Companies obsess about touchpoints—both before and after a sale—and strive to create optimal customer experiences with every interaction. But, can a single customer experience define the relationship with a brand? And should it? More pertinent questions are what truly has better ROI over the long term, and which kind of customer engagement also translates to better operational efficiencies.
Customer experience professionals are split on the question of creating “easy” – “just get the job done quickly” experiences vs. “delightful” engagements. Those in the “easy” camp suggest that companies serve the customer with simple interactions that focus on completing the request or reason for the call in the easiest and most efficient manner. By focusing on easy, customers appreciate the speed and efficiency which translates to improved NPS, CSAT, CES, and optimal customer experience.
Those touting “delight” aim for impressing the customer with unexpected, or over the top interactions, i.e. mailing birthday cards, or giving an unexpected discount. Promoters of delight argue that optimum customer experiences and loyalty are derived from a special relationship a customer has with a brand.
The challenge, though, is to understand that, in reality, one interaction such as a phone call, visit, etc. doesn’t’ define the relationship in the customer’s eyes. The pivotal point for defining relationships is the cumulative experiences across a series of touchpoints in various channels over the course of the relationship.
This may be unnerving for those in the customer service industry who cut their teeth on the mantra of always working to exceed customer expectations. Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos states the brand’s position when he says, “We have a relentless focus on customer service. That’s even more important online than in the physical world. If you make a customer unhappy in the physical world, they will tell five people. Online they can tell 5000. There’s something about email that means people are much more willing to say exactly what they think and they can reach a lot more people.”
Doesn’t everybody want to follow the advice that drives this retailing behemoth? Perhaps. But it’s important to understand how they and others make the distinction between easy customer experiences and delightful ones.
Can “Delight” Improve Customer Experience?
Most people would agree that, yes, they yearn to be delighted and appreciate over-the-top gestures and commitments that hope to prove undying support. Customer delight is personal. Most of the time it’s spontaneous and just generates a feel-good moment. Warm and fuzzy is great, but at what cost? The extra time and expense invested may not always pay off. Sure, word of mouth is great but does it balance out what you and your customer service team put into it?
Devotees of the customer delight position will staunchly defend the modus of going the extra mile and even going out of their way to delight a customer. Those moments certainly feel good for the giver and the receiver. But is there enough clout in them to build a strategy around? Should companies be confident that they’re meeting basic expectations before worrying about exceeding them?
Are Companies Trying Too Hard with Customer Loyalty?
The customer is king. No doubt. But do companies always have to deliver experiences of delight? Can easy interactions be just as effective and not take a toll on employees, response mechanisms and financial investment? Simply, yes.
The Customer Contact Council, a division of the Corporate Executive Board at Gartner, conducted a study of more than 75,000 people who had phone and self-service channel interactions with contact center representatives in order to better understand three things:
- How important is customer service to loyalty?
- Which customer service activities increase loyalty, and which don’t?
- Can companies increase loyalty without raising their customer service operating costs?
The survey results proved two things: It’s not delight that builds loyalty; making customer lives easier by resolving issues does. And, second, companies that understand this and act on it will realize better customer service and reduced customer costs.
Gartner VP and analyst, Ed Thompson, believes that delighting customers is a myth that doesn’t benefit anyone. “What you’ll probably hear most of the time is you want to delight the customer, innovate like heck and then use loads of data, correlate it and then draw conclusions and improve the customer experience using data and analytical [tools],” Thompson states. “I’m saying don’t. It’s a waste of time, all three. The best companies don’t do it; you don’t want to do it.”
According to Thompson, the best customer interactions are those that are easy; not those that exceed expectations. “If you move from below expectations to meeting them you get a massive improvement. The ROI pays off tremendously. And as you keep spending money it doesn’t really pay off.”
The Feeling of Easy for the Customer Experience
Delight is lovely but there are industry experts who claim that making customer experiences as easy as possible provides the biggest return in customer loyalty. Just solve problems as quickly as possible and you’ll have customers for life. This strategy makes execution much more streamlined and quite freeing for those who have worked toward delighting customers for a long time and never felt like they were able to achieve that level of satisfaction.
And let’s face it, easy is, well, easier to achieve. Tell employees how to fix problems and remove obstacles to customer challenges is more fact and process-based. There are procedures and guidelines to follow, and easy customer experience and agent tools to use. Whereas, delight is fraught with the unknown. Employees are called on to be creative and show initiative. Let’s just say easy is less of a strain on all involved, plus the customer still gets the required satisfaction.
Easy doesn’t mean that customer reps shouldn’t always be thinking ahead and being proactive in heading off potential customer problems. Or that they should ignore the emotional side of interactions with customers who are stressed and frustrated. Easy is all about delivering a calm, low-effort experience on the front line. It’s that simple.
Can Delight and Easy Exist in a Perfect World?
Obviously, there are benefits to making things as simple as possible as well as following a path toward constant customer delight. Should one prevail? Are there circumstances where one is better than the other?
We choose to live in a world where both easy and delight can co-exist for the huge benefits that they bring to the equation. Enterprising service managers can incorporate tactics to accommodate both. All things considered, easy gets resolutions quickly and that should be the ultimate goal. Too often, easy is sidestepped for its more glamorous strategy—delight—when all the customer wanted was a quick solution.
This is especially true in certain industries like insurance, financial services and telecommunications which are traditionally behind in delivering the basics when it comes to meeting customer expectations. Generating revenue will come quicker when strengthening “easy” in these instances as opposed to gearing up to delight customers through exceeding expectations.
It’s not always necessary to gild the lily, to make the process any more complicated than it needs to be. According to Gartner, there are only four elements that impact easy customer interactions:
- Channel stickiness. Do you provide all the appropriate channels for customers to solve their issues based on how they choose to engage for service?
- Next issue avoidance. Are employees empowered to anticipate and act proactively to avoid a second contact on an issue?
- Experience engineering. Do employees genuinely engage and listen to customers as if they were lifelong partners?
- Frontline control. Do agents and representatives have the knowledge, tools and permission to provide great service?
These guidelines aim to make things easy and they’re critical for keeping things simple. They resolve issues expediently and don’t overcomplicate customer interactions with extraneous efforts to delight.
Do not abandon delight altogether, however. Instances of creating delight among a steady pattern of quick and easy resolution is the perfect balance to strike when considering long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty. Just as it is in all other everyday experiences, we plan and attack our challenges, hoping for an easy way of it, but we certainly love it when something occurs to surprise or delight us. Your customers feel the same.
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