The age of the customer is here. Now what?

The age of the customer is here. Now what?

September 19, 2014
The age of the customer is here. Now what?

Earlier this week, innovators in customer service gathered for Illuminate in New York City to share their strategies for providing great support. Panels were moderated by Natali Morris of The Today Show and CNBC’s Power Lunch and the discussion was, we dare say, lively.

In kicking off the event, CEO Mikkel Svane explained that consumers are more informed and empowered than ever before. Today we all have a larger voice, and there is now an “eye-to-eye level conversation between an organization and its customers.” We all want something we can relate to, he said. Ultimately, this new age of the customer is about ensuring that customers value their relationship with your brand.

Consistency is king
Throughout the afternoon, our panelists shared the customer engagement strategies they use to help them listen to their customers, create unique and personalized experiences, and to make it easier for customers to reach them when they need help. Vital to these strategies is consistency. The more consistent you can be in your customer relationships, the easier it will be to manage the good times and the bad, Mikkel said. Creating a consistent customer experience across all levels of your organization also sets your customers’ expectations about the response they’ll receive from your brand regardless of channel.

Innovating around the edges
One bit of wisdom several panelists emphasized was the importance of ongoing, small gains. It’s hard to making large changes overnight, but if you keep working toward the larger goal and encouraging small innovations throughout your organization, you’ll eventually get there. Jon Herstein from Box said, “You have to innovate around the edges, and constantly refine the offerings that you have.”

A key way that nearly everyone is working to reduce customer effort and increase efficiency is through implementing and refining self-service options. Aaron Franklin from Pinterest looked their help center’s homepage bounce rate and realized their customers weren’t finding the articles they needed. By strategically reducing the number of articles from 200 to 40, their customer satisfaction ratings soared.

“You have to tune all the time,” said Maryann Amado from Adobe. “Our CMO used to say that we used to be ‘Mad Men’ and now we’re ‘Math Men’ and that’s totally true.” It’s because, she said, we’re starting to understand and measure the customer experience. It all comes down to figuring out what the right measurements are for your business and to map the customer journey so that it’s easier to recognize the places where you can remove effort from the entire customer lifecycle.

Customers are real people, too
Customer service organizations collect valuable customer feedback, and yet are still viewed as a cost center. How to shift this perception, or to justify change, was of particular interest to event attendees.

Telling a story through anecdotes and metrics can help you tell a story internally. As Mikkel said, you need the voice of the customer along with the numbers. When you’re focused on efficiency and statistics, it can be easy to forget that your customers are the people you interact with every day, both in and out of the office.

Jon shared that Box invites customers in for a monthly company-wide lunch to talk about why they chose Box, and what they like and dislike about Box’s services, and also answer live support calls in front of each new hire class. Similarly, at Pinterest, customer quotes are pulled from tickets and displayed on monitors in the lunchroom. Another way to help make that connection between an issue and a real person is to rotate your engineering or other teams onto the front line, as Acquia does. Zendesk and Chico’s also feed all customer satisfaction feedback, good and bad, into shared collaboration tools. Connecting issues with people helps to foster empathy, and by sharing customer feedback broadly, you encourage transparency throughout the larger organization.

Steadying for change
Of course, anecdotal data is most effective when it’s paired with metrics. Panelists shared that they track customer retention rates, as well as NPS, customer effort, and customer satisfaction ratings. When tied together, it becomes easier to show that building brand loyalty through great service directly impacts the bottom line. It also becomes easier to tell the evolving story of your customers, and to manage change and push for innovation. You’ve got to explain why change is needed, and use data to back your argument.

Maryann reiterated that if you can use your resources to simplify the problem and provide a story, then you can tell others what they can do to help. “There’s the old saying that the customer is always right. And that’s true. But I think there’s a corollary to that now, which is: The customer experience is always true.” Customer service is the product, she said. You need to make sure that your customer feels valued and that they are getting value from your company.

Watch the full Illuminate replay here

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