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A Better Way To Think About The Customer Experience

Brian Cantor

“It’s a business.  It ain’t UNICEF.”

Yes, I just quoted “Joe Dirt” on an article written for a community of professionals.  No, I am not sorry.

No matter how silly the movie, the aforementioned quote perfectly captures the prevailing mindset within today’s corporate environment.  Our enterprises – and the decisions those enterprises make -- are guided by a thirst for profit.

This statement of commerciality has particular relevance in a conversation about the customer experience.  Doing great things for the customer may feel good, but it is not a warm-and-gooey feeling that businesses are ultimately chasing.  The customer experience, as a Forrester analyst shared years ago at Call Center IQ’s Customer Experience Summit, is not a “Kumbaya initiative.”

It is a business strategy.

Good businesses strategies make money.  A good customer experience strategy, therefore, makes money.

It may consequently make sense to approach the customer experience from a more overtly commercial mindset.  Profit is the centerpiece of business strategy, and it also a concept all humans understand.  Why attempt to condition business employees and leaders on the fundamental value of customer centricity when you can tap into their preexisting tendency to see the world in dollars-and-cents?

Your contact center agents know they are not working for UNICEF (unless – and I know we have some non-profit readers! – your organization is, in fact, UNICEF).  They know you know you are not working for UNICEF.  So why maintain the façade that the “warm feeling” of customer centricity is what matters?

Why not instead coach and encourage your agents to do what is best for business?

Money where your rhetoric is

At this point, I imagine some readers are scratching their heads.  Emphasis on commerciality, you may argue, has historically resulted in bad customer service.

It, you may argue, is what causes agents to rush customers off the phone without cultivating a relationship or providing a satisfactory resolution:  the business wants to keep costs down.  It is what causes organizations to refuse make-goods or complicate the return process:  the business does not want to return payments it has received.  It is what causes representatives to aggressively upsell customers during support calls:  the business wants to drive as much revenue as possible.

I disagree and instead argue that a bad sense of commerciality is what causes those problems.

If you truly believe in the value of customer centricity and are not simply claiming you do for the positive press, you should feel the same way.

After all, those who advocate for customer centricity do not see the philosophy as oppositional to commerciality.  They, rather, argue that “what is good for the customer is what is good for the business.”  And they must, because without that connection to business success, customer centricity is reduced to that “Kumbaya initiative” that has no place in the world of commercial enterprise.

You do not improve the customer experience for the sake of improving the customer experience (or for the sake of “feeling good”).  You do it because it improves your business.

The real value of customer centricity

What is best for business may be a straightforward question, but the answer is not always simple.  The answer is not always what drives the most profit right now.

Advocating for a commercial approach to customer service is not tantamount to advocating for an immediate-term emphasis on revenue and costs.  It is, instead, a call to think about how the actions you take as a customer experience agent (or supervisor, manager or director) will truly impact the business.

That reality is the safety net, so to speak, against the examples of poor, “commercially driven” service in the previous section.  The emphasis should be on the big picture – and on the long-term.

It is true that rushing a customer off the phone limits costs – right now.  But what about the cost of frustrating the customer?  What about the cost of failing to truly solve the customer’s issue?  What about the cost of acquiring valid feedback or behavioral insights?  What about the cost of failing to build a meaningful relationship with the customer?

Each of those costs can be significant – and can substantially outweigh the cost savings associated with a quick call or a refused return.

A similar dynamic exists on the revenue front.  Aggressively upselling customers may result in quick wins, but cultivating strong relationships and developing a strong sense of the customer’s personalized needs will potentially result in a great deal more revenue in the future.  Creating a positive, non-threatening experience may drive customer loyalty or even advocacy, both of which can also produce a great deal more revenue over the long term.

Right for the business

Appropriate guidance is required when instilling this philosophy.  Some, after all, may interpret “do what is best for the business” as “reduce immediate-term costs and maximize immediate-term revenue.”  As we’ve seen, that attitude can result in a poor caliber of service, which can in turn cause irreparable harm to your relationship with customers – and to the bottom line.

A more recommended course, therefore, may involve conditioning your agents to ask a simple question:  “what can I do to make the customer want to spend more money with me over the long-term?”  Alternatively, “what can I do to make the customer encourage his friends to spend money with us over the long-term?”

Since a great customer experience is the answer to both questions, your agent will ultimately be acting in the best interest of the customer. His decisions will ultimately reflect customer centricity.

The difference, however, is that you will be asking him to serve the customer in a language he – and all other commercially minded humans – can understand.

And understand it he will.

And better serve your customers he will.