Nine Ways to Enhance the Customer Experience

Today, the gap between customers’ expectations and the service they receive is huge. Customers expect personalized, competent service, and they want to be able to connect with a company at any time, in person or virtually, over any communication channel they want to use.

However, companies struggle to offer an experience that meets customers’ expectations at a cost that makes business sense. When they fail, enterprises face escalating service costs, rock-bottom customer satisfaction numbers, and anecdotes of poor service experiences that are amplified over social channels and deeply erode their brand.

There’s no denying that mastering the service experience is hard. But finding innovative ways to enhance the end-to-end customer experience can help you move the needle in a positive direction. Here are nine approaches you should consider.

1. Understand your customers. Customers know what good service is, and they demand it from each interaction, over any communication channel they want to use. Data from Forrester shows that, in general, customers still prefer to use the phone, closely followed by e-mail and Web self-service. That being said, we also see differences in channel preference by customer demographic. For instance, the younger generation is more comfortable using peer-to-peer communication, social networking and instant service channels such as chat, so you need to make those technologies available. You must understand the demographics and communication preferences of your customers and ensure that you can engage with them in the way they want to engage with you.

A case in point is American Airlines, which, after a technographics assessment, realized that 41 percent of its passengers were comfortable leveraging their cell phones’ Short Message Service (SMS) and wireless Internet capabilities, while the 29 percent who were “super-connected” were comfortable using most of their mobile device features.

In response, American Airlines crafted its mobile strategy to target its typical customers with e-mail and SMS alerts, and offered a mobile Web site for more advanced transactions for its super-connected customers. These pioneering offerings have helped deepen customers’ engagement and loyalty.

2. Align your service offering with your brand. It’s important to stay true to your brand and design a service experience that supports your value proposition. Customers need to know what your company represents—which is especially important in today’s message-cluttered social media world. Here are two companies that have aligned their service offerings to reinforce their brand:

• Apple’s products are high-style and priced at a premium. Its customer service is very much in line with its brand and is delivered on the customer’s terms. For example, you can arrange a phone call with an Apple Expert who specializes in your query, and you can talk at your convenience. Apple will even call you. As an alternative, you can e-mail the company or browse its extensive knowledge base.

• IKEA offers high-style but do-it-yourself products. Its shoppers are comfortable with serving themselves—from pulling products off shelves to self-checkout to assembling products on their own. IKEA’s service mirrors its brand: The company provides exhaustive Web self-service in a multitude of languages, a chat bot, some e-mail support and limited phone support. Customers aren’t disappointed with IKEA’s lack of white-glove service because they don’t expect it; they know it’s not the company’s business model.

3. Don’t offer silos of communication choices. Your service experience should allow customers to start an interaction over one communication channel and complete it over a different one. For example, they should be able to start an interaction over the phone and follow up with an e-mail containing more detailed information.

To provide this kind of experience, channels can’t be implemented in silos. Instead, they must be integrated so that agents have a full view of all customer interactions over both traditional and social channels. In addition, if a service request has been escalated from a Web self-service session, agents should have access to the full session history so they don’t repeat questions or searches—thereby degrading the customer experience.

Companies like T-Mobile take cross-channel communication a step further. If a customer can’t find the right information via Web self-service, he or she can escalate a question to a chat or an e-mail agent. As the customer is supplying additional information, the company runs an under-the-covers search through its knowledge base to locate possible answers. T-Mobile then presents these answers to the customer, who can decide whether the answer meets his or her needs. If not, the customer can continue to request help from an agent.