Has this ever happened to you: you place a small order for a geegaw on Amazon for less than $5. It arrives, and for whatever reason you decide you don’t need it. You email Amazon and ask to return it. They email back with “don’t worry about it, it’s on us.” You feel like you just won some kind of lottery. A warm glow of good vibes towards Amazon surrounds you. Is it because of the value of the geegaw? No! Is it because the email was nicely worded? No! It was because you were surprised! Delighted! You just had an experience that went beyond what you expected, in a direction you didn’t expect. In 2017 businesses have to learn to delight, because the bar is being set by delight-centric competitors like Amazon.
Delight is a concept whose power goes way beyond customer service, to the broader world of business. If a good business meets the needs of its customers, a great business delights its customers. That is no small task!
And delight, it turns out, is much more than an outcome. It is a process, and it is a process that can be replicated. That is truly powerful. And it relates to our mission at PeopleDelight. What we seek as a company is not to help companies meet a minimum bar of customer service at the cheapest cost. We do not just seek to make companies successful. Instead, we seek to help them provide customer service that transcends, at a price that works for them. We seek to make our customers great. And that is all about delight, nothing less.
In our world, when a customer leaves a contact with us happier than when they began it, they have been delighted. But there is a lot of complexity in that transition. It turns out that the complexity revolves around expectations.
Customer Expectations = X
Customer delight is the result of a formula, one in which the key variable is X, customer expectations. When you set out to delight your customers what you are really looking to do is to frame your entire process in terms of X. You need to know what X is. You need to be able to change X and align it with your ability to deliver. And, most importantly, you need to be able to exceed it.
The Delight Method is a 3 step process:
When we say you have to understand your customers’ expectations we mean that you have to do something that the best leaders do well: see things as they are.
Most executives are overwhelmed with an avalanche of competing incentives and biases, many of which work directly to obscure what X really is. Whether you are the head of customer service or the CEO herself, you have to be willing to listen to what the customer is actually saying. The best and fastest route to this knowledge is to talk to your front line. Team Support and Field Sales folks are often the best knowledge base on customer needs and better service ideas. They also have some of the best stories of successful use of your product. Talking to them doesn’t mean you need to interview them. It can be a simple brown bag lunch, or coffee chat, or joining them on a Slack chat room, or even a quick email asking for their best and worst story of the week.
But nothing replaces hearing from your customers, directly. We like to encourage our clients to make it mandatory for senior staff to listen to customer calls and even engage with customers. This applies to engineering, marketing, sales, and product executives as well. This is typically referred to as a Voice of the Customer program or VOC.
You can create your VOC program in a variety of ways. You can spend time side by side with the staff in the call center, or you can ask for a download of a random sampling of emails and calls to listen to and review. Regardless, your plan should include collecting “learnings” from each executive following the session. They should be encouraged not to critique the agent but the entire experience – “what was the customer concern”, “do we have a good fix?”, “how many times did you hear the same problem”, “how can your team (product, marketing or engineering) resolve that problem before it creates another call?”
A well-organized VOC program will allow you a triple win – you learn about your customer, you find issues and solve them for a better experience (and a stronger customer advocate) and you create a connection between staff and your agents. This reinforces for them that their role is a vital one, that their input and suggestions matter and perhaps helps them come up with new ways they can support the company culture, mission and goals.
One final note, if you do a VOC where you sit side by side, we encourage introducing the team member who is listening in on that call or reviewing the email. This reinforces for the agents that all of your exec team cares about them and each of you are working to improve their experience – regardless of the role.
Once you (and other team members not typically in the direct path of your customer) get direct exposure to the customer you will get a much better sense of what your customers’ expectations of you, your product and your support are.
This understanding, by the way, needs to be extremely specific. You need to know how much time your customer expects setting up your product to take. You need to know how much time they expect to wait on hold given how much they pay for your service. You need to know whether they consider you (not whether you consider yourself!) a freemium, mass-market or luxury product and take action accordingly.
In the early 2000s we ran customer service for MovieBeam, a Disney-funded startup. The service relied on the customers adjusting an antenna in order to get their content. We were wondering why so few of our customers were watching movies, and it wasn’t until we went out and did house visits that we realized the antenna was just not getting set up properly. It was only then that we started an outbound campaign to walk the customers through setup for each and every subscription. You have to get in your customers’ heads!
Good businesses are able to match X to their ability to deliver. To do that they have to take action once they understand X.
Taking action on X does not mean simply trying to meet expectations, far from it. Taking action on X means recognizing that those expectations are malleable, and if they do not meet the reality of your product or your organization, you need to work to change them. For example, if you have spent time listening to your customers and found out they have a disconnect with your strategy, you should work to change their X. Remember, your goal is not to maximize X, but rather to align it with your strategy and your ability to deliver. Your whole company contributes to that process:
Marketing: Change your marketing messaging so that it emphasizes the right positioning.
