Insights on High-Tech and High-Touch Customer Experience

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.

Common perception is that people who face the customers are accountable for customer experience. Larger organizations often fall in the trap of defining customer experience KPI’s only to executive teams, sales, marketing and customer services teams.
What about those who build the products? And those who recruit people? And those in backend operations? And how all of them collaborate to achieve business outcomes?
We see things in parts and therefore, fix things in parts. And even when parts are (sub) optimized, the whole may not have improved.
This equation gets even more complex in an AI driven world where customers expect personalized services.
In this episode of Whats Next! podcast, Tamara McCleary (CEO at shares some useful insights on how technology advancements like AI and machine learning can enable companies to learn rapidly about the customers and personalize the experience at scale. This is critical because marketers think about selling to ‘customer segments’ where as customers expect personalized services based on their individual preferences.
Companies have to leverage “high-tech” to achieve “high-touch”
For everyone to own customer experience within a company, leaders have to start with a vision of what amazing customer experience looks like, build a culture of leadership at all levels, define systemic metrics (like Net Promoter Score) that everyone can strive for and finally incentivize people for their contributions to customer experience.
When leaders look at the whole, they provide a way for all departments to work towards the same outcomes and for everyone to clearly know that their work impacts customer experience.
Here is a visual summary of insights from the podcast episode, which you can listen here.


Related Reading at QAspire:

The Attitude of Quality

A retail outlet of a leading shoe brand recently opened up in near vicinity. The design of the store is flashy with impressive interiors and product arrangement. The brand carries a lot of consumer trust since many years. Good store, great brand and competitive prices all at one stop. The only (and probably the biggest) irritant there was attitude of their staff. They seemed too busy and non-responsive leaving many customers (including myself) waiting for long. Frustration amongst customers was visible. The business owners invested a great deal in expensive interiors, they did not think enough about investing in getting the right people, training them and managing their attitudes.

From selling shoes to writing software, every product has to have a strong “service” layer. People enable this layer. At the local shoe store, things were not meant to be that way, but people made them so. In a knowledge/service oriented world, quality of product, environment and infrastructure is just the beginning. Quality of interaction, quality of care, quality of being human, quality of walking that extra mile to delight the customer matters more. They need to complement each other.

The “attitude of quality” is about wanting to do the right things. Even if they are not prescribed that way. When no one is watching. When it takes a bit of extra effort. When you are not paid ‘extra’ to do it. In the current scenario (and the time to come), a professional’s ‘attitude of quality’ will be a key differentiator for his/her success.

I remember a project manager who would test everything before sending it to customer, even after the inspection team had signed off the deliverable. He toiled at the last moment, late in the night to ensure things because he cared. Because he carried an ‘attitude of quality’. He wanted to delight the customer.

Bottom line:

Quality is an attitude. The work we deliver, the products we ship and experiences we extend to customers reveals this attitude. Invest in quality of your product/service, but do not forget to invest in people who carry the right attitude. Because only excited, engaged and enthusiastic people can excite the customers and pass on the enthusiasm. People (and their attitude) is at the core of excellence. We need more ‘attitude of quality’ in our businesses and service organizations.

Customer Expectations in Service: Are you Listening?

It is said, whatever business you are into, you are ultimately into customer service business. For service industries (healthcare, education, banking, information technology and so on), the definition of quality is much beyond plain ‘conformance to requirements’.

In order to deliver overall quality of service (and customer experience), businesses have to take a holistic view of customer’s explicit and implicit needs. Explicit needs is every thing that can be specified in form of a contract/SLA. That is easy. Understanding implicit customer needs requires businesses to actively listen, build relationships with customers, understand their unique needs , preempt challenges and map services accordingly.

What do customers generally ask for?

  • I have a problem. Solve it. (Purpose/Scope)
  • Solve it quickly OR Deliver it when I want you to (Schedule/Timeliness/Speed/Time to Market)
  • Save me some money, time or efforts (Cost-Effectiveness)
  • Provide what I exactly want (Accuracy/Conformance/Quality)
  • Deliver something that I didn’t expect, something that delights me (Value-Add/Excellence)
  • Deliver the service wherever I want it (Location/Presence)
  • Deliver services that are usable over a long period of time (Sustainability/Scalability)
  • Understand my business as well as I do (Understanding/Context/Clarity)
  • Make me feel important and valued (Service/Relationship)
  • Involve me in service delivery (Engagement/Involvement)
  • Show me the improvement (Metrics/Continual Improvement)
  • Educate me about service and best ways of solving problems (Education/Consulting)
  • Treat me as a human being who can also make mistakes (Empathy)

Are you listening to these explicit and implicit customer needs?

It is easy to follow processes, meet SLA and stay happy being a ‘vendor’ to the customer. It is difficult to engage the customer and build relationship to become a reliable ‘partner’.

It is your choice as a business that really matters.

3 Lessons in Building Great Relationship with Customers

When you deal with customers in your organization, you can either comply to contractual terms and deliver what is expected. Or you can go a step forward to assess opportunities to add differentiated value (Remember 102%?). When I refer to customer here, it could be an external customer or an internal one (people within your organization to whom you provide your service).

