Inconsistent treatment based on certain demographic characteristics is illegal. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in almost all privately owned service industries based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Other industries, such as retail banking, have additional regulatory requirements.
Beyond this legal risk, managers must be aware of the significant risk to the reputation of the brand posed by discriminatory practices.
Managers may seek comfort in the knowledge that their company’s policies and procedures are not to refuse service to anyone. However, this overt discrimination is just a small part of the risk associated with discrimination. Beyond overt discrimination, which is extremely rare, there are two other categories of discriminatory practices: disparate impact and disparate treatment.
Disparate impact is the result of policies or business practices which have an unequal impact. A restaurant with a policy to require prepayment for meals from one demographic group and not another is an example of disparate impact.
Disparate treatment is differences in treatment that originate at the customer-employee interface. Disparate treatment does not necessarily need to be a conscious act. It can be an unconscious pattern or practice of different treatment that the employee is not even aware of. The use of name, offering promotional material to a customer of one group as opposed to a customer on another group are all examples of disparate treatment.
Now, observing differences is treatment is not necessarily proof of discrimination. Human behavior, after all, is variable. There is a certain amount of normal variation in all service encounters. The trick is to determine if disparate treatment observed represents a pattern or practice of discrimination. Fortunately statistics has the answer, we use statistical tests of significance to determine both if observed differences in treatment are the result of actual discriminatory practices and the likelihood that any one member of a protected class will be treated differently than a member of another protected class. It should be noted, however, that regulatory agencies set the bar much higher. Many do not necessarily rely on statistical testing. In their view, any single case of disparate treatment is evidence of discrimination.
In a future post we will discuss the implications for customer experience researchers in testing for disparate treatment.
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.
Though it does not pre-assign seats or provide onboard meals and at times has a lengthy wait and check in process, consumers year in and year out rank Southwest Airlines at the top or near the top of customer service.
Why is Southwest consistently near the top?
There are many reasons. The most significant being alignment of customer experience to both their brand and customer expectations; however, I believe a key component of Southwest success in customer service is the emotional intelligence of their employees.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is defined by four personality characteristics:
- A strong sense of self-empowerment and self regulation;
- A positive outlook;
- An awareness of feelings (both their own and customers); and
- A master of fear and anxiety and the ability to tap into selfless motives.
Each of these characteristics provide a clear benefit to the customer experience:
|Personality Characteristic||Benefit to the Customer Experience|
|Self-Empowerment and Regulation||Make Decisions in the Moment
|Constructive Responses to Challenges|
|Awareness of Feelings||Empathy and Better Communication with Customers
|Master of Fear/Anxiety and Selfless Motives||Express Feelings of Empathy and Caring|
Leading customer experience brands position the employee to constructively respond to challenges, make decisions in the moment, empathize with customers, and perhaps most important, not only feel but express feeling of care, concern and empathy to customers.
Much of the benefit of emotional intelligence is derived in “moments of truth” where some experiences in the customer journey have far greater importance than others. These moments of truth represent increased risk and opportunity to leave a lasting emotional impression on the customer; a lasting impression with significant long-term implications for both customer loyalty and wallet share. Perhaps the most common moment of truth is when something has gone wrong, the customer is unhappy or scared, and the relationship is at risk.
How do we build emotional intelligence?
First of all, emotional bonding cannot be scripted. Attempting to script such a connection will inevitably come off as hollow and insincere lacking authenticity and empathy, completely undermining the desired customer experience. Rather, emotional bonding must be a result of a spontaneous series of events that emerge from the emotional intelligence of employees.
The obvious starting point in building emotional intelligence is hiring frontline employees with the requisite emotional intelligence skills. Emotional intelligence can also be learned. However, it is a “soft” skill, unlike “hard” skills such as math; it can’t be taught in structured sessions. Rather, emotional intelligence is learned like almost all other human behaviors primarily though observation, experience and imitation.
