Monday, January 29, 2007

Understanding Customer Experience

Taking steps to improve customer experience and the bottom line ...

"Anyone who has signed up recently for cell phone service has faced a stern test in trying to figure out the cost of carry-forward minutes versus free calls within a network and how it compares with the cost of such services as push-to-talk, roaming, and messaging. Many, too, have fallen for a rebate offer only to discover that the form they must fill out rivals a home mortgage application in its detail. And then there are automated telephone systems, in which harried consumers navigate a mazelike menu in search of a real-life human being. So little confidence do consumers have in these electronic surrogates that a few weeks after the Web site www.gethuman.com showed how to reach a live person quickly at ten major consumer sites, instructions for more than 400 additional companies had poured in.

An excess of features, baited rebates, and a paucity of the personal touch are all evidence of indifference to what should be a company’s first concern: the quality of customers’ experiences. In the first example, the carrier offered a jumble of phone services in part to discourage comparison shopping and thus price wars. In the second, the company offered a hard-to-obtain rebate to stimulate a purchase. And in the third, the goal was to slash staffing costs, despite soothing claims of 24-hour self-service availability. Unfortunately, such cunning makes for customer experiences that engender regret and then the determination to do business elsewhere.

Customer experience encompasses every aspect of a company’s offering—the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability. Yet few of the people responsible for those things have given sustained thought to how their separate decisions shape customer experience. To the extent they do think about it, they all have different ideas of what customer experience means, and no one more senior oversees everyone’s efforts.

Within product businesses, for example, product development defers to marketing when it comes to customer experience issues, and both usually focus on features and specifications. Operations concerns itself mainly with quality, timeliness, and cost. And customer service personnel tend to concentrate on the unfolding transaction but not its connection to those preceding or following it. Even then, much service is rote: Otherwise, why would service reps ask, as they so often do, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” when they haven’t even dealt with the original reason for the call or visit?

Some companies don’t understand why they should worry about customer experience. Others collect and quantify data on it but don’t circulate the findings. Still others do the measuring and distributing but fail to make anyone responsible for putting the information to use. The extent of the problem has been documented in Bain & Company’s recent survey of the customers of 362 companies. Only 8% of them described their experience as “superior,” yet 80% of the companies surveyed believe that the experience they have been providing is indeed superior. With such a disparity, prospects for improvement are small. But the need is urgent: Consumers have a greater number of choices today than ever before, more complex choices, and more channels through which to pursue them. In such an environment, simple, integrated solutions to problems—not fragmented, burdensome ones—will win the allegiance of the time-pressed consumer. (For more on making the buying process simpler, see James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, “Lean Consumption,” HBR March 2005.) Moreover, in markets that are increasingly global, it is dangerous to assume that a given offering, communication, or other contact will affect faraway consumers the same way it does those at home.

Although few companies have zeroed in on customer experience, many have been trying to measure customer satisfaction and have plenty of data as a result. The problem is that measuring customer satisfaction does not tell anyone how to achieve it. Customer satisfaction is essentially the culmination of a series of customer experiences or, one could say, the net result of the good ones minus the bad ones. It occurs when the gap between customers’ expectations and their subsequent experiences has been closed. To understand how to achieve satisfaction, a company must deconstruct it into its component experiences. Because a great many customer experiences aren’t the direct consequence of the brand’s messages or the company’s actual offerings, a company’s reexamination of its initiatives and choices will not suffice. The customers themselves—that is, the full range and unvarnished reality of their prior experiences, and then the expectations, warm or harsh, those have conjured up—must be monitored and probed.

Such attention to customers requires a closed-loop process in which every function worries about delivering a good experience, and senior management ensures that the offering keeps all those parochial conceptions in balance and thus linked to the bottom line. This article will describe how to create such a process, composed of three kinds of customer monitoring: past patterns, present patterns, and potential patterns. (These patterns can also be referred to by the frequency with which they are measured: persistent, periodic, and pulsed.) By understanding the different purposes and different owners of these three techniques—and how they work together (not contentiously)—a company can turn pipe dreams of customer focus into a real business system."    (Continued via Harvard Business Review)    [Usability Resources]

1 Comments:

Blogger Stigkl said...

Customer Service has long been the sore point for both business and users alike. We have all heard or experienced reps who either have had a bad day or simply put should have chosen an alternative profession, say Pro Boxer. KT Technology see http://www.kioskterminals.eu a European Kiosk Terminal manufacturer has seen the rise of self service and kiosk manufacturing on the uptake. Customers are not always the easiest to tackle, but a machine will do so diligently and unobtrusively without a single snyde comment and the user can walk away a smiling person. I believe that we shall see more and more of these forms of examples to allievate our ever stressful days.

12:38 AM  

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