In the modern age of business, it's become commonplace to toss around buzzy words when discussing the equally buzzy customer journey.
Is your service accessible to the client and does it provide them with an immersive experience? Do you have a knowledge base that caters to and empowers your audience? Are your omnichannel and multichannel outlets viable touchpoints for a customer in need?
Indeed, there is a large swath of customers who might roll their eyes at such conversations.
Words endlessly batted around don't matter to the client -- they want what's best for them -- a product or service that delivers on the promises made during the marketing and sales process. Easy enough, right?
If it were only that simple.
Which is why those buzzy conversations do mean something. Not only for improving the customer journey but perfecting it. The customer wants a seamless experience. You and your organization want to provide them with that experience. Although the customer may not care how you achieve this, it's an absolute must that your business does.
Which is why one of the major customer service discussions happening now might be one of the most important: Are customer support and customer experience compatible in the overall customer journey?
Or do they run counter to each other when attempting to meet the demands of a client? Should your service continue to be reactive to issues as they arise? Or is there a better way? No doubt, the answer may very well determine the direction of the customer journey (as well as the direction of any company providing it) for many years to come. In this post, we'll dig into the debate.
The Difference Between Providing Customer Support and Providing a Customer Experience
You may be thinking to yourself that there's no need to distinguish between customer support and customer experience. After all, they both fall under the larger umbrella of the customer journey.
That may be true, but it doesn't address the larger concern that the great distinction of customer support is that the majority of it is reactive.
Generally defined as the guidance, counseling, and assistance that a company provides to a customer or client, support is a response to concerns, not a proactive cure for them. Sure, this "help" may provide meaningful, service-oriented solutions, but when troubleshooting becomes a key measure in a customer service mechanism, you have much greater concerns than people simply dialing up your call center.
To drive home the point, a recent customer service study conducted by Kim Flaherty for research firm Nielsen Norman Group found that individuals contacted companies, and specifically their customer service lines, for one of four reasons:
Missing or confusing information
Perception of complexity
Understanding what these are and why they occur informs your firm's goal of providing more than just reactive support.
When engagement with a firm does not result in the desired or expected outcome for the client.
Example: A new member failed to receive a retailer-promised gift card from an onboarding promotion. The manual fulfillment process never sent the card.
When some unforeseen circumstance hinders the completion of a task, and the user must go through other, unanticipated means to complete the original action.
Example: A user places a retail order online, but is unable to alter the order through the website once reaching the shopping cart. Aside from a static error message, the system does not immediately present alternative means of resolution to the customer.
Missing or Confusing Information
Information necessary for a user to complete an action is vague, unclear, or just plain absent.
Example: A user is attempting to determine how and when an order ships, but the website's copy is ambiguous regarding the preferred shipper and actual processing timeline.
Perception of Complexity
The path to complete an action appears difficult or hard to comprehend, so the user prefers interaction with an actual service rep to finish the task.
Example: A user avoids using an online estimator tool and instead chooses to speak with a service rep to complete an estimation process.
Notice a pattern? In each of these instances, derailment of the customer journey occurs due to an unforeseen circumstance. Thus, it requires the user to reach out and seek support.
So now their overall journey includes the inconvenience of the inciting problem or issue. Then comes the additional trouble of sorting through the concern in what many perceive as the least desirable manner -- contacting customer service.
The Greater the Customer Experience, the Greater the Customer Support
Now, consider these scenarios as part of an apparatus aimed at enhancing the customer experience.
In our first example, the organization failed to meet an expectation. Regardless of where the initial breakdown occurs, automation can be used to maintain practically any workflow.
In the scenario presented, instead of relying on a manual process to provide the gift card, automation moves the provisioning of the reward forward, via email as part of an AI workflow, once the new subscriber completes their onboard.
