Is your customer experience programme driven by a truly customer-centric approach?

“The customer is not dependent upon us; we are dependent upon him. The customer is not an interruption of our work—he is the purpose of it. The customer is not a rank outsider to our business; he is a part of it. The customer is not a statistic—he is a flesh-and-blood human being equipped with biases, prejudices, emotions, pulse, blood chemistry and possibly a deficiency of certain vitamins. The customer is not someone to argue with or match wits against—he is a person who brings us his wants; if we have sufficient imagination we will endeavour to handle them profitably to him and to ourselves.

I like this quote – as much for the debate about its attribution (some say it was uttered by Mahatma Gandhi!) as for its simple truth. This version, from Kenneth B. Elliott V.P. Sales for the Studebaker Corporation, first appeared in 1941 in “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers”. It is a succinct reminder of how the relationship between customer and company should be and, all too often, isn’t.

Putting the customer at the heart of the experience

Customer experience is the perception that your customers have of their interaction with your company. It is NOT what you have decided they need. You may have decided that a maximum wait time of 30 seconds is acceptable – your customer may be happy with as much as 50 seconds or as little as 10. You may have decided that an average handling time of 2 minutes is O.K. for a given process; your customer may be surprised it takes so long. You can’t get the experience right 100% of the time but you can get it right more often by opening your organisation up to the voice of the customer. Here are 5 ways you can give your organisation a head start by putting the customer at the heart of your customer experience process.

Tear up the organogram

An organisation structures itself in a way that reflects its resources, locations, history and internal politics. But such hierarchies seldom mirror the way in which the customer touches the organisation. When mapping your customers’ journey throw out the organisational chart and begin with the customer view. Focus groups will quickly give you a clear picture of how customers move from contact centre, to website, to email, to social media and back again. You will soon identify the role and influence of third parties, advisers and intermediaries.

Each day ask “How are we doing?”

Continuous real-time feedback is absolutely the best way to find out what your customers are thinking – about your people, your products and your service. In a couple of days you can gather the thoughts of hundreds, if not thousands of customers – mainly positive, sometimes negative. This can be done through IVR surveys on landline or mobile, email or web surveys, SMS or social media; or a combination of all channels. A simple 6 to 8 question survey will give you a treasure trove of information about what was good and what was bad. When you ask questions use the language that your customers use and make sure your attention is focused on them, not you. A question that asks “Brand X is constantly striving for five star service delivery. Overall how satisfied were you with your experience today?” is at best company centric, at worst leading.

Never try to second guess the customer

There is nothing so unpredictable as a customer. Predictive modelling of behaviour is no substitute for analysing and understanding actual behaviour. A recent example of the dangers of trying to predict what people will do came with Sunday’s Oscars. On 26th February the BBC ran a story entitled “Can we predict Oscar winners using data analytics alone?”. It described how two data analysis companies had crunched piles of data (150 variables, from film genre to box office takings, from review ratings to the percentage of female viewers under 18) to create an algorithm that predicted, with a 64% confidence level, that the Revenant would win an Oscar for Best Film. The actual winner. “Spotlight”, came in joint ‘one-from-last’ place in their predicted list with a 7.2% confidence rating. Pollsters for last year’s UK election were similarly embarrassed by their forecasts. And as for those who were convinced that ‘The Donald’ could never be the next President of the United States……

Close the loop on customer feedback

Your customer has taken the time and expended effort to praise you or criticise you. It may not be possible to acknowledge every piece of feedback but where you can, you should. Doubly so where the feedback has been negative. Closing the loop for dissatisfied customers is one of the most powerful means of building your brand. When customers leave feedback their expectations of it being listened to let alone acted on are low. So when you do respond customers are amazed and delighted. Closing the loop with a disenchanted customer can boost advocacy by a factor of three. It’s worth the effort.

Personalise your service delivery

I mentioned in a previous blog the importance of avoiding a standard approach to customer service delivery. Every customer is an individual with their own set of circumstances, wants and needs. Allow your customer-facing staff the freedom to recognise and respond to a customer’s mood. Give them a framework within which they can build confidence by taking initiative. Treat them like intelligent people and they will respond with intelligent behaviour.

According to the latest report on Customer Satisfaction in the UK (Institute of Customer Service – January 2016) the three top priorities for UK consumers are ‘Competence of staff’, ‘staff doing what they say they will’ and ‘Helpfulness of staff’. Your employees can only demonstrate competence, reliability and helpfulness by having the authority to answer questions and take decisions. Arm them with the ability to do so and you will deliver a truly customer-centric experience as opposed to a service that has been designed for an ‘average’ customer – of course there’s no such thing.

No customer. No business.

Avoid customer-centricity at your peril. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, understood the risk of so doing:

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blogs. I will shortly be compiling them into a white paper which, more formally, reviews the essential ingredients of a successful customer experience programme. If you’d like a copy, let me know by emailing me on

Thanks for taking the time to read my views; I’m always interested to hear yours.

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