decades later, we’re still focused on differentiating based on experience. Provide a better experience than your competitors and you'll be more successful. The world's most successful companies, no matter their industry, reflect this customer-centric focus in their mission statements. To see this for yourself, just take a quick look at the mission statements of companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway. In these cases, we can see a clear link between a focus on customer experience and revenue.
Beyond the Hyper-Optimized Self-Service Journey
Providing an amazing customer experience means exceeding customer expectations. However, this is often very difficult. Due to a psychological phenomenon called "habituation," people can become accustomed to certain things relatively fast, and these things then become the new normal. Customers now expect a smooth online self-service journey. Even if you fully optimize this journey 3X, people will rapidly become accustomed to it as normal. The cycle continues, which means is not a good long-term strategy for improving customer experience.
In short, exceeding customer expectations requires a different strategy. You need to focus on the customer, which means talking to them as individuals, really understanding what they are trying to do, and then helping them to achieve their goals — not yours. The contact center has an enormous opportunity to fulfill this new role. Contact center agents will no longer be there just to resolve issues, but to help customers with their problems. The aim is to bridge the customer expectation gap and exceed each customer’s expectations.
Your Agents Are Your Influencers
But this will be possible only if your company empowers its employees so that they can help customers throughout their entire journey: across channels, systems, and departments. This is not something that you can achieve with a clever system or a shiny new tool. Your organization will have to rethink how it deals with clients and prospects, and then adjust its internal architecture to do this properly. In this new design, your contact center agents have a pivotal role as your brand ambassadors and influencers.
When launching a new iteration of the self-service journey for customers, your agents will be on hand to help. When a customer has a problem, an agent can work with them to find a solution while at the same time being the feeler of the business to optimize the journey where needed.
So, you need to empower your agents, and that means investing in your employees. This is not just about giving them the right tools but also making sure they have the freedom, skills, and tools to solve each client's problems, even if these do not seem to be aligned directly with your company's goals.
Adrian Swinscoe, the author of PUNK CX, once shared a great story that demonstrates why you should listen to your customers through your agents. As Swinscoe described, a financial services organization going through a service transformation process hired an expensive team of data scientists to analyze its data with the goal of identifying the top 10 customer problems. While they were doing this, somebody had the bright — and simple — idea of just asking a few of the contact center agents what they thought the top 10 customer problems were. Within 30 minutes, the company had its answers.
This shows that changing your organization so that your contact center agents have a key role in enabling better customer experiences is an excellent long-term strategy for your business. Instead of focusing only on your customers, talk to your agents and empower them to make your customers successful.
From Resolving Agent Issues to Fixing Customer Problems
For example, imagine a customer calling an insurance company to file a claim. A naive approach would be to try to optimize the customer experience by providing the smoothest self-service journey that you can imagine. Perhaps you have the world’s most advanced AI chatbot, and it is able to simplify the entire journey for that customer by asking a single question. However, even in this case, you will only MATCH the customer’s expectation.
A customer's problem when filing a claim is often totally different from the issue that the contact center agent thinks they are trying to resolve. The customer is calling because they want help. Investing the time and resources to uncover the customer’s real problem will allow your agents to exceed expectations. For example, customers are not interested in filing insurance claims. If they have crashed their car, all they want is a replacement as quickly as possible.
Empowering your agents to identify a customer’s real problem means giving them freedom to uncover that, but also giving them the right tools to act upon this. Universal co-browsing, which will allow an agent to join a customer no matter where they are in their journey, is one such tool.
Co-browsing allows agents to assist customers across departments or even across company borders. It allows a journey that starts on your claims entry point to end on a random rental car website. In this way, something that started as a problem has ended with a solution. Maybe the customer isn’t even able to complete the claims form at this specific moment. In many companies with KPIs like first-time fix rate, this would be counted as a failure. However, because of the empathy and the freedom of the agent, this customer has been converted into a brand fan and customer for life, which in turn will be reflected in the Net Promoter Score for all to see.