Take Ownership of the Customer Experience

I recently visited the website of a prominent sports apparel business to order some expensive Adidas for my 16 year old. I’m a busy, working mom and have fully embraced all the advantages online shopping can offer. Over the past 10 years, I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars with this business and have grown to expect a certain level of service. Like most online retailers today, the purchasing process is simple and fairly seamless.

I can almost predict the emails I will receive:

  1. Order processed.
  2. Order ready for shipment.
  3. Track your package.
  4. Package delivered.
  5. How did we do? Please rate us.

However, this time the experience was different. Over the course of a week, I received all the usual status updates and was tracking the shipment. I knew my package was being delivered on Monday. Until it wasn’t. Certainly something had gone wrong. In this era of automated customer service, I had to call the company to sort this out.

The first customer service agent told me he wasn’t sure where my package was and really couldn’t help me since this “appeared” to be a UPS issue. I could tell he wasn’t really sure what was going on based on the number of holds I was put on and the confusion in his voice. His supervisor (yes, I had to take it a level up) took it a step further and told me that UPS didn’t actually get my package from the retailer (even though I had a tracking number) and that my package actually went out the day it was supposed to arrive at my house. He told me that he talked with UPS, had confirmed it was on its way and would have a UPS supervisor call me the next day to update me. UPS? It wasn’t their product. I couldn’t help but question this response but decided to wait a day or two and track my package again. But before I hung up, I asked if I could have his name in case I needed to follow up with him. I was told “no – just call this customer service line and someone will help you.” My confidence was shaken once again.

Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated. Not because my son’s shoes were late, but because none of the people I spoke with wanted to take responsibility for helping me. I felt abandoned.

In the experience economy, this is a good way to go out of business. If you’d prefer a different fate, here’s how to own the customer experience at your company.

Adapt to Changing Expectations

If I’d had the same poor experience with a retailer 20 years ago, would I have been as frustrated? Probably not. I probably would have simply just shrugged and said “That’s the way it is.” And then the next time I needed something I would still have called their 800 number, credit card in hand.

But now things are different. Technology has created new avenues for competition, and as a customer I have freedom to choose from a variety of outlets for my purchases. I can also do more research to make sure that I’m buying the best product.

Price is still important, but we’re living in the “experience of everything” economy. As a consumer I have more choices than ever, so if someone loses my trust with a poor experience, it’s easy to find someone else that offers the same product. And if the customer service experience is better, odds are I’m going to stick with my new friends, even if they’re a little pricier.

I’m not the only person thinking this way. According to data from Salesforce, 66% of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience. And if you isolate that data solely to business buyers, the number is even higher: 82%.

In other words, if something goes wrong, show your customer that you care. Even if you can’t provide a perfect solution right away, expressing empathy can go a long way toward creating a better experience. That’s something I never heard once in this experience.

Consider Every Touchpoint a Chance to Build Loyalty

For a lot of the time I was on the phone with customer service, I had no idea what was going on. Sometimes I felt like the reps were dodging my questions. At times I was transferred, and I struggled to understand exactly why.

Really, it felt like no one was willing to have a conversation with me — and worse, that no one really wanted to help me. Many customer service departments will call you back if there’s an issue that takes some research, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the reps at the retailer had simply asked me for my number. But it just seemed that no one wanted to help me.

Every touchpoint you have with a customer is important, and if you’re running an e-commerce business, then customer service is often the only direct human connection. Even though we all know problems may arise with any sale or process solving a problem is one of the best opportunities an organization has to deepen a relationship with a customer. With so much competition out there, there are plenty of companies who can offer me the same products, with a better service.

Imagine if someone anyone had actually stepped up and owned the problem. Instead of writing a negative blog post on the topic, I would be writing about the lessons learned when a company went the extra mile to help me find a missing package. I would become the kind of brand evangelist that every organization needs to succeed.

Empower Your People

My experience was incredibly frustrating. I’m not going to order from the company anymore.

I don’t blame the customer service agents for failing to step up to the plate. I blame the leadership. The customer service agents were clearly not empowered to do much more than read scripts and offer miniscule discounts for my next purchase. The model for this behavior had to come from somewhere. And it’s the people at the top that set the expectations for how their employees should represent the business.

Take a page out of the Ritz Carlton playbook and give your employees the power to fully support and delight your customers. In the experience economy, it’s the only way you’ll survive.

P.S. if you are wondering if I ever got my shoes the answer is “not really”. The original pair never did arrive. I went up the supervisor chain three more levels over the course of the next week. A second order was initiated and I received a 25% off coupon for my next order. As if!

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