Qualtrics Head of CX Explains How To Use Customer Service to Improve the Brand Experience

Otto Vroegop
Otto Vroegop

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Over the past fifteen years, most companies have been honing their customer service using customer journey mapping and optimization techniques. These are visual representations of a consumer's end-to-end experience with a brand, measured and improved at various ‘touchpoints' (e.g. website, social media, emails, SMS, sales, and marketing team interactions) along the way.

customer service rep impacts the brand experience

While this approach identifies pain points and ensures that no customer slips through cracks in the system, it does throw up a problem for brands – homogeneity. Every major brand now delivers the seamless customer service experience that 21st-century customers have come to expect -- yet these experiences all tend to feel the same.

It's time to move beyond the idea that customer service is the sum of satisfaction at set touchpoints. Every individual customer has a need, a purpose in life, an issue, or a query, as well as expectations of the product and service. One size fits no one anymore.

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The Challenges for Brands Today

With a growing number of companies delivering a seamless service, how can your brand stand out from the crowd?

Take banking, for example. You can move money, check your statements, put cash into savings pots, apply for a loan. It's easy. But do you feel an emotional attachment and increasingly engaged with your bank as you do this? And can you depend on your marketing communications campaigns to achieve this? How can you truly provide personalized customer service here?

Today's customers want everything on demand and frictionless, yet with personalized and empathetic (digital) engagement, delivered on their terms. And it's not just the products and services that customers care about. These days, consumers want the brands they choose to stand for something bigger, more altruistic in the world.

This ‘flight to purpose' can mean the difference between customers choosing a brand because it acts with social responsibility and refusing to buy from a company whose reaction to a social issue disappointed them. It's all about being recognized for what you stand for.

Most companies run customer care operations in isolation from these bigger consumer trends. There's a lot of momentum just now to understand how to address this.

Experience management is the idea that your customer, employee, brand, and product experience are intertwined. Improve one and others will improve, too. Here's how it plays out in customer service.

How to Start Implementing Experience Management in Your Customer Service

1. Look at the connections.

The market research world has been working for years on understanding how employee experience influences customer experience, and how brand promises set expectations in customers' minds. It became apparent that when the brand promise is clear to your customers and employees, your company has a great opportunity to deliver on that promise. And when that promise/delivery gap closes, you are well-positioned to win in your market space.

2. Build the case for delivering a branded experience.

Make sure your company's CX and marketing communications strategy framework paves the way for a branded experience; it needs to establish a flawless, yet at the same time differentiating and meaningful experience that sticks with your customer. There's good news here for customer care leads: Your customer service channels, because of their human-to-human nature, hold the key to delivering exactly this.

These insights aren't new. But the research world is making great progress building on these insights by modeling brand, employee, and CX holistically to create Experience Management.

By combining our CX and BX insights, we can identify in real-time the drivers of performance while there's still time to make adjustments to in-market activity. - Jason Bradshaw, Chief Customer & Marketing Officer, Volkswagen Group Australia

Companies, from boutiques to global consultancy firms, are embracing this thinking more and more over the past 12 months. Brand purpose has a huge impact on how employees feel engaged with their employer, and how consumers (especially the younger generations) feel drawn to brands that do well.

Delivering a Branded Experience That Sets You Apart

A differentiating branded service experience doesn't just happen. It needs to be nurtured, monitored, and iterated constantly. A strong driver for brand equity such as ‘values me as a customer' can take many forms, and brands must innovate to meet these needs in a meaningful way, creating experiences infused with emotional customer connections. You need to be remembered as a brand to survive and thrive.

So, what best practices do we see coming from some of the market-leading companies?

1. Introduce XM thinking at the highest levels of your company.

The execution of brand, product, and CX strategies must be completely interlinked with each other, and ownership must sit naturally at board level. Embrace agile ways of working; the best performing agile teams include people with creative, marketing communication, CX, and IT skills. These teams bring their industry-disrupting ideas and journey hacks to create that very important emotional customer connection, while still providing a seamless experience.

“Things are changing so quickly the old way of analyzing data monthly is not enough. Being able to keep your finger on the pulse of the market as events unfold is critical to enabling confident decision making.” - Shameek Raj, Head of Data, Analytics & Insight, Beiersdorf

2. Make promises, but don't overpromise.

You need to be explicit about your commitments to your customers. Promises must be easy to understand, and aligned with your missions, values, and strategy, with clear value exchange and direction to employees. And you need to keep ahead of the competition by periodically reviewing and updating them. When brand promise and delivery harmonize in a zero-experience gap, you've achieved perfect efficiency. That said, a positive gap does suggest positive brand momentum and brand love -- those users appreciate the brand in a way that non-users don't quite understand.

3. Orchestrate customer journeys to the fullest.

Get your multi-disciplinary journey team to work with an insights engine that integrates with journey orchestration technology: this connects an extra layer of intelligence across all your customer applications. This architecture, with its integrated learnings and ideas, is your foundation to capture every single customer sentiment and trigger the right personalized service proposition, sales or marketing message, or team alert to approach a customer with a personal call. This approach impacts key loyalty and brand love drivers in one go: the ease of doing business and feeling valued. If you do this well, your company will build engagements that keep customers for life.

4. Make brand ambassadors of your customer care team members.

You know when someone loves their job or their product because they won't stop talking about it. This is the kind of infectious enthusiasm you want to nurture in your customer care team, bigging up your brand with warmth and positive emotion. It's imperative that you create a nurturing, inclusive team culture that makes everyone believe in the brand, as this will naturally follow through into the way customers are treated. Delivering the best employee experience will positively impact both the customer and the brand experiences. Some best practices for customer care teams and their management to adopt are:

Embrace your promises.

As we mentioned before, you must make promises to your customers. To keep these promises, employees must know what they are and understand their specific roles in delivering them. It's essential to invest in behavioral training, not only for frontline workers but for middle managers as well, and employee experience programs, so your people can give feedback not only on training but also on resources, equipment, issues, and service gaps they discover as they serve the customers. Always-on feedback is imperative so that issues can be resolved as quickly as possible.

Keep your promises.

You will only know how well you're doing with your promise-keeping if you ask your customers. It's important to ask for feedback on how you're doing, and take action to make sure you're consistently delivering on those promises. Simply understanding your brand promises is not enough; your organization must hold itself accountable for keeping those promises in every single interaction with customers, employees, prospects, or partners. You need to continuously track and review your goals, gather feedback from the people you interact with about how well you are delivering those promises, give incentives for employees to keep the promises, and infuse brand promises into your marketing communications, new product development, and innovation.

5. Tailor experiences to generational needs.

Realize that the generations differ in what they value and what they are willing to pay for. Surprisingly, younger people value prompt and helpful support more than older generations. They engage with brands more across touchpoints and they are also higher-value customers.

6. Think reputation.

As business models move into more multiplier markets and deliver better to a brand ecosystem, consumers will gravitate toward those brands that offer the best service and experience. Brands need to grow their support and service credentials and deepen their reputations in areas that have less to do with high-tech credentials and more to do with CX expertise and benefits.

7. Be there for your customers.

Being difficult to get in touch with and not truly customer-centric can result in high defection rates, so don't minimize the importance of 'being there' for your customers. For example, streaming media providers give customers positive experiences in the core areas around content delivery. But they may not perform as well in customer service support areas, which are important drivers. Even in the digital age, classic customer service is still central to CX.

Ultimately, it's important to remember that customer experience and customer service are directly tied to your other business efforts such as marketing and branding. Improving the customer experience to be more personalized will improve the brand experience and reputation of your company.

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