Five Secrets to Delivering Exceptional Customer Service

In today's economy, consumers are more demanding and more sophisticated than at any time in history. A challenging combination of tighter wallets, new and evolving information channels, and rising customer expectations have created a complex consumer landscape that tests the ability of even the most seasoned chief customer experience officer.

Gary Qualls, Vice President, Business and Operations Development at DIRECTV; Neff Hudson, Assistant Vice President, Emerging Channels at USAA; David Mingle, Senior Director of Customer Loyalty at Nissan North America, Inc; and Nancy Porte, Vice President of Customer Experience at Vovici, a Verint Company, addressed a series of the most critical topics in customer experience at a recent event for Chief Customer Experience Officers hosted by Consero Group. In doing so, they flagged trouble areas, as well as provided valuable guidance to their corporate peers on how to handle them most effectively. Here are a few of their most valuable tips:

1. You must unify the experience among all channels. A global business interacts today with its customers through a variety of mechanisms, including in person, by phone, by mail, and of course through a wide number of Internet resources. To maximize customer experience, you must ensure that all communication, from every source, is harmonious. If customer service representatives in your store do not present a message consistent with their peers on live chat, customers may be confused at best or frustrated at worst. With a consistent message through every channel on topics ranging from return policies to product support, you can give your company the best chance at continuously satisfied customers.

2. Cultivate peer-to-peer communities. In an ideal world, customers would always come straight to the company with questions or concerns about its products and services. But the reality is that customers rely on a host of sources for information about the companies with which they interact. And among their most trusted of these are their peers. For this reason, make an effort to cultivate peer-to-peer group that enable customer interaction, helping customers to rely on one another for information. Not only will this give your customer experience team more capacity, but it lets satisfied customers share positive feedback about their experiences. Some companies hesitate to support such communities out of fear of criticism. But seeing negative feedback provides a useful opportunity to respond to concerns that might otherwise go unaddressed.

3. Use data to identify consumers who love your brand. It is vitally important to know your customers--particularly those who are most loyal to your brand. Identifying such customers provides an opportunity to express your appreciation to strengthen the relationship, as well as to pitch additional products in a more efficient way. However, it also provides an opportunity to ensure that you provide optimal service to an audience that has developed a higher set of expectations of your great brand. To do this, you must collect and analyze data. Look for the obvious inputs like sales volume and purchasing frequency, but don't neglect social media data, such as positive Likes and Tweets. With this data, you can ensure that you deliver the higher level of service that your best customers expect, and perhaps even enhance those relationships.

4. Strive to migrate passive customers to promoter customers. Nothing is quite as powerful as a testimonial by a satisfied customer. Although you may have plenty of happy customers who would be willing to recommend your products or services, some may be disinclined to take the first step toward public praise of your brand. There is great value in converting these satisfied but passive customers into promoters. To that end, spend some time on creative strategies to entice potential cheerleaders, including user-friendly customer forums, personalized requests for testimonials, and a public announcement of the value of recommendations to the business. And of course be sure to thank those customers; letting them know the importance of their recommendation will help them become even more invested in your brand.

5. Get customer feedback to product development. Customers will not pay for what they do not want. It is therefore critical to the business that you understand what customers think about your products and services, and what if any changes they might like to see. Existing customers offer the equivalent of a perpetual focus group, which can provide invaluable insight into how to improve your offerings. Take advantage of this resource to determine what customers want, and then once you find out, send that valuable information directly to your product development team. Armed with that information, product development will be well positioned to enhance the product in ways that directly serve customer interests, which is the fastest track to better sales.

Customer experience lies at the heart of a corporation's performance, and the risks to neglecting it are great. By following the above guidance, you can improve the way you manage your Customer Experience function, and give your business a great shot at standing out in powerful way.