Four Steps to Build Emotional Intelligence
Give people meaning in their work: Inspire frontline employees with a purpose beyond a paycheck. This clarity of purpose should include both what they are supposed to do and why they are supposed to do it.
In empowering frontline employees to serve customers, brands should arm them with statements of general principles and values rather than scripted procedures, which undermine empowerment. Reinforce these principals often so in the instant, when they are in a moment of truth with a customer in need, they have an appropriate framework from which to resolve the issue – and bond the customer to the brand.
Most frontline employees want to help customers; however, their motivations may be varied. Leading customer experience brands allow their employees to discover their own motivations for looking out for the customer’s best interests.
Create learning opportunities through experience: Humans are programmed to learn through self-discovery. Self-discovery reinforces the learning process by instilling a sense of accomplishment or pride. These positive feelings associated with self-discovery are a strong psychological reward, which reinforces the learning process. While self-discovery is not a top-down process, managers can foster self-discovery through feedback, encouraging employees to reflect on their own successes and failures, and anecdotes about other employees. Case studies are not just for MBA students.
Align customer experience systems and processes: It is imperative that systems and processes support the emotional skills desired from employees. Systems and process must constantly reinforce the overall message of emotional intelligence and emotionally connecting with customers. In empowering employees to respond to moments of truth, management must strike a balance between financial considerations and the things that matter to the customer. Good customer experiences are not good because they are good; they are good because they are profitable; however, there is no benefit to being penny wise and pound foolish. Finally, processes need to be streamlined to give employees both the time and ability to rise to the situation.
Enlist leaders and mentors: Emotions are learned through modeling. Children don’t learn to react to certain stimuli just because a parent tells them what to feel. We learn how to react to certain situations through trial and error and observing role models. First, it is imperative that all managers and leadership model appropriate emotional skills. How can you expect emotional intelligence from the frontline if it doesn’t exist in leadership? Second, identify employees with the appropriate emotional skills and position them as role models within the organization.
Key to success of any customer facing brand is alignment of the customer experience to both the brand promise and customer expectations. Most of time, this is not difficult. Appropriate systems procedures and even automated delivery channels can achieve this end. However, in moments of truth, where there is a high degree of risk associated with the outcome of the experience, leading customer experience brands rely on an emotionally intelligent frontline staff to align the experience and bond the customer to the brand.
In an earlier post we explored how customers experience all aspects of their relationship with a brand through the lens of their emotional state, and observed that all brands must be prepared to meet each customer in their specific emotional state – be they happy, excited, depressed or angry.
Research has determined that, not surprisingly, people are motivated to maintain positive moods, and mitigate negative affective states. When feeling good we tend to make choices that maintain a positive mood. Customers in a positive mood are more loyal, and more likely to interpret information favoring a current brand. Meanwhile, people in negative affective states make choices that have the potential to change or, in particular, improve their moods.
A key to maintaining positive moods is arousal, or more specifically, the management of arousal. Let’s take a look at how arousal management influences consumer choice. Consumers in a positive mood prefer products congruent with their state of arousal. Excited or happy consumers want to stay excited or happy, while relaxed and calm consumers what to stay relaxed and calm. Consumers in a negative mood prefer products with the potential to change their level of arousal.
In considering the role of customer emotions in their relationship to a brand, it is important to understand the implications of customer emotions on design of the customer experience. It is impossible, of course, to plan every customer experience or to ensure that every experience occurs exactly as intended. However, brands can identify and plan for the types of experiences that impart the desired emotional state on the customer. It is useful to group these experiences into three categories of interaction with the customer: Stabilizing, Critical, and Planned.
Stabilizing interactions promote customer retention, particularly in the early stages of the relationship.
New customers are probably in a positive state of valence, with either a high state of arousal (happy/excited) or a negative state of arousal (relaxed/calm). Remember, people are motivated to maintain positive moods, therefore, the objective of these stabilizing interactions is to maintain this positive mood.
