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5 Reasons the Customer Experience Isn't Improving

Brian Cantor

Businesses have spent many years declaring reverence for the customer experience. They have spent many years articulating a desire to improve that customer experience.

The customer experience, nonetheless, remains a pivotal business challenge. The desired improvement remains immensely elusive.

Unfortunate, that reality is not unexpected. While today’s businesses may say – or even believe – the right things on a philosophical level, they have yet to actualize them on a practical one. The decisions they make – and the rationale behind those decisions – run directly counter to conventional notions of customer-centricity.

As a result, progress is significantly curtailed.

Here are five reasons businesses are not achieving the desired customer experience improvement:

They Don’t See the Immediate Value:On the record, businesses and thought leaders will claim "what is good for the customer is what is good for the business." They will declare customer service costs as valuable investments that provide lucrative returns.

In practice, many businesses—and their employees—fail to actualize such concepts.

When businesses say "no" to a customer – be it to a product return, to a refund request or to a deal proposal – they are saying "no" to what they perceive as an added cost. They are making financial decisions.

Those financial decisions exclusively consider the cost of saying "yes" (and cost savings of saying "no"). Because it is less tangible and immediate, the value of saying "yes" (andcost of saying "no") is often ignored.

Recently, I met resistance when attempting to return an item (more on this in a future CCIQ article). The source of the resistance was immediately clear: the business was fixated on – and repelled by – the financial cost of honoring the return. If it takes back an item it may not be able to resell, it effectively "loses" $1000.

Guided by an emphasis on tangible, immediate costs rather than on theoretical ones, that rationale completely ignores the supposed value of customer-centricity. It ignores the financial benefits likely associated with my satisfaction and loyalty. It ignores the financial costs likely associated with my frustration and disappointment.

Businesses that succumb to such short-sightedness place a crippling bottleneck on their customer experiences. In doing so, they jeopardize their long-term financial security and growth.

Their Policies Restrict Rather Than Empower: When crafting customer service policies and scripts, businesses adhere to a mindset of restriction. Focused on what they perceive as short-term self-interest, businesses use policies to articulate what they cannot and/or will not do for customers.

As a result, businesses place undesirable constraints on the customer experience. They outright tell customers there is a limit to how much they value the relationship. They outright tell agents how far they are allowed to go in delivering for those customers. They outright say that the customer’s satisfaction does not, in fact, trump all other considerations.

These policies restrict. They do not empower.

Businesses must reverse that mindset. Instead of instructing agents on when they must say "no," businesses should use scripts and policies to help them say "yes." Training should be crafted toward fulfilling the customer’s demand rather than to enforcing an arbitrary, insular business restriction.

They Don’t Prime Agents for Customer-Centricity: Companies tell agents that the customer comes first.

Their training, policies and compensation practices often say otherwise.

Many organizations continue to manage agents in accordance with operational, efficiency-minded objectives. They continue to evaluate agents based on operational, efficiency-minded metrics. They continue to remind agents that the customer comes first – only if putting the customer first does not affect the contact center’s rigidly-defined workflow.

Progressive organizations are beginning to evaluate agent performance against customer-minded metrics like first contact resolution and CSAT score, but many of them, too, remain committed to a traditional form of performance management. They still expect agents to make call counts. They still expect agents to achieve certain "scores" (even if those "scores" are more customer-minded than average handle time). They still expect agents to recognize their supervisors as "bosses."

The necessary shift is one not simply of measurement but one of culture. Upon declaring that the customer comes first, the business must prove they mean it.

Agents should wholeheartedly see the customer – not the supervisor – as their "boss." They should see driving true customer delight as the paramount objective; success in that regard should automatically compensate for any shortcomings in operational "scores."

Customers should be encouraged – and empowered – to think creatively about how best to satisfy customers. When they break policy to provide a customer with an innovative solution, they should not only receive the organization’s approval – but a reward.

No matter how internally customer-minded, agents will do what they see as their job. It is the organization’s responsibility to define that "job" as a customer-centric one.

They Don’t Truly Know Their Customers: Scores represent an insufficient means of evaluating agents. They also represent an insufficient means of understanding customers.

While financial measures like revenue and market share and customer-oriented measures like CSAT and NPS assess how well the business is currently doing, they offer little in the way of actionable insight.

They do not necessarily articulate what is—and is not—working within the status quo. They do not necessarily articulate how close a "satisfied customer" is to becoming dissatisfied (or vice versa). They definitely do not articulate how a business can make additional improvements and continue to distance itself from the competition.

Without that knowledge, a business cannot properly refine its customer experience strategy. It can pat itself on the back – or sound the alarm – but it cannot progress.

And insofar as customer demands are growing – and competitor offerings are intensifying – a lack of progression is tantamount to regression.

Today’s businesses must utilize the myriad of customer insight – from all possible contact touch points – to understand not only how customers feel but why they feel that way and what can be done to preserve or transform those feelings.

Their Approach to Technology is Misguided: According to a majority of executives, the contact center exists, most notably, to drive customer satisfaction.

A contact center cannot achieve that objective if its technology is not also geared toward customer satisfaction.

Sadly, it very rarely is.

When sourcing technology, today’s businesses often make evaluations – and purchasing decisions – in based on insular needs and wants. If it can reduce costs, improve agent output, account for marketplace trends and integrate with existing systems, the solution very often passes muster.

Such factors are not irrelevant to the customer experiences. They may, in fact, result in markedly better experiences for customers.

But insofar as the customer priorities are being serviced indirectly – rather than as the priority – they are not necessarily being addressed optimally. In a customer-centric world, technology that may result in a stronger customer experience is not nearly as valuable as technology that exists for the primary purpose of creating the best customer experience.

The disparity is particularly visible in the context of self-service technology. The mere availability of such technology contributes favorably to the customer experience.

If, however, the business introduced the technology for the purpose of reducing live agent call volume rather than to give customers the precise self-service experience they are demanding, the value of the technology’s availability will be countered by the cost of its inferiority. The perceived improvement will be tempered, if not completely eliminated.