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Nurture a Remarkable Customer Experience

As seen in the Northern Nevada Business Weekly on Monday, October 12, 2015

What does a good customer experience mean to you? In a time where technology and real-life physical experience are merging at breakneck speeds, the term can seem somewhat elusive.

It can seem even loftier when you’re not running a multi-billion dollar operation with branding experts and marketing gurus at your whim. This is what we hear from our clients every day, but I can tell you a great customer experience is profoundly important, and can be created by businesses of all sizes and industries. The trick isn’t in marketing or gimmicks.

The trick is in getting proactive about your ideal customer experience. It may sound “by the book,” but creating a vision around your CE, then a strategy and action plan to reflect that vision both internally and externally in your organization is the best way to get started. Then it just boils down to taking action.

Considering a recent study by Harris Interactive that tells us 89 percent of consumers would abandon a brand after its first poor experience, a plan for consistent and remarkable customer experiences is paramount for a successful and profitable business as well as to create a positive reputation in your industry.

In honor of Customer Experience Week, let’s dive into a few actionable ways you can start enhancing and systemizing your company’s customer service today.

Improving the customer experience starts with improving the employee experience. It’s much easier to bring a “can-do” attitude to a customer interaction when employees experience this from leaders and co-workers.

NO. 1. IMPROVE THE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE FIRST.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” I couldn’t agree more.

Many organizations want their customer-facing employees to engage with empathy, solutions-orientation, and a cheery disposition, which are generally qualities that most universally would agree foster loyalty and satisfaction among customers. While these are perfectly reasonable and normal expectations, they become extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve when the employee experience is laced with indifference, red-tape, and frustration.

Improving the customer experience starts with improving the employee experience. It’s much easier to bring a “can-do” attitude to a customer interaction when employees experience this from leaders and co-workers.

Action: Brainstorm and write down exactly what you would like your employee experience to be (specifically how you want your employees to feel and think as well as what you want them to do), and then identify one thing you can do immediately to create that experience.

NO. 2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.

This sage advice from Stephen Covey can most definitely be fitted for a remarkable customer experience. Apart from “buy our product or service,” many companies fail to articulate how an ideal customer interaction should look, feel, and sound. They leave it up to common sense or chance for employees to provide an outstanding CE.

The challenge with common sense when crafting a plan? Customer experiences aren’t common sense. In fact, the best customer service providers have extensive training on skills and competencies that generate customer loyalty. Of course, the problem with leaving your plan to chance is just that. There’s a chance it will be awesome and there’s a chance it will be awful.

Action: Define the ideal outcomes for customer interactions. How do you want them to feel after an interaction? What do you want them to think? And, what do you want them to do?

NO. 3. HIRE BEYOND TECHNICAL SKILL.

In the context of customer experience, truly powerful business planning starts with hiring the right people (think Southwest Airlines). The recruiting process should attract people who can deliver the kind of experience promised by your brand. It’s more than hiring for technical skill and attitude. It’s also about strengths (what people do well) and interests (what lights people up).

This goes for internal CE providers as well (we consider those internal positions who hold a responsibility to create positive employee experiences).

Failure to hire the right people is a recipe for disaster when it comes to customer experience.

Action: Look at your ideal outcomes for customer interactions and identify behaviors, attitudes and strengths that employees need to deliver on your ideal CE. Copy all three lists and paste them into your interviewing guide.

NO. 4. REMOVE BARRIERS.

Making it easy for employees to go above and beyond for the customer can create a world of difference when it comes to a CE. In other words: remove barriers. There’s nothing more frustrating than an employee who is not empowered to go above and beyond for a customer. Make it easy for employees to WOW customers through your processes and procedures and watch the change unfold.

Train employees how to make good decisions on behalf of your organization and then get out of the way. When it comes to customer experience, there’s nothing more awesome than an empowered employee who has the ownership and authority to make a customer’s day.

Action: Brainstorm common customer interactions (positive and negative), then have a discussion with your employees about ways they can go above and beyond when faced with these interactions. Make sure to discuss what they need permission for and what they can do on their own.

NO. 5. JUST FACE IT.

There’s nothing worse than interacting with an employee who seems disinterested, especially when an organization’s advertising says “We want your business!” A gap between what is stated and what actually happens is a quick way to erode trust and ruin a customer experience. Surely this doesn’t come as a surprise, but frankly it happens more often than not.

It’s paramount to ensure your employee behaviors support your marketing and branding. If the message is “friendly customer service,” then it’s important that employees are actually being friendly.

Action: Agree on and communicate the meaning of important words that describe your ideal CE as well as what those words should look and feel like to the customer. Communication and clarification with your employees is key!

If your business relies on repeat customers, you are working to build a loyal (not just a transactional) customer base or you’re dedicated to providing the highest and most consistent customer experience you can, these tips will set you in the right direction.

Amber Barnes
Amber Barnes
Amber is a leadership development professional with a heart for helping leaders maximize human performance in the workplace (and beyond.) With over a decade of experience coaching, training and advising leaders, she writes to helps leaders become more effective. Amber highlights common pitfalls, effective (and human) leadership practices as well as "must-knows" for leaders.