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Identifying the 5 key things that matter to the customer regardless of industry

Think about the last time you wanted to buy something or resolve an issue.  What do you recall about the experience?  Was it frustrating, mediocre or surprisingly enjoyable?  Customers’ expectations have evolved significantly over the last decade as they have been exposed to different levels of service across a broad range of industries.  Now, when a customer’s needs aren’t met, these poor experiences are likely to be shared immediately over social media. This dissatisfaction often comes from the company not truly understanding their customers and what it means to deliver and effortless experience.

In the long run, customers will benefit when companies take an outside-in perspective when designing products, service and communication channels.  Here are five things companies should do, regardless of industry, to make their customers happy:

Offer products and services that meet their needs

Customers want to have their needs met every time they interact with a company.  Companies should have ongoing efforts to better understand customer needs.  Are their customers happy with their products and services?  If not, companies should explore what needs to change.  Feedback can be easily obtained from customers by asking them via surveys, over the phone or in person while conducting business.  Today, companies have to listen to their customers’ needs and then take the appropriate steps to ensure they continually update their products and services based on valuable feedback.  Companies that follow this practice are able to build customer loyalty.  In Forbes, May 17, 2013 article - Listening to Customers Yields Success, Alan Hall wrote about how Steve Jobs exceled at meeting customers’ needs, “The late Steve Jobs was not only incredibly effective at understanding what people want, but also at innovating and providing a product to meet the needs customers didn’t even know they would have. This unique ability was a huge contributing factor to his success. Consider our appetites for Apple devices, from the Nano to the iPhone to the iPad to the anticipated iTV. Jobs not only knew the current needs and wants of people, but he also possessed the uncanny ability to foresee future wishes.”

Make it easy to find, buy and use those products and service

Customers like conducting business with companies that value their time.  Think about the number of times you have waited on hold to speak with someone when you were short on time.  What about the extensive time you have spent searching on a website that is poorly designed?  An effortless experience begins by making the product/service easy to find, buy and use. But it doesn’t end there.  If you have a very positive experience finding and buying a new product, but then receive poor support after an issue arises, the most recent customer experience is often the one that sticks.  Companies need to ensure they provide excellent service throughout the entire customer journey to keep them coming back. 

Provide channel choices

Telephoning a company and speaking to an agent is still the primary channel used for customer service ( North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2012) ; however, there has been a significant increase in other channels such as websites, instant messaging, chat and Twitter.  Over the last few years, new channels have been introduced and are rapidly becoming more popular with customers.  These include channels like click-to-call, virtual agents and mobile.  How do your parents prefer to interact with companies?  I am guessing it might be different than your preference.  What’s important is that companies understand their customer base and how those customers prefer to find, buy and use their products and services.  If they don’t understand these preferences, customers will likely move to another company that makes it easier for them to interact in their preferred channel. 

Maintain friendly, knowledgeable and empowered service associates

Companies should invest in one of their most important assets – their customer service representatives (CSRs).   CSRs are often the first and only interaction customers have with an organization.  This person can create a strong perception of excellence or ineptitude.  Companies should invest in their employees as well as associated technology so CSRs have the tools and knowledge needed to quickly handle customer inquiries.  Companies can also invest in their employees by building soft skills that include empa¬thy, active listening, a positive outlook, the ability to build rapport and remain composed when dealing with an anger customer.  And finally, we all want to deal with empowered service associates who have the authority to make decisions without placing us on hold or transferring us to a supervisor.  For example, a CSR might give you a credit for a portion of your order if the product didn’t arrive on the promised due date.  Companies that have friendly, knowledgeable and empowered service associates usually have strong customer loyalty.  

Take Southwest Airlines for example.  They were selected for the 2012 Customer Service Hall of Fame by MSN Money.  In the article, they noted “Southwest continues to hail customer service as its most crucial attribute, winning accolades from customers even as other airlines get lambasted. "We hire people who just have big hearts and then give them the right tools to serve the customer," says spokeswoman Brandy King.  That means Southwest execs back their employees' decisions. And they make it a point to broadcast companywide any worker's outstanding customer-service moment, "reminding our employees of the impact they have on their customers," says King.”

Be known, heard, understood and appreciated

It can be very frustrating and time consuming to repeatedly give a company all the information to access your account when you contact them on a frequent basis.  How many times have you provided your information to one person only to be transferred to another department and have to start all over again?  Customer-focused organizations not only automatically pull up a customer’s profile based on the number you called from or the account number you entered, they also have quick access to the contact history across all channels.  This minimizes customer effort which goes back to valuing customers’ time.  The next step is to have CSRs that carefully listen to customer issues, clarify any vague points and then confirm their understanding of the issue.  Most importantly, customer-focused organizations genuinely appreciate each and every customer.

As channels and options for customers continue to broaden, the contact center channel becomes more, not less, important to the overall satisfaction of your customer. It’s critical for successful organizations to take the time to understand their customers and provide support channels that deliver the most effortless experience. Whether in person, online, through a mobile device or on the phone – they expect a consistent and effortless experience - anytime, anywhere.