The contact centre industry is continually evolving. A few years ago we were in the Customer Management industry. Now we have evolved to be in the Customer Experience industry. On the face of it, this rebranding of the industry shows that we look at things from the customer’s point of view rather than simply trying to manage them as if they are a nuisance. However, do we really understand what the customer experience is and how to improve it?
A starting point is to look at what experts say. Forrester defines Customer Experience as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company.” This is correct in as far as it goes, but only tells half the story. As with most things, we tend to look internally as an industry and assume that the customer experience is all about us and the type of interaction a customer has when contacting the company.
However, ask any customer. Customer experience starts long before they pick up the phone or start a chat session. For a manufacturing company, the experience starts when the customer researches and then purchases the product. Their experience continues when they set the product up and try to understand the instructions; it continues when they register it and use it.
Customers need help from the start to set up their new product and get it working or indeed they may get many months or years use from the product before they have an issue and they need support. Only then, when they need help, will they contact the company. Their experience at this stage can make or break the relationship because the customer won’t necessarily remember the fact that something has gone wrong, but they will remember how the problem is dealt with.
The critical part that is missing from the definition above is an understanding that the customer experience starts long before they try and make contact with a contact centre. As customer experience professionals, we need to be able to influence the full end to end experience, not just when a customer contacts us. In many ways, that is locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Advisors understand customer issues because they are in the privileged position of speaking (or chatting) with customers. The majority of the issues identified will be outside the contact centre’s direct span of control, but this knowledge is a source of invaluable information and insight. For example, if customers call in because product instructions are not clear, only the contact centre will know this within the organisation. If customers talk about multiple and confusing correspondence received, again, the contact centre is probably the only team aware of this and the impact it has on the customer.
Contact centres and retail stores if appropriate, need to be at the centre of the organisation and become the insight and analytics hub, collating and analysing insight gained, to drive improvements. Because this insight comes direct from customers, capitalising on it is the optimal way to improve the customer experience, leading to higher satisfaction, more loyal customers, reduced contacts, reduced costs and product insight.
This will require a change of mindset for many organisations who may see the contact centre as a necessary evil, within which to minimise spending as much as possible, rather than a business critical function that helps to inform and drive product development, product management and marketing amongst many other teams. Ultimately, the contact centre is a strategic asset rather than a simple cost centre but to use it as such requires a deep understanding of the end to end customer experience.