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Empathy Is the Key to Improving Customer Experience — and Closing More Sales

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Economic headwinds and changing customer expectations after the pandemic have caused many CEOs to scratch their heads about how to get maximum value from their customer experience programs. Teams are held accountable for net promotor scores and desperately try to retain customers and improve the interactions, but many don’t see the impact on their bottom line.

Having been in this industry for 25 years now, I have seen a shift in customer expectations. Here’s how you can ask a different set of questions to get beyond score chasing and demonstrate more empathy, how you can combine various metrics to measure how customer-centric your teams are, and three tips on how to combine operations, marketing and people performance to achieve more with less effort.

Related: Are You Giving Your Customers Personalized Experiences? Here’s Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore It Any Longer.

1. Moving beyond chasing scores

Empathy is about understanding the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another person.

Many customer experience programs are limited to asking, “How likely are you to recommend us?” and then providing a comment box. Some add general rating style questions about how you felt about the speed of service, quality of product, price or the ease of dealing with them. While there’s nothing wrong with any of this, it doesn’t go far enough to drive actionable change.

You need to personalize the questions you ask to match the customer scenario and only ask what is relevant to them. Your data should tell you everything you need to know about the profile of your customer, so change the survey questions to ask what is relevant to that customer. Advanced CX programs will even change questions as you are going through the survey, so for the customer, the overall experience is highly personalized and makes them feel like you care about them — and helps them appreciate the unique experience they’ve just had with you.

Secondly, you must target the key behaviors that, when delivered, creates the perfect experience. By understanding what happened in detail, you can understand why they felt that way. This can include the steps to your sales process such as greeting, understanding needs, asking for the sale and recommending additional relevant products; however, it can also include questions like whether the staff member demonstrated they loved their job, had a genuine interest in solving the customer’s problem and selling them the full solution.

What we mean by chasing scores is when programs get stuck with ratings and an overall score but fail to get to the truth about what happened at the moment. You need to be extremely clear on what behaviors are driving the experience. For your team to be fully engaged and take action the feedback must be based on behaviors they can control and improve and you can support them to develop new skills and build capability.

Empathy, as it relates to customer service programs, is understanding how customers really feel and having clarity around what happened. We find that when feedback is easy to act on and is specific to a team member level, it’s much easier to hold teams accountable for improvement and create a culture of “no excuses” as they execute key priorities.

Related: Do This to Level Up Your Customer-Experience Management Game

2. Customer centricity

The next action point is to combine key selling behaviors into a metric we call customer centricity. There’s a common misunderstanding that assumes that all customer service standards are equal; failing to meet one or the other has much the same consequence. However, we find this is absolutely not true. In every situation, there will be a core set of behaviors that have the most impact on the customers buying from you, returning to you and promoting you to others.

As you identify the critical behaviors from feedback results, you will typically find there are seven standards that have the most impact. Some will relate to key service measures, some will favor selling steps. For example, if I’m renovating my home and updating window furnishings, I might be looking to spend $40,000. I expect you to take the time to understand everything about my needs, provide options, sell me the full solution, provide a quote, follow up on that quote and look after me.

What are the key customer-centricity steps in your business, and what is the impact if you miss just one of these standards? What was your customer’s path to purchase? Which competitors did they visit prior and why did they choose you? What impact does your website have on the experience prior to visiting?

By asking non-scoring, marketing-related questions as part of the core program, you start to profile the customer and personalize the experience they have in providing you feedback. For your team, the benefit is being able to group the service measures into a group metric called customer centricity, and the key selling behaviors into sales centricity.

This is ideal when linking results to e-learning and to financial measures like average transaction value, items per transaction and conversion rates. The results will show you exactly what behavior was missed and the impact on the business.

Related: The Future Is ‘Phygital’: What Customer Experience Experts Need to Know

3. Achieving more with less effort

Many companies struggle because they have different suppliers providing different data (e.g. CX, foot traffic, e-learning), and they are working in silos.

Big data may provide good insight, but when it isn’t easy to act on at an individual level, then we find it actually stalls improvement. It comes back to being focused on leading indicators — and when you focus on executing key priorities, you see the change in performance, whereas a focus on scores is more of a lag indicator.

So here are a few tips and examples of how we approach having one integrated solution:

Operations: Focus on measures that enable behavioral change. Provide real-time coaching to highlight performance gaps or strengths as they happen, which helps you embed action habits daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. Be clear on what needs to happen at each stage and make it part of the operating rhythm of the business.

HR people performance: Ask yourself, Where do we need to improve from a customer’s point of view? Profile individual performance across the company, then link skill gaps directly to your e-learning modules. Personalize the coaching. Rosters, labor planning, recognition, management of best practices and sharing top tips to address the bottom 20% are musts.

Marketing: You need to understand the path to purchase, website experience, competitors visited, shopping patterns, assess by campaign, boosting social media and Google ratings, and understand why non-buyers go elsewhere and to whom. Refer-a-friend programs and lead generation should be part of your core CX program.

Achieving more with less effort is all about focusing on what matters most to customers and encouraging everyone to improve on their own priority with no excuses.

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