Traditionally business contracts have always been underpinned by a service level agreement (SLA), these agreements have always ensured that that the service provider always delivers on certain key performance indicators e.g. uptime of service, response time, time to resolve etc. the nature of these contracts has always been about ensuring that the client does not terminate the contract without cause but they do not ensure renewal at the end of contract. SLA measures are often internally focused and serve as a means for a business to measure its efficacy in delivery of services or products. In perfect competition market systems these agreements enabled service providers to differentiate themselves from their competitors, especially in technology industries where uptime of service was a key factor for early adopters (with time this is no longer a key factor but is expected by customers).

The only business advantage your business has today is relationship, it is not the great features your product offers or your 99% up time SLA commitment. A key determinant of the customer relationship with your business is their experience with your products and services. Businesses often make the error of believing the SLA achievement is equal to great or even acceptable Customer Experience, when it is a measure that can be used to gauge how products and services were delivered. Product or service termination/switching costs are minimal and negligible for many customers especially in the technology sector with many service providers today. In building a customer centric organization a key focus area is the customer experience across all touchpoints, this is the foundation for a great customer relationship. Great customer experience is an antecedent to customer loyalty and advocacy, below we explore five ways to improve customer experience.

  1. Know your customer

This may sound like a fortune cookie tip, but it is the first and most critical part of customer experience. Often businesses do not spend time in understanding the customer’s needs spoken and unspoken but are quick to solve for X when they should be solving for Y or both. At some point in my career I made this error with my then team in a BPO contract with a big FMCG company in South Africa, we pitched a great idea to the head of IT that would cost a couple of millions of Rands initially but would bring cost savings for the customer in a long run according to our analysis. Without going into details of the project and its subsequent failure to yield the results that were promised to the customer, I have reflected and understood how my great idea that I had used before had failed dismally this time. In my reflection, I realized I was solving for X (our problem as a service provider not the customers). We had not spent time understanding the users’ experience in the process and what Y they needed us to solve for. Too often we are focused on being lean and efficient in our operations that we do not realise that the customer is willing to pay the right price when you deliver value.

  1. Customer journey

When designing a customer journey, we always start with the customer’s needs, what they want to achieve and how they arrive at their buying decisions. When we understand this, we are always able to map out their journey (keeping the customer in mind). This will give us insight of the gaps we have as a business in delivering the expected experience. Knowing the gaps helps us identify the pain points for the customer and finally remove those pain points in order to deliver the desired customer experience.

  1. Leverage AI

Artificial Intelligence is here, and no it will not result in retrenchments but redeployment of people within a business. The benefits that come with AI far outweigh the fears of “loss of jobs”, as the technology enables businesses to use and gather data in ways we never imagined before. This means businesses can use the data to better serve the customers and develop solutions to the correct customer issues. Some time ago I attended a business conference and I was blown away by how a customer had integrated an AI (Chatbot) into their operations for both their customers and staff, resulting in great customer experience and operational efficiency.

  1. Measure CES

Measuring the Customer Effort Score is still somewhat not popular in South Africa compared to Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Net Promoter Scores. CSAT and NPS are great measures when a business needs to understand that they are ticking all the right boxes, in our effort to understand how consistent or inconsistent we are at delivering “friendly” service. Measuring CES adds a dimension to the customer experience that has for too long been neglected. Through CES measurement you can resolve a future issue for the customer, deliver low-effort experience, minimize channel switching (in multi-channel environments) and establish an emotional connection with the customer.

  1. Organisational Culture

The culture of the business is central to achieving a customer centric organization and is by far the consistent failure point for most businesses. Regardless of the great ideas and continuous process re-engineering a business will fail on customer experience if the behaviours and values of the people within the business are not aligned to customer centricity. The people are at the forefront of customer engagement, the business values must encourage and stimulate behaviors that continuously put the customer first. A passion for great customer experience must be in the DNA of every employee within the business, with processes and systems that enable every employee at all levels to improve the processes and systems used in the delivery of services to the customer without fear.

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