This post considers the implications of cross-channel consistency for customer experience researchers. The first research implication of inter-channel consistency is to understand that researchers must investigate service delivery consistency at its cause.
The range of choices available to customers here in the 21-st century is incredible. Gone are the Henry Ford days when you, as he put it, “could have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Modern customers have an array of choices available to them not only in the brands but in delivery channels. Modern brands must serve channels in the channel of the customer’s choice, be it on-line, mobile, contact center, or in-person. As customer choice expands cross-channel consistency has become more and more important.
The problem for customer experience researchers is that this channel expansion requires a broad tool box of research techniques, as different channels require unique systems and processes appropriate to the channel. Systems and processes for on-line channels are different than those for in-person channels. These different systems and processes often lead to the siloing of channels, which may help make individual channels more efficient, but run the risk in inconsistencies in the customer experience from one channel to the other.
Customers, however, don’t look at a brand as a collection of siloed channels. Customers do not care about organizational charts. They expect a consistent customer experience regardless of channels. Customers expect cross-channel consistency.
If senior management has defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role in coordinating research tools is much easier. If management has not defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role is nearly impossible.
The first step in defining the customer experience organization-wide is writing a clear customer experience mission statement which clearly communicates how customers should experience the brand, and how management wants customers to feel as a result of the experience. Next, the customer experience should be defined in terms of broad dimensions and specific attributes which constitute the desired customer experience and emotional reaction to the brand.
For illustration, let’s consider the following example:
A bank may define their customer experience with four broad dimensions, which can be described as:
- Relationship Building
- Sales Process
- Product Knowledge
- Customer Knowledge
Next, the customer experience leadership of this bank must define each of these broad dimensions in terms of specific attributes which combine to make up the dimensions. For example, each of the above four dimensions may be defined by the following attributes:
|Relationship Building||Establish trust
Commitment to customer needs
Perceived as trusted advisor
|Sales Process||Referral to appropriate partner|
|Product Knowledge||Understanding of a range of products
Understand features and benefits
Explain benefits in ways that are meaningful to customers
|Customer Knowledge||Needs analysis|
Once each of the above dimensions has been defined in terms of specific attributes, the next step in translating the customer experience definition to action is to define a set of empirical behaviors which support each attribute.
For example, establishing trust is an attribute of relationship building.
Relationship Building –> Establish Trust
Under this example, a set of behaviors is defined which are designed to establish trust. For example, these behaviors may be:
- Maintain eye contact
- Speak clearly
- Maintain smile
- Thank for business
- Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”
- Encourage future business
Now, each of these six behaviors is mapped across each channel. So, for example, this bank may map these behaviors across channels as follows:
Behaviors Which Support Establishing Trust:
|New Accounts||Teller||Contact Center|
|Maintain eye contact||Maintain eye contact||—|
|Speak clearly||Speak clearly||Speak clearly|
|Maintain smile||Maintain smile||Sound as if they were smiling through the phone|
|Thank for business||Thank for business||Thank for business|
|Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”||Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”||Ask “What else they could do to assist you today?”|
|Encourage future business||Encourage future business||Encourage future business|
Repeating this process of mapping behaviors to each of the attributes will produce a complete list of employee behaviors appropriate to each channel in support of management’s broader customer experience objectives.
The modern customer experience environment is constituted of an ever expanding variety of delivery channels, with no evidence of the slowing of the pace of channel expansion. As channel expansion continues, customer empowerment is increasing with customer choice. Customer relationships with brands are not derived from individuals’ discrete interactions. Rather, customer relationships are defined by clusters of interactions, clusters of interactions across the entire life cycle of the relationships, and across all channels. Inter-channel consistency defines the customer relationship.
McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, demonstrated, in a retail banking context, a link between cross-channel consistency and bank performance.
In customers’ minds, all channels belong to the same brand. Customers do not consider management silos or organizational charts – to them all channels are the same. Customers expect consistent experiences regardless of channel. In their minds, an agent at a call center should have the same information and training as in-person agents.
What are the implications for managers of the customer experience?
The primary management issue in aligning disparate channels is to manage inconsistency at its cause. The most common cause of inconsistencies across channels is the result of siloed management, where managers’ jurisdiction is limited to their channel. Inter-channel consistency is increasingly important as advances in technology expand customer choice. Brands need to serve customers in the channel of their choice. Therefore, the cause of inter-channel inconsistency must be managed higher up in the organization at the lowest level where lines of authority across channels converge, or through some kind of cross-functional authority.
The implications for management are not limited to senior management and cross-functional teams. Customer experience managers should be aware that top-line averages can mislead. Improvement opportunities are rarely found in top-line averages, but at the local level. Again, the key is to manage inconsistency at the cause. Inconsistency at the local level almost always has a local cause; as a result, variability in performance must be managed at the local level as well.
Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 3: The Causal Chain from Consistency to Customer Loyalty
In an earlier post we discussed the business case for consistency, primarily because consistency drives customer loyalty. This post describes the causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.
Brands are defined by how customers experience them, and they will have both an emotional and behavioral reaction to what they experience. It is these reactions to the customer experience which drive satisfaction, loyalty and profitability.
There is a causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty. McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, that feelings of trust are the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and consistency is central to building customer trust.
For example, in our experience in the banking industry, institutions in the top quartile of consistent delivery are 30% more likely to be trusted by their customers compared to the bottom quartile. Furthermore, agreement with the statements: my bank is “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that I can trust” are significant drivers of brand differentiation as a result of the customer experience. Again, brands are defined by how customers experience them. In today’s environment where consumer trust in financial institutions is extremely low, fostering trust is critical for driving customer loyalty. Consistency fosters trust. Trust drives loyalty.
Loyalty is the holy grail of managing the customer experience.
The foundation of customer loyalty is consistency. In a 2014 research paper entitled, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, McKinsey & Company concluded that trust, trust driven by consistent experiences, is the strongest drivers of customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Kinēsis, believes that each time a brand and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the brand, and they adjust their behavior based on what they learn. There is real power in understanding this proposition. In it is the power to influence the customer into profitable behaviors and away from unprofitable behaviors. One of these behaviors is repeat purchases or loyalty.
Customer loyalty takes time to build. Feelings of security and confidence in a brand are built up by consistent customer experiences over a sustained period of time. Across all industries, customers want a good, consistent experience with the products and services they use.
The value of customer loyalty is obvious. Kinēsis has found the concept of the “loyalty effect” to be an excellent framework for illustrating the value of loyalty. The loyalty effect is a proposition that states that customer profitability increases with customer tenure. Consider the following chart of customer profit contribution to customer tenure:
This curve of profit contribution per customer over time is called the loyalty curve. At customer acquisition, the profit contribution is initially negative as a result of the cost of customer acquisition. After acquisition, customer profit contribution increase with time as a result of revenue growth, cost savings, referrals and price premiums. Loyal customers and consistent customer experiences require less customer education, generate fewer complaints, reduce the number of phone calls, handle time and are more efficient across the board.
In the next post we will explore the causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.
Humans value consistency – we are hard wired to do so – it’s in our DNA.
It is generally believed that modern humans originated on the Savanna Plain. Life was difficult for our distant forefathers. Sources of water, food, shelter were unreliable. Dangers existed at every turn. Evolving in this unreliable and hostile environment, evolutionary forces selected in modern humans a value for consistency – in effect hard wiring us to value consistency. We seek security in an insecure world.
In this context, it is not surprising we evolved to value consistency. While our modern world is a far more reliable environment, our brains are still hard wired to value consistency.
The implication for managers of the customer experience is obvious – customers want and value consistency in the customer experience. We’ve all felt it. When a car fails to start, when the power goes out, when software crashes we all feel uncomfortable. A lack of reliability and consistency creates confusion and frustration. We want to have confidence that reliable events like starting the car, turning on the lights or using software will work consistently. In the customer experience realm, we want to have confidence that the brands we have relationships with will deliver consistently on their brand promise each time without variation in quality.
Customers expect consistent delivery on the brand promise. They base their expectations on prior experience. Thus customers are in a self-reinforcing cycle where expectations are set based on prior experiences continually reinforcing the importance of consistency. This is the foundation of customer loyalty. We are creates of habit. The foundation of customer loyalty is built on the foundation of dependable, consistent, quality service delivery.
While we evolved in a difficult and unreliable environment, our modern society is much more reliable. Our modern society offers a much more consistent existent. Again, it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. Product quality and consistency of our mass production economy has reinforced our expectations of consistency.
Today’s information technology continues to reinforce our desire for consistency. However, it adds an additional element of customization. Henry Ford, the father of mass production, famously said of the Model-T, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Those days are gone. Today, we expect both consistency and customization.
Previously, we also explored the relationship of specific sales and service behaviors to purchase intent.
