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Humanizing the Customer Service Experience

Thumanzing the customer experienceyping the title for this blog, I was struck by how odd it feels.  I mean, ‘humanizing’ the service experience?  For live experiences at least, service interactions are one person (typically our frontline) interacting with another person (the customer).  I mean, how much more human can you get?

But in reality, many of these interactions are far from the type of ‘human’ experiences our customers have come to expect. 

Although most service leaders have call center scripts a long time ago, customers tell us that reps still sound robotic – like they are just going through the motions without really listening to customers.  And after reflection, most service leaders tell us that their reps – after a few months of tenure – start to have their own internal ‘scripts’ running in their heads.  Basically, they hear a customer say ‘issue x’ and immediately go into auto-pilot based on how they’ve resolved issue x time and time before.

Today’s customers, though, demand more tailored, personalized service.  They wanted to be treated like an individual, not ‘the’ customer.  We first explored this with our Quality 2.0 era of service, and have seen it crop up in the real world recently – most notably with Discover Card’s latest ads for its new it card.

So how do most companies attempt to create these tailored interactions?

Typically, we find that service leaders implement improvement projects and initiatives that teach new skills, processes, or technology – then work to ensure staff adhere to these new things and demonstrate new, low-effort behaviors as a result.

Sounds reasonable, right?  But, a recent study cited in the WSJ found that nearly 60% of corporate improvement initiatives fail to achieve desired results.  And this struggle with success is mirrored in many service organizations around the world.  Service leaders lament that all too quickly, their staff revert back to old behaviors – despite significant project and follow-on resources devoted to successful implementation. 

Given these challenges, CCC has spent the past few months talking with service leaders around the world to better understand the reasons behind the lack of initiative stickiness.  And while our research won’t be due out until late April, we have a few initial findings and hypotheses we’d like to share with you: 

  • Service organizations in the past have had success with a culture based on employee adherence to policies and processes. For many years, service leaders have had a management philosophy that has reduced variation and encouraged consistently – all to drive efficiency, reduced risk and a standardized customer experience.  And, when customer issues were more standard and when customer expectations were not as high as they are today, that largely worked out well.
  • But today, a culture of adherence and consistency flies in the face of the goal to provide tailored service. Sure, we want information consistency.  But experience consistency?  Customers don’t want to be treated like everyone else – and to do that  there actually has to be more variation in the customer experience, not less.
  • Given that many industries are facing greater regulatory and legal compliance pressures, not less, more variation seems hard to swallow. Financial service and health insurance companies tell us that just at the time when customers demand more personalized experiences, they are getting pressure to exert more control of customer interactions to reduce variation and ensure their employees comply with strict standards to avoid stepping out of line with regulatory and legal requirements.
  • But at the end of the day, it seems that there needs to be a cultural shift away from pure compliance to…well, to a culture that enables and holds reps accountable to exercising judgment to provide tailored customer experiences without putting the company at risk.  To listen to customers and respond in kind.  To know when this particular customer probably needs a slightly different resolution path, and to provide it for them.

And all that seems like it would be hard – we have to remove both physical obstacles and less obvious leadership behavioral barriers that are in the way of employees exercising ownership, upskill employees to exercise good judgment, and ensure employees continue to exercise judgment (despite the fact that it’s harder to do than just following policies and processes). 

But the good news is that we have seen glimmers of hope.  We have seen companies do these things successfully – on shoestring budgets, with the frontline reps and supervisor talent they already have, and without putting the company at legal or regulatory risk. 

Over the next few months, we hope to find more examples and lay out the roadmap to make fundamental changes to the service organization’s culture that will deliver what customers want.  We will argue that now is the time to make these step changes in our organization, and that we can no longer make changes at the margins and expect to succeed against our competitors. 

So, please join us – we have a live meeting series over the year – to be among the first to see what we have found and begin down a path to humanize the customer service experience. 


CCC Related Resources:

  1. Humanizing the Customer Service Experience – Work in Progress
  2. The Next Frontier of Rep Performance
  3. Modernizing the Quality Assurance Function
  4. Inside the Low-Effort Service Organization

One Response

  • Cheyserr says:

    True. I’ve been a customer service rep for more than a year and the best experience is when an upset customer thanks you at the end of an interaction for the patience and extraordinary customer satisfaction they felt because of your service. It’s really fulfilling knowing that you’ve done a great job based on the feedback of your customers. I think this is also a shared effort from the agent and the company values instilled by the institution you worked with.

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