I’m not going to name any names, but some companies have horrible customer service.

They’ve automated, streamlined and right-sized customer touch points to the point where I dread any form of interaction with them. It is a personal pet peeve of mine because my entire career has involved heavy interaction with customers -- technical support, customer service, training, consulting and product marketing. I just can’t stand to see it done wrong.

High quality customer experience is a great differentiator and essential for customer retention. When you have a poor experience, some of your customers may end up hating you, your company and your product. They will stop buying things from you and say bad things about you online. But, when they’re happy (or at least not mad at you) they’ll probably keep buying things from you and may help convince other people to use your products too.

Ensuring a high quality customer experience requires some thought about the people that interact with your customers and how they interact with them. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years on optimizing your customer experience to stand out from the competition (and not make your customers hate you).

Be Personal

Make sure that customer interactions are customized and personalized. Ideally, all customer interactions should feel like there’s a human being involved. Customers should feel like someone is actually listening and cares about what they want. Avoid canned scripts when possible because they are often misused for complex situations where a personalized response is required.

Provide the Right Incentives

Customer experience commonly breaks down when customer-facing employees have a disincentive to do their job (help customers solve problems). These companies care more about quantity and less about quality in customer interactions.

It’s important to correctly incentivize the groups that frequently interact directly with customers. Reward these teams based on customer satisfaction, but never on call times or number of interactions. Incentives based on volume create an incentive for employees to “get rid” of whomever they’re dealing with so they can move on to the next person and improve their performance scores. The focus should be on solving problems, and some problems take longer to solve than others.

Encourage Ownership

Empower outward facing teams to take ownership of customers. Make sure they follow through on what they promise. Not having the answer right away is OK, but not getting the answer to the customer is not. The customer is your responsibility until they are under the care and ownership of someone else. Simply giving out the contact info for another department is not sufficient.

Manage Customer Expectations

The cliché “under promise and over deliver” is great advice for managing customer expectations. Employees interacting with customers should be forthcoming with who they are and what they do at the company. They shouldn’t commit themselves or others to things you can’t guarantee.

Be realistic. If you can’t commit and outright say something to the customer, don’t imply it and expect them to pick up on it. You’ll regret any promises later that you’re not qualified to make today.

Be an Advocate

Encourage everyone in the organization to be a customer advocate.

No matter where you are in the company, act on behalf of any customer that needs help -- even if it isn’t “your job”. This could be as simple as finding someone to own the problem when you don’t know the solution. Don’t let people pass the buck onto another department or employee -- YOU are the company in the eyes of the customer, inseparable from any other person or department.

Encouraging advocacy can be a cultural challenge, but every person that interacts with customers should be an advocate. Otherwise, the whole idea of CXM fails because these people and their interactions ultimately fall within the sum of all customer experiences.

Follow Through and Follow-Up

Do what you say you will do, and then follow-up to make it get done. Don’t just blindly hand out the 800 number for another department or email a sales receipt and call it a day. Ask for feedback and ensure that everything went OK after the transaction. If applicable, check in with other employees or departments that were involved to see how things went and discuss what can be improved.

Title Image courtesy of Nomad_Soul (Shutterstock).

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