Monday, October 8, 2007

Make Sure Your Customers Love You

Everyone knows what a bad customer experience feels like. Your account representative calls you to sell you something and is surprisingly clueless about the hassle you’ve been having with the service department for the last three weeks. You keep getting so many irrelevant emails from a company that you eventually tell them to stop spamming you. You call customer service for clarification about something you saw on their website, and they give you contradictory information—or don’t even know what you’re talking about. Most of our negative experiences as customers occur when the companies we deal with can’t give us the answers we want or don’t seem to be aware of us as individuals. The consequences of such experiences go well beyond wasted time and tense conversations.

Great customer experiences, on the other hand, are of extraordinary value. Companies that keep their customers happy tend to keep their customers. They have strong brands and generate a lot of free word-of-mouth advertising. They are also better able to overcome the problems that inevitably occur when they ship faulty products or make other types of mistakes—since studies show that customers often become even more loyal to a company when it effectively "recovers" from such a mistake.

In today's hyper-connected world, a great customer experience is even more important. Customers have virtually infinite choices and can therefore take their business to a competitor at the slightest provocation. Competing in this market on price alone is a direct route to ever-thinning margins. And, while a good and/or somewhat differentiated product is essential for getting into the game, you can still get leapfrogged by the competition—or lose customers by mistreating them just once. So, today’s customers simply expect more than just a good product or a low price. They expect to be treated well and will settle for nothing less.

The best practices listed below all revolve around one central principle: Knowledge At the Point of Action (KAPA). Every time your company interacts with a customer—whether it’s a marketing, sales, or service interaction—there is an exchange of knowledge. Knowledge may flow from your business to the customer, from the customer to the company, or both. But the quality of this knowledge exchange directly impacts the quality of the customer experience. A great customer experience therefore requires that knowledge exchanges take place in a timely way across all communication channels, and that the knowledge exchanged is consistently accurate, relevant, clear, and up-to-date.

Some best practices for KAPA are:
• Effectively and efficiently capture all required knowledge types
• Maintain accuracy, relevance and freshness of knowledge over time
• Facilitate knowledge access for customers, frontline employees, and partners
• Leverage a common knowledge foundation across departments and channels
• Fully exploit self-service where practical and appropriate
• Continually measure and improve KAPA effectiveness

KAPA therefore requires organizations to capture all types of knowledge relevant to the customer experience, including:
• CRM data
• Real-time process knowledge such as sales cycle status, the progress of a multi-stage campaign, or the age of an open incident
• Product and service knowledge such as technical specifications, pricing, special promotions, appropriate use and warranties
• Company knowledge such as store locations, return and refund policies, news about mergers and acquisitions, customer references, and third-party partnerships
• Competitive knowledge about other companies’ offerings and activities
• General knowledge about technology, regulations, or markets that customers need to make better use of a product or employees need to do their jobs more effectively
• Analytical insight that managers need to continuously improve the customer experience—such as performance metrics (campaign response rates, first-call resolution rates, etc.), defect/complaint trends, and survey results

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