It amazes me that Customer Experience (or Cx – because we have to give everything a cool acronym) did not stick sooner than it did. It’s simplicity is brilliant and puzzling at the same time. Let me give you an example. I heard the Vice President of Customer Service & Sales Operations for one of America’s largest wholesale distributors of business products tell the story of one of her customer service agents. Jill (although that is not her name), receives some of the most positive feedback in the company BUT by traditional customer “satisfaction” expectations is not the friendliest or most congenial person customers speak to on the phone. Her customers, you see, are the managers of wholesale distribution warehouses. They are rough-around-the-edges just like Jill and ask only one thing when they call her: “Where the heck is my order?” They don’t want Jill to smile and ask them how the morning is going or what they had for breakfast. They have their entire company asking for printer and toilet paper and Jill expediently gets them the information and solutions they need. Jill’s customers “feel” that she is giving them what they need and make interactions easy.

How is it possible that Jill’s customers ‘love her’? How is it that they credit her assistance for their continued loyalty? How is it that without the behavior that typically accompanies a ‘friendly’ customer service experience, Jill is still able to keep her customers happy?

The answer is that customer experience (the very thing that keeps customers with you and motivates them to recommend you) is based on factors that do not always have to do with loyalty or brand recognition, or some of the other things we have attached to customer service for years. Customer experience is about a customer’s ability to get what they need from you and their perception of how you enable them to do that. The positive emotions that result from that enablement and accomplishment is what influences the customer to continue to do business with you and recommend you to others (be it directly or through the conversations they have about you within various social and conventional channels).

In Bruce Lee’s book, “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”, the famous martial artist and movie star describes his fighting style like this:

“The art of Jeet Kune Do is simply to simplify. Jeet Kune Do avoids the superficial, penetrates the complex, goes to the heart of the problem, and pinpoints the key factors. Jeet Kune Do does not beat around the bush. It does not take winding detours. It takes a straight line to the objective. Simplicity is the shortest distance between two points.”

Keeping it simple is the key!

While in my previous example the expectation was to have Jill get to the point, a customer calling you to learn about a healthcare plan or their Medicare benefits expects far more compassion and empathy. In that equation: Functionality, accessibility, and emotional connection is the key. Whatever the scenario, keeping it simple is key and to those three factors help you rate the customer experience. You have to help people get what they need. You have to understand their expectations. And as a company, you have to make it easy for them to interact with you. For hospitality companies where customer experience depends on face-to-face conversations and interactions, a lot of the focus is on training people to behave correctly and understand the expectations guests have under certain circumstances (hotel check in, response time, etc.). The same is true about training customer service agents to focus on understanding customer needs. However, in a world of increasing communication and interaction channels, customer expectation also includes their expectation to reach you via the channels most accessible to them. As a consumer, you experience this daily. You feel it when you engage a new company expecting to be able to chat with an agent on your mobile phone or tablet while waiting at the DMV and realize they have not created a channel for you to do that. Most people simply go to a competitor who can communicate with them via the channels most accessible to them. Otherwise, you have to clearly communicate the value of directing them to the channels you want them to use. Customer Experience, as the term indicates, is what the customer perceives over single or multiple interactions with you. The emotions that emerge from it, and a customer’s decision to continue to do business with you, are based on your company’s ability to keep it simple and pertinent to what the customer needs and the expectations attached to that interaction.

Why it pays to be a good listener

As with any discipline that must factor in people’s emotional responses, customer experience depends heavily on listening. You have to listen to customers and understand what they need. You have to address the expectations they bring to the interaction. You have to build the channels customers expect to use to communicate with you. And while there is no technology silver bullet for customer experience, technology tools are a necessity in a technology savvy customer world.

Some experts say that Customer Experience is not a strategy on its own. While I believe that it does require strategic planning to create a Cx program and address customer experience needs, I think there is validity to the thought that customer experience cannot be seen as a disconnected all-encompassing strategy. Customer experience is a required component within a set of customer strategies that place the customer at the center of your business without sacrificing business needs. Customer Experience is the simple, basic measurement we use to keep customers with us and motivated to recommend us to others.

JC