Treat customers like assets and they will act in kind

Treating patrons like assets and aligning company priorities is touted as a winning customer experience management strategy.

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A successful customer experience management strategy isn't just about quickly processing transactions. It's also about managing technical support, training call center agents and using more than surveys to solicit customer feedback.

In fact, CEM encompasses those issues and a lot more -- from a product's user-friendly packaging and a website's ease of use to even the legibility of a billing statement.

To make the most of CEM, businesses should start from the inside out, analysts recommend. That means involving employees from all departments to determine how they should handle customers. It also means treating customers like any other asset: keeping the more valuable ones by shaping customer experience management procedures around their needs.

Identifying and improving customer touch points

Because customers' needs differ and the reasons for them to interact with a company vary, attempts to manage the overall customer experience require a lengthy evaluation of available resources and critical problem areas.

Getting feedback from customers and employees is a good place to start, industry observers said. They recommend assembling a cross-sectional team of employees from each department in a company -- overlooking no one, not even the back-office staff. Then have team members identify the key channels -- phone calls, emails, social media postings -- through which they come into contact with customers.

"You need a group that can provide a cross-organizational view of what needs to happen," said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of The Temkin Group, a research and consulting company in Newton, Mass.

"We see more companies implementing customer experience groups to drive these efforts. It’s important also for that group to have connections and an understanding of the entire organization."

Next, gather customer feedback alongside behavioral data to pinpoint possible problems, said Marc Mandel, director of business development and client strategy at Strativity Group, a customer experience management strategy and research company in Hackensack, N.J.

But feedback isn't enough, Mandel said. Companies should avoid relying on customer surveys and comments alone. For one thing, feedback doesn't represent a statistical view of all customers, and it can generate inaccurate responses; for example, a customer misrepresenting a complaint or not truthfully answering a survey question to avoid offending the questioner.

And certain feedback may never appear in a survey, but it can still shed light on good predictors of customer behavior, Mandel said.

"For instance, one sound predictor of a satisfied customer is that he is getting few product return credits. So if a customer service manager notices that credits are going down, he can be fairly sure customer satisfaction is going up," he said.

There are many ways to obtain feedback and behavioral data, Temkin added. "You can proactively call them, maybe go after a specific set of customers every quarter, or do surveys and quality reviews and predictive analytics."

Managing customer assets

Jeanne Bliss, founder of CustomerBliss, a customer service strategy firm in Bellevue, Wash., suggests companies treat customer management as asset management. In a real sense, customers are assets, she said. It's the customers who pay for products and services and generate revenue.

Like assets, some customers are more costly than others, Bliss said. Some spend a lot but servicing them doesn't cost much, and they rarely return products. Others, however, make only small purchases but constantly call tech support or ask for refunds.

Just as organizations manage the lifecycles of corporate assets, they can also manage customer lifecycles: from initial impression to first contact, purchases, repeat purchases, referrals, rewards and discounts.

Managing customers like assets, Bliss said, will identify the most profitable types of customers and focus on the issues of greatest concern to them.

As part of this, Bliss recommends categorizing customer assets according to their profitability to the company as well as analyzing the elements of each category for insight into what makes one customer segment buy more or complain less than other segments.

Align performance measures, corporate priorities

A Temkin Group survey this year on customer experience management associated high levels of CEM maturity in companies with sharper corporate focus on employee welfare and work culture and less emphasis on cost-cutting.

For the most part, employees do what you pay them to do. If you want your support desk staff to provide outstanding customer service, it doesn't make sense to reward them for fast call turnover or for preventing caller complaints from going straight to senior management, according to Temkin.

Many traditional operational metrics -- such as time spent on a website or the number of sales calls made a day -- are not appropriate for measuring the customer’s view of the transaction, several experts said. One common call center metric -- the length of a call, or turnaround time -- can easily lead to bad customer experiences if the call center reps feel they must rush customers through calls in order to score high.

As Art Hall, manager of business consulting for the Atlanta consultancy Alvarez & Marsal, points out, turnaround time is strictly a budget issue. "It leads to [diminished] staff, lower operational expenditures. But it does not necessarily drive good customer experience," he said.

Temkin advises keeping operational metrics -- such as call handling times -- but moving them out of the reward system for employees.

"It’s a matter of what you prioritize. If you focus on how many minutes each call took or on pushing products out the door, even if they have flaws, then it’s going to be hard to get employees to focus on customer experiences," he said. "You can analyze operational data, but balance it against the customers' view of those interactions."

In the end, part of managing customer experience is accepting that customers may not want the things you think they should want.

"They might like your product but don’t want a love fest with you," said Denis Pombriant, founder of Beagle Research Group LLC in Stoughton, Mass. "They may just want a price, a quick order, and then get on with their lives. So [implementing] a full contact center may not be necessary if all they want is simply good, crisp information."

Next Steps

More companies join CEM choir but still lack maestros

Successful CEM strategy, study finds, calls for higher employee wages

This was first published in October 2012

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