From my recent experiences, I would like to share  3 most important aspects of building great relationships with your customers:

  • Don’t just understand customer’s needs, understand their business: Do you know why a customer wants us to build this software/product/service? How does it fit into the larger picture of customer’s business? How does it generate money for customer? These are important questions for understanding the context. When you serve your customer, you are helping them address at least one of their business objectives. Understanding what works for the customer helps you align your actions to the business objectives. That is a sure way to add value, because customer no longer looks at you as a ‘vendor’ but as a ‘partner’. Most folks in technical areas need to understand this critically.
  • Communicating one-on-one, frequently: Great relationships are built one conversation at a time. Open and transparent conversations are opportunities – to understand and to convey. Iterations of understanding and conveying the right things results in a credible relationship. In an outsourced world, I cannot emphasize more on value of ‘face-time’ with customers. Most customers will not open up when they talk over Skype or a phone. Frequently visiting your customer and understanding changes in their business helps. Emails, newsletters, sharing updates, blog are great tools to ensure continuous communication.
  • Ship Results: All said and done, it all boils down to results. Great results delivered consistently over a period of time is the best strategy to build a strong relationship. Results build long lasting credibility. When you have deeper understanding of client’s ‘business’ and when you have ‘communicated’ frequently to manage expectations, you are in a much better position to deliver meaningful results that delights the customer. Key is to manage expectations, give realistic promises and delivering on them.

You cannot undermine the importance of relationship with your customers and how it directly impacts the quality of overall experience. Especially for folks in sales, if they focus first on being valued by the customer and build a relationship, sales happens as a by-product. The foundation for good engagement is built by bricks of value and cement of trust.

Power question: What are you doing today to develop great relationships with your customers?

What NOT to do in Customer Service 7

I know I have been silent since long, thanks to hectic travel last week. I was in Helsinki (Finland) again in the past week where I met a few customers. What a learning experience it has been!

When you are in a meeting with customer, you have an opportunity to:

  1. Add value to them (so much so that they pull their notepad out and start taking notes)
  2. Learn about communication, what works and what doesn’t.

How you utilize these two opportunities makes a huge difference to the business.

Even my travel was a great learning experience. Here is a brief account of what happened – I was scheduled to reach Helsinki via a connecting flight from Frankfurt. I started for Frankfurt but because of bad weather at Frankfurt, the flight was diverted to Paris. Here, all the passengers were made to sit on the plane for 6 hours after landing, in anticipation that weather condition at Frankfurt will improve. Suddenly, we saw air-hostesses pulling out their baggage leaving all passengers wondering. Then we were de-planed and taken to airport. Flight was canceled and we had to stay in Paris for 1.5 days before resuming our journey. Lot of passengers reached their destinations (Chicago, Newark, Frankfurt and so on) on Monday morning; just about the time they were to start working. You can read more about this ordeal here.

Aviation is a customer service business more than anything else. Most companies have similar aircrafts, equipments and infrastructure available to them. It is only customer service that enhances quality of experience and makes an airline preferable over other.

This experience taught me some valuable lessons in what NOT to do in customer service. Here are the top 7 mistakes in customer service:

  1. Not smiling enough: The cabin crew team was very serious. They had an invisible message on their forehead which said “We are not interested in you”. Customer service is fun (for both the parties) when you smile a lot. It costs nothing to wear a smile, but goes a long way in building comfort.
  2. Not listening and not communicating: Cabin crew is the touch point for customers. When some of the passengers wanted to complain or express a concern, the cabin crew was inattentive. They would listen and do nothing about it. Listening to concerns and not doing anything about it is as good as not listening. Similarly, when passengers were waiting, no announcements were made. Communication was a mess.
  3. Lying to your customers and not fulfilling your promises: When we were made to sit in the plane for 3 hours, the pilot announced that we will fly in another 30 minutes. An hour passed and we did not fly. A few more hours later, pilot announced that since his 16 hours of flying time is over, the flight is cancelled. They kept on giving false promises to the customers.
  4. Sticking to your policy and ignoring problems faced by the customer:  Processes are tools that we use to serve our customers. Often, same processes can become a hurdle in solving customer’s immediate problems. Don’t let that happen.
  5. Going inaccessible when customer wants to talk to you: You know you have made a mistake. Go out and accept it. Hiding after making mistake can magnify the situation. When you make a mistake, you should have courage to call customer and say, “I screwed it up” and immediately work on solution. Imagine the frustration of customer when they want to know something and there is no one at the other end!
  6. Passing the buck to someone higher in the order: When someone started complaining to the air hostess, she immediately redirected the passenger to the pilot. Sure, there are people above you who can give comfort, but why not try doing it yourself?
  7. Forgetting the basic courtesies: Smiling, saying “Thank You” and “Sorry” does not cost a dime but it shows that you care. After a customer meeting, I replaced a normal “Thank You” with “Thank you so much for your time and I really appreciate it”. The idea is to make it more beautiful.

Each travel extends some learning, but this was of a completely different sort! Learning that came a hard way.