The keys to an effective stabilizing strategy and maintaining these positive moods are education, competence and consistency.
New customers are at the highest risk of defection. As customers become more familiar with a brand they adjust their expectations accordingly. It is important that expectations be set appropriately to eliminate conflict with reality. Conflict between expectations and reality early in the customer relationship runs the risk changing the customer’s mood from positive to negative. They are more likely to experience disappointment, and thus more likely to defect.
Education influences expectations, helping customers develop realistic expectations. It goes beyond simply informing customers about the products and services offered by the company. It systematically informs new customers how to use the brand’s services more effectively and efficiently, how to obtain assistance, how to complain, and what to expect as the relationship progresses. In addition to influencing expectations, systematic education leads to greater efficiency in the way customers interact with the company, thus driving down the cost of customer service and support.
Critical interactions are service encounters that lead to memorable customer experiences. While most service is routine, from time to time a situation arises that is out of the ordinary: a complaint, a question, a special request, a chance for an employee to go the extra mile. We call these critical interactions “moments of truth.” The outcomes of moments of truth can be either positive or negative – they are rarely neutral.
Because they are memorable and unusual, moments of truth tend to have a powerful effect on the customer relationship. We often think of moments of truth as instances when the brand has an opportunity to solidify the relationship – earning a loyal customer, or risk the customer’s defection. Positive outcomes lead to positive states of valence (excited, happy, relaxed, calm) with greater wallet share, loyalty, and positive word word-of-mouth endorsements; while negative outcomes generate negative states (anger, frustration, depression); and result in customer defection, diminished share of wallet and unfavorable word-of-mouth.
We are in an era of automated channels. Automated channels are essential for meeting customer expectations and reducing transaction costs, but technical solutions are not, by themselves, able to drive an emotional connection between customers and the brand – particularly in moments of truth. Employees, emotionally intelligence employees, empowered to resolve the issue are critical in driving an emotional connection. In a future post, we will discuss the concept of Emotional Intelligence of frontline employees in handling moments of truth.
An effective customer experience strategy should include systems for recording critical interactions, analyzing trends and patterns, and feeding that information back to the organization. Employees can then be trained to recognize critical opportunities, and empowered to respond to them in such a way that they will lead to positive outcomes and desired customer behaviors.
Planned interactions are intended to increase customer profitability through up-selling and cross-selling. These interactions are frequently triggered by changes in the customers’ purchasing patterns, account usage, financial situation, family profile, etc. CRM analytics combined with Big Data are becoming quite effective at recognizing such opportunities and prompting action from service and sales personnel.
Customer experience managers should have a process to record and analyze the quality of execution of planned interactions with the objective of evaluating the performance of the brand at the customer brand interface – regardless of the channel.
The key to an effective strategy for planned interactions is appropriateness. Triggered requests for additional purchases must be made in the context of the customers’ needs and permission; otherwise the requests will come off as clumsy and annoying. By aligning information about execution quality (cause) and customer impressions (effect), customer experience managers can build a more effective and appropriate approach to planned interactions.
Loyalty. There is almost universal agreement that it is an objective – if not the objective – of customer experience management. It is highly correlated to profitably. It lowers sales and acquisition costs per customer by amortizing these costs across a longer lifetime – leading to extraordinary financial results. In retail banking a 5% increase in loyalty translates to an 85% increase in profits.
Loyalty is Emotion Driven
Banks often see themselves as transaction driven; delivery channels are evaluated on their cost per transaction. As a result, there is a lot of attention given to and investment in automated channels which reduce transaction costs and at the same time offer more convenience to customers. Win-win, right? The bank drives costs out of the transaction and customers get the convenience of performing a variety of transactions untethered by time or space. However, while transaction costs and convenience are important, loyalty is often driven by an emotional connection with the institution. An emotional connection fostered by interaction with actual employees at moments of need for the customers –moments with a high level of emotional importance to the customer – moments of truth.
