"There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
This quote appeared in a 1990 biography of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, and the wisdom still holds true today: maybe now more than ever. Walton built a retail empire with a customer-centric approach to his business, and we could all take a page from that book.
Today's consumers are firmly in the driver's seat when it comes to brand relationships, and most of them know it. Other product options are just a Google search away and customers will abandon businesses if they don't provide what those customers need and expect, including consistently great customer service experiences.
These trends in consumer expectations have elevated the role of contact centers, which are now the front door to organizational resources, coordinating resolutions and delivering satisfying CX on behalf of the entire enterprise.
To ensure their contact centers are well-positioned to meet customer expectations, many organizations are undergoing digital transformations. Digital engagement enhances the consumer experience by meeting customers in their preferred communication channels. And a modern digital CX platform gives contact centers capabilities that enable them to be highly customer-centric.
The right contact center platform makes it easy for agents to provide seamless, personalized digital interactions that increase satisfaction and strengthen relationships. It also gives agents and supervisors the history and context needed to know where customers are in their journeys. This empowers front-line customer service staff to understand and proactively address customer needs.
But while modern technology is critical, it's only one component of building a customer-centric organization. True customer-centricity requires strong leadership, breaking down silos, positioning your agents to be successful, and listening to your customers, and subsequently acting on their feedback.
When businesses are aligned on customer needs and expectations, they'll produce results that even Sam Walton would be proud of.
What does it mean for a contact center to be customer-centric?
A customer-centric business knows its customers so well that it can anticipate their needs and proactively address them. This requires a deep understanding of customer motivations, actions, and interaction preferences.
Customer-centric organizations are disciplined about understanding and managing the customer journey so they can continuously refine it and eliminate points of friction. They also leverage data to provide personalized, loyalty-building customer service experiences and to predict customer needs.
Related: For personalization suggestions, read Innovative Personalization Ideas for the Digital Customer.
Customer-centricity requires complete alignment throughout the organization in every department and during every process. After all, the customer experience isn't just the contact center’s responsibility. Everything a company does can potentially impact customer experience.
Such an intense focus on the customer can yield several valuable benefits, including reduced churn, increased customer lifetime value, and improved customer satisfaction. Ultimately, customer-centricity results in more revenue.
The 5 secrets to building a customer-centric organization
A powerful digital CX platform is a must-have for companies that want to put the customer at the center of their business strategy. However, there are many other factors in terms of organization, policy, people, and process that should also align to maintain the customer at the heart of every transaction. Curious what these are? We’ll let you in on the secrets to success to help ensure your organization is truly customer-centric.
1. The customer experience goes beyond the four walls of the contact center
The contact center doesn't deliver great customer experiences in a bubble. Processes that they don't own such as product development, marketing, billing, and recruiting also impact CX.
That said, customers don't know who to call in the billing department when they have a question about their invoice. That's why contact centers exist, and they have become the hub that reaches out to the rest of the organization to resolve customer issues.
CX failures commonly occur because of organizational silos. Every department has its own priorities, and CX-enhancing initiatives sometimes may fall low on that list. Implementing shared customer experience goals help break down those silos and allows businesses to become more collaborative and customer-centric.
Another good way to smash walls is to assemble a cross-functional team responsible for evaluating and leading the initiative. The team should start by setting goals and then analyze the current state of CX through a customer journey mapping exercise.
Understanding the current customer journey will help identify focus areas. An exercise I've always found to be effective is to assume the role of a customer or prospect and experience a journey firsthand. It's kind of like Undercover Boss (without the goofy disguises). This exercise always produces eye-opening results.
When you take time to walk in your customers' shoes, you will find natural points of friction that you can remediate. Take, for instance, situations where proactive delivery notifications would have been a much better experience than complete silence from a company for two weeks, or marketing emails promoting items unrelated to anything you’ve ever purchased. An inside perspective can make all the difference in creating a customer-centric organization.
Another best practice is to have cross-functional team members submit an issue through multiple support channels to see if they receive consistent responses and resolutions. Airlines tend to struggle with cross-channel consistency. I once emailed, called, and submitted a web form about an issue and got 3 different vouchers ($20, $50, and $20, respectively) to use on an upcoming flight. I should only have received one voucher. While I appreciated the extra discounts, the experience left me thinking that there was little to no cross-channel communication or customer data retention within the airline’s customer service operations. I kept thinking about how much money they were wasting because they didn't have their support channels integrated.
2. It all begins with contact center leadership
Because it involves significant enterprise-wide change, becoming deeply customer-centric requires leadership from the very top tier of leadership. Without it, other teams may not be inclined to participate, and affecting change can be like trying to row a boat with the anchor still in the water─it's a lot of unnecessary work, and you won't get very far.
Executive leaders establish business goals and priorities and make decisions regarding which initiatives to fund. Driving the organization toward customer-centricity should be a top priority and should be factored into every business decision.
Similarly, contact center leaders can establish themselves as the customer’s champion by emphasizing the importance of exceptional CX, and acting on it.
To function as a business, you need customers. This means you must have appealing, profitable products and an effective way to market and distribute them. You also want loyalty, satisfaction, and low acquisition costs. But most of all, you want customers! This means you need to deliver great customer experiences to acquire and retain them.