Cross Tabulation By Purchase Intent
|Greeting||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Greet by identifying the name of the institution||99%||97%|
|Greet by identifying themselves||100%||97%|
|Ask how they could assist||100%||98%|
|Hold||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Ask permission to be placed on hold first||85%||73%|
|Give the reason for being placed on hold||100%||88%|
|Give an estimate of how long you would be on hold||56%||27%|
|If the actual hold time exceeded the estimate, representative returned to the call to of the status||88%||50%|
|Thank for holding upon returning||96%||81%|
|Transfer||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Explain the reason for the transfer||99%||98%|
|Ask permission to transfer||84%||65%|
|Stay on the line until the transfer was answered by another representative||53%||33%|
|If hold time exceeded 60 seconds, return to explain delay and ask if you want to continue to hold.||35%||7%|
|Service||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Use name at least once during the call||66%||44%|
|Use proper grammar||11%||96%|
|Allow customer to speak first and finish your thought||99%||93%|
|Clarify all requests prior to processing the transaction||100%||80%|
|Maintain a friendly demeanor and pleasant voice throughout the call||100%||91%|
|Describe products or services in a manner that was easy to understand||100%||70%|
|Suggest additional products and/or services||71%||34%|
|Avoid bank jargon or other technical financial terms||100%||95%|
|Ask for business||88%||47%|
|Conclusion||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Thank for calling||98%||92%|
|Ask how else they could assist||95%||65%|
|Thank for choosing the institution||92%||66%|
|Mean Attribute Ratings||Increased Purch Intent||Decreased Purch Intent|
|Interest in Helping||4.9||3.8|
|Explaining products in understandable terms||5.0||3.9|
|Level of confidence in the representative||4.9||3.2|
|Valuing as a customer||4.9||3.5|
What impresses customers positively as a result of a call to your call center?
To answer this question, Kinesis conducted research into the efficacy of the bank contact center sales process by observing a battery of sales and service behaviors through the use of mystery shoppers. The objective of this study was to identify which sales and service behaviors drive purchase intent. (See the insert below for a description of the methodology).
The table at the end of this post shows the relative frequency in which each behavior was observed in shops where the shopper reported positive purchase intent as a result of the call, compared to shops with negative purchase intent.
The seven behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent are:
- Invite to visit a branch
- If on hold, thank for waiting
- Express appreciation for interest/thank for business
- Offer further assistance
- Mention/refer to website
- Listen attentively to your needs
- Offer to send material
Each of these behaviors is at least three times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to those with negative purchase intent.
Two observations jump out from this first group of behaviors:
First, integration of other channels into the sales process appears to drive purchase intent. Inviting the shopper to visit a branch was observed 6.4 times more frequently in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative. The branch still has a role in the sales process; other research consistently points to the convenience of branch location as a driver of selection of a primary financial institution. If contact centers leverage the branch during the sales process, they have a significantly better chance to advance the sale. Additionally, when the agent incorporated the website into the sales presentation, they also have a better chance of advancing the sale. Mentioning the website was 3.3 times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative.
Secondly, the balance of these key behaviors all revolve around personal attention (thank for waiting on hold, offing further assistance, listening attentively, offer to send material) and interest in the customer’s business (express appreciation or thank for business).
Nine more behaviors were at least twice as likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent:
- Product knowledge
- Ask for name
- Ask for your business/close the sale
- If on hold, check back in 1 minute
- When thanked respond graciously
- Ask probing questions
- Explanations easy to understand
- Explain the value of banking with bank
- Thank for calling
The themes most common in this second group of behaviors that appear to influence purchase intent are competence (product knowledge, easy to understand explanations), personal attention (asking name, checking back on hold, probing of needs) and interest in the customer’s business (ask for business, express value, thank for calling).
So…what drives purchase intent as a result of a call to a contact center? Integrating other channels into the conversation, and sincerely expressing interest in the customer broadly drive purchase intent.
Frequency Behavior Observed in Shops with Increased and Decreased Purchase Intent:
|Invite to visit a branch||64%||10%|
|If on hold, thanked for waiting||97%||20%|
|Express appreciation for interest / thank you for business||92%||20%|
|Offer further assistance||85%||25%|
|Mention/refer to website||66%||20%|
|Listen attentively to your needs||80%||25%|
|Offer to send material||97%||31%|
|Ask for name||68%||25%|
|Ask for your business/close the sale||76%||32%|
|If on hold, check back in 1 minute||94%||40%|
|When thanked respond graciously||98%||42%|
|Ask probing questions||94%||42%|
|Explanations easy to understand||99%||45%|
|Explain the value of banking with bank||88%||43%|
|Thank for calling||99%||50%|
|Friendly demeanor / pleasant voice||100%||60%|
|Avoid bank jargon||98%||68%|
|Mention other bank product||99%||75%|
|Wait for response before placed on hold||100%||80%|
|Demonstrate understanding of question||100%||81%|
|Answered in 3 rings||99%||88%|
To evaluate the state of the in-branch sales process, Kinesis mystery shopped five banks with significant North American footprints. Among the objectives of the study were to:
1) Define the sales process among different institutions.
2) Evaluate the effectiveness of specific sales behaviors.
Shoppers were asked a mixture of closed-ended questions to evaluate the presence or frequency of specific behaviors, and open-ended questions to gather the qualitative impressions of these behaviors on the shoppers – in short the how and why behind how the shopper felt. Finally, to provide a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of each sales behavior, shoppers were asked to rate their purchase intent as a result of the visit. This purchase intent rating was then used as a means of evaluating what behaviors tend to be present when positive purchase intent is reported as opposed to negative purchase intent.