Customer Experience News & Trends

4 biggest obstacles to improving the customer experience

When it comes to improving the customer experience, many companies are all talk, no action. New research shows where they’re failing to put their money where their mouth is.

Nearly every executive agrees that delivering a positive customer experience is critical to the bottom line, according to a new survey by Oracle.

They’re so committed that 93% of the 1,300 executives surveyed said that improving the customer experience is one of their top three priorities in the next two years. And 97% said they believe that delivering a great experience is critical to their business results.

That’s about where the customer experience feel-good optimism stops, though. About 45% admitted they haven’t started a customer experience initiative. Another 35% are just getting started, and only 20% call theirs “advanced.”

So it sounds like execs are talking out both sides of their mouths.

And here’s the kicker: Executives admit that if their businesses don’t offer a positive and consistent customer experience, annual revenues could drop by 20% annually.

Ready, but not quite willing?

So, let’s review: The top brass wants employees to provide a great customer experience, and knows that if they don’t the company will lose money. But many executives aren’t ready or willing to invest in a better experience.

In some ways, who can blame them? Improving the customer experience isn’t just about helping one department provide better customer service. It’s more like an overhaul of company culture, training, operations and processes.

The good news is, some companies have done it with great success. These are the organizations that call their customer experience initiatives “advanced.”

Let’s take a look at the stumbling blocks along the road to better customer experiences and how some companies have overcome them, as well as the best practices behind successful customer experience initiatives.

Obstacle #1: People and processes

Executives admit that their organizational structure can delay or hinder customer experience growth. More than a quarter say their company is filled with silos that don’t allow information and processes to run smoothly, or there are conflicting key performance indicators (KPIs) from department to department that make working together more difficult.

In practice, the obstacles are often people and departments who are territorial about the information or successes they hold. Perhaps they feel threatened that their way of doing things will be disrupted if other areas know how they operate, or they’ll lose status as the “golden child” if other areas or people are able to be part of their successes.

Because the size and complexity of companies and business units can vary so much, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to align people and processes. But two keys help in any situation: Involving all employees from the early stages and constant communication throughout transitioning.

When Brand Developers Limited wanted to improve its customer experience, executives set an outrageous goal and told employees immediately. It was hugely intimidating: double revenue within three years. David Chaulk, COO at the Auckland, New Zealand-based company wanted to get champions for the cause early, which he did via a few sales reps willing to try anything to satisfy customers and help the company succeed. As he communicated regularly where the company was headed, he shared the growing number of successes, which helped them make it half way to the goal in a year.

In the quest to improve the customer experience, the actual experience can suffer. Changes cause things to fall through cracks and information to be inconsistent. That’s why Colleen Crocker, customer service leader, and other department heads at Adams-Columbia Electric in Wisconsin, formed a group with a representative from each department that met at least weekly. They were charged with updating colleagues on where their respective departments stood in the change process and what they were doing that would affect customers and other departments. The group stayed together until the changes were made, the customer experience improved and satisfaction rose.

Obstacle #2: Investments

Customer experience leaders say they can’t get the money or resources they need to do what they know will be effective, and at least a quarter of executives in the Oracle study say they don’t have the funds to allocate to customer experience initiatives (yet, remember most agree that revenue can drop 20% if a great, consistent experience isn’t provided).

The reality is, getting money for any initiative at a business is tough. Whether the funds exist or not, managers need to fight for resources so initiatives that will help the company become more successful and profitable get funded.

Just ask Madelyn Coppley, a director at PCA International, Inc.

Coppley could barely get time with her executive team to pitch her customer experience improvement initiative, much less the actual funds. To get in the door, she asked for just 10 minutes during an executive meeting. She spent two minutes to lay out the initiative. Then she played tapes of three calls when customers clearly weren’t satisfied. She followed with three more recorded calls that were perfect — which were done after the service rep had the training to improve customer experience, the training Coopley was proposing to implement company-wide. Result: Coppley got the funds she needed to overhaul training and improve experiences.

Obstacle #3: Technology

About a quarter of executives cite technology obstacles ranging from

  • limited infrastructure
  • an inability to track performance and customer feedback, and
  • siloed systems that don’t allow them share information, support processes across touch points and view the total customer experience.

That’s a lot to overcome, and fixing it all almost always comes with a major price tag.

But many companies find that they aren’t using all the capabilities of the technology already on hand.

At, information that seemed vital to the customer service experience over time started to clog the customer relationship management (CRM) system. People spent more time navigating the system to find the information they needed than they did giving the information to customers. So the service, sales and marketing groups worked with the company’s vendor to streamline the information and content into pockets of specific issues. Then, more importantly, the vendor retrained the customer-facing employees on how to better navigate the system. They didn’t have to know everything to improve the customer experience. They just needed to know where to find everything.

Obstacle #4: Resistance to change

Almost everyone from the CEO to the janitor is fearful of change once in a while. The path of least resistance is overcrowded with people who shy from change because it’s “easier the way we’ve always done it.”

So it’s no surprise that even when customer experience leaders secure the funding, resources and technology to make small or radical changes, they still struggle to make initiatives work.

The companies that call their customer experience initiatives “advanced” say there are four keys to successfully integrating them with minimal resistance to change:

  • Update the company core values. As many as a third of the advanced businesses rewrote their vision statements to reflect the notion that providing a consistent and appropriate experience to customers is the number one priority. Any core values or missions need to be practiced from the top-down. Employees will only do what they see their bosses do when it comes to the care of and attention to customers. Even better, core values should be backed up by guidelines that cover how each position and department can fulfill the mission.
  • Build a training program that reflects the core values. The core values should be reviewed at regular meetings. Employees should be given specific examples of how they can and have been incorporated into real interactions with customers. Every training topic and session should be focused on at least one core value.
  • Reward employees for contributions to a better customer experience. Leaders and rank-and-file employees should be empowered to recognize each other for extraordinary efforts that affect customers and their satisfaction. Employees will live the core values and provide great experiences if they’re rewarded for the efforts.
  • Implement a specific technology to improve service. A tool that integrates, tracks and remembers all customer interactions across all channels and employees will pay off if it’s properly used, mined and updated.

Organizations don’t need a complete overhaul of company or department values, or a 100-page guidebook on how to deliver great customer experiences. Deborah Davis, VP of customer Management at the former MCI Europe and a veteran customer experience leader, worked with teams to document their best and basic service ideas into just seven “customer commitments” for everyone to learn and practice across all divisions and departments.

For instance, “Make it easy to do business with us” and “Maintain accurate data” were just part of the master plan to “put customers at the center of MCI’s universe.” From there, individuals and departments regularly determined how they could live out the commitments. With that in place, customer satisfaction spiked and loyalty grew.

The fear of the change can also be eased by gathering employees together to explain what you plan to do to improve the customer experience and ask:

  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s our plan in case something goes wrong?
  • Do we have everything in place to make this change a success?

Employees who have a chance to foresee real issues and have a hand in how they’ll be dealt with are far more likely to embrace changes to the customer experience.

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