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Fundamentals of a Customer First Strategy For Every Industry

Every industry strives to improve their customers’ experience with their products and services. Adopting a customer first strategy is therefore in many company objectives. Unfortunately it rarely goes beyond the theory in many organisations, so I decided to help out with these six suggestions.

Hospitality is perhaps one of the most visible industries where customer satisfaction, or lack of, is quickly shared with the world.  It is true that without satisfaction, customers will not return to a hotel or restaurant. And they will almost certainly share their (bad) experiences with anyone who will listen.

Hospitality is also one of the industries that receives the most comments online, thanks to TripAdvisor and other booking sites. There is no hiding from their clients for hospitality! While I empathise, it’s not all bad news. This is because it also means that great service will also be more quickly seen online. Therefore you can make changes and see the results almost immediately, or at least far quicker than in most other businesses.

However, despite this, I believe that the hospitality industry has a lot it can learn from consumer packaged goods (CPG). In fact most other industries could benefit from taking a look at some of CPG’s best-in-class processes.

Both the hospitality and CPG industries have their customers at their heart. They are both founded on pleasing and hopefully delighting their clientele in the quality of the products and services they offer. However, as the world changes, customer demands do too and companies need to stay current if not ahead of these requirements in order to ensure continued growth.

#1. From ROI / ROR to ROE

There has been a lot of talk recently on moving from a return on investment to a return on relationships. Whilst I agree with the importance of relationships, I believe that what we should be talking about is engagement. Be honest, other than the popular book that started talking about brand love, who wants to have a relationship with a brand?!

Brands that have a high following and loyalty have found a way to consistently engage their fans and keep them coming back. They become involved and interested in the brand, the product, their website, even their communications. Coca Cola and Red Bull are great examples of this. You should also check out another post entitles Increasing Impact & Engagement through Advertising Testing.”

Brands that have a high following and loyalty have found a way to consistently engage their fans and keep them coming back. #CEX #CRM #Engagement @C3Centricity Click To Tweet

 

#2. Build relationships with strangers

Whilst the hospitality industry has been based on serving and satisfying its guests, in today’s connected world it also needs to consider people who are currently strangers – but who could potentially become clients. These might be the friends of current guests, which for example the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico tries to attract.

This wonderful hotel encourages its guests to photograph their experiences during their stay at the resort and then to share them with their friends on Facebook. This not only provides free publicity for the hotel, but also enables it to start engaging these potential clients, since they probably have similar lifestyles to their current guests.

User generated content (UGC) works well because customers trust each other a lot more than they do brands. Research from Forbes shows that 81% of consumers’ purchase decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts.

For some great examples of successful UGC campaigns, I highly recommend checking out this article on Wedevs. You may also want to readThe Exceptionally Easy & Profitable Uses of Customer Co-creation.”

User generated content (UGC) works well because customers trust each other a lot more than they do brands. #CEX #CRM #Trust @C3Centricity Click To Tweet

 

#3. Value is more important than price

Having additional control in their lives today means that customers are re-evaluating what they are offered. They have higher expectations and are more discerning in their choices. They expect recognition at every touchpoint, even if in reality their peers influence their decisions more than does traditional marketing.

The internet enables them to compare offers, so they are less interested in bundled propositions, preferring to decide what is best value for them personally for each element. Several brands have understood this and now offer the customer the possibility to define their own, personal bundle of options. Liberty Mutual is one such example of this.

According to research by Walker, 86% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a better experience. So don’t get fixated on price; find ways to add value that consumers may appreciate far more than its actual cost to you.

To learn more about pricing and value check out “Sourcing & Services Matter: Why Price Alone Won’t get your Customers to Stay.”

Don't get fixated on price; find ways to add value that consumers may appreciate far more than its actual cost to you. #CEX #CRM #Trust @C3Centricity Click To Tweet

 

#4. Renovation is more than for buildings

Most CPG companies have targets for Innovation & Renovation, sometimes 30% or more of annual revenue. They also have mid-term innovation pipelines which can include partnerships in joint ventures with what were previously only competitors. These help each partner by building on their individual talents and enable them to develop better products and services.

For hospitality, innovation can no longer be purely physical or rational; we need to consider more emotional and relational ways to satisfy. The Rosewood Mayakoba resort, already mentioned above, is one good example of this; the Art Series Hotels are another. Check out the latter’s recent ad to understand better how they excel at understanding their guests: Art Series Overstay Checkout, or why not review the picture posted on MayaKoba’s Facebook page?

If you want more ideas on innovating, then read “A Customer-First Approach to Successful Innovation.”

