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Is Your Customer Service Experience Superficial?

The other day I heard a story about a friend's recent experience with an energy services company. It got me thinking about the impact of a "superficial" or "surface level" customer service.
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The other day I heard a story about a friend's recent experience with an energy services company. It got me thinking about the impact of a "superficial" or "surface level" customer service experience strategy and how applied experience design thinking could help in the design of cohesive service experiences.

Why is this important? Well, just as we have seen a rise (and expectation) of phenomenal design, the customer service experience is now becoming even more of a differentiator for customers making choices. With contact centers being seen as engagement centers and designing a customer service roadmap as important as a product roadmap, this area is prime for experience design thinking.

First, a slimmed down version of what was a very long conversation -- just enough for you to get the gist of the experience.

The Experience

The customer was having issues with their heating. They called the company they had always used for years and years. The engineer came, did their work, completed some work with the fuse (you will see why this is important soon), explained how he had fixed the problem, quickly had their work effort report signed for satisfaction and left.

Later, it appeared that the problem was not solved. A second engineer was called out. They came and did some work, fixed the fuse issue, wrote up their report, had it signed and left. On leaving, the engineer said "if you have any more issues please give me a call directly." He handed over a card with his personal mobile number on it.

Again, a couple of days passed and there looked to be an issue still so the customer called the engineer back, as he had been told to do. They got through to voicemail and so left a message. The engineer never got back to them.

2 more days passed so the customer then called the Customer Care number and got through to a field manager. They had an inkling that the problem was something to do with the fuse, however the manager they got through to kept saying "there was no fuse work in the report" so it couldn't be that.

The customer remembered that both engineers had worked on the fuse so they looked back at the reports the engineers had given them. They found that the first engineer had not written that part out, but the second one had.

They called back again and got to the field manager on their case, who finally said that he could see it on the 2nd report and so would take full responsibility for the issues. He gave the customer a number for an engineer to call to make an appointment to fix it.

At this time the customer asked for a letter stating that it was the field manager's responsibility, as he had stated, so they would have this for their own records. The manager said that certainly he would send a letter after everything was fixed and the customer was happy with everything. This seemed odd, as taking responsibility was nothing to do with the problem being fixed from a timing perspective. The customer realized the manager wanted them to sign paperwork saying they were satisfied so that they couldn't be held responsible -- but what happened if it broke again? How could they trust the work done?

The Outcome

Despite having used this company for years, after the rework was completed and the original problem was fully resolved, the customer switched. The next time they needed services -- which happened only 3 weeks later -- they went to another company.

What Can We Learn From This Costumer Experience Story?

While this is (hopefully) an extreme case. There are a few things this story reminds us to keep in the forefront of our mind.

Loyalty - Does not necessarily have anything to do with time anymore. With ever-changing expectations and the accessibility of other options, users are much more likely to switch, even after several years. The connected world we live in allows information to be accessed from anywhere in an instant. It is very easy to switch company or product, without investing nearly as much time and effort as before. As a result, it is now the experience you provide which is key to obtaining and retaining customers, and ultimately, encouraging loyalty.

Trust - Customers need to trust their providers -- from the product doing what it says it will, to a guarantee that the situation will be fixed if there are any problems. In the case outlined above, the manager stated that they would take responsibility but then would not send a letter without the caveat of the customer first stating that they were satisfied, creating an air of untrustworthiness. In the customer's words, it felt like the company were trying to "get one over" on them.

Even your tools and back-end processes can be impactful to the customer - In this example, the fact that the information entered by the engineer wasn't correct was revealed to the customer. While back-end systems are not necessarily always noticed or seen, the impacts may be felt directly by your customer throughout their interaction, especially when things don't quite match up.

Power of consumer knowledge - The moment something happens everyone now knows about it -- for many conversations, tweets, and meetings to come. The story of your customer's experience lives on far beyond your customer satisfaction survey and can impact future customer perception before they even consider your company an option. Since the advent of social reviews and the rise of a connected world, "word of mouth" has become exponentially more far-reaching. We can see this here, as the customer told plenty of people about their horrible experience in several conversations for days to come.

Measure correctly - Businesses run on measures, but in this example, time to resolve hurt the overall experience. The engineer sacrificed writing a complete report of service to get on faster. While time to resolve is incredibly important, balancing all your customer's measures is what creates a great experience and counts for everything in encouraging repeat business.

Use of data - Having systems in place that can draw you a total picture of your customer's experience is a fantastic way to ensure that you provide a personalized and cohesive experience. However, these measures need to be used correctly if they are to support an interaction experience in the best way possible. Data alone is not enough -- it is how you use that data that will count. Furthermore, ticket detail is dependent on the quality of information filed, which is affected by what measures you have in place... see how this is all connected?

How to Avoid Superficial Experiences

Customer service experience encompasses all the interactions that your customer will have with your company. This is in turn impacted by the total ecosystem -- tools, metrics, people and process.

Above, we have a great example of a superficial service experience. The company had obviously worked on the engineer face-to-face experience. The engineers had been told to offer ongoing help and to say "if you have any problems, do not hesitate to call directly." They even provided a direct number so the experience felt more personalized -- great! So the customer has a direct number making them feel confident that if they did have an issue, it would be dealt with. Wrong. Underneath and despite the fact that the agent gets his checkmark for saying this line and the leader who created the process gets a pat on the back for coming up with his "personalized experience", when a problem actually arose the next parts of the experience didn't stand up. The customer didn't get called back -- did the engineer have a time to call back by? Was the customer even given a timeframe in which someone would call them back in the voicemail? The answer is no, so now, left in limbo, the customer is even more frustrated.

The bottom line is this -- do NOT think of your customer service experience in pieces. While each stream or piece will have strategies and implementation detail specific to it, from your phone experience to your analytics tools etc., it is important to make sure that you focus on the ecosystem as a whole and everything underlying it, so that what you offer is matched to your customer's needs.

For each customer type you need to think through:

The People Involved: The engineers and managers your customers will speak to (including their attitudes, behaviors and knowledge), the warm hand off to the next level of support etc.

The Technology and Tools: This includes analytics for pro-active support during the entire end-to-end process. The creation of a personalized experience using customer data -- (like knowing their customer history when they call), using virtual agents and virtual reality will make for a genuinely personalized experience, instead of the illusion of one which will ultimately leave your customer feeling cheated.

Process: How your customers access support (devices, channels), their connection points as they go through the process, which measures you have in place, etc.

But the most important thing in all this is how all of these different parts interconnect to ensure that the customer service experience is one they will talk about for all the right reasons. It is the mix of the human and technological touch points that will build the Customer Care Experience in the near future. It has already been suggested that over the next 12 months we'll start to see customer care agents be "re-humanized." Agents will increasingly exercise their human compassion, empathy and ability to work with the customer and for the customer -- and to make decisions based on brand values with the support of smarter and more flexible care systems and tools.

Using experience design thinking is one way to ensure that you have fully thought through each part of your customer service experience. This is what will help you to design and deliver the best strategy possible. After all, it is in crafting an immersive, unforgettable experience that you will win your customer's business, their engagement and, most importantly, their loyalty.