Customer Experience: What It Is and How to Create It

We all have certain stores and brands that we keep going back to time after time. They consistently provide us with great products and services. When our friends and family ask for suggestions, they are a name we quickly and confidently provide. We love these companies, but what brings us back for more?

Yes, they provide quality and a product. Yes, they have great customer service. But it’s more than just those things. They create and maintain an excellent customer experience. What exactly does that mean, though? How do you create it? Is it just something that happens with time? Can it be improved? Let’s discuss.

customer service
I bet you’re thinking, customer experience, that’s just a fancy way of saying customer service. WRONG. Though it does include customer service, customer experience is a mix of many things. Think about when you walk into your favorite store, there’s something about the atmosphere and the ease of finding or ordering what you need. Also, you can’t forget about the product or service. You get quality at each turn and you keep coming back.

So, how do they make it happen? Customer experience does not just happen (though if you have a good business plan it may seem like it does); it is created. It’s in the branding and package design, it’s in the materials that go into making the product, and that product’s design. It’s the look and feel of the brick and mortar location. It’s your online presence. It’s in the message the brand exudes. It’s the people and the training they receive. It’s planning. Whether you have an established company or are working to establish a new organization, here are some ways to create and/or improve your customer experience:

Keep It Cohesive

Make sure everyone and everything are on the same page. You take time crafting your mission and message, so put them to work. These should go further than just something employees read in their handbooks; be more than just a catchy tagline. They should mean something to the company and the customer. Everyone in the organization should buy into these messages, and they should carry through all facets of the brand. Also, don’t forget to make sure all branding and imaging carry through the brand as well. You want to be recognizable; make sure your theme is integrated through all platforms.

Make Things Easy

Who doesn’t like easy? Millennials and Generation Z have short attention spans. If it takes too many steps, they are moving on. We are also seeing in the retail world a move from shopping at brick and mortar stores to online shopping. If you don’t have an online presence, you are in trouble. So many locations extend their reach and experience for the customers to multiple channels; online, apps, social media, and physical locations. Each providing ease of access to products and deals. Companies that cannot convert the experience to multiple platforms are faltering. For example, The Limited has just closed all of its physical retail locations–just one of the many recent retail casualties. Though they provided good in-store experiences, The Limited was slow to transition to multi-faceted selling platforms. Only in the past several years did the brand start to offer computerized in-store online ordering, something many other brands had established long before which calculated into their demise.

People Power

Now, I know I said this wasn’t about customer service, but it is part of it. You can make sure that your online platform is easy to navigate, bug-free, and rarely down, but if your customer service is horrible, then forget it. Invest in your people, in their initial training, in their well-being, and their advancement. Happy employees carry their enthusiasm to those they interact with. I am currently planning a wedding and working to interview different “Big Day” vendors. It’s exhausting, but one thing I will say is that all of these vendors get what it means to create a customer experience. I recently said “yes to my dress,” and the experience and service there was amazing. They made sure my pregnant bridesmaids always had water and snacks; the woman who helped me find my dress even gave me her personal cell phone number so I can keep her updated on my wedding planning progress. They added the personal touch and made me feel special. If you can instill the importance of making a connection with your clients to everybody in your organization, you will have them coming back for more time and time again. Make them see the value in your people as well as in your product.

Customer experience is an expansive concept that includes, customer service, good products, easy online navigation, and more. Competition is everywhere. Make a plan that will help you stand out and connect with your client base. Plan for customer experience; don’t think it will happen magically.

Generation Z: The Next Big Thing

When you hear the terms “Baby Boomer” or “Millennial” certain attributes come to mind. But, what about when you hear “Generation Z”? Most people would be looking at me like my dogs do when I ask them if they want a treat; head cocked to the side with a questioning expression. Generation Z, the iGeneration, or Homeland Generation as they are often referred to, are the next “up and coming” generation for employers, marketers, and retailers to be focusing on. As the generational cohort after the Millennials, this group is just starting to enter the workforce and flex their buying power. Let take a look at what makes the iGeneration tick.

Defining the Group

  • Follow Millennials in the generational time line born roughly around 1995-2010iGeneration
  • Ages range from  5 to 20 years old currently
  • Digital natives; can’t remember a time before the internet or social media
  • Too young to remember 9/11 or were not born yet
  • “Right now” culture
  • Practical

How are they Different from Millennials?

  • Prefer apps like Snapchat, Vine, and Whisper
  • Rarely use email for personal use
  • Virtual community just as important as their physical community
  • Have learned from Millennial’s social media mistakes

So how does this translate into the real world?