 

#5. Loyalty is never really won

One of the reasons that I believe we need to work on building engagement and in all industries, not just hospitality, is because customer demands are constantly evolving. What satisfied them yesterday can bore or even disappoint today.

To acquire and retain our customers, we need to be constantly upgrading our products and services, so that they will be surprised and delighted. This means that loyalty is much less long-term than in the past and lifetime value is now measured in months or a few years, rather than in decades.

To acquire and retain our customers, we need to be constantly upgrading our products and services, so that they will be surprised and delighted. #Customer #CEX #CRM #Satisfaction @C3Centricity Click To Tweet

 

#6. Dialogue, don’t just communicate

In today’s connected world, customers want a say in not only what they consume, but also where, when and how they are marketed to. They want a say in what they buy and expect a rapid resolution to any queries or complaints. According to a recent Edison Research, 20% expect a company to answer to their social media posts within 15 minutes, 42% within the hour! That means 24/7 monitoring for all organisations if we are not to disappoint our most engaged customers.

We must have 24/7 monitoring if we are not to disappoint our most engaged customers. #CEX #CRM #Customer #Engagement @C3Centricity Click To Tweet

 

These are just six of the many ideas I shared during a presentation I gave to the faculty of a world- renowned hospitality school. If you are interested in seeing the full talk, I am happy to share it. Just email me with your details and what your biggest business challenge is currently in adopting a customer first strategy.

Are you too struggling to improve your own customer centricity? Whatever people-facing industry you are in, we would welcome the chance to support and catalyse your efforts. Please check out our website for more information about our services and training courses, or contact us here.

What Consumer Goods Companies Can Learn From Healthcare. 7 Lessons of Customer Service Excellence

If you work in consumer goods you probably think you have nothing to learn from healthcare, right? After all, you have consumers in your industry name and well healthcare’s reputation is not that great.

But think again. I was recently in a clinic for surgery and was surprised by how customer (patient) centric they are.

I remind my clients that exceptional customer service examples can come from anywhere! So they keep their eyes and ears open and find inspiration everywhere. Do you? If not, then these lessons will come as your wake-up call so you start opening your eyes to new possibilities. Do this every day and your business will only get better.

 

Background

Before I give you the lessons I learned, I think I owe you a little background to what led up to this list.

I had been suffering from a bad back for a while. Unfortunately, not so unusual for those of us who spend too many hours at our desks. However, one morning I tried to get out of bed and fainted as an explosive pain shot down my back to my right foot! I was totally immobilised in three seconds flat!

Now living alone I realised that this was serious as I couldn’t move. Luckily my mobile was by my bed so I called the emergency services who immediately sent an ambulance. I ended up spending a night in a local University Hospital for the first time in my adult life.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Two days later I fell down the stairs because my leg had become partially paralysed. Another visit to the emergency room, an ankle brace fitted, a consultant’s assessment, an MRI scan and finally emergency surgery the following day.

All these experiences of hospitals and doctors gave me the superb opportunity to see the health service from the patient’s perspective. I work a lot with the Pharma industry but luckily have never been a patient, at least until now.

As you probably know, actually becoming your customer and seeing the market from their perspective, is one of the exercises I suggest to better understand them. How often do you do it? Ever?!! You really should, because you’re missing out on a valuable – and free – experience.

Perhaps surprisingly, this incident showed me that many of the practices of the nurses and doctors that I witnessed in my heavily sedated state, are easily transferable to any business. This is why I decided to share them with you.

So here are my seven learnings about customer service excellence:

 

1. Introduce yourself

Customer service excellenceEvery time someone came to my room, they introduced themselves and explained why they were there. Over the course of the days I spent at the hospital and then the clinic, I saw many different doctors, nurses. cleaners, waiters etc. I appreciated that they themselves always started by introducing themselves and stating what their responsibility was in caring for me.

How you can apply this idea: In business, we often forget to introduce people in meetings and when we do, we forget to explain their responsibilities, why they are there.

Perhaps if we did this, there would be far fewer people in meetings, as only those with a real reason to be involved would attend! That already is a time and money-saving idea. But there are even more applications of this idea when it comes to our customers.

Direct contacts with customers, whether by phone, email, chat, social media or in person, deserve the same detailed introduction. This moves the connection from a somewhat cold, professional exchange, to something far more friendly and personal, if not actually personalised.

I often wonder how we so easily forget that customer service is after all just two people connecting and engaging for mutual benefit. Is that how your own customer care centre exchanges feel? If not, how about making them friendlier?

