Digital Empathy – The Secret to Customer Success – by Christopher Roberts.
Now, who does not know Lego! It so happened that a young boy who had saved up his Christmas money to buy a Ninjago, lost the toy while he was out shopping with his family. Devastated, the little boy wrote to Lego explaining his distress over losing the toy and also confessed that he had gone against his father’s advice and had taken the toy on the shopping trip. He then requested in the letter if he could get a replacement.
Soon enough, he received a package from Lego with a replacement, as well as another complimentary toy. But that was not all! There was a letter addressed to the boy where a customer service representative wrote him a heartfelt message that while the little boy was definitely considered a top ninja series fan, he must listen to his father’s advice and take care of his ninjagos well. The customer service representative’s positive encouragement to the child not only won over the heart of the little boy but also that of his parents and several others who heard this story from them.
Every businessman knows that the key to a successful customer relationship stems not just from the fact that you identify their key pain point, anticipate their problem and provide a solution as soon as you can, but also make them feel valued, cared for and supported in this process. The difference between making that sale happen and establishing a long-term relationship with them lies in the ability to create empathetic responses that not just solve the problem, but also provide a level of personal satisfaction that shows the customer that we’ve walked in their shoes.
So, let me ask you a question: how eventful has your month been as a customer? When was the last time you said – “Wow! I enjoyed doing business with this brand.”? Chances are, whenever you have had such a Wow experience, you will have interacted with a human, and not just with a bot.
The economic value associated with customer experience has grown exponentially in the last few years. Great customer experiences are sure to increase the lifetime value of a customer. But at the same time, there is also a need for speed to address customer concerns, while reducing the cost overheads for organisations. Hence, several organisations have adopted the use of bots such as IVR systems, SMS communication and chatbots, among several others, to replace human interaction and make the conversation more efficient for business operations. But is efficiency the only metric that a business needs to look at to deliver a great customer experience, or does it need to integrate the effectiveness of an emotional connection as well? Let’s find out.
Across the millions of customers that I have surveyed, it is guaranteed that almost always the impact of human interaction with customer support personnel has created a greater emotional and empathetic impact when compared to conversations with an IVR system or a bot. Does this mean that I believe we should do away with automated systems? Hell, no!
Irrespective of whether you are in the B2B or B2C space, there are three key emotions that matter the most to customers – feeling valued, cared for and supported – which form an inevitable emotional triangle that is key to customer success. This is especially important if you are dealing with customers who belong to Gen Y and Z, who operate in a hyper-digital world but are all for experiences more than materialistic needs. This means that this target market does not read reviews, provide reviews or make decisions to purchase and repurchase purely based on the quality of the product. Rather, they rely on emotions and experiences that the brand can offer them to make a purchase or repurchase decision. Something as simple as buying vegetables from a local vendor regularly if he can offer them a hearty conversation is a decision taken from an emotional standpoint, even though quick doorstep delivery apps are used extensively to cater to the efficiency of time.
Since the pandemic, online transactions and e-shopping have increased rapidly. Channels such as healthcare consultations and school academia among others, which barely saw the light of an active online system, have been forced to transform and incorporate going online. Besides, being digital has become an almost unavoidable requirement for most businesses; if not a website, at least a search on Google Maps and a few reviews are expected by customers. To facilitate a seamless experience through this, organisations have now understood the need to establish multiple channels of communication and align them with their business practices. However, the risk that brands take while going digital is often prefaced with providing a bland and/or impersonal experience to their customers. So, what exactly must organisations do when going digital with their customer service to ensure that they provide an empathetic experience?
There are six fundamental factors that aid this empathetic experience in the digital world of CX:
1) Multi-channel customer support systems must be seamless
The first and foremost factor lies in the way organisations establish their multi-channel communication model across their consumers’ space. Every customer interaction across each channel, whether big or small, plays a vital role in defining the long-term success of their empathetic CX model. So why must organisations invest in this? A simple example brings out the essence of it through cost economics.
A large communication service provider in India recently started encouraging one of their high-value segments to raise concerns via social media chat. This was a shift from their established IVR system that was used for all users. This transition to social media interactions from an impersonal IVR experience was a welcome relief, albeit for a small demographic of their customers. Unfortunately, a larger demographic, who may or may not have been of high value, were forced to continue communication via the IVR system where getting through to a customer support representative became an even greater challenge.
Things weren’t that great either for those who were raising concerns over social media chat. A complaint lodged on one social media platform was not seamlessly connected to the others, which meant, customers had to repeat their concerns across multiple social platforms when they followed up for resolutions.
