A great customer experience is kind of like great humor: it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
When we put it like that, we start to understand the magnitude of the challenge facing customer service, user experience, and even marketing teams. On the one hand, they’re tasked with providing legendary service. On the other hand, they’re constrained by the economics of head-counts and cost per customer contact.
So it’s no wonder we’ve seen a rise in AI-assisted service – starting decades ago with automated call routing (“Press 2 on your touchtone phone to reach our billing department.”), all the way to the chatbots we now see embedded on websites.
Sure, AI is an efficient way to knock out repetitive tasks. But there’s a catch: from the customer’s perspective, service is not a “repetitive task”.
Providing great service matters
New research on the importance of customer experience shows customers want more humanity and less automation, especially when something goes wrong. They want their experience to be personalized – not cookie-cutter.
The study, focusing on customer experience and commissioned by PwC, shows 59% of customers globally (and 64% in the U.S.) feel brands are so myopic about automation and trendy website design, they’ve lost touch with the human element of creating a great customer experience.
The stakes are higher than you might expect. 60% of consumers say they’ll drop a brand (even one they love) after just a few sub-par experiences.
At the same time, less than half of executives say they understand how they’ll use automation to improve the experience they offer customers. Companies are thrashing about, wielding shiny new customer-facing AI like puppies with lightsabers.
And customers can’t help but notice.
Great customer experience = right tools + right people + right practices
Just as effective teamwork requires the right fuel-air mixture of people, tech, and practices, so does creating memorable customer experiences. (The good kind of memorable.)
At a time when many brands seem content to ride the pendulum swing from “touch” to “tech”, the smartest companies are investing in automation that lives behind the scenes and surfaces relevant information to staff. (I’ll show you a couple examples below.)
And not just customer-facing staff. An investment in website analytics helps sales and marketing teams understand where prospects are dropping out of the funnel and create a more engaging shopping experience. Similarly, automated reports in bug trackers like Jira show product managers where customers are running into the most problems.
Hiring for “culture fit” sounds lovely, but it tends to create very homogeneous teams, which doesn’t exactly improve collective creative thinking. Instead, hire for “values fit“.
Do job candidates have a continuous improvement mindset that puts customers at the forefront, or are they defensive? Will they take initiative on behalf of their customers, or will they wait for instructions from on high?
Creating a culture of empowerment isn’t rocket science, but you do have to be intentional in three key areas.
- Transparency: Open up communication internally and with your customers whenever it’s practical (and sometimes when it isn’t). The internal sharing will lead to valuable insights when members of, say, the customer service team see data from website analytics and begin to connect the dots. And being open with customers about known issues goes a long way in cementing their loyalty – especially if you can give them a band-aid solution while you tackle the root cause.
- Autonomy: Give teams and individuals decision-making power so they can act quickly.
- Community: Keep in touch with customers so you can learn more about why they chose your brand, how they use your product, and what else they need from you. Then share the findings with the entire company so it can inform day-to-day decisions at every level.
When done right, a culture of empowerment reduces friction internally and therefore reduces friction in the customer experience.
Can a great experience improve customer retention by 400%?
(Yes. Yes it can.)
Brands like Ritz-Carlton and Amex are leading the way, eschewing customer-facing automation in favor of internal-facing automation and policies that empower their employees to deliver great experiences.
Ritz-Carlton employees, for example, are empowered to spend up to $2000 fixing a botched customer experience. Amex also bet big on entrusting their customer service staff to serve customers in whatever way the situation called for, coaching their teams to use the opportunity to build a relationship. The result? Customer retention shot up 400%.
Under the surface, both companies invested in technology that improved internal processes such as pulling data like purchase histories that made figuring out what exactly would improve a customer’s experience a fast and painless process.
The same approach is great for improving internal customers’ experience. For years, the workload for Atlassian’s legal team was strictly email- and ping-driven. They set up a service desk portal that made it easier to request their help and automated prioritization of their backlog, but that only served to increase their queue (and the wait times for their customers).
Now, they still use the portal, but they’ve paired it with improvements to how they route work and new policies that allow many requests to be 99% self-service. They delighted their internal customers by helping them help themselves.
Great experiences are a competitive advantage
Ninety percent of companies in the PwC study said that creating better experiences for customers is not a priority for them on the digital front. That leaves a massive opening for savvy competitors (like you) to differentiate themselves in the customer experience space and reap the benefits.
Roughly 70 percent of consumers surveyed said the promise of a better customer experience will prompt them switch brands. All you have to do is create one.
At Atlassian, one of our favorite techniques for building great customer experiences is the aptly named “Experience Canvas”.
When you’re ready to create your own Experience Canvas, head to the Atlassian Team Playbook (our free, no-BS guide to better teamwork) for full instructions and a downloadable template.
This piece also appears on Inc.com.
Also published on Medium.