Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, says his customers always come second. With an empire built on customer-facing businesses, that might seem strange. After all, isn’t the customer always right? Not according to Branson.
“So, my philosophy has always been, if you can put staff first, your customer second, and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and [you] yourself are happy,” he told Inc. president Eric Schurenberg. It’s a philosophy that’s served him well. From trips (Virgin Holidays) and travel (Virgin Atlantic) to sport (Virgin Racing) and space (Virgin Galactic), the business mogul has carved out countless niches across the economy—and he did it all by putting his customers second.
“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the brand, and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy,” Branson said.
It’s an idea that’s starting to spread, too. Businesses are realizing that customer experience can’t exist on its own. Any service relies on happy, motivated, and engaged employees—and that requires a positive employee experience. In this article, we’ll look at the interplay between both concepts, illustrating how organizations require both to effectively improve their service and drive growth.
Just how important is customer experience?
Poor customer experiences can hamstring a company. More than 40% of people in a recent survey said they would stop using a product or service if they had to repeat themselves or felt like they were being passed from rep to rep. The remaining 60% aren’t happy, though. Of those who would hang around, most revealed they would hate the experience of being passed from rep to rep, or having to repeat themselves. Even when poor customer service doesn’t drive customers away immediately, it will eventually.
Poor customer experience doesn’t just drive short-term losses, either. One in three consumers will walk away forever from a brand they love after just a single negative experience. One rude customer service agent, one dropped enquiry, one billing mistake—that’s all it takes.
Don’t forget, most customers leave without saying goodbye, so it’s easy to underestimate how customer experience affects your business. But one lost customer could well be the tip of the iceberg. Failing to acknowledge this could multiply your problems several times over.
What causes bad customer experience?
Whenever people talk about poor customer service, the conversation gravitates toward agent behavior, culture, or system design. While these factors definitely play a part, it misses a huge part of the equation—technology.
To understand technology’s role in customer experience, we need to investigate two different dynamics.
First, how do your agents interact with customers? In our recent global study, agents cited the following as the leading cause of frustration in this dynamic:
- Not communicating with customers via their preferred channel: 70%
- Forcing agents to toggle between applications,: 74%
- Subjecting your customers and agents to longer than required service times: 77%
These statistics illustrate the poor interactions your customers could potentially have with your employees. For example, if someone complains via Twitter, rather than answering directly, does your social media team end up sending the complaint to your customer support team in a separate email, if they think about following up at all? Does a support call take hours, not minutes, to conclude, because your agents don’t have the proper tools to collaborate with each other, and can’t easily track down the answer?
Until very recently, this customer-agent interaction was the sole focus for companies when they were designing their contact centers. But, as Branson well knows, focusing solely on your customers ignores a huge part of the equation.
The second, equally important, dynamic is how your agents interact with co-workers. This is especially important in large complicated organizations where agents often need to call on support from elsewhere in the enterprise to answer queries and solve problems. Here we found an array of brand-new frustrations:
- Difficult to navigate across platforms to answer customer queries: 70%
- Having to leave an app being used with customer to communicate with co-workers: 71%
- Having to put customers on hold to query coworkers when help is needed: 78%
Historically, contact center designers have entirely ignored this dynamic, leaving agents to fumble their way through interactions—and the results weren’t pretty. “When your employees aren’t really happy in their work, that will ultimately impact customer satisfaction, because they’re not able to be part of the solution,” says Jon Arnold, principal of J Arnold & Associates, a technology research and analysis consultancy. “And when you can’t solve customer problems, customers will stop doing business with you.”
But it doesn’t need to be this way. New technologies and new approaches to customer and employee experience present a way forward.
Harness the power of your employees
Businesses are increasingly recognizing the benefit of integrating unified communication as a service (UCaaS) and contact centers, uniting previously separate technologies for customer and employee engagement to provide improved customer and employee experiences.
Consider how a legacy contact center might handle an unhappy cable customer. The customer calls up to complain, request a refund, and reduce her subscription. First, she has to ring the billing department to negotiate a refund. Second, she must message the subscription team to downgrade her package. And third, she needs to contact customer service to lodge a complaint.
Now, consider how a modern collaborative contact center would work. The customer’s message arrives in the contact center and is picked up by an agent, who uses the platform to reach out to colleagues in different departments and solve each problem one by one. Instead of the customer being shuffled around siloed agents, one employee handles everything. “Now they can draw from anywhere across the organization,” says Arnold. “They’re not on separate islands. They can very quickly use a back channel [to get answers and information].”
Not only is it a better experience for the customer, but it’s a much better experience for the agent, who feels empowered to actually solve problems. But autonomy is just the tip of the iceberg. Modern collaborative contact centers unite functionality previously spread across a handful of different apps and services. In legacy contact centers, agents often spent an hour a day just toggling between different communication apps—that adds up to 32 days a year. By pulling those functions into one platform, agents can interact with calls, emails, live chat, SMS, and messaging all from one place, creating a much more calm and controllable workspace.
The advantages of integrated UCaaS and contact centers aren’t just limited to imagined examples, either. Our survey revealed that people recognize the damage wrought by poor communication and the benefits granted by integrated alternatives.
Impact of disjointed communications technology:
- Negatively impacts employees: 90%
- Negatively impacts customer satisfaction and the bottom line: 89%
- Negatively affects workflow and job satisfaction: 88%
Impact of integrated communication technology:
- Would improve customer satisfaction scores: 92%
- Would make it easier for employees to keep customers happy: 92%
- Would improve both the employee and the customer experience: 92%
Create a holistic experience
While businesses can evaluate each problem—agent-customer and agent-co-worker dynamics—independently, the cloud allows them to consider integrated solutions that transform both dynamics at once. By improving both customer and employee experience, you can follow Virgin’s lead and create a more customer-centric organization.
Uniting your communications and contact center is the first step toward helping your businesses evolve and become more strategic. By tearing down the walls between your business units, you can enable teamwork that allows your customers to see one whole company, rather than a collection of smaller organizations.
When you achieve that unified structure, the reward for your customers and employees is huge. Customers feel heard and supported. Employees feel trusted, empowered, and valued. Ultimately, that creates a better experience for everyone, leading to an improved overall service.
Originally published Jul 30, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023