Customer photoAfter a period of sustained cost reduction and a focus on operational efficiency in customer-facing functions, many organisations are turning their thoughts to delivering an improved and differentiating service to their customers. There is a noticeable surge in appointments of chief customer officers and customer experience directors. This is a good thing. I believe that organisations can truly and sustainably differentiate themselves from the competition by delivering on their customer experience promise.

Unlike product innovations, customer experience improvements are often hard for the competition to replicate as they cut across process, culture, systems, product and organisation. They take time and sustained effort to put in place and hence cannot be easily copied. For those that are successful in delivering it, customer experience offers the opportunity to compete on a factor other than cost/price, and the relentless focus this demands.

The surprising thing about how organisations are approaching customer experience is the almost universally high aspiration that organisations set themselves, and how success is measured.

The aspiration

In virtually any customer service function in the financial services industry, the vision is of a high-end, high-value service to all segments. “5-star service”, “6-star service”, “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”, “outstanding”, “market-leading” are all typical statements espoused by customer service functions.

An appropriate customer experience isn’t exactly an exciting vision. But shouldn’t organisations be trying to deliver what their customers actually need? There are huge segments of time-poor, technology savvy people who want to transact quickly, efficiently and online. Similarly there are brands where the customer has purchased on the promise of an efficient, standardised service. Delivering an appropriate customer experience for these segments means a customer who has been understood and whose needs have been fulfilled. It also means freeing up resources for those segments that do demand something more personalised.

The measure

Similarly, the way in which organisations measure their customer experience often seems to rely on outliers and anecdotes. The famous ‘moments of truth’. I recently challenged a customer service director in a bank that his moment of truth, keeping a branch open for ten minutes to serve a customer, was confusing cause and effect. Certainly it demonstrated a customer focused culture in that branch, but how did he know if he was moving the dial for all customers? Net promoter scores, measures like net-new-customers and executive-level dashboards are the real way to measure the impact of your customer experience programme. Using control groups and pilots also helps to strip out the ‘noise’ created by other factors, like marketing campaigns, which make the impact of a customer experience intervention so hard to measure.

The keys to success

To avoid customer experience becoming another buzzword that fails to deliver on its promise I believe organisations should:

  • Focus on micro-segments and truly understand needs and hence the appropriate customer experience
  • Not believe that customer experience means high-touch, high-cost service to all segments
  • Put in place executive-level measures to demonstrate how they are ‘moving the dial’
  • Pilot initiatives to prove the customer and economic impact of interventions
  • Continue to focus on creating a customer-centric culture and operations, whilst being clear this doesn’t mean gold-plating your service

In short, delivering a great customer experience is a science, not an art. It requires granular thinking and a disciplined approach to execution. Don’t try to amaze your customers, don’t focus on outliers and deliver what they actually want and need.

On 4th March 2014, Jim Allen will speak about delivering profitable growth through customer experience at the Customer Experience in Financial Services conference.

Jim AllenJim Allen
Jim leads Deloitte’s Customer Experience proposition for Financial Services in the UK. Over the past 14 years Jim has been delivering Customer transformation programmes in the UK and Europe, working with a variety of Financial Services firms. Profile | LinkedIn


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