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The last two years of the pandemic have left people longing for closer connections, especially with the brands they choose to engage with. It’s no longer enough to attract them based on brand, product, or price alone. Instead, according to the Zendesk CX Trends 2022 report, more than 60 percent of customers report that they now have higher customer service standards. So clearly, improving customer experience (CX) to unlock a new engine for growth is one of the top priorities for business leaders today.
But something is still holding customer experience-led growth back.
Most people in my circle know that I love everything about customer experience. In particular, I love discovering new tech that empowers businesses in building amazing customer support and seamless customer experiences.
But this will not be a tech-centric read.
Instead, it will be more about a common attitude that I see in organisations when it comes to customer experience. Briefly, it goes something like this:
“Customer experience is a necessary cost of doing business. It’s important, but not important enough to be prioritised as it is not a revenue-generating engine for growth. It’s a cost-centre.”
You will not hear management articulating this explicitly. Rather, this attitude is reflected in the typical decision-making process in board rooms when organisations respond to the challenge of higher customer expectations.
Embracing customer experience as the core of business success
The reality is too many leaders at C-level have yet to embrace the idea of customer experience being at the core of the business. Instead, they view it as a mere cost-centre that has to be reduced as much as possible to maintain efficiency.
If you really think about it, it’s a very narrow, and damaging perspective. It leaves no room for an organisation to reimagine the role of CX. Even worse, it ignores the importance of the human connection in an organisation’s success. The fact is that research shows service agents play a more important role than ever before!
For example, we know from the CX Trends 2022 Report that service agents are no longer just assisting when things go wrong. They’re “stepping in across the entire customer journey—from product discovery to purchase.” It’s thus clear to me that if a company manages to successfully embrace CX as the core of their business, they’ll have a massive opportunity to expand, retain and deepen the customer base with loyal fans.
I have some thoughts on how businesses can start to shift attitudes on CX and make it the centre of their business.
1. Be an employee-first employer
As we all know, customer support is not an easy job. It is a stressful to have to handle customer queries and complaints gracefully with patience. But it gets worse when management fails to treat them with empathy.
No wonder agents feel burned out and undervalued.
I was fortunate to have worked at a company a few years ago that had an employee-first mentality and always led with empathy. Because they had embraced this ‘revolutionary’ idea, I witnessed first-hand that when you put your employees first, they will naturally take care of your customers. It goes beyond respect – it is about making sure they are being taken care of.
This is why I believe empathy-driven innovation is more powerful than product- or tech-led innovation. Don’t get me wrong – efficiency is still important, but it should not come at the expense of human empathy in the workplace. When you cultivate an employee-first, empathetic organisation, it ultimately builds more loyalty in both customers and employees towards the brand.
Without that die-hard loyalty that companies like Apple or Netflix have managed to build (with both employees and customers), it’s challenging for a business to formulate empathetic customer experiences that are sustainable in the long run.
2. Give customer experience a seat at the C-suite table
Too often, I’ve seen customer experience (CX) barely given the recognition they deserve. And even when they are recognised, it’s rarely coming from the C-Suite. Part of the reason is few organisations give CX a seat at the board room.
With no representation at the highest management levels, it can be hard to prioritise CX, effect meaningful change and turn it into something more than a cost-centre. This is why it is important that someone owns the voice of the customer. The CX leader needs to have KPIs that are not tied to dollars and cents, and be able to vouch for CX.
That’s not all. To make sure that CX initiatives become a priority throughout the entire organisation, it is important for companies to start sharing the CX KPIs across other departments.
3. Understand your customers’ expectations thoroughly
Good customer experiences (CX) begin with thorough understanding of your customer journey. What is the customer journey? Think of it as a roadmap detailing how a customer becomes aware of your brand, their interactions with your brand, and expectations at each step of the journey. It also has all the touchpoints – including communication channels – and how customers prefer to be contacted.
With a detailed customer journey, you’ll understand exactly which channels your customers frequent the most, and which ones they don’t. It should also tell you which channels add value to the customers. All this sounds basic, but many businesses just create a customer journey interaction and add channels based on whatever looks most cost-effective. Instead, the CX should take into consideration where a channel adds more value to the customers.
While chatbots or automation can bring a lot of advantages to companies, it is important for companies to remember that customers will continue to expect some level of human interaction.
Automation has its place in the customer journey. However, it is a poor replacement for human interaction via phone or chat (especially in those stages of the journey where the customer expects it).
Your CX is the new core of your business
More than ever, CX is a differentiator and every person in the organization has an important role to play in the CX. It’s thus important that management starts shifting their view of CX as a cost-centre to one where it’s the core of the business. Once this is achieved, you can start to map the customer journey, share CX KPIs across different departments, create CX frameworks, gather feedback and track improvements in your customer support.
At this point, you can leverage tech to empower your customer agents and drive customer experience. For example, a great Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) can unify and streamline cross channel interactions onto one platform for agents to view in one place conveniently. This empowers them to provide a more personalised customer experience.
Tech can be a powerful gamechanger, but if you as a company haven’t done the underlying work to change the mindset, tech won’t save your customer experience. It still needs the human element, i.e. empathy-driven innovation, to drive loyalty in this new business reality, and shift away from the “CX is a cost-centre” mindset.