Smart tools, same old thinking: why customer experience needs a new approach

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In the domain of customer experience, digital reigns supreme.  There is not minute that goes by without another start up slipping into my inbox with their integrated software as a service whatever, or conference organiser purring about my opportunity to listen to AI gurus telling me how I can transform my customer’s machine learning enabled, omni channel experience.

It’s true that there are some very smart new tools out there, which can help us to transform the way customers interact with our business, others in our ecosystem and each other. There are awesome algorithms that can help us understand how our customers really feel. There are predictive analytics machines that allow us to work out what a customer will do, before he or she knows themselves.

But what has the customer experience industry done with all this new, shiny tech? Well, in most businesses, the thinking is as old fashioned as the tech is new-fangled.

Back in the 19th century, English mill owners introduced textile machinery to replace many of the activities that traditional mill workers performed.  It was faster, cheaper and gave rise to the Luddites – renowned for smashing the machines and today a byword for resistance to technological change. 200 years later not much has changed. Replace evil moustache twirling mill owners with CEOs and here we go again.

Isn’t it time we used new tools with smarter thinking?

Smarter thinking knows that new tech allows for value creation as well as cost saving. It knows not to just automate what you already do and call it a digital journey.

Smarter thinking knows that you design the way you work from the outside in, determining how you should interact and building your processes and systems and organisations to deliver this.

It starts with listening to the customer and understanding what they really want from your business (and really the customer, not a consultancy, not the CSat scores and definitely not a customer experience expert).

Smarter thinking aims to use the right blend of people and processes and tools to deliver what the customer needs – rather than simply replacing people with machines. It knows that 200 options on the “intelligent” voice routing (IVR) system (to make it easier for your company) is for sure not a good customer experience.

Smarter thinking doesn’t force customers into a digital channel, it provides a range of channels based on a customer’s needs and preferences.

At Colt we’re trying to be smarter. That’s why we have added people into our customer facing service teams, while the rest of the industry announces sweeping job reductions.

That’s why every customer gets a named order owner every time they do business with us and a named customer service advisor to deal with their queries and issues. It’s why we’ve developed a proactive online capability that tells our customers what’s going on with their orders, their queries and, when necessary, their incidents. All backed by real people available 24×7.

It’s why we still deal with our customers in the language they prefer – wherever they are – and why  we check every tiny detail of a customer’s first invoice.

That’s why we have a business wide standard – if a customer contacts you, you deal with it.  No “that’s not my department” allowed here and it’s why our CEO is on our escalation path – available to every customer.

We don’t have a big customer experience programme, we haven’t engaged with digital consultants and we don’t have a special department encouraging us to create personas and map their journey.

We’re listening and taking a thousand small actions, each and every day, to align what we do and how we do it with what our customers need – and we think that’s smart thinking.

Mark Beeden is Vice President Service Management and Sales Support at Colt. 

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