Moments of truth are atypical events, where customers experience a high emotional energy in the outcome (such a lost credit card, loan application, or investment advice). In one study published in McKinsey Quarterly, positive experiences during moments of truth led to more than 85% of customers increasing wallet share by purchasing more products or investing more of their assets (Beaujean et al 06)
Impersonal alternative channels lack the ability to bind the customer to the institution. It’s the people. Effective handling of moments of truth requires frontline staff with the emotional tools or intelligence to recognize the emotional needs of the customer and bind them to the institution.
Previously we discussed the concept of “moments of truth” where some experiences in the customer journey have far greater importance than others. These moments of truth represent increased risk and opportunity to leave a lasting emotional impression on the customer; a lasting impression with significant long-term implications for both customer loyalty and wallet share. Perhaps the most common moment of truth is when something has gone wrong, the customer is unhappy or scared and the relationship is at risk. These events could be the result of: service delivery failures (unavailable service, unreasonably slow service, or other core service failures); customer needs and requests (special customer needs or customer preferences); or an adverse outcome (loan denial or loss of investment principal).
Also, in an earlier post we introduced a model to define emotional states with two dimensions:
1) valence (the extent to which the emotional state is positive or negative) and
2) arousal (the extent to which the energy mobilization of the emotional state is experienced on a scale of active to passive or aroused to calm).
Together, valence and arousal can define all human emotions. States of high arousal and positive valence are excited or happy; low arousal and negative valence are bored or depressed; while states of positive valence and low arousal are calm and relaxed, and negative valence and high arousal are angry or frustrated.
Not surprisingly, people are motivated to maintain positive moods, and mitigate negative affective states. People in negative affective states desire choices that have the potential to change or, in particular, improve their moods. For example, researchers have demonstrated a preference for TV shows that held the greatest promise of providing relief from negative affective states. People in a sad mood want to be comforted; anxious people want to feel control and safety.
Beyond solving the problem, the objective in dealing with an upset customer is to help relieve their negative affective state. If they are angry, attempt to calm them; if anxious, provide comfort. Time and time again, our research across many brands reveals that beyond resolving their problem as efficiently as possible, what customers want is empathy and reliability. We want to talk to someone who both understands how we feel and is reliable. They both have a solution to the problem and what they say will get done, gets done.
Strategies in CX Design
Anticipate potential needs for recovery: In designing tools to monitor the customer experience, managers must be aware of potential moments of truth and design tools to monitor these critical points in the customer journey. Some of these tools include: monitoring customer comments from comment cards or online forms to identify instances where the customer is either extremely happy or dissatisfied; monitor social media to identify common causes of moments of truth; survey tracking specifically focusing on the responses from dissatisfied customers; and mystery shopping to test the response to specific problem scenarios.
Decentralize decision making & empower front-line employees: In empowering frontline employees to serve customers, brands should arm them with statements of general principles and values rather than scripted procedures, which undermine empowerment. Reinforce these principles often so in the moment, when they are in a moment of truth with a customer in need, they have an appropriate framework from which to resolve the issue – and bond the customer to the brand.
Train the frontline: Training the frontline to handle problem resolution requires training not just in decision making, but also emotional intelligence. Can emotional intelligence be taught? Yes, but it requires a unique approach of self-discovery. Self-discovery is not a top-down process, however. Managers can foster it through feedback, encouragement to reflect on their own successes and failures, and anecdotes about other employees.
Specifically, tactics frontline employees can employ to handle upset customers include:
• Acknowledging the problem;
• Own the problem;
• Fix the problem;
• Provide assurance; and
• Provide compensation.
Customers experiencing a problem want to change their negative affective state. When dealing with an upset customer it is incumbent on the frontline to help relieve this negative state. Time and time again, in research study after research study, Kinesis finds that the two service attributes that influence customers in a positive way when they encounter a problem are empathy and reliability. Customers want to interact with employees who understand their feelings and are able to resolve the problem.