ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Four Levers for Innovation in Customer Experience

(This article was originally published in The Edge of Service™ newsletter, February 2016)

Three large, black-and-white photos hang on one of my office walls (see below). Together, they provide an amazing perspective on change and progress.

The first is a picture of four children on a beach in France in the early 1900s, looking up in wonder at Louis Blériot’s monoplane (he was the first to cross the English Channel in an airplane). Thirty years later (1930s), those kids could get on a 28-passenger DC-3 and fly across a continent. And thirty years after that (1960s), they could board a 200-seat, jet-powered Boeing 707 and fly to the other side of the world.

  Blériot monoplane            DC-3           Boeing 707

Aviation may or may not be your thing (it’s been an interest of mine for years). But think of any endeavor or industry that interests you; consider how much it is changing. Progress is inevitable. It happens in good economies and bad, in times of peace and war, and often in ways that are subtle—until you look back and see just how profoundly things really do change.

It is no different in the realm of customer service, where advancements are best measured in months rather than decades. In fact, many leaders are whispering concerns about their organizations falling behind in customer service. (And for good reason—studies such as the National Customer Rage Survey suggest customer satisfaction continues to decline overall.)

All of which begs the question: How do you define outstanding customer service? What levers best drive innovation in customer experience? Where should you focus development efforts? Any list is going to be fallible—the late Steve Jobs reminded us that customers don’t know what they want until they see it, use it; then they demand it. That said, there are four areas I am convinced will present enormous opportunities for innovation:

1. Open up access channels. Do you have the right channels to make it easy for your customers to contact you? Are you staffed to meet workloads and respond promptly? Early movers can reap big rewards. In 2010—only six years ago, but still early in the evolution of social media—the U.S. division of Samsung integrated social links into its website, enabling customers to tweet questions to the Samsung team, connect with other users, etc. The results: a 113% increase in Twitter mentions, a 445% increase in Facebook likes, and a 22% increase in time spent on Samsung’s website, among others. Today’s customer service frontier includes text, mobile, advanced self-service, video, and related developments.

2. Listen to your customers. This is so oft-repeated, it almost pains me to write it. But it’s a timeless truth. Consider the classic study at Marriott International that sought to determine which guests would be most likely to return to a Marriott hotel. Of those who had no problems during their stay, 89% were likely to return, with 69% of those who had an unresolved problem likely to return. Interestingly, 94% of those who had problems that were resolved were likely to return. By listening to its customers and acting, Marriott was able to measurably increase loyalty.

3. Listen to your employees. Yep, also oft-repeated, also true, and, unfortunately, also too often neglected in the day-to-day hubbub. Standard Chartered, an Indian bank, got a suggestion from a female banker: staff the branches with more women to cater to the predominantly female customer base. Management gave it a go in New Delhi and Kolkata, and saw revenue over the following two years increase by 127% and 75%, respectively. (See this Harvard Business Review article for Standard Charter and other examples of involving employees in innovation). Also see this recent Contact Center Insider article loaded with tips on how to build an exceptional customer service team.)

4. Think (and act) beyond service. Your customer-facing services provide immediate visibility on the effectiveness of the organization’s products, services and processes. When captured and shared, this intelligence can boost R&D and help every part of the organization improve. Simple example: a company new to this principle discovered that 11% of customer contacts on a niche cleaning product stemmed from a child-proof cap that was hard to remove, often sheering off the spray nozzle; their packaging supplier reengineered the cap, eliminating the contacts and, more importantly, improving the product. Higher-end examples include everything from redesigned marketing to new product categories based on what was learned through service delivery.  

This is an exciting and important time of innovation (and with a full calendar of topics scheduled for Contact Center Insider to keep an eye on). My encouragement is to embrace it!