How do we so easily forget that customer service is just two people connecting and engaging for mutual benefit? #CEX #CRM #CustomerService Click To Tweet

 

2. Confirm that you know me

Although I myself saw many different specialists in the university hospital, it made no difference to how I was treated. I felt comfortable that my details had been transferred between the staff members, so they didn’t have to ask me to repeatedly explain what had happened. They also always started by checking my name, to make sure they were speaking with the right person.

How you can apply this idea: While I accept that checking names and wearing wristbands are essential in a medical environment, most businesses could benefit from confirming who their customers are too.

Whether by careful targeting for marketing purposes or by reviewing notes of previous interactions with customer services, a company needs to immediately recognise a (returning) customer.

Whether by careful targeting for marketing purposes or by reviewing notes of previous interactions with customer services, a company must immediately recognise a (returning) customer. #Customer #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet

Have you ever been frustrated when calling back a company only to be asked to explain who you are and why you’re calling? I know I have. It always makes me feel that the organisation doesn’t really care about me. And with automation systems easily available today, there is no excuse for this sort of lack of knowledge.

Personalisation has become essential in all engagements between companies and their customers. In fact, this is one of the most important uses of Big Data, both now and for the foreseeable future.

Personalisation has become essential in all engagements between companies and their customers. This is one of the most important uses of Big Data, both now and for the foreseeable future. #BigData #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet

 

3. Ask if I am happy/comfortable

Whatever the reason was for the medical practitioner to see me, they always asked if I was comfortable. They openly encouraged me to share any negative thoughts, feelings or sensations I was experiencing.

How you can apply this idea: Do you encourage critique of your ideas from your colleagues? It takes a strong and confident person to constantly put themselves up for criticism. Too many people look (only) for positive support when asking for opinions, rather than a truly constructive assessment.

Customer service excellence should involve every employeeMany years ago, one of my first bosses mentioned that when he asked for opinions in a meeting, it was me he listened to the most. Why? Well, not because I knew more than my colleagues. No; it was because I said what I really thought, not what I believed he wanted to hear. Although he didn’t always agree with what I said, he knew that what I said was what I was truly feeling.

Over the years, I came to realise that he was one of a dying breed of true leaders. Many organisations today are political hothouses, where supporting the boss is the only way to keep one’s job!

I hope you are not in this situation because according to a Gallup study, around 50% of employees leave their company to get away from their bosses. If you are in such a situation at the moment, my advice to you is to GET OUT NOW! You will more than likely end up leaving one way or the other, so why waste your time with a boss who lacks this essential leadership skill? You’ll get the support you deserve and more importantly need, to grow, elsewhere.

According to a Gallup study, around 50% of employees leave their company to get away from their bosses. If you're in such a situation today, my advice is to GET OUT NOW! #Leadership #EmployeeSatisfaction Click To Tweet

And what about your customers? Do you encourage them to share complaints and ideas? If not, why not? It’s much better to know what’s wrong and put it right quickly, than to continue in blissful ignorance until your customers leave because of it.

Customer experience is negative

According to“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner, you are unlikely to hear from more than just a fraction of dissatisfied customers. And most of those dissatisfied customers will never come back to you. Therefore it makes sense to not only pay attention to complaints but actively search them out – before they damage your business.

 

4. Ask if you can do more

You can always do more to improve customer experience

As anyone who has been to the emergency room of a hospital knows, patience is important. You don’t get seen by order of arrival, but by the importance of your ailment. In other words, if your problem is not life-threatening, you will pass after the road accident, whose victim is more seriously injured. I know this and was happy to actually be left to “float” in a drug-induced relaxation between staff visits.

Whenever they woke me up to “check my vitals” or to inform me of the next tests or treatment planned, they always finished by asking if I had any questions or needed anything else. I was made to feel that nothing was too small or unimportant to them, if it made me feel more relaxed and comfortable.

 

How you can apply this idea: According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs  “It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.”

It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Click To Tweet

Business, therefore, can no longer afford to merely satisfy their customers, they need to delight them. Do you ask both yourself and your customers what more you can do for them? If you do, you might just find a new product or service concept that answers their desires and gets you ahead of the competition.

 

5. Don’t stop before the end

When I was admitted for surgery, I was told that the average stay was between 6 and 12 days in hospital. Having thought I was there for just a day or two, this came as quite a shock.

As my progress after the operation was good, I expected to leave the clinic within five days. (I always want to be better than average!) However, with the added complication of the torn ligaments in my ankle, the professor had other ideas. I ended up spending ten days there and was then on a month of complete bed rest before starting physio!

