Crafting an Effective Customer Strategy: Guidelines for Tackling Common Barriers - The Connection - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
Customer centricity has made it high up on - if not to the top of - most companies' list of priorities. A recent study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and Strativity Group, which surveyed 315 business executives, found that 75 percent of respondents plan on having a customer-centric strategy in place within the next two years.
These companies have good reason to pursue customer experience (CX) strategies, according to Bob Azman, chief experience officer at Avtex. In Azman's estimation, customer experience strategies are becoming as ubiquitous as headsets within contact centers, "CX shouldn't be an afterthought," Azman says. "It should be the benchmark by which all activities in an organization are measured and decided upon."
More firms are recognizing that to stand out, they have to start putting customers at the center of their operations. Yet while many of them work toward reaching this CX pinnacle, a lot of companies struggle to get their efforts off the ground, as the internal preparation required for carrying out an effective strategy proves daunting.
Whether a company is just embarking on a CRM strategy or evolving its current one, there are many challenges involved in the process, both from a cultural and a financial standpoint; but there are some rules of thumb companies can follow to ensure CX plans unfold smoothly.
WHAT IS AN EFFECTIVE CRM STRATEGY, AND WHY CREATE ONE?
An effective CX strategy is simply one that enables a company to be "easy to do business with." It is what outfits such as American Express, Amazon, Zappos, and Apple all have in common.
Azman urges clients to ask themselves whether they are also easy to do business with, and to review themselves, paying particular attention to 10 key areas:
- Social media presence
- Web site maintenance and navigability
- Technological support
- Comprehensive CRM
- Empowered customer service agents
- Responsive telephony systems
- Service recovery processes
- Customer analytics
- Employee engagement
- Streamlined process
For Azman, companies with customer-centric strategies in place enable their customers to reach them at their convenience and engage them on the platforms they want to use, when they want to use them.
Nelson says that the marketplace has come to require these strategies. If customers have grown accustomed to a certain way of doing business, they will hold your company to that standard, as they've carried over expectations from elsewhere. For instance, while your web site may not be a direct competitor with Amazon, your customers are familiar with the experience Amazon delivers, and since they know what is possible, they will expect them of your organization as well.
WHERE ARE YOU, AND WHERE ARE YOU HEADED?
Self-awareness factors heavily into defining CX strategy. Experts suggest that companies routinely evaluate themselves to pinpoint the areas in which they most need to improve, and to ensure they're meeting the needs of customers in whatever channel they encounter them.
Nelson points out that many companies approach CRM with the wrong mid-set, simply noting that they want to "do CRM". He uses a trip analogy to describe the process of developing a CRM strategy: You must understand clearly where you are starting from, where you desire to go, and what tools you'll need to get there.
WHERE DOES STRATEGY BEGIN?
Customer-centric strategy begins at the top of any organization and trickles downward. After all, if someone has a C, E or VP in front of their title, he/she is probably more likely to have influence over those below her in the hierarchy.
Some firms are fortunate enough to have a culture founded on the belief that customer centricity should be prioritized. Those companies often have departments dedicated to overseeing CX initiatives, holding the title "chief customer officer" or the like.
Nelson urges companies to envision what it's like to be a customer of their company to determine what interactions should look like. From there, they can assess the image they'd like to project to target customers.
This can take many forms. For a firm like Fidelity, an effective CX strategy required it to become truly multi-channel. Charles Schwab, on the other hand, has focused on increasing capacity through self-service. State Farm, meanwhile, has concerned itself with creating long-term relationships, and Apple has opted to create emotional excitement for its products.
Azman has some suggestions for companies whose leadership is resistant to customer-centric thinking. "I often hear that no one will listen, that they're focused on revenue, etc." But while organizations face these, and many other obstacles, Azman notes that there's nothing to stop individuals from getting started on their won. One way, he says, is to launch a joint project with a key business partner. For example, they might try to unite the customer service department with sales. From there, they can delve into a broader customer experience alignment, Azman says. "Starting a grass roots campaign can sometimes bear more fruit than a company wide effort that takes months to get started and loses momentum quickly."
