Viewing ‘customer service’ Category

Customer Retention is a Shared Responsibility

Seasoned customer experience executives are well aware of the importance high customer retention plays on the impact of brand perception, loyalty, and customer lifetime value. The topic of customer retention continues to gain momentum as we more clearly understand the direct link between customer experience and revenue preservation and growth. Responsibility for customer retention usually falls to the most senior service executive, chief customer officer or sometimes to the marketing chief, but I think responsibility and accountability needs to be shared by leaders across the entire organization.

It’s important that a c-suite member is publicly accountable for overall customer centricity, which includes culture, loyalty and certainly the retention strategy, but spreading accountability across the organization makes good business sense. In my consulting practice, we continually advocate for broader customer accountability because the customer experience is impacted positively or negatively throughout the entire organization. Shared areas of responsibility include branding, pricing, process, policy, technology and, of course, talent… especially customer-facing talent.

Expanding responsibility for the customer experience across the organization is a key component of transforming company culture to one of customer-centricity. It also establishes linkages between departments for shared performance results. Shared responsibility is a powerful prescription that increases teamwork, effectiveness and performance. I’ve noted a few important areas of focus below.

Branding: Understanding what customers expect and want from your product and service is key to meeting expectations and delivering the brand promise. In an earlier post, I mentioned how a company brand is tied more to what customers say to each other than what the company says to customers.  See our blog titled Social Media’s Impact on Customers.

Pricing: Price isn’t the only thing customers consider when making a purchase decision; the price-value relationship is very important. It can be even more important after purchase if the customer experience is not stellar. Service experience can help to avoid buyer’s remorse for those more costly purchases.

Process: There is nothing like a poorly designed process to create a negative customer experience. If you have not taken time to experience your end-to-end customer process from their perspective, I urge you to try it. You will discover aspects of your process that are frustrating, outdated, broken and difficult to navigate. Hopefully this will instill a sense of urgency to review a customer journey mapping process.  For more , read our post on  Customer Journey Mapping, Desitination: Success to understand customer experience process improvement and how to make it easier to do business with your company.

Company Policy: Policies that don’t make sense can be maddening to customers. Think about Best Buy’s policy which requires customers to pick up merchandise at a local retail store after they’ve ordered a product online. Seriously, is that not incredibly inconvenient for customers? Polling your front line call center agents and customers to help you understand broken processes and outdated policies is a most valuable exercise. Prioritize the feedback, organize a team to create a roadmap and change those frustrating policies.

Technology: Technology is meant to enable a process, policy, or make work actions easier and simpler. While this is true much of the time, work process and customer preferences change so frequently that employees and customers find themselves doing “workarounds” or are forced to use technology in a way that makes the service experience more difficult. For example, customers want multiple support channels (email, chat, self service) so you need to provide them. Studies show that companies with multiple channels have better retention and higher levels of purchase.

Talent: Hiring and training the right employees to provide exceptional service experiences is foundational. Beyond that, employees must be engaged and empowered to serve customers, encouraged to innovate and aid leaders to understand customer process that blocks, impedes or hinders a great experience. Leaders must make employee engagement and feedback a priority, resource their improvement recommendations and remove service impediments.

As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Customer Experience Strategy: The Path to Excellence

The single most important focus for any organization is the unrelenting pursuit of superior customer experience, supported by crystal clear strategy and transparent performance accountability at every level.

How do you get there? In this presentation, we thoroughly examine, explore and explain the seven key elements of successful customer experience strategy.


Customer Experience Journey Maps… Destination: Success

Many executives believe they understand their customer and their customers’ experience. In reality, few truly do… and that discrepancy is what leads to customer service breakdowns, less-than-optimal customer experiences, weak customer loyalty and—ultimately—lost revenue and decreased long-term growth.

Customer service and the customer experience have become the competitive battleground for businesses. Nearly 90% of consumers today are ready to stop doing business with a company after just one poor customer service experience. Now, more than ever before, a thorough understanding of the customer experience along with a commitment and culture to support exceptional performance is crucial to a business’s long-term success.

At Lori Carr & Associates, we help organizations analyze and create detailed maps of the customer experience.  Mapping, along with customer and employee interviews, provides companies with a full-service experience composite. There is no greater way to resolve service issues than to map a customer’s complete journey in terms of an organization’s people, process, policies, technology, information and key intersections. Where are the breakdowns that lead to customer frustration? Is your organization hemorrhaging potential revenue because of customer defection AND are you missing crucial cross- and up-selling opportunities that often result in multi-millions of dollars in revenue annually?