How you can apply this idea: As the well-known Napolean Hill quote goes

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

Some people are great at ideation; perhaps you’re one of them. However, ideation without action is just day-dreaming.

Some people are great at ideation; perhaps you're one of them. However, ideation without action is just day-dreaming. So get active today! #Innovation #Ideation #Action Click To Tweet

Therefore don’t think your job is done when you’ve come up with an idea or two. You need to follow up to turn the ideas into actions.

Customer service excellence means involving customers everywhere you canEntrepreneurship is very popular today for both individuals and even within large corporations. However so many entrepreneurs try an idea and when it doesn’t immediately work, they give it up for a different one.

Yes, there have been many huge successes recently, but most “overnight” triumphs have come from years of just plain hard work and dedication.

Therefore, as they say “plan the work and work the plan.”  Did you know that the origin of this quote is unsure, although it has been used by many people? These include Vince Lombardi, Margaret Thatcher, and even Victor Hugo. With such illustrious support, perhaps you could work your own plan a little better, no?

Plan the work and work the plan. #Plan #Action #Learning Click To Tweet

But remember, today’s world is one of constant change, so even if you do plan, remember to also stay flexible and adapt to the changing circumstances of the market or your brand. And never totally give up your plan at the first sign of failure either. Just because one part of the plan didn’t work doesn’t warrant throwing out the whole thing.

 

6. Don’t wait until it’s urgent

As I tried to wean myself off the painkillers, I found myself alternating between extreme pain and none whatsoever. The carers told me that while it’s a good objective to reduce drug usage as quickly as possible, it is counter productive to not take painkillers when they’re needed.

By my deciding to “wait and see” if the pain got worse before asking for medication, I found that the drugs became less effective.

Small, slow steps work better than giant leaps in so many areas because they are sustainable. Think New Year’s resolutions, like crash diets, new fitness regimes, or changes in lifestyle habits. It’s the small, almost imperceptible changes that tend to last and lead to success.

How you can apply this idea: So many adjustments in business involve making significant changes, whether cultural or process-wise. As the well-known saying goes:

“The best way to eat an elephant is one slice at a time.” 

Therefore when introducing large changes within your organisation, break them down into more “humanly” manageable steps. Want to make a radical change in one of your processes? It is often more effective to start by modifying the beginning and the end of the process. The middle steps then adapt automatically as new needs are identified.

For example, in updating your innovation process, start with better identifying the target customers and their needs. Then look how the launch will be rolled out and monitored amongst them. You will quickly realise that brainstorming in a vacuum or testing multiple concepts just before launch is no longer effective – if it ever was! These parts of the process will then be adapted to the new demands.

Time to revamp your own processes? Find out more about our I3: Improved Ideation and Innovation and other 1-Day Catalyst Training sessions HERE.

 

7. It all starts and ends with the customer

During my hospital and clinic stays I realised that the staff were there for me, not vice versa. I am extremely independent and had to learn to accept the help of others, even for some of the most intimate actions. It was “normal” for them, but not for me.

They recognised that and did everything they could to make me feel at ease. From being there just when I needed them, to eclipsing to leave me alone when I needed space. The staff knew and demonstrated that it was I who was important.

How you can apply this idea: Take a look at your website, your communications, your plans; do they all start and end with the customer?

Do you publish content your customers want to read, or just what you want to tell them? Does your contact information include every possible way a customer can connect with you or just a static form and drop-down menu?

Are your communications relevant and emotionally validating for your customers?

Do your plans mention the customer as often as the brand? Remember:

“There may be customers without brands, but there are no brands without customers.”

Do they also show images of customers and include extensive knowledge and understanding about them?

If not, then perhaps you found inspiration for change in the above examples. Take one small step and make one of the changes mentioned; the benefits will be quick to appear.

For more ideas about improving your customer understanding, why not watch the FREE Customer Centricity Champions Webinar? It shares many tips, tools and templates to catalyse your business and improve your customer understanding immediately.

What Customers Want Today. (And How to Give It To Them!)

As a customer centricity champion, just like you I hope, I spend a lot of my time researching what customers want.

I’m always trying to understand exactly what their preferences are today, and where these may be going. My regular searches online include customer service, customer satisfaction, customer care and similar topic areas. Google is my best friend!

However, I recently came across some surprising facts, which prompted this post. I believe they show a serious problem in the business of looking after our customers today. Read the article and then let me know whether or not you agree with my analysis.

 

Customer Centricity

Wikipedia, another online friend of mine, doesn’t have a definition of customer centricity! If you look the term up, you get directed to customer satisfaction! Unbelievable isn’t it?  Try it for yourself and see.

