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Almost all the work that I have undertaken in customer service has started with the simple problem statement ‘Our customer experience is not where we want it to be’.

This is normally followed with an explanation that things have broken down over time – suddenly things seem disjointed, or customer sentiment has just dropped a fraction lower (or a lot) than is tolerable. Leaders have identified they need to make a change to move forward, resulting in the question ‘Where do we start?’

In fact, we can put that question out there in bold and even add CAPITALS because this explains a lot about the challenge with customer experience and customer service. The problem is clear, but the fix isn’t.

Where do we start?

We see a lot of ‘rabbit in headlights’ behaviour – the challenge is too nebulous or too enormous, and this drives a level of inertia.

There is seldom one problem. More frequently, there are many. It is complex and multi-faceted, almost always jumping across organisational divides, often more than once and sometimes even back again! This makes it really challenging for business leaders to work out how they can galvanise their teams and make an impact and deliver a performance shift in customer experience.

To continue the rabbit metaphor, we also have lots of the proverbial rabbit holes to fall down. Often the unhappy path for customers is seldom one issue. Frequently it can turn into a death spiral where the customer hits every poorly defined or broken process the organisation has, multiplying the customer issue and, unfortunately, the size of the complaint.

However, if we look on the bright side, the reverse is also true. Great customer service breeds customer growth and increases revenue at a bunny rate multiplier. Done well, customer service is good for business, builds brand loyalty, retention, and brand advocacy, and that’s why it’s so important to invest in it.

So, where do we start?

Customer experience – let’s talk about the big stuff

Some organisation’s get called out again and again as leaders in providing great customer experiences, and no one should be surprised when I add John Lewis, Virgin and Amazon to this sentence. We need to consider three key factors if we are building a company to breathe the rarefied air of leadership in customer experience.

1. Build products and services that work

OK, it’s not rocket science, but it’s fundamentally important to achieving a great experience for the customer. Things need to work and be simple, intuitive and easy for the customer. Amazon doesn’t claim to deliver a ‘warm fuzzy hug’ for its customers every time they shop. However, it is consistently reliable, and it does what it says it will do efficiently and simply.

Many organisations suffer from executing half-baked products or services that haven’t been fully planned out. Defining and building an end-to-end product experience has been neglected. Suddenly the unhappy path becomes the path where the customers have ‘dropped off a cliff and into the death spiral’. If things continue to go wrong after an initial problem, the complaint and noise surrounding it will amplify at every step, and it will rapidly jump into social media (if it didn’t start there) and/or the CEO’s inbox.

2. Focus on customer culture throughout your organisation

Establishing and nurturing a customer-first culture is one of the best long-term approaches to excel in customer service.

If all parts of the organisation orientate around the customer, it becomes far easier to navigate organisational silos. We then start to move to an organisation norm where every person, team and division is behaving as if they are in a relay race and passing a customer baton to each other. Our chances of developing products and services that work at all levels are accelerated by collaboration across departments. Our people go above and beyond for our customers, celebrate great customer feedback and are rewarded for it.

Sky has the ambition to have the best customer service in the country, and during my time there, this united all parts of the organisation in delivering customer-focused products. A consideration of how every product launch would impact the service organisation was baked into plans.

3. Invest in customer service; it’s where the conversation is happening

Customer service teams are increasingly the only human-to-human contact customers have with your company. How and where that interaction happens defines the customer’s perception of your brand. The customer service strategy, tools, processes and the communication that sit around your service teams make or break that conversation. Customer services that are integrated and have feedback loops built-in will allow the conversations to be carried forward. This accelerates your customer culture.

Frustratingly, these are not simple tasks or actions that we can crack on with. This brings us back to our original question, ‘Where do we start?’.

Some of the answers will depend on the level of maturity the organisation has in orientating around the customer or how big the level of customer dissatisfaction is. The scale of ambition is also a factor that helps to scope the depth and breadth of work.

In our next articles, we start to answer these questions by unpacking the approaches and activities to progress customer experience and service levels.

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Suzie Leckie