Through the development of comprehensive maps that detail a customer’s experience at every touch point with the organization, opportunities for improvement become crystal clear. What are your customers’ functional and emotional needs? How are you meeting—or failing to meet—those needs? How cohesive or disjointed are customers’ experiences across your organization and what will you do about it?

These outside-in maps identify the customer lifecycle experience within every service channel—from phone to online to self-service to social media. Journey maps set the stage to layer key performance metrics and most accountable responsibility around the customer experience, working to ensure internal clarity and accountability at every service stage of the process.  Journey map outcomes also detail highlights and lowlights, and enable leaders to create long- and short-term prioritized roadmaps to optimize the experience, create significant revenue growth and cost reductions while providing consistent, repeatable customer experiences.

It is clear from our work as consultants that many companies are still at the earliest maturity level in providing a superior customer experience, and that achieving higher maturity levels leads to better performance and results like increased retention, more referrals and higher customer spending. Customer experience journey mapping is part of a larger service strategy that enables companies of every size to live up to their brand image, maximize their revenues and optimize costs.  For more information, please contact us at Lori Carr & Associates.

Customer Experience Breakthroughs

In an ever-changing consumer society, one does not need to look far to identify the brands that—despite a turbulent global economy and the myriad of competitors in the marketplace—have managed to achieve outstanding revenue growth by establishing themselves as icons of customer experience. By creating a passionate emphasis on making the customer the center of their organizations, and focusing on service transparency and accountability, companies like Apple and Oracle have propelled themselves to leading not just their prospective categories, but business as a whole.

Focused on creating a loyal customer base, successful companies like these have revamped process and technology, and created detailed maps of the customer experience—allowing them to initiate change to address any or all breakdowns. As a result, they’ve unlocked and materialized unseen revenue and reduced operating costs.  With similar breakthrough service strategies, these results are not only feasible, but 100% attainable for any company.

Without question, every organization strives to provide their product or service in such a way that transcends that of their competitors. However, taking a brand from question mark to benchmark requires more than just intention—it requires vision, action and real change. Apple, for example, created high-level brand recognition by simplifying and adding “fun” and “wow” to the way people interact with technology. Reporting a net profit increase of 94% over last year, Apple has redefined the performance expectation of each category they enter. While their product alone is powerful, in creating a sales and customer service environment that mirrors their technological innovation—catering to the needs of each visitor the moment one walks into one of Apple’s retail outlets—they’ve set the bar for breakthrough customer experience strategy.

Achieving such customer experience strategy requires several key things: innovation, leadership, transparency, performance accountability, and aligning all departments around their impact on the customer experience. Additionally, companies must embrace the practice of aggressive customer data mining. Instilling the practice of collecting the most complete information from existing customers ensures understanding of how to better meet their needs, which maximizes the opportunity for loyalty and referrals. Data mining can also provide a new window of sales opportunities, and the highest potential for revenue gain.

For multinational software purveyor Oracle, higher levels of accountability on all fronts has been key to their results. In maintaining a list of the top dissatisfactions experienced by their customers, high-level executives are given the task of eradicating service experience blocks within a defined window of time. By identifying the most challenging barriers between the provider and consumer, Oracle has instilled a powerful voice within the organization, and vows to address any arising concern along the way.

Customer service leaders like Oracle and Apple implement a series of intuitive practices that create measurable success when applied at any level. This requires the C-suite to reexamine the core values of the organization, and assess whether or not their current practices are a direct reflection of their customer-focused initiatives. This is a process that Doug Meyer, the Chief Customer Officer tasked with improving business performance of global software developer Sage North America swears by, stating that the importance of putting an increased focus on providing a superior customer experience has always been a big part of Sage’s DNA. Quite simply: “Happy and loyal customers create more happy and loyal customers.”

Retention + Referrals = Loyalty Growth

The revenue potential of implementing such breakthrough customer experience strategy is tremendous. For instance, DELL reported a 20% decrease in customer support costs after listening to their customers.  Additionally, electronics manufacturer Panasonic found that their most loyal customers were five times more likely to repurchase from the brand, and that further satisfying each tier to create loyalty amounted to a staggering gain of $33.3 million in annual incremental gain. Simply put, repositioning company initiatives to be further aligned with customer needs creates monumental gain.

We are well versed in assisting companies to define and achieve breakthrough service results and realize their value proposition. Identifying these core ideals allows our clients to further connect with their consumers, and maximize on both new and existing profitable ventures. For more information, please contact us at Lori Carr & Associates.