My other go-to online resource for understanding terms is  businessdictionary.com, which defines customer centric as:

“Creating a positive consumer experience at the point of sale and post-sale.”

It then goes on to say:

“A customer-centric approach can add value to a company by enabling it to differentiate itself from competitors who do not offer the same experience.”

Now although I find the definition somewhat limited since it refers only to sales and post-sale activities, I do like the fact that it mentions three important elements of customer centricity:

  • a positive customer experience
  • adds value to a company
  • enables differentiation

This clearly identifies three huge benefits of becoming (more) customer centric for any and every business:

  1. A positive customer experience has been shown to increase both loyalty and advocacy. (>>Tweet this<<) As we all know, it costs ten times – if not even more – to acquire a new customer, as it does to keep a current one. Therefore strong loyalty is a valuable benefit for a brand.
  2. Adding value to a company also increases the ROI of its marketing investments. This is something that marketing is challenged to prove today, with the risk of seeing their budgets cut if they can’t. Luckily, what’s good for the customer is good for business. You can see many more facts and statistics in Forrester’s report “The Business Impact of Customer Experience”  HERE.
  3. The third benefit is just as important to the growth of a business. Enabling differentiation in this complex world is invaluable in standing out from the competition. (>>Tweet this<<) In so many industries today product performance and services are almost identical, so how can you differentiate your brand? By your customer care, that’s how. And knowing exactly what your customers want. It has been shown that customers are willing to pay more for excellent customer service. Yes MORE for exactly the same product or service, so why are you waiting? You can read a summary of the American Express research that reported this finding HERE.

I would also add that to summarise what customers want today, it is a seamless experience from pre to post purchase, both on and offline. That’s how you deliver satisfaction, build loyalty and create raving fans.

 

The Importance of Customer Satisfaction & Understanding 

There is no denying that customer centricity is important, no vital to growth and profitability. However some companies are (too?) hesitant to adopt best practices in this area, which concerns me for a number of reasons:

  • Changes are happening too slowly in most organisations. If it is important for the business, then what is stopping companies from adopting a more customer centric approach? The longer they wait, the more they risk being beaten by a more customer friendly competitor. And this is why so many start-ups are stealing significant share from the major brands. It’s no longer (just) about product and service performance any more. It’s about how the customer feels about your brand. Niche brands have understood this better than anyone.
It’s no longer about product and service performance any more. It's about how the customers FEELS about your brand. #Marketing #Brand #CEX #CRM Click To Tweet
  • Customers are complaining – a lot – about the way they are being treated. Why are companies not accepting these criticisms as the gifts they are? Acting promptly before the issue becomes a social media viral discussion is essential today and your complainers may even turn into advocates if delighted with the outcome. Complaints are also a wonderful (free) sources of innovation and renovation ideas. Find out what your customers are unhappy about and then propose a solution. You may even be able to charge more since the new offer will better meet their needs.
  • Customer service is still being confused with customer satisfaction. Companies are happy when their customers say they are satisfied, but that is no longer enough. All businesses should be looking to surprise and delight their customers! Find more inspiration on this in “The Revolutionary Marketing Challenge is Not Customer Satisfaction.”

As mentioned above, the research that prompted this post was a Google keyword investigation of terms related to customers. Having seen the strong positive trend for the word customer, I then wanted to understand what it was about customers that was of interest to those searching online.

I found that both customer service and customer care showed almost identical positive trends. However, when I looked at customer satisfaction and customer understanding the trends were flat and worse, minimal. (You can see the trend graph below)

 

These trends suggest to me that companies search how to improve their customer service and care, but not about how to understand their customers or increase their satisfaction!

How can this be? Surely an interest in customer service should come from an increased understanding of how to deliver customer satisfaction? Well apparently not, at least for most people!

And this is when I realised that perhaps businesses are more interested in the process than the real benefit of customer connection. That is a serious flaw in their thinking in my opinion. Do you agree? Whether you do or don’t, please comment below.

To confirm my hypothesis, I looked into customer satisfaction levels and their trends. After all, many more companies are interested in customer service these days aren’t they? So you would think it should have a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

According to the latest report from  The Institute of Customer Service on customer satisfaction across Europe, retail, insurance and banking are the three best performing industries. This was a surprise to me because they used to be the most heavily criticised!

However this suggests that they have taken action, albeit because they had little choice, and are now leading the pack. But most other industries continue to ignore what their customers want. You can see the full Infographic overview below; click on it to see the full-sized original.

