Customer Experience News & Trends

6 moves that harm – not help – the customer experience

customer experience

Your efforts to improve the customer experience may actually sabotage it – something that happens in businesses more than many realize. And we’re going to show you some major mistakes you must avoid.

Here’s proof that service is incredibly vital to the customer experience: When service is poor — as in, employees are rude, indifferent or incompetent, almost 70% of customers will leave the company, found a TARP study.

On the flip side, when service is good, customers will seek out a business and spend as much as 10% more because they’re pleased with the experience, found a separate Echo Research study.

Why businesses fail

So why do businesses let customer service slip? Sometimes, they try to do too much.

In other cases, they forget to practice and encourage the basics, because demand can leave employees stressed, processes broken and follow through nearly impossible. The result? Customers get inconsistent experiences.

One mistake here, another one there and little issues start to add up in customers’ minds, until they consider their overall experience a disappointment — and go somewhere else in search of a good experience without ever saying a word.

Seemingly subtle mistakes can turn into relationship-breaking incidents.

Here are six mistakes to avoid — and how some creative companies and their customer service leaders overcame or sidestepped the issues altogether.

1. Overloading customers

You have customers at your door (via the phone or online) with questions, requests and money in hand, so it might seem like a good idea to fill them with as much information as possible, and introduce them to new products or services. After all, they contacted you.

Probably wrong. Offering a balance transfer to someone who just experienced a rate increase won’t likely end well. Talking about a new product with a customer who’s having troubles with an existing one will probably cause more harm than good. Or describing a new service to a customer who is clearly in a hurry will only be met with frustration.

Customers tend to be self-centered. Their only focus when they contact you is to address what they want or need. Once that goal’s met, they might be willing to take on more information but the immediate need must be met first. The timing and circumstances must be perfect to fit more into an experience than what the customer originally intended.

Example: Customer satisfaction dipped significantly for Barclays years ago for a number of reasons, one being that customers were sold products that didn’t fit their needs exactly. That changed when Doug Villone, head of customer experience at Barclays and a team of executives worked to turn around business in the wake of industry scandals and a floundering economy. One of the top things they changed was the service-meets-sales approach. Front-line customer service reps were trained on matching products to individual customer needs and identifying the right time to introduce them. That meant reps only mentioned anything outside customers’ original intent after careful consideration of whether something would work better.

2. Over-processing the experience

In an attempt to provide a consistent experience from contact to contact, or person to person, some companies plan every process, response and anticipated outcome down to the nitty-gritty details. In the end, it makes for a vanilla experience that won’t likely build emotional connections between customers, employees and companies.

The danger starts with calculated scripts and heavily guided processes that minimize front-line service employees’ abilities to personalize experiences and handle the unique emotions and circumstances that surround every interaction.

For legal reasons and safety, you may need to keep some scripts in place. Beyond that, giving front-line service pros a toolbox of approaches and processes will help you avoid customer service mistakes.

Example: Merrill Lynch took the bold step of eliminating all scripts and encouraging reps to have more real conversations with customers. To prepare for the change, Kim Kasin, director of the retirement and benefits contact center, scheduled plenty of continuous training on products, rules and soft skills. She also equipped reps with the most up-to-date knowledge and techniques so they could make every conversation their own — not scripted. It helped them raise customer satisfaction from a decent 93% to an incredible 96%.

3, Automating the experience

We all love technology for the convenience it offers to customers and the potential relief it creates for service reps. But automating every part of a customer experience creates a huge disconnect between customers and the companies they choose to buy from. With limited real connections, customers find it easy to walk away.

Machines don’t smile. Voice recognition doesn’t recognize real feelings. Automated responses don’t always respond the right way.

People do.

So the ideal is to find the right balance between automation and human contact when delivering the customer experience.

Example: Cigna Corporation changed how it handled customer issues to increase the interaction between customers and the company. Essentially, they eliminated a layer of hassle and the potential for things to fall through the cracks. In the past, agents sent customer questions and issues they couldn’t handle to a centralized team who researched and resolved them. Then customers got a call from someone they’d never dealt with who said the situation was resolved.

Eric Galvin, VP of call operations at Cigna, changed that, having single agents handle customer issues from start to finish — personally updating customers along the way. Within 90 days of the simple change, satisfaction rose.

4. Talking like a techie

Even people who aren’t technical geniuses or engineers are guilty of talking like a techie to customers. They often use industry jargon and company words and acronyms when dealing with customers that are exclusive to them and their business. It’s a mistake that makes customers feel dumb and like an outcast.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for reps to not realize customers don’t understand their vocabulary because they’re so used to those around them communicating the same way.

One way to maintain the connection and avoid creating a language disconnect is with a program that makes employees aware of the words to avoid, and even rewards them for using customer language.

Example: Cigna’s Words We Use program. In it agents identify words co-workers should avoid and replacements. For instance, they replaced “claim” and “provider” with “bill” and “doctor,” the words that customers use when they contact the company.

5. Failing to make the right impression

Supposedly, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In reality, you get a chance to make a good impression every time a customer makes contact with you. When employees greet customers with warmth and responsiveness, it reignites the relationship every time they call, email or stop by for a visit.

As small as it seems, the greeting of customers can never be overlooked as a key to creating better customer experiences.

Example: One small bank that operates in several communities in the South took first impressions so seriously, they had employees regularly practice, experiment with and create different ways to greet customers. Tellers would greet customers one way for a week — perhaps like this: “Hello and welcome. What can I do for you today?” The following week, they’d try something different — such as: “It’s nice to see you. How have you been?”

Then it compared the responses it received and how tellers felt transactions turned out. This was all done informally. Tellers often agreed on the best greeting, and many added a personal spin.

6. Appearing sloppy

Sloppiness can be a customer service mistake in a variety of ways. Establishments, offices or personal spaces that look sloppy turn off customers. Sloppy or inaccurate answers irritate customers. Sloppy, delayed responses will be met with frustration and possibly a customer deciding to go elsewhere.

Trust deteriorates quickly as it becomes apparent that businesses are run in a sloppy way or employees are sluggish about their responsibilities and obligations to customers and the employer.

Attention to detail is the first key to avoiding sloppiness. But one nit-picker can’t fix large issues. Support for tidiness and professionalism must be company-wide.

Example: Everyone in Customer Service at Barnes Distribution in Cleveland jumped on board when Christian Heller, senior manager of its North American sales support center, suggested reps tidy up — literally — to improve the customer experience. At that point, customers waited for answers and solutions as reps sifted through piles of information, outdated messes and even some ill-placed junk to find what they needed.

Heller and his team followed Six Sigma guidelines to make their workspace cleaner and safer, and streamline some processes. Reps cleaned out their workspaces and communal areas, and then arranged every work area the same — computer here, phone there, paperwork here, etc. — to create flexible, consistent areas. They also scaled down to two all-in-one devices for printing, faxing and emailing documents, and switched to headsets so they could walk around for those documents as they spoke to customers.

They immediately had a 2% increase in efficiency when they made the change, and it’s increased to 5% over time.

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