Want Loyal Customers? Be Sure You See the Big Picture

dna public domainHere are three terms that get kicked around a lot today:

  • Customer service.
  • Customer engagement.
  • Customer experience.

From your perspective, are they all the same, are they distinctive from one another, or are they terms that aren’t exactly the same but do tend to overlap?

Let me suggest that while they relate to one another, you need to appreciate how they differ to make each one “actionable” as you manage your business. For some businesses, customer service is merely – and wrongly – defined as a department or a responsibility that falls on certain employees. When I walk into the local big box home improvement center, I see a customer service department immediately to the left.

Then as I make my way past the shopping carts, a greeter engages me and asks if I need help finding something. The aisles are well signed, so I don’t need help at this point – good signage, by the way, is a component of my “customer experience” while shopping at this store.

Getting help when you need it

I’ve needed to purchase locks in the past and if I buy several, they will re-key them so they can all be opened by the same key – but where’s the hardware person? If I can’t quickly find the person who knows how to do this, the engagement isn’t happening as it should, customer service is being degraded and my overall experience is on a slippery slope to a very bad place.

One more point to make on customer experience: It started when I pulled into the parking lot – for example maybe there are shopping carts all over the place – and it continues through the entire shopping-buying-using process. Customer engagement this time around may have started when I received a newspaper insert listing sale items, among which were my new locks.

The attributes of customer service, engagement and experience will change dramatically between retail, business-to-business, online and brick-and-mortar businesses. You should understand them well enough to be able to take your business and plug it into some kind of narrative like I’ve provided here. At that point you will be able to list actions you can take to improve each one.

Just the FAQs no longer enough

The options for improving in all of these areas are rapidly increasing today. For example, just a few years ago an FAQ page seemed like a fantastic help to an online shopper or website user. Today, discussion forums and “knowledge” databases that cover a much wider variety of topics go far beyond the simple question-and-answer format provided by an FAQ page.

Having highly trained and engaging sales people or well produced video instructions that inform your customers in the best way to use a product or service will reduce or eliminate calls to a customer service center requesting help or a product return number.

What’s in your genes?

Understanding that your company’s customer experience DNA starts at the top is critical. I recently stopped by a favorite New York restaurant in the middle of one of our cold spells there were two tables and I was the only person waiting. One was smaller by the door, the other was a booth located further inside. A little under the weather myself, I requested the booth.

The hostess turned me down. I appealed to the manager who was standing nearby. He said “Sorry.” I left and won’t be back.

The hostess was following her guidance. The manager probably thought he was being polite by offering a “sorry,” but the incident told me that the restaurant’s customer experience DNA needs to improve and perhaps additional training and authority need to be given to the hostess.

Now that I’ve related two scenarios, take some time and compile various narratives that will capture the overall customer experience at your company. Then implement action items that will make you outshine the competition.

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