Customers are unique — and your contact centers should reflect their diversity. PHOTO: Lisa Padilla

When you go to your local grocery store do you notice how many kinds of the same products there are?

How about the fact that many cars now look the same?

This new shopper reality is called commoditization. There isn’t much that differentiates today’s products.

The only thing that truly makes them seem different is the customer experience around the product. Today’s customers seek experiences that make their lives easier.

The Race to Innovate

Some companies are making customer’s lives easier — for example companies like Uber, Spotify and WhatsApp are completely changing the way consumers interact with products and services.

Today’s customers can essentially get any product, any time. As some companies sprint to meet customer expectations, there will be more pressure on companies that are not delivering innovative products fast and efficiently enough.

This is a new customer that has serious expectations for your brand, and there are serious implications for companies that aren’t able to continue to deliver improved customer experiences.

Make Life Easy

At the same time, there are many opportunities for companies to become wildly successful.

Examples include creating thoughtful customer journeys, organizing your operations and product creation around the customer, and building thoughtful user experiences by making life easier on the customer and harder on your company and by meeting customer needs in an unprecedented way.

Many companies make the mistake of doing what they’ve always done. This is precisely why the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 has shrunk from 61 years back in 1958 to what is predicted to be 14 years by 2026.

The Role of Contact Centers

The contact center is the place where customers literally make contact with the brand.

For many brands it is a prime opportunity to build a relationship with the customer. Even if the customer only calls one time, that individual phone call serves as an opportunity to shape the perception that the customer has about your brand.

A customer’s perception of an interaction with your brand is shaped by your response to a concern or a problem.

If you can be there for that individual customer when they need help they will continue to come back and buy more, and even tell their friends and family to do the same.

So it's surprising that so many companies fail to see their contact center as a competitive differentiator.  

The Business Impact of Customer Churn

Too often, the contact center is seen as a cost center, not a revenue generating arm of the business — therefore cuts are often made when revenues shrink.

Rather than take intelligent risks when a quarter is slow — a time when it would pay off to take a calculated risk — executives start laying off employees, using technology to cut costs and keeping customers at bay.

It’s precisely during lean times that leaders need to think long-term.

Address Customer Expectations

A long-term bet includes staffing your contact center so you can serve customers 24/7.

Studies show 32 percent of consumers expect a response within 30 minutes through social media channels. Not only that but 57 percent of consumers expect the same response time at night and on weekends as during normal business hours.

Companies need to staff accordingly and plan that customers will ask for help outside of the company’s local 9 to 5 operations.

Customer demand is steadily increasing while patience for incompetent customer experiences is steadily decreasing.

By allocating the proper resources to your customer operation you will find your company in a better position to assist customers.

Human Connections & Voice Contact

It costs money to run a contact center, and a big part of that is staffing. But proper staffing should not be seen as a cost; it should be seen as a lasting investment in the customer experience.

With even the best self-service technology, customers should always be able to opt out of self-service and easily reach a person at your company.

Are you guilty of rolling out phone tree software that leaves customers literally at the bottom of that “tree”?

Imagine a customer shaking that tree waiting indefinitely for a person to emerge and help that customer.

Each Customer Is Unique

Here’s the reason you need thoughtful people on the other side of the phone, and why relying purely on chatbots won’t cut it.

Not every customer has the same problem and there will be variation in your customer requests.

A person, not a bot, is best suited to handle extreme variation in customer issues.

Humans are also uniquely poised to gather insights about your customers. The feedback received by the customer service representative can be highly valuable, and translate into improved products and services.

For example, perhaps the customer flagged an issue that would later cost the company millions of dollars.

Your frontline people are the first to flag issues that could be the demise of the company or notify you about an unmet customer need that could make your company millions of dollars.

In short, your customers are diverse and they have a diverse set of needs — you need to provide a diverse option of channels for these customers to ensure you are meeting individual needs.

Think of your contact center as a priority investment, not a cost.