 

 wAAACwAAAAAAQABAEACAkQBADs I then went back to Google to find ways which were suggested for increasing customer satisfaction. I found almost 100 million articles on how to do it, but very few on the results. While this is certainly a significant increase on the measly two million I found just a few years ago, it is still extremely worrying.

The increased interest in customer satisfaction is confirmed by the latest results of the US ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) report. It shows customer satisfaction is stable after showing steady growth since the beginning of last year. That was the latest turnaround after more than two years of disastrous declines.

Customer satisfaction shows what customers want
National ACSI Q1 2018 USA

It has been proven that changes in customer satisfaction are a predictor of future consumer spending. So although we can rejoice at the return to higher levels, the latest stagnation suggests average future spending growth at best.

David VanAmburg, who is Managing Director at ACSI said recently:

“Customer satisfaction will need to increase for the economy to grow at a faster pace. It’s tough to pinpoint one cause of the stagnation, but unless it budges, the national ACSI score paints a dire picture for consumer spending growth.”

In the UK, which leads Europe in terms of customer satisfaction, levels also rose for the first time in four years, reflecting a more positive economy. However, that was before the Brexit vote and before the exit! I am looking forward to seeing whether the Brits’ optimism continues this coming year.

 

Key Takeaways

So what does a business need to do to deliver what their customers really want today and increase their satisfaction? There are seven facts that become apparent from this analysis:

  1. Businesses should always provide a positive customer experience and do whatever it takes to not only satisfy, but ideally delight their customers.
  2. Companies need to go beyond the mere process of customer centricity, to truly put their customers at the heart of the organisation, by adopting a customer first strategy. Read “What a Customer First Strategy Is (And what it’s not!)” for more on this.
  3. Customer centricity adds demonstrated value to a company; it should be a no-brainer for every single business, whatever the industry.
  4. Customer centric improvements are happening too slowly in most companies, especially when customers are becoming ever more demanding and verbose when disatisfied.
  5. Providing customer service doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction.
  6. A positive customer experience always increases loyalty and advocacy.
  7. Excellent customer service enables differentiation and even higher prices.

In summary, people want businesses to listen and understand them. When a customer takes the time to contact a company because they are unhappy, or even just for information, they expect a satisfactory outcome as a minimum. Those organisations who go beyond, to deliver surprise and delight, will see their reputations improve, as well as an increase in their customers’ loyalty and advocacy. 

Customers also want companies to be open and transparent. They want immediate, if not instantaneous, answers to their questions and criticisms.

They have a right to know the source of ingredients, the ingredients themselves, the country of origin, the charities the company supports, or the organisation’s policies on waste, water and sustainability. What customers really want today is to have their questions answered (almost) immediately, especially on social media. They expect things that go wrong to be put right – quickly, with an equally rapid explanation and apology.

So how are you doing? Are you living up to your customers’ expectations? Are you delivering what your customers really want? How have you made progress in this area in the past year or so? Please share your success stories below. 

You know you can no longer wait; you’re getting left behind by those organisations – and competitors – who are taking action today! Take the C3C Evaluator™ quiz and find out exactly where your greatest opportunities lie. 

For more ideas on how you can understand what your customers want even better, why not organise one of our 1-Day Catalyst Training Sessions? We have them on many areas of customer understanding and service, so you are sure to find exactly what you need to inspire and energise your team. Check out and download our brochures.

If you would rather talk through your specific needs first, so we can personalise the course just for you and your team, then feel free to book time in my calendar. 

This post is an update of one that was first published on C3Centricity in 2011. The featured image at the top is from the book “Winning Customer Centricity – Putting customers at the heart of your business – One day at a time.”

What a Short Hospital Stay Taught me About Customer Experience

Examples of exceptional customer experience can come from anywhere! You know that. You keep your eyes and ears open and find inspiration everywhere. So do I.

But last week, I had the fright of my life. I returned from visiting my family over the festive season, with an ever-increasing pain in my lower back.

OK, so sitting all day is not good for my posture. I suppose I deserve to finally pay for all the hours I spend in front of a screen every day.

Anyway, it got so bad that I visited the doctor on Wednesday, who gave me painkillers, anti-inflammatories and a muscle relaxant. I took them all that evening, but when I got up the following morning, I fainted from a sudden intense pain. A half hour later I managed to crawl out of bed to take my pills, then hobbled back again to wait until they took effect.

A couple of hours later when I tried to get up, I again fainted with the pain, but now also had the new sensation of an explosive flame which shot down my back to my right foot! I was totally immobilised in three seconds flat!

I was in agony, so all I could do was to return to my bed. However, the mattress no longer offered any relief and I whimpered like a tortured animal as I suffered continuously from these now double injuries.