The second example -- unable to alter an order in the shopping cart -- projects a barrier between the would-be customer and retailer. Too many obstacles quickly turn the soon-to-be prospect into the client that never was. By not providing a viable workaround, the retailer has pushed a potential sale into an unwanted situation.
Instead, the retailer should provide an out. Whether it's a pop-up offering to start a live chat, send an email or the number that directly connects to the orders help desk, the retailer affirms that an action may not be doable, but also presents the best options for the buyer to solve their issue.
In other words, its anticipating problems that may arise, and possessing a built-in solution long before anyone ever asks a question.
With our third dilemma, the retailer has neglected to add specific information that may be vital to a user's overall experience. This solution is far simpler than most -- understand what your audience cares about, and care about it too. Many firms drop the ball on copy and basic data and information that assists a customer throughout their engagement process. Consumers, though, are savvy and details are important to them.
Avoiding or complicating information perceived as commonplace or omitting it altogether can lead customers to lose trust in a brand. That means losses to your bottom line. Take a cue from ecommerce or website development services like Shopify or Squarespace. Their customer satisfaction is through the roof. Much of that is due to their extensive knowledge bases which are virtual libraries that cover every aspect of their platforms.
Our final example deals with the user that prefers a more direct connection to understand and resolve an issue. First, we must look at the service tool they avoiding using. Is it too complicated? Inadequate for what it advertises to do? Is it designed well, but the instructions misleading or poorly written?
If the tool itself is fine, and the user still wants to contact a rep directly, well, that's perfectly okay. The vital factor here is to ensure you meet the needs of the end user, but do so on their terms, not yours. That means a flexible structure that gives customers plenty of choice in how they engage with you -- telephone, chat, email, social media, even messaging platforms.
Leverage Available Tools to Bring the Experience Closer to the Customer
In seeing the same service scenarios addressed with two vastly divergent approaches, the difference between basic support and a fully formed experience is evident.
Your company, through the enhancement and broadening of the customer experience, will at the same time reduce their reliance on cumbersome support.
So what exactly does that broadening of the customer experience look like?
We've already alluded to a few factors -- automation and robust communication channels among them -- that can take your customer commitment to greater levels. The customer experience, however, needs to be far more immersive.
For instance: Awareness and monitoring of potential chokepoints in your supply chain help avoid delays in process and shipping orders.
Support funnels setup to reach out to past, present, and future clients to gauge ongoing satisfaction and to assist in generating new or repeat sales.
A knowledge base that goes beyond a basic FAQ and genuinely promotes self-service support and learning. Not just a bevy of articles, but how-to videos, webinars or online classes all for the convenience of your customer learning more about your products and services.
You'll need to scale and optimize according to your business needs, but the point is clear. The customer experience is more than anticipating needs and proactively clearing hurdles, so your clients don't have to themselves. Its immersion into your brand, forming a connection that if rewarding for them, will be quite rewarding for you.
Over to You
Should your primary objective be to eliminate customer support completely?
In all honesty, probably not. The need for support will never go away. Not completely. Things do and will go wrong. Products break and services don't always live up to an individual's personal expectations.
With that said, your goals should revolve around crafting a meaningful customer experience for your clients -- one in which standalone support isn't necessary because you've built it into the lifecycle of their engagement with your firm.
To achieve this, understand your audience and the channels they utilize to connect with your company. What products or services do they engage with most? What questions are they asking and why? Which sticking points are you most often having to overcome? Why did a client refer a new client? Why didn't they?
Knowing this (and more) information ensures you meet expectations, deploy the appropriate technology, provide the desired communication channels and make the whole process seamless.
The point of an excellent customer experience is not to deny a client the help they need. Instead, it's about crafting something that is well thought out and accounts for every step -- and misstep -- to mitigate the need for traditional support in almost every circumstance.
Your clients will then feel the full support of a brand in service for them - from their first point of engagement to well beyond the conversion or sale. If managed well, plenty of other prospects will follow, seeking the same extraordinary experience.