Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Customer Experience: "The Crucial Differentiator"

By Carlos Paniagua
Director, Relationship Care® Partnerships
American Express

Service remains a major reason why customers choose American Express today. Yet this is an unprecedented time, and service has never been more important than now. Customer Experience has become the crucial differentiator. Companies need to deliver best in class customer experience.

First, there are the regulators, who have become more vigilant in recent years. This increased regulatory scrutiny of financial services is a result of distrust. But when trust in the financial services industry is uncertain, service makes the difference. Coming out of the recession in a still uncertain world, people want elevated service and companies they can trust. Regulators are keeping companies increasingly accountable for being clear and credible with their consumers. So companies need to show customers and regulators that they’re not just being compliant, but that they are going above and beyond.

Today’s consumers have higher expectations than ever. This is, in large part, because customers’ expectations are informed by service experiences across industries. Customers are more demanding and more vocal than ever before:

  • They’re more informed.
  • They’re accessing multiple service touch-points.
  • They’re sharing information about their experiences in virtual communities.
  • They’re part of an interconnected, “want it now” society.
  • They look for meaning from what they buy and who they buy it from.
  • They’re aware of their purchase power and want valuable experiences in exchange for their loyalty.

And then, there’s the competitive landscape. Being part of a service-led cultural transformation, as today’s competitors are rapidly becoming service-focused, as opposed to product-focused. Companies should be looking to achieve scores that put them among the top service providers in the world, not just those within their industry.

There’s a set of consistent service values from world class service leaders across industries:

  1. Develop a deep understanding of customers needs
  2. Secure top-down commitment
  3. Revere the front line
  4. Measure and reward based on the voice of the customer
  5. Acknowledge failure and recover with grace

To truly drive a transformation and not an incremental change, servicing should be an ecosystem of leadership, people and tools which all work together with the customer at the center.

Prevent issues and failures in the first place rather than being really good at fixing them.
Companies should view service as an investment—an opportunity to build relationships and customer loyalty. It’s all about customer-centricity, using the Voice of Customer to define great service:

  1. Do what you say you’ll do.  Deliver seamlessly. This is the baseline prerequisite level of delivery, and it includes recognizing a customer’s choice and keeping the “contract” with them.
  2. Do more than I expect.  Go the extra mile and do all the little things beyond what’s contractually obligated. Take the relationship and personal circumstances into account. Be flexible. Listen.
  3. Acknowledge failure. Customers don’t care about internal structure or obstacles. Reach out to customers who were dissatisfied with service interactions to understand what could be done differently.
  4. Validate my choice.  Give customers ease, convenience and access to information.
  5. Make me feel special.   Make every customer feel like they’re recognized and treated better than other customers. Do the little things that make customers feel special, like giving perks and making exceptions.
  6. Make feel you know me.  Be genuine and treat customers like people, not account numbers. Make every customer interaction feel like part of a relationship. Act appropriately and accordingly.
  7. So while the customer remains a focal point at American Express, customer-centricity is a virtuous cycle that rewards all constituents. It’s driving key benefits to  employees, customers and shareholders alike:
For the employee, there’s job satisfaction, incentive pay and new opportunities. With the ability to add a human touch to their work. We need to invest more in our employees to enable and empower them to deliver extraordinary service. This includes tools, training and leadership focus. And as a result, the majority of employees will have improvement in their performance.

For the customer, they see more value in every interaction. Customer-centricity provides the environment for a service experience that makes customers feel valued and helps them get the most from  products and services they’re paying for.

For shareholders, will drive improvements across all important measures of business success. Most notably,  a lift in Recommend to a Friend scores, which translate to profitability.
In summary companies have to:

  • Create a customer-centric culture and experience by shifting from a transaction-servicing model to one that deepens engagement
  • And build competitive advantage and deliver economic value through meaningful engagement with customers.

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