Professor Jeffery Ferguson contributes to the new College of Business column in the Colorado Springs Business Journal, Business Research Corner
Problem: Our customer service results seem to be all over the map. Some customers are extremely happy with us and post great reviews online. Others are dissatisfied and often express their feelings both online and to our employees in unpleasant ways. I do my best to treat customers well - but things never seem to get much better. What can I do to make our customer experiences consistently more satisfying?
Have you ever had an experience like this one?
You enter a restaurant, approach the hostess stand and see the sign that reads, "Please wait to be seated."
There is no one there to greet you even though several service workers are scurrying around performing various activities. You wait several minutes (it feels like more) before the hostess appears and shows you to your table.
In the overall scope of your dining experience this seems like a small event, yet you feel irritated: "At least someone could have acknowledged our presence."
Two customer experience concepts are at work in this scenario: unmet customer expectations and poor handling of customer touchpoints.
Let's start with customer expectations. Expectations are set by several things: past experience, the nature of the business and the value promise. The example above involves a hospitality business. We expect to be treated well because that is the point of hospitality. Your business type automatically sets some basic level of customer expectations. You should know what they are in your industry.
Customer expectations are further set by your value promise. This is your intentional commitment to customers concerning the benefits they will receive. When you promise something customers expect you to deliver. The "friendly skies" should indeed be friendly. A clearly developed value promise aligns the effort of your employees and sends a distinct message to your customers about what to expect.
Clearly setting customer expectations and following through on the value promise is essential. You would not be upset if you were ignored at the Department of Motor Vehicles for a few minutes because you do not expect a friendly greeting at the DMV. The DMV is not in the hospitality industry; its job is to process forms so you can get a license to drive your car.
Customer touchpoints is the other important concept in the restaurant scenario. As Jan Carlzon, former president and CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System, explains in his book, "Moments of Truth," a company "is not a collection of material assets, but the quality of the contact between an individual customer and the employees who serve the customer directly..."
At his company, each of its 10 million customers came into contact with about five employees. In a sense, the company was "created" 50 million times through these encounters. Carlzon refers to such encounters as "moments of truth" because they are opportunities to reinforce relationships with customers OR give them reasons to look elsewhere. Thus, even small encounters can have disproportionately large impact on customer satisfaction.
Actions: There are several actions you can take to improve customer experience with your firm.
- Develop and communicate a clear, believable value promise. Let your customers and employees know what you stand for and what to expect from your business. At Disney, it is "...We try to create happiness for people of all ages everywhere." Walmart's value promise is "Always low prices." Value promises let customers know what to expect so their expectations are aligned with your ability to deliver.
- Map all the steps in the customer experience: Walk through your business process and identify customer touchpoints. Each touchpoint should reinforce your value promise. What do you want your customers to experience and feel at each step? Also, identify ancillary touchpoints such as your billing department or call center. Sometimes we forget these touchpoints. However, these can make or break experiences as well. Do not neglect any moments of truth.
- Design the optimal experience at each step: Touchpoints provide opportunities to communicate and reinforce the value of your brand. Use these opportunities to cement your customer relationships. Think beyond simply how your business functions to how you want your customers to feel. For example, at the Ritz-Carlton, the purpose of the front desk attendant is not to check people into the hotel. Rather, it is to give each guest an exceptional check-in experience.
- Align the organization to deliver on optimal experience: Use a holistic approach to align your organization to deliver optimal customer experiences. Identify people, processes and tools that affect each touchpoint. Do you have the right people in place? Are they properly trained and motivated? Is your process efficient and easy for both customers and employees to navigate? Do employees have the right support tools and authority to serve customers well? Have you created a compelling vision for your business that reminds your employees why they want to be associated with your enterprise? Employees want to be successful. It is your responsibility to develop their capability so they can serve customers well.
Jeffery M. Ferguson, Ph.D., is professor of service management and marketing, and faculty director of graduate programs at the College of Business at UCCS. He is also an executive education facilitator through the college's Office of Professional & Executive Development. Ferguson was a marketing consultant for more than 20 years and is author of multiple journal articles about service quality, marketing and spiritual leadership. He can be reached at OPED@uccs.edu.