Customer Experience

Is your customer experience worth talking about?

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

In many ways the internet has helped customers and business owners alike get to know each other more, but are they getting along better? Smarter spoke with Intel anthropologist Dr Genevieve Bell about where these relationships are headed – and how businesses can build more trust.

Collage of communications from various eras

Brought to you by INTEL

The fact Intel has a cultural anthropologist working with its engineers makes perfect sense. When you’re designing the future of personal computing for your customers it pays to have deep insights into how people think about, use and buy your products today – and then you make it your business to improve the customer experience tomorrow. The fact Intel’s anthropologist is Australian (also recently named one of the most influential women in technology by the US-edition of ELLE magazine) might just be a coincidence, though we leapt at the opportunity to get her insights for businesses in Australia.

A lot of Dr Bell’s work at Intel involves researching what consumers want and then exploring ways to make it easier for them to get it. One of the big trends she spotted early was that mobile computing – first on laptops then on smartphones and tablets – would revolutionise how customers interact with businesses. On the plus side, mobile technologies make it easier for businesses to stay on top of calls, emails and a huge number of online activities. But they’ve also increased customers’ demands:

"Now that consumers have taken to the digital world en masse, their expectations of business of all sizes and kinds have changed,” notes Dr Bell. “People want access all the time, and when they choose to interact with your business they expect you to share information that is dynamic, up-to-date and useful. You need the infrastructure to support that, such as cloud services with access to real time information – you also need to be present in more places, listening to what your customers are saying."

INSIGHT #1: Make every connection convenient

Unless you’re offering something world-beating and you can turn it into an event, most consumers aren’t keen on waiting to be served. One way you could increase sales is to review the customer experience at every connection point, from your physical store or office to your phone lines, website, social media and other online presences, and make each as smooth as possible. “Consumers will use whatever method is easiest for them at the time,” explains Dr Bell. “You don’t want them to think you’re not available. Make it fast and easy to get to the information or people they’re after.”

If a customer can’t ask you in person, they’ll connect online to find out your current inventory, menu, services or the best people to connect with. They’ll want to know your opening hours and address, and then they’ll need quick access to contact or booking options. “But before you think about any platform do the hard work of learning who your customers are and how they want to connect with you,” warns Dr Bell. “Then develop your platforms accordingly – it makes no sense to do it the other way round."

INSIGHT #2: Answer FAQs well at every touch point

Building a library of answers to frequently asked questions is a positive step to addressing the online self-service trend. As Dr Bell points out, everyone who works in your business can contribute in some way to your knowledge library – the key is to make it up-to-date: “Back in the day, customer service people might have met over coffee to compare notes about things that perplexed them and updated their own notes. 10 of 15 years ago when people started using online FAQs they were mainly looking for basic answers. Now they want the latest information, so it should be in the cloud, where it’s easier to manage, and easy for any person to ask questions of.

Even if an issue is new to you, chances are someone already knows how to answer it, so they need to be able to share that information.” The next step is to share the latest answers in the most convenient formats for both your own team and your customers whether that’s on a tablet, smartphone or desktop computer. It’s also worth finding ways to guide customers through complex information, just as you would if they met you in person. Consider online tools such as live chat and interactive trouble-shooters, as well as options to ‘show, don’t tell’: “We’re seeing more businesses doing some of their FAQs as video snippets,” says Dr Bell. “It’s sometimes better to have someone explaining the solution and showing you how to do it, rather than having to read text.”

INSIGHT #3: Be more responsive to queries

Large online stores such as Amazon and Zappos are geared-up to meet their global customers’ expectations that they’re open for business 24/7. While it’s essential the information they present online is constantly updated to reflect real time changes in their inventory, it’s equally important they respond to customer queries as quickly as possible – or risk losing a sale to a competitor. “We’ve seen a huge transformation in what it means to provide timely information,” says Dr Bell. “People no longer think, ‘Well, I can wait until Monday 9am to call that business to find out if it can help me’. They expect that if they email you or leave a message they’ll hear back within 24 hours. It’s a simple rule pioneered by the likes of Amazon that should be standard for all businesses.

“If a customer has a problem, not just a query, by the time they contact you for help they’re almost admitting defeat. Most humans don’t do that gracefully. They’ve probably done the base level problem solving, researched on the web or asked questions in an online forum. So the standard script won’t work: you need to empower your people to offer more sophisticated answers.”

INSIGHT #4: Cope with criticism

Ideally you’ll nurture relationships with respected experts in relevant online communities, though you can’t avoid the fact that customers will also share advice and opinion about your products or services in channels you don’t have any control over, whether you’re part of the conversation or not. “Platforms like Twitter, Yelp and Facebook allow people to make their dissatisfaction known very quickly,” muses Dr Bell. “And all the psychological studies suggest that people magnify their dissatisfaction. They’re much more likely to be cranky than they are to pay you a compliment. And crankiness resonates more than compliments.”

You need to be aware of the places your business is being discussed and by whom, though there are plenty of applications and cloud-based services that can help you track social media and other online forums on your desktop PC, smartphone or tablet. If you do step into a conversation stay focused on resolving the conflict, not adding to it. “Yes, review sites and other online forums add yet another burden that didn’t exist before – and my sense is that the volume of reviews will stabilise – but in the meantime you need to be consistent and transparent when you respond to criticism. If a response is really needed, carefully consider a reasonable solution first. Then try to acknowledge and resolve the issue as soon as possible.”

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