The Heady Trip of Customer Experience

The customer experience has adapted (and has been adopted) into many variations. It’s hard to imagine any organization which hasn’t at least explored how to serve its customers better, or else they’re stupid. There are simply too many alternatives and too many channels for today’s smart consumer to just…walk…away.

We read all the time, in media like our sister publication CRM Magazine and the online Destination CRM (excellent publications, by the way) that customer experience management is the key achievement in organizations’ success in capturing and maintaining customer enthusiasm.

But what is it, really? There are sure a lot of opinions, which range from satisfying online interactions to smarter knowledge-based contact agents, and they are all represented in this white paper, in one way or another. But one thing is certain: Most businesses—hell, I’ll say ALL businesses—require a satisfactory relationship with customers to maintain their existence.

And it’s gotten exponentially more complicated. Social media has overturned the customer experience in ways we never could have imagined a few years ago.

Margaret Rouse writes for and manages WhatIs.com, TechTarget’s IT encyclopedia and learning center. She is responsible for building content that helps IT professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. I like the way she puts it: “Customer experiences include not only interactions through traditional channels, such as purchases, customer service requests and call center communications but also, increasingly, through social CRM channels such as Twitter and Facebook. To manage the customer experience, companies need to create a strategy that encompasses all customer touch points across the organization.”

She continues: “According to Bruce Temkin, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research focusing on customer experience, the essence of CEM is treating customers as individuals.” Then Bruce goes on to quote Stanley Marcus, former president and chairman of the board at Neiman-Marcus: “Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” 

Rouse goes on with insightful commentary from Temkin: “Your customers don’t live in spreadsheets; you need to go out and talk to them to understand who they are as people. That is, of course, unless each of your customers is really a 55% female with 2.3 kids who is 48% from a suburb and is 11% hispanic.”

Funny, but true. It’s imperative to drop the data sometimes and look at the people it represents.

The Evolving State of Customer Care

It was enlightening to read the following articles. It had never occurred to me the depth of customer experience management, and the many facets it can take. I wish I had spent more time following this space, because it’s fascinating and challenging at the same time. It’s one of those “blind men and the elephant” kind of things; how you interpret it becomes your personal recognition. The following articles are perfect examples of the variety and richness of the customer experience. It’s quite revealing.

For example, eGain sees the customer experience in terms of multiple touchpoints and channels that need to be equally considered in your customer experience…well, just plain experience.

They write: “Superior customer service remains one of the few differentiators that businesses can sustain over time. The winners in today’s omnichannel environment are the companies that leverage knowledge to empower customers and contact center agents, and provide standout customer experience across channels and touchpoints.

“Unfocused knowledge deployments almost always result in a shallow knowledgebase that is full of holes like Swiss cheese. If users can’t find answers, or receive inadequate or wrong information, they will simply stop using the system.

“Users prefer different ways of searching for information, just as drivers prefer different ways of reaching their destination. Some drive on freeways, others would rather take the scenic route. A GPS-style approach with multiple options to find information dramatically improves knowledge base adoption and ROI. For example, new agents may find it difficult to wade through hundreds of keyword search results, but might fare better if they are guided through a step-by-step dialog, powered by technologies such as case-based reasoning (CBR). CBR can also guide agents and end-customers through interactive customer processes that are compliant with best practices and industry regulations.”

Pretty heady stuff for a solution provider, but that’s the way it is in customer experience management (CEM.) It’s a somewhat nebulous area, not at all like the firm application-driven functions such as financial transactions or repeatable business processes. It’s a little vague and unpredictable, which makes it all the more interesting. To me, anyway.

One of the most common ways to create repeatable customer experiences is to re-use previous successful transactions that apply to the problem at hand. We think of them as “FAQs” (frequently asked questions) that offput the call center agents or the website from repeating the same stuff all the time, and allow them to supply higher value service. Which, by the way, only grows better over time; questions always come, they always get answered, sometimes well, sometimes not as well, admittedly. But many companies rely on FAQs to handle the greatest volume of repeat questions.

As Inbenta puts it, “FAQs prevent the most common, repetitive support tickets from ever being created, however, ‘dynamic FAQs’ take self-service to the next level—typically answering 85% of questions from customers.

“Rather than listing possible answers from keyword searches, dynamic FAQs focus on the natural way people ask questions using natural language processing software that understands how we communicate. Its answers are far more accurate no matter how users form questions and it displays them dynamically so users can go right to the source page for what they’re seeking.

“As a responsive support site, a dynamic FAQ system not only adapts to users from the first moment they arrive, but also provides valuable knowledge about the questions customers ask most.

“The most successful companies have anticipated customers’ needs through product innovation and technology. Today, successful companies recognize the need to apply this standard to customer support and incorporate innovation and technology to its online customer support.”

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