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Client Satisfaction: How Customer Experience Plays a Major Role

Client Satisfaction: How Customer Experience Makes the DifferenceWith all the attention on the recent series of airline service mishaps, we thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit about the difference between “customer service” and “customer experience.”

Harvard Business Review defines customer experience as the sum of all interactions a customer has with a company.” This covers everything from when someone becomes initially aware of a company, through their purchase process, use of the product and re-purchase experience. The Disney Institute refers to “the critical moments—what we call touchpoints[their emphasis]—that create an organization’s overall customer experience.” It reminds me of Jan Carlzon’s seminal book Moments of Truth in which he defined his airline (SAS in the 1980s) not as a collection of airplanes, gates and routes, but rather as the sum of all of what he called “moments of truth” (hence the book title). These are the individual interactions between company associates and customers. In the digital age, we would add interactions through technology (for airlines, think of the online booking engine, airport check-in kiosks, auto-notification of delays and gates changes, etc.). As personal aside, this has always been a passion as I wrote my master’s thesis as a case study of the cultural change Carlzon led at SAS in the 1980s.

Customer service is the interaction between people in a business situation. At its best, it’s about connecting and then meeting or exceeding expectations. At its worst, it’s glorified “charm school for business.”

In short, customer service is a “necessary, but not sufficient” part of creating a world-class operating platform because it only covers part of what it takes to create satisfied and loyal customers. Focusing on customer experience fills in the gaps not covered by simple customer service.

Where customer service focuses on the “soft” side, customer experience is a combination of the “soft” and “hard” sides - the process and the product. My brother, Doug, likes to tell the story of a locally-owned coffee shop he frequented. They had great coffee (the “hard” side product), great service (the “soft” side) and a great local story to boot. The owners of the place eventually sold it to one of the young baristas which made for an even better narrative of a local shop run by local people. One day, Doug arrived at his normal time and ordered his normal drink. The staff told him that they didn’t have that brewed yet and asked if he would he prefer another drink. They were so friendly and apologetic (great service) that he put his disappointment aside and ordered something else. A week later, it happened again; then a few days later yet a third time. They were just as friendly each time, even offering up a free drink as compensation.  Yet it should come as no surprise that he no longer frequents this place. The “customer service” was top notch, but the “customer experience” was terrible.

Creating a customer experience is about an ecosystem. It’s a holistic combination of many dimensions, including technology interactions, policies and procedures and other structural processes. And, it focuses on creating an experience as desired by the customer.  One of my favorite ways to explain the difference between service and experience is to compare renting a car from Hertz to renting one from Enterprise. I’m a road warrior these days, and I’ve never been one for small talk with strangers. Especially on something as transactional as getting a rental car, I just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. My mind is on getting to my client’s site and getting to work. Hertz Gold is designed just for this scenario. It’s the ultimate in customer experience for me. When I land, there’s an email telling me the stall number for the car. I go to that location, check that the car has no damage, put my bags in the back and off I go.

Enterprise, which is known for its stellar customer service, gives me the opposite experience. They make me wait in a line at a counter where a friendly agent verifies information that hasn’t changed in years. That agent sends me to another line where eventually an equally peppy agent takes me to a car. In the interest of providing great service, they seem compelled to ask me how my flight was, where I’m from and otherwise engage in banal conversation that has nothing to do with what I want. It’s great customer service; and for someone more extroverted or with more time on their hands, it might be a great customer experience. For me, however, it simply is the perfect example of great service but poor experience.

In my book, CONTACT: Customer Service in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry (Prenti-Hall, 1993), I talk about the Third Law of Service: Remove the need for customer service and you’re perceived as giving good service (remember the old commercials for the Maytag repairman?)

To close this discussion, here are three tips for creating world-class customer experiences:

  1. Purposefully map out and plan the customer journey. Think about every step from how the customer initially engages you, through how they experience your product and service.

  2. Eliminate things that annoy customers (even when they’re “standard” requirements). As you map out your customer’s journey, look not only at how you can impress customers along the way; look for where you delay or annoy the customer. Ask yourself how you can remove those inhibitors of great customer experience. When our industry transformed credit checks from multi-day affairs to instantaneous approvals, we eliminated a key step that made for poor customer experience.

  3. Be very disciplined in looking at this journey through the eyes of real customers and how they really behave rather than through how you wish they behaved. For example, we may want customers to fill out an online form as a guest card and give us deep demographic information. However, most customers don’t want to take the time to fill in a bunch of information, and some may be uncomfortable sharing too much information early in the sales cycle. A simpler form likely creates a better customer experience and increases the conversion rate even if it provides less information for us up front.

So take a moment and reflect on the differences between customer service and customer experience and ask yourself what your company can do to improve the latter.

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