Using Customer Experience Capability Maturity Models to affect Customer Experience Change

As companies increasingly recognize the criticality of the customer experience in achieving long-term growth and revenues, the decades-old Capability Maturity Modeling methodology is being adapted to customer experience functions or process. Like other pioneers in Customer Experience Maturity Modeling (CEMM) we find that many companies are still at the earliest maturity level as it relates to customer experience, and that achieving higher maturity levels leads to higher performance and results like longer retention, more referrals and higher customer spending.

The original Capability Maturity Modeling was developed in 1984 by Carnegie Melon University for the U.S. Department of Defense to evaluate contractors and, ultimately, improve performance and ROI. Like that gold-standard Capability Maturity Modeling, CEMM uses a set of structured levels to describe how well the behaviors, practices and processes of an organization can reliably and sustainably produce required outcomes in the customer experience process. Focusing on deepening customer insight, strengthening customer interaction and improving marketing performance, CEMM results can be used to understand and compare a company’s current customer experience maturity in these specific areas with leader board companies within or outside a company’s industry. Other areas to measure capability maturity include service process, technology, talent and information to name a few. Understanding information and using it to make iterative or leap frog change to reach a higher level of maturity and improved outcomes is the goal.

Capability maturity ranges from the first level—Chaotic—where processes are undocumented and reactive; through to the fifth level—Optimized—where processes are defined, documented and adaptable to particular outcomes or projects; and the focus in on continually improving process performance. Research by SAS shows that companies with a high level of customer experience maturity are more likely to outperform their key competitors. A higher percent of those companies executing a strong CEMM strategy report a competitive advantage versus those whose CE strategy is weak. Customer experience capabilities, combined with a strategy to use them effectively, significantly improves a company’s competitive advantage. Products and price are commodities; in today’s experience environment, service is the key differentiator.

However, few companies have key capabilities in all the right areas to enable the creation of customer experiences in response to their preferences, analyzing behavior to understand customers preferences, linking customer attitudes and perceptions to purchase behavior, aligning customer metrics to employee incentive programs, and measuring employee performance against customer metrics.

At Lori Carr & Associates, we utilize CEMM processes to improve performance across the entire customer experience by identifying organizational gaps that inhibit an exemplary, consistent and repeatable customer process. From there, we define change initiatives and develop roadmaps to support changes, based on a clearly defined vision statement and planning process. We implement roadmap initiatives over time to achieve increasing maturity levels through cultural and process change and, as such, create an increasingly positive customer experience.

Call us to discuss how we can similarly lead your organizations in implementing CMM to achieve performance goals across your end-to-end customer experience.

Marketing & Customer Service are Critical to Healthcare Revenue Growth

While marketing and customer service have long been critical components in the success of any business, few industries have had to overhaul their processes to implement both as quickly—and so publicly—as hospitals and health systems have in the past decade.

Historically, hospitals relied on superior medical technologies to attract better physicians who would, in turn, bring in new patients. A myriad of changes—from insurance overhauls to a societal shift toward superior customer service expectations—has forced hospitals and health systems to drastically change their business models in order to remain competitive, grow revenues and attract new valuable patients.

As noted by USA Today many hospitals are adopting marketing and customer service strategies used for decades by the retail, travel and communications industries and, as a result, attracting higher-paying and loyal customers. Using their patients’ health and financial records—along with detailed information from consumer marketing firms—hospitals are conducting targeted marketing to attract new patients, save lives and grow revenue.

St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis, for example, uses patient data to personalize mailings with an individual’s name and a picture of someone of similar age or gender. It is more expensive, but the strategy results in better response rates. From October 2010 through July 2011, St. Anthony’s spent $25,000 on a targeted mailing to 40,000 women for mammogram screenings. The letters led 1,000 women to get the test, which generated $530,000 in revenue from screenings, biopsies and other related services

At Lori Carr & Associates we’ve worked with several health systems that are clearly and quantifiably proving marketing ROI with such activities, leading to significant revenue growth and brand recognition. Our areas of focus include preparing health system call centers to effectively handle a marketing campaign’s call to action, identifying cross selling and up-selling opportunities among new and existing patients, and new patient conversions. Also, because a positive customer experience is vital to converting these marketing efforts into long-term growth, we overhaul processes to create a culture of service excellence.

