By Chris Bucholtz
Customers are starting to become more aware that the experiences they receive from the businesses they buy from are the result of deliberate decisions. They’ve felt the effects of good and bad experiences, but today a newly aware class of customers is starting to consciously understand how those experiences come about.
Part of it is that many more of them are working in this field, and so more people understand that the journey the customer takes through his or her lifecycle with a company can be planned to make it easier and more pleasant for the customer.
But customers have other insights from other sources. For example, customers use IT technology in their jobs and so they know how data can be shared and routed through a business. So, if these customers encounter a process that fails to take advantage of this – for example, a service call in which the customer is forced to explain who he is and what problem he needs solved each time he’s transferred between agents – they pick up on it. Fast.
I hear it quite often here in Silicon Valley: a customer talks about a frustrating business experience, and concludes the tale with a sentence that starts with, “If they had only…” This is then followed by a technological or process solution that would have spared them their frustration – and which the customer knows about in some detail.
The technology-driven world in which we live is exposing customers to solutions for data management, and this expands their expectations. They not only recognize that things should be better – often, they know how it could be made better. And if they know it, why don’t the businesses they buy from know it?
We’re reaching a point where an educated customer base has had its expectations raised because of its exposure to technology, to good processes and to the message that service is gaining in importance. These three things in combination lead people to expect business to do better – but it doesn’t. The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer reported the percentage of Americans who felt service met expectations fell from 65 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2012, while the percentage who said service failed to meet expectations went from 26 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2012. That’s an 11-point swing if taken together.
It’s not that service organizations are getting worse – it’s that they’re not changing at the pace of customer expectations, and those expectations are fueled not by out-of-proportion customer desires but by their experiences with reality. They know it can be done, and now they’re waiting for businesses to do it.
Your service organization is no longer an alien entity unknown to customers. The curtain has been pulled back and customers know what you can do, even if you’re not doing it. The question they’re asking themselves is “Why?” As in, “why won’t this company take the steps it needs to make it easy on me?” followed by, “Why am I doing business with them when there are other companies out there who might be doing it better?”
If you’re concerned about customer retention at all, you need to avoid having your customers question why they’re doing business with you instead of a competitor. They’re expectations have been raised by what they’ve experienced – but if other businesses can deliver great service through new technology and revamped processes, you can, too. That raises another “why” question: why aren’t you investing to meet your customers’ evolving expectations yet?