We All Are Our Company's Customer Experience

Technology companies today relentlessly promote the concept of digital transformation. This buzzword is used all the time to describe the idea that technology is at the center of creating an innovative customer experience, letting a company leap ahead of its competition. Think back to the huge impact of Amazon's "Recommendations for you" feature, or how Facebook changed social communication.

As the Chief Customer Officer at technology company SAS, I certainly believe in technology improving the customer experience. We even use our own big data and analytics technology to send customers more relevant and timely communications, just one use among many others.

But the 30+ years I've spent focusing on customers has given me a broader perspective. It's become clear that technology can only go so far. Ultimately, a good customer experience is an emotional response. Customers may feel everything from delight if the experience is good, to anger or disgust if it isn't. And while technology can make a company seem cutting edge or trendy, it won't show customers that your company has a heart. That only comes from meaningful interactions with people. It's the human touch that makes the biggest difference when it comes to customer experience.

Consider one customer's experience with an online marketplace. While that marketplace certainly offers features that make it easier to buy products, employees are also tremendously important. A friend recently ordered a college textbook for her daughter from one of the marketplace partners on the site. Days later, when the textbook didn't arrive and she got no response to emails, my friend called customer support for the marketplace. Within minutes, a new textbook was on its way via next-day air with free shipping. Needless to say, she was pleased with her experience.

As we've reviewed our own experiences in different countries and regions, it's become obvious to me that all employees play a vital role in delivering the customer experience. Regardless of their department or job title, regardless of the channel they use to reach the customer, all employee actions--large and small--have an outsized impact not only to customers in their local region, but across geographic boundaries.

Every job is customer service
One thing I tell people is that regardless of your position, you have an impact on the customer experience. While sales or customer service staffs obviously serve customers, even behind-the-scenes roles, such as administration, billing, IT, research or design, contribute to the way the customer sees the company. For example, a billing clerk who takes pains to carefully explain line items on a bill can put a customer's mind at ease while an incorrect bill or one with surprise charges is annoying and frustrating. That means every employee needs to understand how their job contributes to the company's mission and purpose, and act accordingly.

Every employee should be part of the solution
When a challenge arises, it's critical for every employee in every department to own the problem. For instance, when we have a weak spot in our sales pipeline, teams such as sales, marketing, professional services, and alliances come to the table and work together to develop a plan to fix it. That's our way forward.

Every channel is created equal

Like most companies, we use many channels to reach customers--email, phone, online chat, social media, or even an invoice. It's the sum total of these multiple touchpoints that together make up the customer experience. As a result, all touchpoints should follow consistent branding to promote a unified vision and avoid confusing the customer. At the same time, the service provided on each channel should exhibit the same high level of quality.

Little things mean a lot
Companies can have many interactions with customers. But in our daily contact with customers, one action by one person can be the one thing that causes the customer to think that the company is either great to work with or one to avoid. It's up to all of us, then, to be aware of our actions, whether that's greeting someone who comes to our office, the way we cut the grass, or how we sell someone an education course. Treat a person the way you'd like to be treated. Try to do right by the customer and you'll never be wrong.

The butterfly effect
What we do in one location can have an impact in other locations, even halfway across the world. For example, our Japanese employees aren't the only ones impacting Japanese customers. The actions of someone in the U.S. can have an impact on a customer in Japan.

Throughout our history, SAS has always focused on a great customer experience and in working continually to improve our service. And during the time I've spent focused on customers, I've learned something that I think I intuitively knew all along: while technology can play an important role, it's really all of our employees working together to solve problems and show they care that makes the biggest difference to our customers.