Empathy is the key to improving the customer experience and closing more sales

Empathy is the key to improving the customer experience and closing more sales

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Economic headwinds and changing customer expectations after the pandemic have caused many CEOs to scratch their heads about how to get the most value out of their customer experience programs. Teams are held accountable for net promoter scores and are desperate to build customer loyalty and improve interactions, but many don’t see the impact on their bottom line.

Having been in this industry for 25 years, I have seen a shift in customer expectations. Here’s how you can ask a different set of questions to go beyond scoring and show more empathy, how you can combine various metrics to measure how customer-centric your teams are, and three tips on how to combine operations, marketing, and people performance to achieve more with less effort.

Related: Are you giving your customers personalized experiences? That’s why you can no longer afford to ignore it.

1. Go beyond the search for scores

Empathy is about understanding another person’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

Many customer experience programs just ask, “How likely are you to recommend us?” and then providing a comment box. Some add general rating style questions about how you felt about speed of service, quality of product, price, or ease of handling them. While there’s nothing wrong with any of this, it doesn’t go far enough to drive actionable change.

You need to tailor the questions you ask to match the customer’s scenario and ask only what is relevant to them. Your data should tell you everything you need to know about your customer’s profile, so change your survey questions to ask what’s relevant to that customer. Advanced CX programs will also change the questions during the survey, so for the customer the overall experience is highly personalized and makes them feel that you care and helps them appreciate the unique experience they just had with you.

Second, you need to target the key behaviors that, when delivered, create the perfect experience. By understanding what happened in detail, you can understand why they felt the way they did. This may include steps in the sales process such as greeting, understanding your needs, making a sales inquiry, and recommending further relevant products; however, it may also include questions such as whether the staff member has demonstrated that they love their job, have a genuine interest in solving the customer’s problem, and sell them the complete solution.

What we mean by chasing scores is when programs get stuck with ratings and an overall score but can’t get at the truth about what happened at that moment. You need to be extremely clear about what behaviors are driving the experience. For your team to fully engage and take action, the feedback needs to be based on behaviors they can control and improve, and you can support them to develop new skills and build capabilities.

Empathy, in relation to customer service programs, is understanding how customers really feel and having clarity about what happened. We find that when feedback is easy to act on and is specific to a team member’s level, it is much easier to hold teams accountable for improvement and create a “no excuses” culture as they execute on key priorities.

Related: Do this to level up your customer experience management game

2. Centrality of the customer

The next action point is to combine key selling behaviors into a metric we call customer centricity. There is a common misconception that all customer service standards are equal; failing to meet one or the other has much the same consequence. However, we find this to be absolutely not true. In any situation, there will be a fundamental set of behaviors that have the greatest impact on customers buying from you, returning to you, and promoting you to others.

When you identify critical behaviors from feedback results, you will typically find that there are seven standards that have the greatest impact. Some will concern key service measures, others will favor the sales phases. For example, if I’m renovating my home and updating the window decor, I might want to spend $40,000. I expect you to take the time to understand all about my needs, provide options, sell me the complete solution, provide a quote, follow up on that quote, and take care of me.

What are the key customer centricity steps in your business and what is the impact if you neglect even one of these standards? What was your customer’s buying journey? Which competitors have they visited before and why did they choose you? What impact does your website have on the pre-visit experience?

By asking unrated, marketing-related questions as part of the core program, you begin to profile the customer and personalize their experience of providing you with feedback. For your team, the benefit is being able to group service measures into a cluster metric called customer centrality and key sales behaviors into sales centrality.

This is ideal when linking results to e-learning and financial measures such as average transaction value, items per transaction and conversion rates. The results will show you exactly what behavior was lost and the business impact.

Related: The Future is “Phygital”: What Customer Experience Experts Need to Know

3. Get more done with less effort

Many businesses struggle because they have different vendors providing different data (e.g. CX, foot traffic, eLearning) and work in silos.

Big data can provide good insight, but when it’s not easy to act on an individual level, we find that it actually blocks improvement. Back to focus on leading indicators and when you focus on executing key priorities, you see the change in performance whereas focus on scores is more of a lagging indicator.

So here are some tips and examples of how we approach having an integrated solution:

Operations: Focus on measures that enable behavior change. Provide real-time coaching to highlight performance gaps or strengths as they occur, which helps you incorporate daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly action habits. Be clear about what needs to happen at each stage and make it part of the operational rhythm of the business.

HR staff performance: ask yourself, Where do we need to improve from the customer’s point of view? Profile individual performance across the enterprise, then plug skills gaps directly into your eLearning modules. Personalize your coaching. Listings, work planning, recognition, best practice management and sharing best tips for tackling the bottom 20% are a must.

Marketing: You need to understand the buying journey, website experience, competitors visited, buying patterns, rate by campaign, boost ratings on social media and Google, and understand why non-buyers are turning away and from whom. Refer-a-friend programs and lead generation should be part of your main CX program.

Getting more done with less means focusing on what matters most to customers and encouraging everyone to improve their priorities without excuses.

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