Living alone I realised that this was serious. Luckily my mobile was by my bed so I called the emergency services who immediately sent an ambulance. All this to say that I ended up spending a night in a hospital for only the second time in my life.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Two days later I fell down the stairs as my leg had become partially paralysed. Another visit to the emergency room, an ankle brace fitted, a consultant’s assessment, an MRI scan and finally emergency surgery the following day.

All these experiences of hospitals and doctors gave me the superb opportunity to see the health service from the patient’s perspective. I work a lot with the Pharma industry but luckily never became a patient, until now.

As you probably know, becoming your customer and seeing the market from their perspective is one of the exercises I suggest to better understand your customers. How often do you do it? Ever?!!

I learnt a lot about how to excel at customer experience from all my visits. Surprisingly, many of the practices of the nurses and doctors that I witnessed in my heavily sedated state, are easily transferable to any business. This is why I decided to share them with you.

So here are my seven learnings about excellence in customer experience:

 

1. Introduce yourself

Every time someone came to my room, they introduced themselves and explained why they were there. As the first establishment, I stayed in was a University Hospital, there were tens if not hundreds of staff on duty, so I rarely saw the same person twice over the 24 hour period I was there. I appreciated that they themselves always started by introducing themselves and stating what their responsibility was in caring for me.

How you can apply this idea: In business, we often forget to introduce people in meetings and when we do, we forget to explain their responsibilities, why they are there.

Perhaps if we did this, there would be far fewer people in meetings, as only those with a real reason to be there would attend! That already is a money-saver.

Direct contacts with customers, whether by phone, email, chat, social media or in person, deserve the same detailed introduction. This moves the connection from a somewhat cold, professional exchange, to something far more friendly and personal, if not actually personalised.

How do we so easily forget that customer service is after all just two people connecting and engaging for mutual benefit? (>>Tweet this<<)

 

2. Confirm that you know me

Customer experience includes a deep understanding of the customerAlthough I myself saw many different specialists in the first hospital, it made no difference to how I was treated. I felt comfortable that my details had been transferred between the staff members, so they didn’t have to ask me to repeatedly explain what had happened. They also always started by checking my name, to make sure they were speaking with the right person.

How you can apply this idea: While I accept that checking names and wearing wristbands are essential in a medical environment, most businesses could benefit from confirming who their customers are.

Whether by careful targeting for marketing purposes or by reviewing notes of previous interactions with customer services, a company needs to immediately recognise a (returning) customer. (>>Tweet this<<)

Have you never been frustrated to call a company only to be asked to explain who you are and why you’re calling? I know I have. It always makes me feel that the organisation doesn’t really care about me. And with automation systems easily available today, there is no excuse for this sort of lack of knowledge.

Personalisation has become essential in all engagements between companies and their customers. In fact, this is one of the most important uses of Big Data, both now and for the foreseeable future.

 

3. Ask if I am happy/comfortable

Whatever the reason was for the medical practitioner to see me, they always asked if I was comfortable. They openly encouraged me to share any negative thoughts, feelings or sensations I was experiencing.

How you can apply this idea: Do you encourage critique of your ideas from your colleagues? It takes a strong and confident person to constantly put themselves up for criticism. Too many people look (only) for positive support when asking for opinions, rather than a truly constructive assessment.

Many years ago, one of my first bosses mentioned that when he asked for opinions in a meeting, it was me he listened to the most. Why? Well, not because I knew more than my colleagues. No; it was because I said what I really thought, not what I believed he wanted to hear. Although he didn’t always agree with what I said, he knew that what I said was what I was truly feeling.

Over the years, I came to realise that he was one of a dying breed of true leaders. Many organisations today are political hothouses, where supporting the boss is the only way to keep one’s job!

According to a Gallup study, around 50% of employees leave their company to get away from their bosses. (>>Tweet this<<) If you’re in such a situation today my advice is to GET OUT NOW! You will more than likely end up leaving one way or the other, so why waste your time with a boss who lacks leadership skills? You’ll get the support you deserve and also need to grow, elsewhere.

And what about your customers? Do you encourage them to share complaints and ideas? Why not? It’s much better to know what’s wrong and put it right quickly than to continue in blissful ignorance until your customers leave.

Customer experience is negative

According to“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner, you are unlikely to hear from more than just a fraction of dissatisfied customers. Therefore it makes sense to not only pay attention to complaints but actively search them out – before they damage your business.

