Think customer service is a synonym for customer experience? Think again, suggests Alpharetta, Ga.-based customer experience (CX) consultant Jim Bass. "Customer service happens after the sale. Customer experience starts before the sale," he explained.

Bass stirred a lot of interest on LinkedIn recently with a post that explored the importance of pre-sale processes. The story got more than 15,000 views and 1,674 shares on LinkedIn.

This week, Bass talked with CMSWire to share more insights on CX — including the things companies tend to get wrong and the reasons why so many customer interactions are still so bad.

Nope, CX isn't rocket science. But it's not easy to get right, either.

Understanding CX


Before leaving to work as a consultant earlier this year, Bass was director of customer support, customer advocacy, loyalty programs and customer success at McKesson Corp., a health care services company. He is credited with using the voice of the customer (VOC) and voice of the employee (VOE) to implement programs, projects and initiatives to increase customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty while containing or reducing costs and minimizing churn.

With that experience in mind, we thought it made sense to ask him to identify the most important thing marketers should understand about CX.

"Customer Experience goes beyond the product," he said. "It's the sum of all experiences the customer has with the vendor who is hopefully working to be a partner. This starts before the sale process and feeds into a life cycle loop of product selection, installation, use, service, support, optimizing, enhancing, purchasing new products/services and recommending to family, friends and colleagues. Customer experience is not the responsibility of one group or function in the organization. Everyone must own it and buy-in to it or it will fail." 

So what do businesses tend to get wrong? 

1. Some businesses focus more on profits than on meeting customer needs.

2. Others fail to take the time to understand both customer and workforce needs.

"Businesses can't make knee-jerk reactions to competitors or the industry market and/or sell services and products without listening to and getting buy-in from the product development, customer services/support organizations and the customer before development or deployment," he said. And there are plenty of questions to consider. 

Learning Opportunities

"The various frontline resources need to understand what they are delivering, how to deliver it, how the service or product meets customer needs and business needs, how to monitor the effectiveness of meeting those goals, what is the feedback mechanism for changes, how will the entire organization be brought into the communication channel regarding the new product/service performance and acceptance in the field and what is being done to improve it."

So Many Tools, So Many Mistakes

But even in the so-called age of the customer — at a time when technologies we could only imagine a few years ago have helped CX evolve beyond a matter of trial-and-error, there's a problem. A lot of customer experiences are still underwhelming. To provide the best CX, businesses need to: 

  • Train the frontline to create promoters: People who love the company's products and services so much that they tell family, friends and colleagues
  • Establish meaningful goals and targets which reward customer-centric behavior rather than a metric or number for the number's sake 
  • Connect the workforce to the business: the frontline does not understand how customer experience impacts the business and how much impact the frontline has on customer experience

But customer experience depends on people and personality, as much as technology. Do we have a people problem? "Yes," Bass said. "And it often starts at the top. Leaders, owners, managers and executives need to understand the workforce … their workforce. They need to realize what an incredible resource they have in their employees and how customer experience (in other words, their profits) depend on that workforce.

"Invest in communication. Invest in relationships. Listen to what they are telling you about the products and services. Listen to what they are telling you about their jobs, their tools, their roles, the processes, the organizational hierarchies. Open up safe channels which reward/recognize these behaviors at all levels. Leaders, managers and executives must do more than listen. They need to take action. The key is listening: Listen to understand, rather than listening to respond."

Do What You Can

Bass concedes that the task isn't easy. But he noted there are some easy wins and low-hanging fruit.

"Take an inventory by using VOC and VOE. Categorize it. Prioritize it. Work on quick wins, now. Schedule out the more difficult initiatives and projects. Commit to improving. Communicate regularly to the workforce and customer base — let them all know you hear them and tell them what you are doing to improve. Be patient and consistent."

Practical advice? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.

Title image by Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com.