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.
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.
Every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and adjusts their behavior based on what they learn.
To explore this proposition, Kinesis conducted a survey of 500 consumers asking them to recall an experience with any provider that they found to be particularly positive or negative, and determined how these customer experiences influenced customer behavior.
When asked to characterize the cause of the positive or negative experience, these customers’ descriptions were grouped into four common themes that mirrored each other regardless of whether the experience was positive or negative. The most common themes for both experiences were: speed of service, pleasantness of personnel, efficiency of service, and the success of the outcome.
Causes of Positive & Negative Experiences
|Positive Experiences||Negative Experiences|
|Speed of Service/ Problem Resolution||72%||69%|
|Pleasantness of Personnel||70%||63%|
|Efficiency of Service/ Not Passed Around to Multiple People||60%||71%|
|Outcome Successful/ Problem Resolved/ Expectations Met||55%||49%|
The speed of service was cited with about the same frequency (7 out of 10 cases) as a cause of the experience being positive or negative. Pleasantness of personnel was mentioned 70% of the time as a driver of positive experiences compared to 63% for negative. Efficiency of service (or lack thereof) was more commonly cited as a reason for the experience being negative (71%) compared to positive (60%). The fourth most common theme mentioned as a reason for the success or failure of the customer experience is the successful outcome of the experience itself (55% for positive experience, 49% for negative).
Again, every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and adjusts their behavior based on what they learn. So…how did these experiences (positive or negative) influence customer behavior?
Here is how respondents told us they changed their behavior based on the experience:
Changes in Customer Behavior Based on Experience
|Positive Experiences||Negative Experiences|
|Change in purchase behavior (Buy more or less)||54%||57%|
|Told others (Positive or negative)||36%||43%|
|Considered change in purchase behavior||32%||38%|
Over half of the respondents said they changed their purchase behavior as a result of the experience, 54% of the customers recalling a positive experience told us they purchased more from the provider as a result of the positive experience, while 57% told us they purchased less as a result of the negative experience.
Furthermore, about a third of the respondents told us they considered a change in purchase behavior as a result of the experience; 32% considered purchasing more as a result of the positive experience, and 38% considered purchasing less as a result of a negative experience.
Finally, roughly four out of ten told others of the experience. Thirty-six percent of participants told us they gave positive word of mouth as a result of the positive experience, while 43% gave negative word of mouth as a result of the negative experience.
Again, every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and changes their behavior based on what they learn. The two primary ways customers change their behaviors based on the customer experience is both their own purchase behavior and sharing the experience with others.
Customers do not care nor understand why the experience of interacting with an organization through one channel is different than another. Be it via in-person, contact center, chat, or website, customers expect a seamless and consistent experience. Cross-channel alignment presents managers with a series of complex issues. This post focuses on the issue of sales and service behaviors, and outlines a methodology to align channels into a consistent set of cross channel behaviors.
Define Overall Experience
It should go without saying that the first step in aligning sales and service behaviors across channels it to define the elements of the experience for the entire organization. This sounds fairly obvious, but I’m always surprised by how many clients do not have agreed upon cross channel customer experience requirements.
Starting at the beginning, the first step is to define the customer experience in terms of dimensions or attributes which make up the desired experience.
For example, a financial institution may decide they what their customer experience to be comprised of four dimensions:
- Relationship building
- Sales process
- Product knowledge
- Customer knowledge
Define Dimensions In Terms of Attributes
The next step in building a consistent set of behaviors across all channels is to define each of the desired service dimensions in terms of attributes, which support each dimension.
In keeping with the above example, a financial institution may define each dimension in terms of the following set of attributes.
|Relationship building||Establish trustCommitment to customer needsPerceived as trusted advisor|
|Sales process||Referral to appropriate partner|
|Product knowledge||Understanding of a range of productsUnderstand features and benefitsExplain benefits in ways that are meaningful to customers|
|Customer knowledge||Needs analysis|
Map Behaviors Across Channels
Once each dimension is defined in terms of specific attributes, the next step is to identify specific behaviors for each channel that support each attribute.
Keeping with the above example, the financial institution may decide that establishing trust is made up of a set of five behaviors mapped across each channel.
Relationship Building: Establish 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|
Note this behavioral map assigns behaviors based on their appropriateness to each channel. So, for example, while the in-personal channel may be expected to maintain eye contact, obviously that would not apply for the contact center. Or the in-person channel may be expected to maintain a smile, while for the contact center this behavior may be modified for the phone channel to sounding as if they are smiling through the phone.
Measurement and Reinforcement
Key to maintaining consistent behaviors across channels is monitoring the experience. The two most common methodologies to monitor cross channel alignment are post-transaction surveys and mystery shopping.
How customers feel about the organization, and the extent to which each service dimension and attribute is perceived within the customer’s mind are best measured with post-transaction surveys of customers.
Measuring specific behaviors is best performed with mystery shoppers, where specially trained researchers observe the presence of each behavior using predetermined scenarios.