Let’s synthesize this information and paint a picture of how a stereotypical Generation Z’er acts. The iGeneration are the toddlers who knew how to work an iPhone better than their parents. Many are now getting ready to graduate high school or have just entered college or the workforce. The younger end of the spectrum is watching the “For Kids” sections on Netflix and have their own account log in. They live life on multiple screens and are experts at multitasking, surfing the net, texting, and watching YouTube at the same time. They watch a lot of shows but not on cable. They prefer streaming services. They post Snapchat videos that will “disappear” rather than tagging photos on Facebook for longer periods. Growing up in a post-9/11 culture and watching their parents work through the recession has given them a more practical view for their future plans. Many want to be an entrepreneur and make their hobby into a career. Though they are tech oriented they have very short attention spans. A marketer better be able to get the big pictures across in 5 seconds or less, otherwise this group has already moved on. They also rarely use email, and are probably part of the reason marketers have moved to texting deals to consumers rather than waste time on mass email blasts.

I see a lot of these qualities in my younger brother. The seven years between us put me in the Millennial group (I was born in 1989) and my brother is just on the cusp. Being born in 1996 is technically he is considered part of Generation Z. My brother has a Facebook but rarely uses it, instead he “Snaps” everything. Since I don’t have a Snapchat I just get screen shots of his antics texted to me. He is in his sophomore year in college. He was a toddler when 9/11 occurred and remembers little from that day (I can remember the exact outfit I was wearing), and both of our lives have been shaped by what happened that day. Currently my brother is pursuing a degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management; working to make his “hobby” (though I’d call it more of a passion) of being a volunteer firefighter and EMT a career. 

Take Aways

  • New group just starting to influence the market with their buying power with more to join them in the coming years
  • Do not lump them in with Millennials
  • Get to the point and fast
  • Forget Facebook and email
  • Make practical appeals

Do you have any other thoughts about Generation Z? How are they different from your generation?

Problem Solvers: Customer Service Rules, Part II

Customers want friendliness. They want to be greeted by a smiling voice and a “Hey, how are you today?” They want empathy, as well. They want to hear you say that if you were in a similar situation, you would feel the same way. A fair resolution to their problem is what all customers are looking for. A customer might ask you for a full refund and a replacement product as a solution and that would certainly make the customer happy but it doesn’t serve your business’s bottom line. Declining to provide any type of accommodation would certainly protect your profit margins but would probably result in a very unhappy customer. Meeting somewhere in the middle will almost always satisfy the caller. Following tried and true customer service rules is the way to do it.

Customers appreciate it when they feel that you are participating in the resolution of the problem. Assuring them they you have the solution and explaining the steps you will take, along with the steps that they should take, will engage the customer to participate in a good outcome. If their problem cannot be fixed, customers need alternatives. Tell them what you can do, not what you can’t.

customer service

Above all, customers want information, not excuses. They called to find out why they experienced a problem and what needs to be done in order to fix it. Excuses are usually offered with the hope that the customer will understand and calm down, but excuses are not helpful. The customer didn’t call to find out who is to blame for their problem, they called to find a solution. Don’t offer excuses, offer help. Assure the customer in positive terms that you can and will help solve their problem.

Remaining in a positive frame of mind is so important when speaking to customers over the phone. You have to work harder because they can’t see your facial expression and you can’t see theirs. You have to listen to their voice and the information they’re giving you. A trick you’ve probably heard, but bears repeating, is that you should smile because customers can hear it in your voice!

The first thing you should do when you are faced with a caller that has a problem is apologize. The customer’s feelings are critical and a sincere apology for the fact that the customer has a problem with your company will go a long way, then, offer sympathy. Why sympathize when you’ve just apologized? Aren’t they almost the same? It is true that they are similar, but there is a very important difference. Apologizing says that you regret the problem occurred. Sympathizing tells the customer that you understand their feelings about it.

Put yourself in the customer’s place. How would you feel if this happened to you? Let the customer know this. Once you’ve soothed your caller’s feelings, accepted responsibility for the call. This is different than accepting responsibility for the problem. More often than not, you are not the one who caused their issue, but you are the one who answered the phone, and by doing so, you’ve already accepted responsibility for the call. End the phone call on a happy note and then go find a way to relieve any pent up stress or frustrating feelings that you may have. Take a brisk walk, make a cup of tea, eat a piece of candy but don’t keep the stress cooped up inside you. If you do, you risk the chance of losing your cool on the next customer, or worse, a coworker or your boss.