The stakes are high. Forrester found that "brands that excel in CX increase revenue at twice the rate of brands that don’t."1 Results that are impressive require a relentless focus on the customer, driven by executive and contact center leaders and ingrained in the organization's culture.
3. Never forget: agents are your front line
Despite the increased adoption of digital self-service solutions such as chatbots and mobile apps, human contact center agents are still vital to providing satisfying experiences and strengthening relationships with your customers. In fact, our latest consumer research revealed that phone, email, and online chat (all agent-assisted channels) are the most preferred and used ways of getting help.2
In addition, 86% of consumers prefer humans over chatbots.3 Sometimes people just need an empathetic customer service experience. To ensure your agents have such necessary soft skills, include the following characteristics in your hiring profiles and training plans.
Great contact center agents aren't just good at delivering empathetic experiences; they also know what makes customers happy or frustrated. Agents talk to your customers all day and are a primary source of customer information. They know common sources of friction and where there is an opportunity for improvement.
To tap into that knowledge, consider using a closed-loop feedback system that allows agents to submit improvement ideas. Seeing their suggestions implemented will improve engagement and give agents a sense of purpose.
Engaging agents is key to building a customer-centric organization. They should be empowered to make decisions that will positively impact the customer experience. Additionally, contact center leaders should set the tone and emphasize the importance of being customer-focused and explain how agent performance impacts CX goals.
I once worked with a BPO (business process outsourcer) that adopted the motto, "Great experiences drive great results," and the sub-message to the agents was, "Own the experience outcome." The agents knew what was expected of them and were empowered to do the "right" thing for the customer, which didn't always mean giving a refund or discount. This approach worked. The company saved money, substantially increased customer and agent satisfaction, and greatly reduced agent churn.
4. Listen to what your customers’ experiences are telling you
Do you really know how your customers feel about their experiences? We found that many businesses have blind spots for customer opinions. For example, a business may underestimate customer satisfaction with digital channels, self-service channels, and AI/automated channels by 12-15%. Conversely, they may overestimate customer satisfaction with their website by 24%, and email and text by 15%.4
Customer experience management requires eliminating these blind spots by listening to and thoroughly knowing your customers. This doesn't necessarily require a formal program; AI-powered analytics tools can provide valuable insights by analyzing unstructured customer input. For example, interaction analytics software can analyze every interaction from every channel to let you know how your customers feel and what they talk about.
Analyzing operational data can also tell you a lot about if your customers are happy with your support options. For example, if the abandon rate for your IVR self-service is too high, there's likely a technical or design flaw and it's probably causing customer frustration. Similarly, if a high percentage of customers email you and then call you, your email response times might be too long. In these cases, customer behavior speaks volumes about what they think about your customer service.
Of course, traditional methods can also be part of your information collection approach. Focus groups are effective for getting direct, detailed feedback, and customer surveys can help you calculate and track key metrics such as customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores.
The "Undercover Boss" method is also useful for understanding customers' experience, only this time, you’re stepping directly into the customer’s shoes. When I used to do speaking engagements, I would ask the audience, “How many of you have experienced what it is like to do business with your company?” Surprisingly, only about 20% typically raised their hands. Why was I so disappointed in this response? Because everyone in those audiences was responsible for some aspect of the customer experience. If truly want to understand your customers, don’t be in that other 80%. The key to customer-centricity within your contact center is to listen to your customers and use that knowledge to optimize your processes.
5. Develop and maintain a continuous customer context
Consumers often begin in one support channel and finish in another. For example, half of the people who start their support journey in self-service end up with an agent.5 When this happens, they expect the movement from one channel to the next to be seamless, meaning the context─including what happened in the original channel moves along with them.
According to our infographic Smarter Self Service Helps Customers Help Themselves:
This ensures a better experience because the customer isn't required to repeat information and rehash their issue.
As an example, if a customer begins by interacting with a chatbot then escalates to an agent-assisted chat session, the agent should have access to the chatbot transcript, so the customer doesn't need to repeat themselves. The agent should also be able to see other relevant information from previous interactions and purchase history.
Maintaining customer and interaction data and making it available in all channels is critical if you want to provide customer-centric experiences. Capabilities such as omnichannel routing, transcripts and analytics, fluent CRM knowledge, and customer profiles provide organizations with flexible CX platforms an advantage when it comes to fulfilling customer needs and meeting expectations.
A customer-centric approach is the key to staying competitive
I'll end this article with another quote from a successful business executive, this time from Jerry Gregoire: "The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” Rings true, doesn’t it?
Your company is only in business because of your customers, and it serves the organization as a whole to strategically acquire and retain as many as possible.
Creating a customer-centric atmosphere within your contact center will improve CX and promote positive customer sentiment, which should lead to higher revenue and customer retention. That sounds like winning the battle to me!
Creating a customer-centric contact center can create some significant, disruptive changes for your employees. Leading them to the end state requires a thoughtful and organized approach. Download our new eBook, Change Management Blueprint for Contact Center Digital Transformation, for expert advice about change management best practices.