dropped ice cream cone melting on the street
PHOTO: Pawel Janiak

“Welcome back, Mr. Porter. Great to see you again.” 

Those were the first words I heard as I walked into my hotel after a day on-site at a client’s office. It’s always nice to be greeted in a hotel, especially one where you stay on a semi-regular basis. The greeting got me thinking, is there any better example of ‘baked in” customer experience than the hospitality industry? It is literally the key ingredient of the business (although I've stayed at my share of hotels where you’d think otherwise).

Technology Isn't a Band Aid for Bad CX

How can we take the hospitality mindset and thread it through our digital transformation projects? I recently came across a sponsored post on my Twitter feed that declared, “Experience is everything,” and that we should “know what your customers are feeling so we can turn discomfort into delight.” It was of course a campaign to promote yet another experience management platform.

First we need to realize that applying new technology isn’t the key to improving the customer experience. It should be an enabling tool, but if we don’t have the customer service culture in place, it’s a waste of time and resources.

But the Twitter campaign did get two things right: yes, experience is everything, in fact it’s the key area of competitive advantage in today’s marketplace; and yes, we need to lead with empathy. But if you are starting with the assumption that your customers are already in some sort of discomfort when dealing with your company, then you have a systemic issue. Applying technology as some sort of band-aid will not improve the situation.

Related Article: How to Find Your Way to the Customer Experience Promised Land

With Customer Experience, Actions Speak Louder Than Words 

Like the hospitality industry, thinking about the customer experience has to be woven into everything a company and its employees do, irrespective of their job-title or function, and it must come from the top. I once worked with a company where there was a lot of talk about “the customer” but very little seemed to be done to actually address known product issues. In fact they had a reputation for ignoring their customers. The internal dialog seemed at odds with the external perception. Until one day someone said, “you do know what the CEO means when he uses the word customer? He means the shareholders and analysts, he means his personal ‘customers.’ He doesn’t mean the people who actually use our products.” That was like a lightbulb going off — it explained everything about that company’s culture and business model.

Compared this with another company I worked with. On the surface, it lacked the various functional roles you would expect would be necessary to deliver on the promise of customer experience. There was no customer support desk or call-center, no customer engagement manager, etc. In fact no one had the word ‘customer’ in their job-title. Yet it has a top-ranked reputation for service with the people who actually buy and use their products. In fact it also has a minimal marketing staff, because its customer's word of mouth recommendations are such an effective marketing tool. The reason is that the idea that everyone in that company is part of the customer experience is central to the company’s culture, communicated from the CEO outwards.

That CEO understands you don’t have to be actually directly interacting with a customer to impact the experience. If the company has a customer-led culture it will be reflected outwards. Working in the accounts department sending out invoices? Think about how those invoices read to the customers. How easy is it for them to pay their bills? Designing a product? Think about how easy it will be to use. Putting together a website? Do you understand what your customers want to do when they engage with you online?

Customer engagement is a holistic experience. The customer’s don’t know, nor care, who works in what department. The response to any customer engagement, no matter where it originates, or where it's picked up, should never be “Sorry that’s not my job.” It’s everyone’s job. If an individual can’t immediately help solve an issue, then build a culture where they take the details, find the person to solve the issue, and then follow up. (Never underestimate the power of following up.)

Related Article: 5 Ways to Recession-Proof Your Business With Customer Experience

The Foundations of Customer Driven Cultures

I’ve outlined before what I believe are the three essential parts of planning any CX related transformation project. They still stand as the core to baking in a leading customer driven culture that will avoid the discomfort:

  • Know your customer.
  • Follow your customer.
  • Understand your customer.

But if you do find there are the occasional instances of discomfort (and to some extent they are inevitable), then rather than throwing technology at it I’d add a fourth and fifth edict:

  • Help your customer do what they need to do.
  • Follow up and build a relationship with your customer.