What’s been your best customer experience in the last six months? Was it with a BOT or IVR system? Or was it an experience with a human?

When I facilitate customer strategy workshops I ask participants to share their best ever experience over that last six months. Nine times out of ten, they share an experience that they have had with a human customer support personnel who went above and beyond what they would have normally expected. Why is this the case? The answer lies in the secret elixir of iconic brands – which is, to create memorable experiences there needs to be a transfer of positive emotions from a brand to a customer.

Our extensive research over many years across categories in B2B and B2C has identified three key emotions – feeling valued, cared for and supported. A frontline human interaction provides the most powerful opportunity to transfer positive emotions to your customers. It is because people relate to and rely on emotions, rather than on just information, to make purchase decisions. It can be something as simple as preferring a vegetable vendor on your street who has a hearty conversation with you, over an impersonal experience in a supermarket.

Why did I use the term transfer of emotions? Because it goes without saying that your staff have to feel the very same emotions that you wish to transfer to your customers – which are, making them feel valued, cared for and supported. I digress slightly as this is a topic in itself.

Having said this, there is no doubt that some people prefer an impersonal reaction such as a very good banking mobile app. There are two aspects to this – it is relatively a small segment; and, an app that works well is now a hygiene factor.

It is common knowledge now that ever since the pandemic began to spread its tentacles two years ago, online shopping and digital transactions have grown exponentially. Segments that have never used digital channels have been forced to go online, and it has now become a regular habit. The challenge is to ensure that the business’ empathy remains despite the digital divide. This means that there is now a growing need to ensure that multiple channels of communication are aligned to offer a seamless experience.

The risk is that brands that go digital will have bland impersonal experiences and will not be able to differentiate themselves on customer experience. So given that it is essential that you now need to go digital, how do you build an empathetic experience?

To be successful in this new digital world of CX, you need to answer six fundamental questions.

Question 1 – Do you offer a seamless multi-channel experience to all your customers?

While large organisations in the B2C space were equipped with multi-channel communication models that recorded every customer interaction across each channel, even the not so big ones seemed to have prioritized digital integration first into their customer support functionality.

But why? Well, the obvious answer is cost economics. Let me explain this with an example.

A couple of years ago, a leading communications service provider in India started encouraging its customers to raise their concerns with them via social media chat. They had an IVR system that was so heavily bot managed that their social media connect was a welcome relief. However, this was only offered to certain high value segments. The question is WHY? The reason is that though there is a customer benefit the cost of opening these social media channels made it prohibitive.

While I am a supporter of digital transformation, what I always suggest to my clients is to have a two-way thinking process. Adding a multi-channel communication network is fabulous inside-out thinking. Chatbots, FAQs, IVR systems, SMS communication, call-back requests, social media connects are all fantastic solutions to streamline operations and reduce operational costs. But how efficient are each one of them with regard to your specific business? How comfortable are your customers in reaching out to you through all of these channels?

Being seamless is critical as you do not want customers to repeat their stories every time they reach out to you.

Question 2 – Do you really know which channels are working and which ones are not?

The solution here is to ask your two key stakeholders – your frontline staff and your customers – that are best qualified to assist you.

  • Consultative ideation sessions with your staff will help you uncover key issues and also involve them in developing creative solutions, which is key for business evolution.
  • With customers, you can survey them while they are interacting with your digital channels or may be just after an interaction via short, sharp surveys purely asking them about their digital interaction experience.

You can then prioritise key themes and take corrective action.   

Question 3 – Is your digital strategy designed to purely reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies, or is it designed for the customers’ benefit?

When a business makes that digital shift, it also needs to choose its multi-communication channels wisely. If you are a business owner or an operations manager, ask yourself these two questions:
– Do you want to deliver a great customer experience?
– Do you want to just reduce operational costs and focus on efficiency of disposing off customer queries?

Let me share a personal experience with you that many of you will be able relate to.

A few years ago, I was facing issues with a cable TV subscription and decided to contact their customer service . A chatbot appeared to be the most efficient option. It asked me a few questions and I figured that since it cannot help me, it would pass me on to a human. However, this did not happen. I was stuck in the web chat that kept directing me to the FAQs where my concern was not listed. I tried many ways to talk to a human but it was just not possible,  which was very frustrating. I felt trapped!

While the chatbot may have been integrated for operational efficiency purposes, it definitely did not seem like it was there to help customers in the true sense of the term. As for my experience with the brand, well! I don’t suppose I need to elaborate any further. This leads me to my next question.

Question 4 – Do your digital communication channels offer the option to easily speak to a human?

Sometimes a digital channel will just not work for a particular issue.

IVR systems and chatbots need to be integrated such that it allows the customer to connect with a human customer service personnel with ease when they cannot find a quick fix to their problem. It is important that every communication channel that you integrate is built with the intent to be customer-centric – not business operational cost-centric. This means that the automated system must ensure that the customer benefits from the experience, feels valued and cared for, and does not feel put down by the impersonal and transactional nature of this feature, while it may reduce human head count. The more frustrated your customers get, the more your operational costs are going to increase because of a growing detractor base.

Question 5 – What economic model are you utilising – Transactional or Lifetime Value Economics?

I have touched on economics a bit in this blog, so let me expand on the economic mindset required.

Transactional is where you look at the cost of a particular customer channel per interaction and make business decisions. This is short-term and one dimensional. But what you essentially need to look at is Customer Lifetime Economics and consider the impact on the following:

  1. Impact on retention and lifetime value
  2. Impact of positive and negative word of mouth and recommendations
  3. Cost to serve when issues are not resolved quickly
  4. Impact on share of wallet or the likelihood that the customer may buy additional products or services from you

Based on this you can make good economic decisions.

And finally,

Question 6 – Is the digital experience improving the current customer process?

Netflix is a success because it replaced the cumbersome process of renting DVD’s. Uber worked because it identified key pain points in the taxi experience and used the digital medium to make the experience better. Amazon and Netflix are experts at using digital information to make relevant and personal recommendations. How can you use customer information in a way to offer a personalized experience that is better than the incumbent experience?

The right answers to the above questions will help your business effectively chart your digital transformation journey and optimize your customer experience and your economic outcomes.