Donna Peeples is a customer experience strategist, speaker and founder of consulting firm Motivated, Inc. Her previous executive roles include chief customer experience officer at AIG, Global CMO at United Guaranty Corporation and VP and CMO at AGL Resources.
UnboundID: How tough is it for large companies to link customer experience strategies to revenues and profits?
Peeples: There is such urgency in quarterly results and earnings per share that it’s hard to focus on long-term initiatives like customer experience. There’s also a disconnect because the metrics that customer service organizations tend to use are typically net promoter scores (NPS). It’s hard for the CFO to connect revenues to a net promoter or customer satisfaction score. Customer satisfaction is worthless; it’s loyalty that is priceless. You’ve got to boil it down to measures that you can quantify such as customer retention and customer acquisition. To do this, people have to agree on the starting point. Start with the baseline of your customer count for instance, which most companies can do. If you can measure that by channel, you are ahead of the game because that is not easy. Unfortunately, the more complex and large the marketing program, the more outputs and moving parts you’ve got to track. Customer experience seems so nebulous but if you are thinking about this correctly every step of the journey matters. The challenge is connecting the dots across all of these internal silos to understand it.
UnboundID: Which customer experience strategies are driving real business value right now?
Peeples: I think there are three that matter the most right now. First is the organizational framework which allows for clear accountability for the customer experience. In reality the internal handoffs are not clear, which means no one is ultimately responsible. Having a chief customer officer is a very strategic move; it puts a stake in the ground for valuing customer experience. Companies should also incorporate an employee engagement strategy into this work, because it’s the employees who are engaging with customers and they need the right tools, training and incentives to drive desired behaviors. Secondly, it’s important to agree on what the company is going to measure and to bring in closed loop feedback for analytics. It’s not hard to measure, but the trick is what you do with the data later, to improve or change tactics if needed.
Third, is what I will call connecting the dots. For example, the CSR has a lot of tools and screens to consult for decision-making. That can be a big enabler, yet at the same time, a big detractor. This also hurts the customer. When they call in with a question, they provide their account information, yet the agent can’t always help them or they have to call back and start from the beginning with someone else. Employees can’t see past interactions with the customer to help them without hassle, because the various operational systems aren’t integrated. That creates a vicious cycle of customer dissatisfaction. There is nothing sexy about these administrative systems, but they are the backbone that must be in place before you can even think about embarking on mobile apps or any of the fun stuff. The reality is that customers are looking for a simple answer.
UnboundID: How has customer loyalty changed in recent years, and how would you advise a large client in a consumer-facing business to approach it today?
Peeples: On the positive side, industry has woken up and seen that there is true value in loyal customers. It’s cheaper to serve them because they buy more, they are more profitable, and they are reducing acquisition costs needed to attain new customers. Companies have been investing a lot recently in developing personas and segmenting customers based on those who will deliver the greatest return and have a lower cost to serve. Then, it’s important to treat those high-value customers very well. It’s not always about the coupon or discount. Companies should be looking for ways to create inflection points that bring value to us as individuals. These are benefits that are less transactional and more around developing a long-term, positive relationship. The companies that are doing quite well at this are Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton, and a lot of this is done through employee engagement. It’s pleasant to do business with these companies because of their customer service and their people. I think that companies that hire for the characteristics and behaviors which engender loyalty will go far because increasingly consumers care less about what they’re getting and more about their experience with a company.
UnboundID: What are the most important components of a technology foundation for supporting excellent customer experiences?
Peeples: First, we should be thinking about this from the perspective that technology serves to enhance the customer experience, not create it. There are several elements to technology requirements, from the consumer-facing technology to the CRM and sales management tools and then the financial systems that connect the dots from marketing to revenues. Enterprise feedback management software is also important to incorporate social data back into the marketing and sales systems, which gives a more accurate picture of customers and sentiment. Finally, of course, there is the need for strong identity management and security systems. Every day we hear about personal data being breached or stolen somewhere and it makes you wonder, is anything secure? It’s an enormous challenge for any IT group to stay ahead of the hackers.
Customers measure their experiences on the horizontal. Daily interactions with nimble and evolving digital leaders like Google, Facebook, and the Starbucks app set expectations for how brands in all industries need to connect with customers. Businesses more than ever, need to become more agile in process and technology, so they can focus on customer needs and how they want to connect.
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