The Customer Experience
Tools and Methods
Most companies currently claiming to be CEM solution providers offer on-line customer feedback systems. These are in the form of follow-up surveys to recent customers, typically conducted over the Internet, with "instant" results provided through on-line graphical reporting. Other Customer Experience Management companies concentrate on customer experiences with web sites, incorporating both customer feedback and objective web assessment data.
While these are certainly valuable tools, they address only a portion of the conceptual scope of Customer Experience Management. Unfortunately, few companies now offer complete solutions (the same can be said of CRM, of course), so businesses generally must piece together tools from multiple sources. Most of these sources do not consider themselves Customer Experience Management providers (yet), but nevertheless offer data collection, software or integration services that are consistent with the vision of Customer Experience Management, and that can be applied to build a comprehensive Customer Experience Management system.
Customer Experience Management tools and methods can be grouped into the following categories:
Most companies conduct periodic customer satisfaction research to assess the opinions and experiences of their customer base. While this information can be useful, it tends to be very broad in scope, offering little practical information to the front-line. Customer Experience Management takes a more targeted approach by obtaining feedback from customers about specific service encounters soon after the interaction occurs.
Follow-up interviews can be conducted through a variety of media, including Internet, telephone and face-to-face. Advancements in database technology and widespread access to on-line media allow the results to be reported to the appropriate employees almost immediately after being gathered. Thus, front-line workers and their supervisors are able to review the effects of service interactions while the memory is still fresh in their minds, and to make adjustments as needed.
Various market research firms and Customer Experience Management providers offer quick customer feedback and on-line reporting. In service environments such as call centers, with universal access to computers and the Internet, it is possible to send electronic reports about specific service interactions back to individual employees. This is seldom possible in retail settings, however; in these cases the data may not be available on-line below the level of store or department managers, who then share the results with their teams. Some retail organizations do not yet have universal Internet access even at the store level, and thus require reports to be faxed or mailed to individual retail sites.
Collecting follow-up data from customers requires that they be identified and contacted soon after the interaction. This is relatively simple when customers visit web sites or when the company is able to link service interactions with customer account information. But even in service environments such as retail stores and restaurants, where customers are more transient and anonymous, feedback can often be gathered and reported to the front-line quickly and efficiently. The most frequently used techniques for gathering interaction-based customer feedback are:
- Telephone interviews, generally as a follow-up to call center service. Requires customer account or contact information.
- E-mail invitations with a link to a web-based survey. Used in business-to-business relationships and with on-line retail customers.
- Web site "pop-up" surveys. Used for on-line retail service.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys. Used by restaurants and brick-and-mortar retail. Randomly generated invitations are given to customers at the point of sale, with instructions to call a toll-free number and conduct an automated survey. Generally includes an incentive, such as free merchandise or a meal.
- Face-to-face interviews. Useful at gatherings such as trade shows, concerts and sports events, although not practical for on-going Customer Experience Mangement programs in retail settings.
It should be noted that any of these methods runs the risk of annoying customers, which is obviously contrary to the goal of building stronger relationships. It is therefore essential for companies to set expectations early in the relationship by educating customers about the nature and purpose of the feedback program, and by spelling out the benefits they will receive by participating.
Performance audits and monitoring
While customer feedback is essential to Customer Experience Management, it only looks at one side of the equation. Companies also need reliable information about their service execution, including details about specific service skills and behaviors. They need to be able to make precise comparisons among employees, stores, regions and service channels to ensure that standards are consistently followed.
Customer feedback should not be used to provide this level of detail. It is appropriate for customers to furnish information about their satisfaction, impressions and opinions, but they cannot be expected to remember specific service behaviors, the names of personnel, or details about the service environment. Trained, objective observers more appropriately provide this type of information.
The two types of observational measurement commonly used in Customer Experience Management programs are monitoring and performance auditing (also called "secret shopping" or "mystery shopping"). Monitoring involves observations of actual customer interactions, while performance auditing uses researchers who follow pre-determined service scenarios while posing as customers. Monitoring is commonly used at call centers and contact centers, and is most appropriate for interactions involving telephone, e-mail or live chat. Performance auditing can be used for any channel, as well for cross-channel scenarios and "lifecycle" studies that involve multiple interactions conducted over time.
