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Grasping the Importance of a Unified Customer Experience editorial staff editorial staff

Discover ways to improve the customer experience, from first contact to successful resolution.

  • Find out about common challenges that arise during customer service.
  • Customers expect and deserve quality service.
  • Exceptional customer service is possible.
  • Learn to devise a customer care process.
  • Learn to develop ideals of customer care.

What the customer service experience reveals about your business

We've all been there. Maybe you need to send an important email that's taken half an hour to draft. Or, you're booking tickets for a vacation. Then, disaster strikes: Suddenly, you've lost your internet connection.

You quit and restart your browser. You reboot your laptop, tablet or phone. Things still aren't working. You turn off your router and modem and wait five minutes before turning them on again. Nothing.

Finally, you bite the bullet and call customer service.

After waiting on hold for more than 20 minutes, you finally reach a human being. You give your customer details to the customer service representative and describe the problem. Then, you explain what you've already done to troubleshoot the problem. Because the customer service reps are reading from a script, they have you repeat all of the steps you already did. You bite your lip and play along, as you don't really have any other choice.

Surprise, surprise: The problem's still there. The customer service rep says they'll have to get an engineer to call you back. "Don't worry," they say, "someone will get back to you in 10 or 15 minutes."

Half an hour goes by. Annoyance has turned into frustration. Frustration has turned into anger.

You're about to call the company again, when the phone rings. Hurrah! It's the engineer! However, he doesn't know anything about your problem, just that you have a problem. You explain the situation all over again.

You can hear the engineer tapping away at his keyboard. "Try it now," he says. Success! All is well with the world again. However, not more than five minutes later, you receive an email from the company, asking you to rate how well your problem was addressed.

The internet service company has an active digital marketing presence with a Facebook page and 100,000 Twitter followers. Yet, as far as you're concerned, the company stinks; it's failed to deliver a unified customer experience.

The company, in its defense, would say each department did its job:

  • The customer service department answered your call and forwarded your complaint.
  • The support team called you back, diagnosed the issue and solved it.
  • The marketing team sent you a follow-up communication.

Yet, all three departments succeeded only in annoying you. To impress you, they needed to recognize you as the same person across all three interactions.

Customers expect a unified experience from any size business

What companies of all sizes fail to recognize is that customers don't care whether they're speaking with sales, support, service or accounts. To them, the company is one organization. A single entity. A single brand.

But if customers don't care which department they're speaking to, why do companies continue to keep customer information in separate boxes for sales, service, accounts and marketing?

Part of the answer is logistics. It's not feasible to train every employee on every job within the company, and there needs to be a chain of events within process maps for proper workflow. Also, the larger the company, the more distance between the phone representative and the problem-solver.

Is a unified customer experience possible with modern technology?

With the multitude of automated systems, remote access workers and multinational companies, it may seem like the days of a unified customer experience are long gone. However, many companies not only offer a unified customer experience but excel at it.

But this success puts pressure on small business owners to make sure they don't fall behind in customer service. "Your customers' expectations are not being set by your industry," said Mohan Sawhney, a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University. "They are being set by the best of the best of the best."

Therefore, businesses must present a unified experience from the customer's viewpoint. It's not enough to interact and engage with people on public platforms such as Twitter; you need to map out the unification on the back end as well because this is what customers expect.

How can a small business deliver individualized customer experiences?

One way to build individualized customer experiences is to develop a process that encompasses the many potential twists and turns a customer's request could take. Determine an endpoint (most likely a successful resolution of the problem), and work backward from there.

Be prepared to spend a little time on this process. You have a powerful advantage as a small business owner: It's much easier to build a road map for a small business as it grows than to retrain lots of employees and remap processes later. Large companies rely heavily on AI and automation, and that may be in your future as well. But as a small business owner, your goal is to create the same success as big business achieve using the skills, people and equipment you currently have.

Follow your company's road map to successful customer resolutions

As you map out your customers' journeys, look for detours and road blocks that can cause frustration for both your staff and your customers. Whether you have a single person with a notepad, a social media presence on every platform or an automated phone system, customer service ideals should remain the same:

  • Treat every customer as if they're your first and only customer.
  • Identify their problem accurately.
  • Remember that you're dealing with a real person who has their share of good and bad days and is just as busy as you are.
  • Be proactive by teaching your employees how to deal with difficult customers.
  • Set a goal to meet the customer's needs on the first contact. If that's not possible, ensure these needs are met without delay. That means you keep your promises to call back your customers.

Once you have your guidelines in place, it's time to reenact a series of customer service requests. As you do this, look for problem areas. Where is the broken link in the chain of communication, and how can you fix it? What methods are available to help employees pass along customer data from one stage of the process to the next?

It's also helpful for your employees to keep records of both successful and unsuccessful interactions. You may never reach your goal of 100% customer satisfaction, but every time you replace a pattern that didn't work with one that does, you're one step closer to achieving that objective.

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses continue to be the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. In most cases, small businesses handle customer service very well. With the readily available technological resources and a little planning and practice, your business could soon be one of the "best of the bests" in customer service.

Image Credit: monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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