Hence, a simple yet effective tactical strategy for building an empathetic CX fabric within your organisation is to establish a concrete multi-channel communication network that is seamless.
2) Assess every channel of communication diligently
The second factor that contributes significantly to a great customer experience is understanding which communication channels are working and which are not. This can be easily understood by considering the feedback from your two key stakeholders – customers and frontline staff. Their response can help your business with critical insights that can shape your strategic planning.
By involving these two key stakeholders in analysing customer feedback, you open pathways for strategic business growth because their feedback can help you identify key pain points. This understanding can help you make effective decisions and design policies and resolutions through consultative ideation sessions with your staff who work in close quarters with your customers and understand their needs well.
3) Design your customer interaction models for customers’ benefit
The third crucial element to consider when designing a customer interaction channel is to understand whether your digital strategy is designed purely to reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies at the business level, or if it is designed for the customers’ benefit. As a business owner or an operations manager, it is vital to understand this and establish these multi-communication channels wisely.
If you continue to provide a digitally automated experience to your customers without the possibility of seeking human assistance when the bot cannot resolve a concern, you make your customers feel trapped and unhappy. While the chatbot may have the operational efficiency you require, it does not assist customers in the true sense, losing out on the empathy factor.
Let me share a personal experience. I was once trying to connect through to a cable operator for a fix to a problem. As soon as I landed on their website, a chatbot greeted me. As I started clicking on the various options it threw my way, I found it to be quite efficient. But my positive impression of this bot was short-lived. After asking me about 7-10 questions, the bot said it could not help me resolve the issue.
What happened next is what I will share in the next point. But at this stage, this bot seemed like a clear case of automated customer support that was integrated by a business purely for operational efficiency and not for the benefit of their customers.
4) Allow customers to speak to a human when necessary
Going back to my experience with the cable operator, I retried another combination of the automated options that the bot threw my way, hoping to find a way out to reach a human customer support executive who could help resolve my issue. However, regardless of what I selected, the bot did not provide me access to a human support person, nor was there any phone number via which I could call the cable operator to ask for resolution.
When there is extreme dependence on automated systems and a lack of human connection, it is as good as hitting a dead end with the problem. Given this, you need to ask yourself: at what point does your customer experience strategy provide a seamless link between digital communication and human interaction? If IVR systems or bots must be integrated, they should allow customers to also connect to human support personnel when the automated system fails to close a ticket successfully.
As I stated in my earlier point, every communication channel must be established with a customer-centric, and not business operational cost-centric, approach. An automated system must be designed to ensure customer benefits are derivable through the experience and empathetic factors such as feeling valued and cared for are taken into account. Though IVR and bot systems may reduce human headcount, it also directly reduces the level of positive interaction the customer receives in a time of dismay.
5) Shift from a transactional customer communication channel to one that is built on Lifetime Value Economics
It is a common economic practice to ensure businesses have efficient transactional channels. Rather than just looking at the transactional cost of a channel, it is essential to have a holistic economic perspective. Specifically, it is critical to understand customer lifetime economics and gauge the impact a channel might have on retaining them and their lifetime value. This includes appreciating the impact of positive and negative word of mouth, loyalty, cost to serve, speed of problem resolution and the impact it has on your share of wallet. A sound economic decision can only be made when these factors are carefully considered while designing your economic business model.
As a business leader or CX manager, you must ask yourself whether your customer communication model is utilising just a transactional value model or a lifetime economic value model.
6) The digital experience you offer must improve on the existing processes for your customers
Digital experiences should be designed to improve the customer communication process. But how can you use customer information in a way that can personalise the experience better than the incumbent experience that exists? When organisations identify key pain points that customers face with a category and use that knowledge to create and execute strategies, they bridge the gap between customer expectations and provide them with a great experience. This can be explained by the simple yet perfectly effective model of Uber.
By capitalizing on the pain point of customers having to step out of the house and hail a cab, and then not knowing how long the cab would take to pick them up, Uber strategized their business model to allow you to book a taxi from the comfort of your home and enjoy a door-to-door service and know exactly how far away the driver was from picking them up. Their first-mover advantage came through only because they were able to apply this insight to disrupt the taxi market.
Hence, it is safe to say that though organisations may have access to customer information, how they choose to use and apply that information makes the difference. By offering a personalized experience with the right blend of human and AI touch, it is possible to attain a professional level of digital empathy that can help your business take one step forward towards success. Companies that show customers empathy build customers that foster company empathy.
How are you going to ensure your digital channels are infused with empathy?
Managing Director, Engaged Strategy