That excellence in customer service has ramifications not only in attracting new patients but, also, starting next year will directly impact insurance payments for clinical care. Medicare will use patient satisfaction scores to determine nearly one-third of the performance-based pay hospitals will receive. Private health insurers are following suit. From delivering Emergency Room wait times to cell phones to minimize inconvenience for patients, to VIP suites to gourmet food and valet parking, hospitals across the country are responding by implementing customer service amenities and strategies.

While marketing efforts may bring a new patient to a hospital, if that patient does not encounter seamless service after their initial encounter, that opportunity is lost. For example, does the patient receive a clear instruction on next steps? When that patient calls for follow up procedures as suggested, is there a clear channel of service, or are they passed around to various departments—ultimately ending in frustration. Is there a defined, customer-friendly process for booking appointments and facilitating payment? Is staff trained properly to cross and up sell services?

The bigger a health system, the more opportunities there are for disconnections among departments. We work with hospitals and health systems to ensure a seamless customer service experience supported by a cultural and organizational shift that puts the customer experience at the center of the entire organization.

Inspirational Innovator: Virgin Group’s Richard Branson

While everyone knows stories about young ambition that turns to corporate success, there is no story more captivating and grand than that of Richard Branson. As a child, the now Chairman of Virgin Group (which encompasses music, books, airlines, mobile phones, trains, consumer electronics, commercial spaceflight, to name a few) saw markets of untapped potential across numerous sectors, but pioneered his vision with the installment of Virgin; a mail-order music store in London. By age 23, the Virgin Store had become Virgin Records, and its first album release boasted over 5 million copies sold.

As time would progress, Branson would continue to add iconic names to the Virgin Records label and build upon the success of the company as it went public. However, Branson’s innovative style of leadership wasn’t necessarily compatible with traditional investors. In turn, Branson would end up selling off Virgin Records to Thorn-EMI in an effort to regain control over his company. His next venture would be the world of air travel. By offering a hip, new and engaging way to travel, Virgin Atlantic has attracted a younger clientele on an airline that pays homage to the days when air travel was sexy and sophisticated, as made evident from their 2011 ad campaign.

In his biography, Branson states that:

“For me business is not about wearing suits, or keeping stockholders pleased. It’s about being true to yourself, your ideas and focusing on the essentials”

Adhering to this principle, the airline division of the Virgin Group does not rest solely on the laurels of their brand image alone, but also ensures a customer service experience that is second to none. With the installment of 52 state-of-the-art classrooms at their Customer Service Training Facility as well as auditoriums, employees are kept up to date on practices that are the benchmark of industry standard. What is truly unique about this program, though, is that it is offered to customers, as well. This level of transparency is a key factor in the success of the brand as a whole, and allows it to build upon an already stellar reputation for excellence.

“In today’s climate where every customer service provider is under pressure, we appreciate the importance of building lasting, valuable relationships with both our internal and external customers.”

It is this mentality that has routinely earned Richard Branson accolades not only for his airline, but across numerous segments with the creation of each new product or service. Branson is also no stranger to sharing his voice on both sides of the operations, and routinely engages customers through his own personal social media efforts of Twitter and his personal blog.

For his ability to focus on the customer desires and selling a lifestyle as opposed to a product, Richard Branson is our Inspirational Innovator this month.

Inspirational Innovator: The Chief Customer Officer Council

Since its inception in 2008, the Chief Customer Officer Council has been the sounding board for individuals in customer service leadership roles across the globe. The position of Chief Customer Officer (CCO) is relatively new and innovative in its own right, making customer service strategy a priority at all levels of a company. The CCO Council serves to support and inspire those CCOs in their quest for superior customer service. This was the concept that lead Curtis Bingham—Founder of the CCO Council—to create a forum where individuals serving in CCO roles could exchange ideas that maximize not only the productivity of their firms, but also their understanding of consumers as a whole, allowing them to unlock new and unique ways to reach them. Today, the CCO Council has become a resource that is widely recognized and highly regarded among CCOs at brands like Oracle, Microsoft, Merck & Rosetta Stone (to name a few), who implement customer service strategies that originate here.

The common thread that binds the numerous members of the CCO Council is the amount of time saved by avoiding the trial & error phase often associated with the execution of new customer service strategies. Within the council, members contribute to a unique peer-to-peer exchange with other members in an effort to resolve “chronic customer issues, create sustainable competitive advantage, help retain profitable customers, and drive profitable customer behavior through the effective customer strategy.” The CCO Council has proven its worth to the numerous customer-conscious companies who realize not only the benefit in creating a CCO position, but implementing fresh and innovative business solutions.

