Whether your business is large or small, with one or hundreds of locations, the customer experience you deliver can make or break it. This ultimate truth is backed by extensive research, and for the vast majority of businesses, customer experience is the top priority. In fact, 97 percent of CEOs believe customer satisfaction is key to business success.
Here are a few more show-stopping statistics:
- Companies that do best in customer experience are more likely to have a CEO and executives that value company-wide CX efforts, and experience-led companies have 1.6x higher customer satisfaction rates.
- Temkin Group found that companies that earn $1 billion annually can expect to earn an additional $700 million, on average, within three years of investing in customer experience.
- A Walker study found that at the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.
Keep in mind, all of this research was conducted before the onset of Covid-19, which has served to intensify consumers’ focus on customer experience while giving rise to new challenges for organisations attempting to improve it. Now, they must take into account safety regulations, store closures and new ways of interacting with customers over digital channels — and for many businesses, these challenges are degrading the customer experience. Call centres are overwhelmed, supply chains are disrupted, and employees and customers are frustrated.
In this environment, ensuring customer satisfaction is difficult, but given the severe economic impact of Covid-19 on businesses across every industry, it’s absolutely critical to a business’s ability to weather the storm. A great customer experience instills loyalty among existing customers, who will likely sing your praises to friends and family, helping to drive more traffic. They may even become online advocates who leave positive reviews on Google and other review sites, or share photos and stories about their interactions with your brand on social media channels. Such customer advocacy is critical to continued business success.
Although some may assume that influence over customer experience is limited to the call centre, sales team and frontline staff, the truth is that good customer experience starts at the top. The C-suite is instrumental in ensuring that all functions across an organisation are unified in their mission to create an exceptional customer experience that inspires customer trust and loyalty — and that they have the tools and information to make it happen.
Here are five ways C-suite executives can help implement a winning customer experience strategy.
1. Put employees first.
Top-performing companies continuously look for ways to improve customer experience. It goes without saying that this requires paying attention to feedback from customers, clients, employees, suppliers, vendors and stakeholders. Employee engagement is also essential.
A growing body of research confirms the link between employee engagement and customer experience. For example, Temkin Group’s Employee Engagement Benchmark (2016) surveyed North American organisations with 1,000 employees or more, and found 75 percent of employees at companies with strong customer experience results were highly or moderately engaged, compared to only 49 percent at companies whose customer experience was worse than their competitors.
The same study also revealed companies with significantly above average customer-experience ratings have HR professionals that more frequently collaborate with their operations and customer experience peers.
Why do happy employees contribute to a positive customer experience? The answer is a logical one. Employees that are engaged, committed and satisfied at work will work harder and smarter, and feel free to bring good ideas to the table that may serve to elevate customer experience.
Disengaged employees who resent having to do their jobs are much less likely to contribute in meaningful ways, or find ways to improve. Consider a call centre employee who feels underpaid or unappreciated. How pleasant will they be on the phone with customers? Will they go the extra mile to make sure customers’ needs are met? Likely not.
C-suite executives must take an active role in understanding and promoting employee satisfaction, and ensuring they are engaged, challenged, valued and well-compensated. A good way to start is to implement organisation-wide programs for recognising achievements on the individual and team level. They can provide employees with opportunities to grow and advance their career paths by offering professional development programs. It’s also important to celebrate wins, and take time to connect on a personal level.
Finally, it’s critical to seek and act on employee feedback. When you ask for input, take it seriously and analyse the results for patterns and themes that may indicate an area that needs improvement, or a practice that is working. Even reviews and feedback from past employees can provide substantial insight.
2. Ensure consistent messaging across channels.
There’s nothing more confusing to customers than mixed messages about your brand’s mission and reason for being. When Marketing is promoting certain benefits of a product or service that the Engineering team can’t deliver, or when Sales is using unprofessional-looking PowerPoint slides that don’t align with the corporate branding, customers won’t have a clear understanding of your business or it’s value — and they’re less likely to trust your brand. Worse yet, a disjointed or fragmented digital experience can be frustrating, sending would-be customers to your competitors.
Customers place more trust in brands who have a consistent presence across all channels — whether physical or digital. They want their experience with a brand to have a unified, cohesive feel. Providing that cohesiveness means ensuring consistency across all customer touchpoints and encompasses many factors — a brand’s look and feel, what they say about their products and services, and the quality with which they present themselves.
Do you have high-quality content? Does your website operate without issues? Does your product’s digital look and feel align with your marketing deliverables? Are your sales presentations cohesive and representative of your branding? Unifying your key messages and how you present your brand to the public is a cross-functional endeavour, and the C-suite must be involved to ensure this alignment.