Sales: Make sure your sales teams are not over-promising. More to the point, make sure they are not being incentivized to over-promise and even go so far as to disincentivize that behavior if it is creating a disconnect between X and your ability to deliver.
Product: Review the product literature and design to understand what kinds of cues you are providing. Sometime it is great to create an expensive, personalized experience in a website, for instance. But if you are marketing cheap and cheerful discounted flights to people who expect concierge-level customer support then you have created a disconnect. Be deliberate.
Customer Service: Sometimes X is established in real time. Let’s say you are a product company and a customer calls your team to find out additional information about your product. They expect a person who can answer questions about your product. If you have trained your team member appropriately they will also ask questions and suggest other products perfect for that customer. Result: the customer gets more than they asked for. For better or worse, you have exceeded X for that customer and the bar is now higher. Going forward, your customer will expect an agent who is trained and educated to make additional recommendations. So if you do not train ALL agents equally with that “special extra” of asking questions and then adding information about possible additional service or product then you are setting yourself up to fall short of an expectation that you just established.
Other functions play a role in expectation setting. Your website load time affects X and is determined by your engineering team. How you handle payments creates expectations and is handled by finance. Your entire organization creates X even while it responds to it.
When we managed customer service for a major online dating company we had to change the expectations surrounding human interaction. Because it was an online experience some customers did not expect to get live human customer support beyond in-app chat. But we educated our customers and engaged in non-sales conversations with people – for instance helping people draft statements about themselves or pick their picture for their online profile, or we provided safety tips for talking with folks they met on the site. We didn’t require agents to get off the phone, in fact we wanted our customers to know we supported them in their dating efforts. This raised the bar on expectations, but only to a point where we could execute on them. We changed X!
This is where great companies are created, and where we as a company strive to be. At it simplest it means delivering on a promise – “Do what you say you will do. And then some.” In fact, great companies live in “And then some.”
The key to exceeding X is not obvious. In particular, what if you know your customer has high expectations of you in a specific context? As an example, what if they expect you to answer the phone quickly already? Then there isn’t a lot of room to improve, is there? You are already perceived to provide a fast response. So how do you exceed that X?
The answer: you introduce new context. The “And Then Some” part of doing what you’ll say you’ll do is to do something else. Something you have not told the customer about before. Something they don’t know about. In the graphic above, you introduce a new axis. It can be anything, but I have chosen personalization.
In this example, you might be able to improve on the personalization of your support tickets by automating social media research that quotes the customer’s most recent social media post in a way that is relevant to their ticket or use of the product. Or you can point to a recent purchase and explain why that was a great choice or ask how they are using it, or ask them to post a picture of how they are using the product on your social media page or even email it to the agent to share in the office. The list goes on. The point is that you can of course try to exceed X on a known vector, like response time. But often it is easier and cheaper to exceed expectations that aren’t there in the first place.
When we ran a premium concierge support team at a major furniture multichannel retailer, we exceeded X by solving a problems that the customer didn’t know they had. For example, we had an issue with a certain leather being unavailable, which we knew would cause delays. We contacted all customers about the delay, but went the extra because we knew it was the holidays. So we offered some similar chairs that met their decor and delivered them for use during the holidays. While only a few actually needed this service, we succeeded by thinking ahead and offering to solve a problem without the customer calling in. This outbound approach will often exceed customer expectations because few of them even expect a call.
Implementing the Method
The three step process I have outlined above is one of those ideas that is simple to understand but very, very hard to implement. The analogy is the Scientific Method, it’s easy enough to say “Hypothesis, Experiment, Synthesis” but it is very very hard to do in practice.
It is the practice we go through though, and it works. We spend time with our clients going through Understand X when we start a project with them. What we often find is that the discipline of listening to your customers is a whole eye-opening experience for our partners, many of whom tend to be successful product, engineering, or sales-oriented executives who haven’t had to spend a lot of time on nitty gritty customer service.
Then, when we get to Change X, we find that training is either limited or non-existent, and certainly doesn’t seek to deliberately influence X, not only where customer service is concerned, but also where other functions interact to create X.
And last, to Exceed X you have to have a very well oiled machine, indeed. Not only do executives have to have a clear-eyed understanding of their customers, but that understanding needs to be shared by all the functions. To ice the cake, all those functions need to be doing their jobs well enough to go beyond firefighting mode and get ahead of X. In customer service that means having front line team members who are engaged, trained in your product and in problem solving, have the appropriate technology and procedures, enjoy strong communication with other departments, have a place at the table that allows them to share their customer feedback and get action to resolve it when it is not up to them, and not least are also empowered enough to go beyond that to delighting customers.
If you want to get beyond just meeting customer expectations to delighting them we’d love to chat. Contact us here.