The CCO Council also provides countless useful resources for non-members, and sheds light on to topics such as customer vulnerability to competitors, building and maintaining customer loyalty, as well as customer advocacy solutions from highly recognized members of the organization.

For its work to support and further develop the role of the Chief Customer Officer by serving as a resource and providing a sounding board for CCOs around the world, the CCO Council joins our list of Inspirational Innovators.

Click here to learn more about the critical role of Chief Customer Officers in organizations.

Chief Customer Officer: A Key Corporate Strategy to Brand Leadership

I believe that, along with business value and price, service excellence is absolutely key to customer acquisition, retention, expansion, and loyalty; and a company’s bottom line. Service experiences that exceed expectations keep customers happy about the company, drive continued and expanded product purchases and – perhaps most important – keep customers talking about their great experience. I would go as far as to say: companies that create legendary service experiences for their customers stay in business longer, create sustainably higher revenues within their industry, and command “leader board” status among competitors. Enter, the
Chief Customer Officer (CCO).

Successful customer executives (CCO/Executives) understand that keeping customers for a lifetime can create staggering value for a company. Companies like USAA, Oracle, Nationwide Insurance, Dunkin Brands and Jet Blue–to name just a few–have hired Chief Customer Executives. They are all very aware of the value that exceptional customer service strategies have on their success. Despite the differences among these companies, they have some things in common. In addition to evangelistic customer commitment led by their service executives, they emphasize employee loyalty by creating great working environments and employee perks. Senior management is consistently involved in the service process: logging hours on the front lines, listening in on phone conversations with customers in the call center, and working alongside staffers.

Service executives envision and articulate a clear service strategy throughout the company and focus on ways to streamline and simplify customer-facing process. They ensure that the voice of the customer is not only heard, but that change is made to improve the service experience based on direct customer insights.

Service executives work tirelessly to influence their peers – other functional senior leaders in the company – to understand and affect service experience change across their organizations. Focused, coordinated change results in measurable business impacts for the company.

Given current economic challenges and complexity, and the critical need to “hold and expand” current customers, Chief Customer Officers are looking for leap-frog change forward, rather than a slow and more iterative approach. These customer service executives understand that companies that focus on innovative customer strategies dominate their respective industries.

Click here to view our presentation on the Chief Customer Officer.

Social Media’s Impact on Customers

Support channel preferences are changing rapidly and social media is making a huge impact on service and branding strategy.  New generations are clear on how they want to buy and seek product support, and their desires are changing the way you interact with customers. Today, social networking is a key component in formulating a service strategy.  Leading social media technologies, like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, YouTube and LinkedIn, are becoming the top channel choice for communicating with the current generation.

The customer experience is inextricably linked to brand experience, and both are key to company success.  This is true even more so now because the speed at which a customer’s experience is shared using social networks sets the perception for hundreds of thousands of prospective buyers immediately.  See our recent post on Greatest Customer Story Ever Told where a popular restaurant chain gleaned $800k in earned media coverage by responding to just one prospective customer’s Tweet in a very unique way. The story went viral and was viewed by millions of people within days. Imagine an impact like that from just one initial Tweet from a prospective customer and a savvy response from this very fortunate (and smart) company.

Social networking creates interactive communities that enable people to support and inform each on an ongoing basis.  Take a look at the company-wide social strategy Best Buy deployed with their Twelpforce initiative.  Best Buy encourages all 2,600 of their Twelpforce employees to “engage” with customers and create a superior experience.

Social media plays a key role in how customers discover, research and share information about products and services.  In various studies on consumer buying, research shows that nearly 65% of consumers list customer ratings as their preferred source of information when purchasing products and services.  Customers who have a great or a poor experience use social media to spread the word to very large audiences instantly AND prospective customers use this information to decide whether or not to purchase your products.

Social media can transform the perceived customer experience for a company literally overnight.  That scenario cuts both ways though, and if you are not responding in a genuine and effective way to resolve customer inquiries, you can tarnish your brand experience just as quickly.  If customers use social media to say great things about you, your revenues grow faster, they grow higher, and customers stay more loyal to you.  Period.

The way you interact with customers and your ability to provide an exemplary customer service experience has never been more important to the future of your business.  If you don’t have a social networking service strategy and presence today, you’ll need to build one because your competitors are and you are losing business to them.

For more information on how to define your customer service strategy, contact Lori Carr & Associates today.