Just as mixed marketing messages confuse your customers and prospects, so will a disconnect between the products and services you offer and your company’s core values. Worse yet, such a disconnect can leave your employees feeling they don’t have a clear focus or purpose, which can lead to less job satisfaction and, ultimately, poor engagement. And, as mentioned earlier, poor employee engagement has a negative impact on the customer experience.
Leveraging customer feedback from review and social channels can provide insights about how your brand is perceived by customers and prospects, and whether messaging inconsistency — or, worse yet, a disconnect between your organisation’s core values and its products and services — is hurting your brand image. Analytics tools can be used to identify where those inconsistencies originate, which can help you create a strategy to get various teams across the organisation on the same page.
3. Use reviews and social channels to make meaningful connections.
Digital transformation — and the corresponding increase in internet and mobile device usage — has impacted our daily activities. For most people, digital interactions are common and often preferred. In fact, recent research shows American’s are texting 37% more and shopping online 23% more than they were before Covid-19.
But connecting with consumers emotionally is still the key to attracting and retaining business. This point goes back to what you learned in Business 101: To succeed, you must make meaningful and relevant connections with your audience.
One of the best ways to connect right now with your customers and target audience is via social media channels. Sprout Social reported that engagements on social media rose to an average of 44 per day, across all industries — from consumer goods to healthcare to media and entertainment. Social channels provide a platform for people to engage with your brand and other customers, offer feedback, share and discuss experiences, and get their questions answered.
Even post-pandemic, this trend is likely to continue. In 2019, two-thirds of global shoppers messaged a business on social media during the holiday season, and 64% said they would rather message than call a business. Social media is the preferred customer support channel for those 25 and younger — 32.3% of them say it’s their top choice. And Gartner reports that in 2020, 85% of all customer interactions with brands will happen via self service digital interfaces, chatbots and virtual assistants.
Given this trend, organisations would be wise to focus on beefing up their social media engagement strategy, as well as improving reviews management and overall online presence. C-level executives across Marketing, Sales, Customer Support, IT and Finance must collaborate on investing in and implementing the resources and technology that will serve to strengthen their organisation’s digital presence and meet customers where they are now — online.
4. Acknowledge customer challenges — then take action.
While your customers understand that not every transaction with your brand will go perfectly, committing to learning from your mistakes is key to future success. Delivering exceptional customer experience must be a core value that is supported by technology and resources, and there must be a willingness among C-level executives to listen to and accept negative feedback, then take action to address the root causes.
Reputation Experience Management platforms can assist in this effort by providing an effective way to solicit, collect and analyse feedback across channels — from review sites, to social media platforms, to customer surveys and more. Many also provide advanced analysis and reporting tools that enable everyone across an organisation to share and learn from it.
But just knowing what needs improvement isn’t enough — organisations need to take action. To really make an impact on overall customer experience, the C-suite must ensure insights from feedback are being shared with department leads and team leaders, who, in turn, can leverage this information to make targeted improvements. Here are a few ways the C-suite can make that happen:
- HR executives can share insights from customer feedback with teams to inform employee training programs and help address shortcomings or reinforce strengths. Feedback from online reviews and social posts can help to illustrate desired behaviour, and real customer scenarios can be taken from actual customer reviews and used for role-playing exercises in training courses.
- Product and engineering executives can pass on feedback concerning a company’s products or services to product development and engineering teams, to inform roadmap decisions and product updates.
- Marketing and sales executives can find good information about how a brand is perceived by the target audience that can be used to fine-tune content and demand generation strategies.
- Since operations leaders set the bar for customer experience, they stand to gain the most from the insights customer feedback. They can use customer feedback insights to catalyse improvements that impact all customer interactions and help the business run better.
And the list goes on. Every single employee in an organisation can benefit from the customer experience insights, and with the backing and support of the C-suite, cross-functional improvements are possible.
A Shared Responsibility
Whether large or small, every business benefits when a commitment to delivering exceptional customer experience comes from the top. The fact is, a business is no longer completely in control of what consumers think about it — consumers, based on their online reviews and social media interactions, are empowered to shape how a business is perceived.
When Reputation Experience Management is prioritised by the C-suite and supported across an organisation, every employee shares the responsibility for it and is empowered to have an impact.
The good news is that most C-level executives know this. According to a North Highland survey of 700 senior business leaders in U.S. and UK companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue, customer experience was identified as the top strategic priority for driving growth in 2020. With this heightened awareness, it’s likely customer experience will be top of mind for all employees across organisations, no matter what their job function or role.
And that’s key, according to Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, who wrote, “To the customer, it doesn’t matter who owns CX; what matters is whether everyone in the organisation is aligned around delivering exceptional CX and does their part to make that happen.”
Originally published Jan 14, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023