Your instinct, when you’re starting out on the journey toward customer-centricity, is likely to be to pursue all opportunities for improvement, all at once. The problem, inevitably, is that a focus on “all” opportunities for improvement is basically synonymous with “nothing in particular.” So, when I start a customer-centricity or customer experience improvement initiative with a client company, I suggest they initially limit their scope. You can do the same by keeping your initial focus on a limited number of areas. Here are three, each of which has a significant upside once addressed.
1. Customer pain points: the aspects of your product, processes, and business model that stand in the way of customers enjoying what you offer. To discover these, live the customer’s experience to the extent you can: Try to get a response from your company via your own webforms—does anyone respond? (I’ll bet you they don’t, or not in time to help with a buying decision.) Are there barriers getting through your voice jail? Or physically getting into your building? (I call this principle, in fact, “park where your customers park” for this reason.)
2. How you handle customer conflict and disappointment. Many organizations handle the good times just fine, but struggle when faced with frustrated, upset, even angry customers. That’s why every great customer-centric company makes sure to implement a service recovery framework that employees can be trained on before they’re faced (or on the phone with) an upset customer.
Marriott’s service recovery framework spells LEARN; Starbucks’ memorably spells LATTE, and the service recovery framework on which I train my clients spells MAMA (and comes with my promise that if you diligently learn the MAMA method ahead of time, the next time they’re working with an upset customer they won’t feel tempted to fall on the floor in a fetal position and call out, “Mama, help me!”) [Resource for readers: if you’d like a free copy of the MAMA customer service recovery framework, email me at email@example.com and I’ll send it right away.]
3. Your customer service style, including the language that you use: Service style (or another great word is “texture”) is the small stuff that is easy to overlook: how customers react to finishes, lighting, scents, fontography… everything that is, or isn’t, giving customers the feeling that this is “their” brand.
Above nearly all else, language is a key part of getting this right. In fact, If you haven’t given much thought to selecting your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.
No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. Which is why, when I’m consulting with an organization on increasing its customer centricity, one of the first pieces of work I suggest we do together is focus on achieving a consistent and comfortable style of service speech.
A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.
Happily, ‘‘engineering’’ a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, it can be a relatively easy sell companywide.
Author • Forbes Senior Contributor • Customer Service Consultant
President and CEO, Four Aces Inc.
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