Both monitoring and performance auditing are widely used. Unfortunately, both are also widely misused. Call monitoring, for example, is ubiquitous among call centers, but its effectiveness is often limited by a shortage of training and resources. Most call centers conduct intermittent monitoring by unit supervisors, who may wait for many days or even weeks before sharing their observations with individual agents. While useful for ad hoc coaching, such a system has inherent problems of bias, inconsistency and lack of timeliness, and is thus inappropriate for an effective Customer Experience Management program. The better systems assign in-house or outsourced quality teams, which use trained monitoring agents, random selection of calls, structured monitoring and scoring forms, and immediate reporting of results.
Performance auditing programs have historically suffered from a lack of rigorous standards for selecting and training auditors (or "secret shoppers"), as well as from poorly designed measurement criteria and slow turnaround of data. Furthermore, companies employing these programs often fail to obtain sufficient acceptance from front-line managers and service workers. As a result, employees may expend more effort discrediting the program and "exposing" secret shoppers than improving their service skills.
Fortunately, this situation is changing. Many secret shopping companies are now becoming more sophisticated and rigorous in their approach. A few have designed web-based programs for hiring, training, certifying and deploying secret shoppers, resulting in wider coverage, greater consistency and better quality control. These systems also provide on-line reporting within hours instead of weeks, making the data far more salient for service personnel.
In addition, a few companies have begun employing cross-channel service scenarios that more accurately reflect the experiences of contemporary customers. Thus, secret shoppers may make a web-site purchase, send an e-mail request, track delivery of the purchased item, contact a call center with a question, and return the item to a brick-and-mortar outlet, all as part of a single scenario. Such an approach allows companies to assess service execution in separate channels as well as to test the exchange of information between channels.
The challenge of training employees has increased significantly in recent years. Such factors as high employee turnover, outsourced service functions and the proliferation of complex CRM tools has made it essential to train workers on a continuous basis. Unfortunately, it is seldom possible to remove busy employees from their jobs in order to provide classroom instruction.
One response to this challenge has been the emergence of computer-based Learning Management Systems (LMS). Some of these systems are quite powerful, allowing managers to construct lessons and tests, build subject libraries, track employee progress and deploy specific lessons to the desktops of individuals and teams.
Companies are finding that Learning Management Systems are not an effective replacement for classroom training because the essential social dynamic of the classroom cannot be replicated on-screen. Nevertheless, LMS's are proving to be valuable for reinforcing classroom lessons and incrementally adding to the knowledge base of employees.
Learning Management Systems work very well with Customer Experience Management, because lessons can be "tagged" to correspond to specific skill categories that are measured through customer feedback, monitoring and performance audits. Thus, the information that is deployed to employees on-line can directly address deficits in service delivery. These on-line lessons can be very short, allowing employees to receive focused knowledge reinforcement without appreciably interfering with their workflow.
LMS's are valuable not only for their ability to reinforce specific behaviors, but also for the analytical capability they provide to training administrators. Trainers can see which lessons are being sent most frequently and can adjust their curriculum to emphasize those skills in initial classroom sessions. They can also see whether the lessons themselves are effective. Lessons that have been repeatedly triggered and sent to employees with little effect on performance can be quickly redesigned. As a result, training content and delivery can be evaluated on its effectiveness rather than on the post-class ratings or recall of participants.
Customer Experience Management provides rich metrics for rewarding managers and service staff at all levels of the organization. The data can be aggregated, weighted and scored, allowing comparison and benchmarking among incentive recipients. These scores can then be linked to periodic bonuses, recognition, or redemption services. The motivational power of Customer Experience Management lies in the fact that the metrics it generates are relevant, easy to understand, frequently reported, and fair. Because the data are continuously viewable, managers and employees know precisely where they stand - there is no surprise at the end of bonus periods. And because the criteria are clear and achievable, incentive recipients know they have the power to affect the outcomes.
At the managerial level, a sufficient amount of data can be aggregated within bonus periods to provide a fair assessment of performance. The immediate reporting that Customer Experience Management provides allows managers to view their performance against goals on a day-to-day basis so they can take action quickly. Over the course of the bonus period managers can compare stores, units or teams under their span of control and target their improvement efforts appropriately.
At the employee level, rewards need to be associated even more closely with day-to-day achievement. The emergence of on-line redemption sites now makes it possible to link performance data with incentives through a seamless electronic system. The same reporting tool that displays the results of customer feedback, monitoring and auditing can also display "points" earned, and allow employee to redeem those points for merchandise, cash or other relevant rewards. The return on investment in such systems tends to be high, as the behaviors and skills rewarded are directly aligned with customer retention, purchasing levels, word-of-mouth advertising and other profit-building activities.
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