ALIGNING ALL EMPLOYEES TO A COMMON VISION
CX efforts can start in one part of an organization, but must ultimately gain traction and reach all parts of it, experts agree. Specific to a CX strategy, it needs to be all encompassing. That is, it can;t be focused solely on one area, but must extend laterally. Fixing a customer service issue, for example, doesn't achieve the foals of an effective CX strategy if it doesn't include other departments.
Nelson agrees, noting that with CRM, "you're only as good as your weakest link." When a customer runs into one area that is broken, she is likely to perceive that entire organization as similarly damaged.
Although it helps if a strategy is agreed upon and supported from the top down. In a statement summarizing the findings of Harvard and Strativity's study "Making Customer-Centric Strategies Take Hold," it noted that "many customer-centric strategies fail during execution because they were designed for the boardroom, not for the customer-facing employee." This view contends that employees are often not adequately prepared to exhibit true customer-centricity. This is largely because of a lack of proper training.
Harvard and Strativity's joint study found that while 80 percent of organizations believe that employee training is important, only 40 percent of them felt they did it well. Many organizations struggle with such preparation because they fear repeating the failures incurred during previous training initiatives, or simply don't want to remove employees from their jobs for the time it takes to train them. Others, it says, simply fail to see the cost of not coaching employees.
Check out the eLearning platform offered by The Connection®. A quick, easy way to train your employees that is effective, efficient, and customized to your goals and CX strategy.
GETTING THEM TO CARE ABOUT CX
In addition to training, companies should cultivate a workforce that genuinely cares about being customer-centric. There are several tactics companies can use to foster such a mind-set.
An essential part of creating a clear and effective vision involves a meaningful cause. Products and services should be discussed in a way that ensures employees can see the impact they can have on other human beings. It is also recommended that CX strategy be linked with bigger picture goals of the organization to show relationship and correlation. If, for instance, your organization values revenue, try to show how customer-centric mindedness impacts revenue through satisfied and loyal customers.
Companies must also align processes with metrics across the entire organization, not just within sales or another department. Set the bar high and then keep raising the bar. If you set the bar too low, employees will feel as though they can under deliver and still meet expectations.
CREATING A BUSINESS CASE FOR CRM UPGRADES
The tips above have largely no-tech or low-tech suggestions. At some point, however, a technology upgrade may be needed. To use a simple example, getting from your house to the corner store is a trip you can take on foot, but going from London to San Diego will require greater technology and a more costly investment (i.e. a plane ticket). In general, the greater the ambition, the more sophisticated the tools required to get the results.
And, like it or not, money will be a factor with outlining a strategy. If someone has an idea for an upgrade, he must be prepared to demonstrate to the decision makers that it will have concrete benefits throughout the organization. There are ways to get through to the various departments and decision makers who hold the power to approve these tools, but it requires careful planning. The business case serves as a tool to help you convince everyone in the organization that you're trading up. It also serves as a helpful map for firms, as a business case provides them with a structured outline as they begin to think about how to evolve their systems.
When determining what technologies to invest in, executives and managers should focus on pitching a short list of realistic benefits rather than indefinite or intangible ones that decision makers will likely meet with skepticism.
One of the great mistakes companies make today is to confuse the features vendors tend to market with the benefits they'll see from using those features. Therefore, companies must be careful in assessing what a given feature will do for them, not what it has done for another firm. Likewise, the objective behind a technology should be maximizing benefits, not minimizing costs.
First, identify the areas of real benefit, then quantify these benefits and evaluate the associated financial metrics. Benefits must be equivalent to results. They can come in the form of increased employee productivity, reduced costs, additional sales, and higher customer satisfaction rates.
The software might have been installed, but that doesn't mean you can relax. The performance of your system must constantly be measured and assessed to determine what areas need to be refined. And after companies have calculated the concrete benefits of an implementation, they should set milestones to track whether they're meeting the numbers they've laid out for themselves. Companies should identify and prioritize the key areas of focus to make sure a project stays on track.
Just remember, as you embark on your CRM journey, it's going to be an ongoing process. It's not a once and done.
Article by Oren Smilansky published in Customer Relationship Magazine.
Publish Date: February 4, 2016 5:00 AM
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