We all know the digital revolution has completely transformed the way consumers are interacting with brands, and that a lot of businesses are finding it hard to catch up. One way to closing this brand gap is to understand consumer behaviour and build a brand experience that meets these new needs.
Fostering a customer-centric culture begins with the CEO and should penetrate every staff member’s performance goals whether you’re a B2C or B2B focused organisation, according to one customer expert.
Vice-president of customer experience at Pitney Bowes, Gael Lundeen, leads the software vendor’s dedicated customer experience department, which was established five years ago as a way of fostering specific skills and providing guidance to the rest of the organisation. Its work and metrics stretch across every customer touchpoint, ranging from website portals and call centres to product development.
Pitney Bowes was recently recognised for its measurement of customer experience programs in Forrester Research’s first Outside In Awards, which looked at excellence across planning, creating and managing great customer experiences.
According to the research firm, the six key disciplines in achieving a strong customer approach are corporate strategy, customer understanding, design, measurement, governance and a customer-centric culture.
Lundeen said Pitney Bowes’ ability to include and convert customer practice into actions, as well as apply a measurement ecosystem company-wide, has been crucial to growth. One key decision has been to ensure every staff member has performance goals that relate directly to customer experience and are measured in their annual review.
“Some struggled with that and how their role impacts products, services and so on, but it was a pivotal moment for us,” she said.
“This focus on the voice of the customer gives us breadth across the organisation so people at all levels can see how they are doing in their piece of the customer experience pie. We provide a lot of feedback… and this makes the organisation much more focused on what our clients think.”
The whole organisation needs to buy into customer experience, starting with the CEO, Lundeen continued.
“Within our ecosystem, improving customer loyalty and retention cascades from the top down. For example, we look at the call centre agents and whether they achieved a resolution within the first call and the customer was happy, which then amalgamates up to metrics at the top like net promoter scores.
“You also want to get customer centricity as part of your strategy and orientation, so companies make hiring decisions based on people with customer skills.”
With commoditisation of so many goods and services, and the digital economy putting the customer’s views front and centre, Lundeen also believed products are not the competitive differentiator for many organisations today. Instead, relationships are the best way to drive sales. Those who can recognise, improve and measure customer experience will find a clear cut ROI at the end of the tunnel, she added.
“You can find the value in retained customers, incremental revenues, and achieve higher success rates with new products,” she said. “Another ROI is that it helps lower costs across support channels.”
For Lundeen, an important way of gauging and managing customer experience is through both transactional and relational surveys. While transactional information mobilises the front-line workforce facing customers on a daily basis, relational surveys can highlight things like product support and ease of use, and provide a better view of the organisation as a partner and supplier.
“This information helps at a higher level to be a strategic and trusted partner,” she said. “One thing I would say is a customer who answers a survey is beginning a dialogue with you. You need to have the utmost respect for their view and feedback on what you are doing, and act on that advice.”
If companies are struggling to improve customer experience, it’s usually because they haven’t figured out the business impact of retaining customers or those who buy more, Lundeen said. She also claimed another challenge is that today’s management workforce often hasn’t been trained in balancing operational focus with delivering customer experience.
“These two factors can cause friction with each other. Yet if you can meet the customer experience expectations, then you won’t have to deal with issues like missing delivery targets,” she pointed out.
While agreeing consumer-focused companies like Disney, Starbucks and Apple have traditionally been better at recognising the “people attributes” of their brands, Lundeen also dismissed the idea that this wasn’t as important for B2B organisations too.
“B2B customers have emotional needs too,” she said. “They want to be successful in their jobs, and their relationship with a vendor needs to be about the products and services that are easy to use, add value, and make them more successful. Those are real needs that need to be addressed. I have never bought into B2B being about pure fact-based selling.”
Data is another crucial factor in customer experience and helps organisations understand what’s not only important, but true. However, Lundeen saw value in allowing staff to hear customers express their views verbatim.
“The way they express their frustration and delight often cuts through and it helps to hear what’s happening in a customer’s own voice,” she said. “We do a lot of qualitative and quantitative feedback to gauge this.”
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