 

4. Ask if you can do more

You can always do more to improve customer experienceAs anyone who has been to the emergency room of a hospital knows, patience is important. You don’t get seen by order of arrival, but by the importance of ailment. In other words, if your problem is not life-threatening, you will pass after the road accident, whose victim is more seriously injured. I know this and was happy to actually be left to “float” in a drug-induced relaxation between staff visits.

Whenever they woke me up to “check my vitals” or to inform me of the next tests or treatment planned, they always finished by asking if I had any questions or needed anything else. I was made to feel that nothing was too small or unimportant to them if it made me feel more relaxed and comfortable.

How you can apply this idea: According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs “It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Business, therefore, can no longer afford to merely satisfy their customers, they need to delight them. Do you ask both yourself and your customers what more you can do for them? If you do, you might just find a new product or service concept that answers their desires and get ahead of the competition.

 

5. Don’t stop before the end

When I was admitted for surgery, I was told that the average stay was between 6 and 12 days in a hospital. Having thought I was there for just a day or two, this came as quite a shock.

As my progress after the operation was good, I expected to leave the clinic within five days. (I always want to be better than average!) However, with the added complication of the torn ligaments in my ankle, the professor had other ideas. I ended up spending ten days there and am now on a month of complete rest before starting physio!

How you can apply this idea: As the well-known Napolean Hill quote goes

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

Some people are great at ideation; perhaps you’re one of them. However, ideation without action is just day-dreaming. (>>Tweet this<<) Therefore don’t think your job is done when you’ve come up with an idea or two. You need to follow up to turn the ideas into action.

Entrepreneurship is very popular today for both individuals and even within large corporations. However so many entrepreneurs try an idea and when it doesn’t immediately work, they give it up for a different one.

Yes, there have been many huge successes recently, but most “overnight” success have come from years of just plain hard work and dedication.

Therefore “plan the work and work the plan.” (>>Tweet this<<)

Today’s world is one of constant change, so don’t forget to be flexible and adapt to the changing circumstances of the market or your brand. But don’t give up either. Just because one part of the plan didn’t work doesn’t warrant throwing out the whole thing.

 

6. Don’t wait until it’s urgent

As I tried to wean myself off the painkillers, I found myself alternating between extreme pain and none whatsoever. The carers told me that while it’s a good objective to reduce drug usage as quickly as possible, it is counter productive to not take painkillers when they’re needed.

By my deciding to “wait and see” if the pain got worse before asking for medication, I found that the drugs became less effective.

Small, slow steps work better than giant leaps in so many areas because they are sustainable. Think New Year’s resolutions, like crash diets, new fitness regimes, or changes in lifestyle habits. It’s the small, almost imperceptible changes that tend to last and lead to success.

How you can apply this idea: So many adjustments in business involve making significant changes, whether cultural or process-wise. As the well-known saying goes:

“The best way to eat an elephant is one slice at a time.” 

Therefore when introducing large changes within your organisation, break them down into more “humanly” manageable steps.

Want to become more customer centric? Then start with one small step like building your brand personas. (You can download the C3Centricity template for doing thisHERE)

Want to make a radical change in one of your processes? Then it is often more effective to start by modifying the beginning and the end of the process. The middle steps then adapt automatically as new needs are identified.

For example, in updating your innovation process, start with better identifying the target customers and their needs. Then look how the launch will be rolled out and monitored. You will then realise that brainstorming in a vacuum or testing multiple concepts just before launch is no longer effective. These parts of the process will then be adapted to the new demands.


Find out more about our I3: Improved Ideation & Innovation 1-Day Catalyst Training HERE.


 

7. It all starts and ends with the customer

During my hospital and clinic stays I realised that they were there for me, not vice versa. I am extremely independent and had to learn to accept the help of others even for some of the most intimate actions. It was “normal” for them, but not for me. They recognised that and did everything they could to make me feel at ease. From being there just when I needed them, to eclipsing to leave me alone when I needed space, the staff knew that it was I who was important.

How you can apply this idea: Take a look at your website, your communications, your plans; do they all start and end with the customer?

Do you publish content your customers want to read, or just what you want to tell them? Does your contact information include every possible way a customer can connect with you or just a static form and drop-down menu?

Are your communications relevant and emotionally validating for your customers?

Do your plans mention the customer as often as the brand? Remember:

“There may be customers without brands, but there are no brands without customers.”

Do they also show images of customers and include extensive knowledge and understanding about them?


For more ideas about improving your customer understanding, why not join the FREE Customer Centricity Champions Webinar? It shares many tips, tools and templates to catalyse your business and improve your customer understanding immediately.

11 Bad Customer Service Examples
Source: JitBit.com

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