Continuing from our last post, here is our list of five remaining customer service rules to follow:

6. Don’t Leave Customers Hanging

  • All communications with customers need to be handled with urgency.
  • Research shows that 95% of dissatisfied customers will do business with a company again if their complaint is resolved on the spot.

7. Always Provide What You Promise

  • Failure to do this is a sure way to lose credibility with your customer.

8. Assume Customers are Telling the Truth

  • The majority of customers don’t like to complain; in fact, they’ll go out of their way to avoid it.

9. Focus on Keeping the Customer, Not on Being “Right”

  • Focus on the quality of the service you are providing rather than just moving the caller off of the line.
  • Research shows that is costs 6 times more to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one.

10. Make It Easy

  • Make the customer’s job easy by doing your job well.

There you have it! If there was any doubt in your mind how to properly handle the customer service of your business, you should be all set now. If you missed Part One, go back for a refresher. Have you had the opportunity to problem solve for a customer? What did you do? How did you solve it? Tell us in the comments below!

Problem Solvers: Customer Service Rules, Part I

There is a quote by the CEO of LL Bean and it goes: “A lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never ending, unremitting, persevering, compassionate type of activity.” I really like this quote because I feel like by the time you get to the word “ongoing” in this sentence, you’ve already begun to feel the doldrums of what it can occasionally be like to work as a Customer Service Representative whose whole day is filled with solving other people’s problems and listening to their complaints. But when you reach the word “compassionate”, it brings you full circle back to the idea that at the heart of every Customer Service Call Center, lies a group of people whose sole purpose is to help you. Those people know there are certain customer service rules that should always be followed.

Recently, I conducted a general training overview for the Customer Service Representatives that work for the Portfolio Companies here at ABG Capital. They all do very different jobs, but their one common and most important attribute, is that they are here to help our customers solve problems. Everything they do, every single day, is directed with one objective in mind: pleasing the customer. Our customer is the one person in our company who has the power to fire everyone who works here, from the CEO on down the line, and he or she can do so simply by spending his or her money elsewhere. Most of the team members who attended the training agreed that it was helpful in refreshing some of the Customer Service skills they’d learned in the past. Many of them took away some new techniques on how to provide truly excellent Customer Service, going above and beyond what is expected, and even how to deal with the occasional difficult caller.

So how do you provide this excellent level of customer care? What do customers really desire? The answers are probably more straightforward than you think. Providing excellent customer service means providing a quality product while satisfying the needs and the wants of the customer. If you can manage to do these two things, you will have a repeat customer. Excellent service results in the continued success of your company, increased profits, higher job satisfaction, and even better teamwork. When your coworkers see you modeling a positive attitude and going above and beyond, it fosters the type of environment where everyone wants to contribute to a high level of service. Good service equals lasting relationships, average service can result in steady customer relationships that could be lost if something better comes along and poor service will almost always result in lost business.

customer service

Here is our list of five rules for providing excellent customer service:

1. Commit to Quality Service

  • Create a positive experience for the customer.
  • Go above and beyond customer expectations.

2. Know Your Products

  • Help win a customer’s trust and confidence.

3. Know Your Customers

  • Tailor your service approach to their needs.
  • Get to the root of customer dissatisfaction by talking to people and understanding complaints.

4. Treat People with Courtesy and Respect

  • Every contact with a customer leaves an impression.
  • Use phrases like “Sorry to keep you waiting,” “Thanks for your order,” “You’re welcome,” and “It’s been a pleasure helping you.”

5. Never Argue with a Customer

  • Be solution focused rather than problem focused.
  • Research shows that 7 out of 10 customers will do business with you again if you resolve a complaint in their favor.

We had some open discussion at the end of our training and heard some great customer service stories. Some stories were about really successful resolutions, some were so funny the whole room was laughing, and some delved into the harder to solve situations and what to do when you’re faced with an irate caller or a problem you can’t fix. As always, we love to hear from our readers, so if you have any customer care tips or a great customer service story, please leave us a comment. In our next blog post, we’ll continue with Part II and give you five more outstanding customer service rules!

Why National Unfriend Day is Useful in Business

Today is National Unfriend Day. The typical holidays we celebrate at this time of year tend to revolve around togetherness, giving and thankfulness. So you might be wondering how a day ended up being devoted to unfriending, well, your friends! But don’t sell National Unfriend Day short–if a classmate from second grade, who you’re not sure actually graduated with you, is whining about a missed flight to his beach house in the Bahamas; or your third cousin’s ex-husband is going off about the last shot of a game for a sport you don’t watch; or your aunt, twice removed, is complaining about the weather again because her cats don’t like it and she attached photographic proof, this holiday is for you.

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