woman working as a barista
PHOTO: Brooke Cagle

Customer experience (CX) is one of the broadest terms we use to describe a specific category of software today. We’re so far down the technological road that our experience as customers is now perceived as a digital acronym rather than what it was formerly called — customer service. Of course, if CX could truly be solved by just software, companies would be insane not to invest in it. Imagine the euphoria we would all feel once every company implemented the software, because as consumers we would no longer suffer from any customer experience issues.

But in reality, we’re not only far from that day, that day is simply not going to happen.The reason why is technology is only a third of the CX solution.  

If technology is only one third of the equation, humans must comprise the other two thirds. Which leads us to the question, how should businesses be investing in humans?

When we discuss investing in the human side of CX, we have two options: human or physical capital. The former involves investing in training and wages, while the other side invests in systems upkeep and salaries. For the sake of this article and length restrictions, we'll gloss over the nit-picky details such as the costs of 100 well-trained call center reps versus 25 highly educated engineers to run the same call center.

What we also won't discuss in this piece, which is often the case in articles like this, is the cost of ongoing maintenance costs, upgrades and licenses. It gets highly complicated very quickly and my marketing brain can’t quite put it into a reasonable word count (give me a million words though ...).

No matter what kind of human expenditures you choose to invest in, the fact is humans are a vital part of the CX process, which ultimately is about serving customers the way they want to be served. 

Customers who have positive experiences in the past spend 140 percent more than those who had bad experiences. So clearly CX is an important — and expensive — investment. Both the technological and the human aspects will add up for different reasons. Technology has a hard cost associated with it (the aforementioned complexity aside): the cost of the actual product, the implementation and the licenses with associated budgetary line items. Humans on the other hand have sick days, bad days, excessive meetings and then meetings to discuss the meetings, and of course, they can walk away whenever they want if they want, leaving the investment in them behind as they walk out the door.  

Related Article: Why Great Customer Experiences Start With Humans, Not Technology 

What Do Customers Want

A lot of factors go into how you decide where your spending goes on the human side. For example, a survey earlier this year found forty-three percent of the population would prefer to speak with an actual human over a chatbot — and that segment goes up depending on the medium the person is using for their CX experience. 

Part of great customer service is having the ability and willingness to handle customers who want to speak to a representative rather than using do-it-yourself portals. For example, when I go to the grocery store I make it a point not to use the self-serve lines because those kiosks mean people don’t have jobs, unless I’m in a hurry and have only an item or two .… When it comes down to it, people aren’t anti-chatbot or anti-human, they’re just pro-convenience.

According to Peter Kriss of Medallia, who wrote about measuring the impact of positive customer service in Harvard Business Review, once you realize the impact, you’ll see that the investment is not only worth it, but necessary to sustain growth.

According to studies, it costs six to 10 times more money to acquire new customers than to retain current customers. That stat alone should entice companies to invest in quality customer service. In a recent Customer Service Barometer Study, American Express found that seven in 10 US consumers are willing to spend more for better service. The median premium they would pay for said service is 13 percent.

Forbes article by customer experience advisor Adrian Swinscoe states, "the ability for a customer to interact with another human being is a vital part of customer satisfaction, even in the 'digital age,' which means that companies need to develop experiences that allow their customers to easily move between digital and human interactions so that they can get the experience and service they want."

I broke down the costs of customer experience into a nice, neat, simple equation (the kinds of equations I like) above. So if technology makes up one third of the costs, what would the other two thirds look like? Below is my attempt at breaking down the CX equation to show how this would work. I present to you ... the Three T's of Customer Service (copyright pending).

Related Article: Your Customer Experience Won't Shine Without Empathy

The Three T's of Customer Service

Technology

By relegating technology to only one third of the equation, I don't mean to downplay its importance. The proper technology is perhaps the most vital investment to CX. A strong technological infrastructure will do countless things for your company. Not only will it allow customers a smoother experience when they call in, go to your site, email or use an automated system, but it will also allow your employees to perform their jobs, unencumbered.  

Training 

The best technology in the world is useless if your employees don’t know how to use it. The proper training will give your CX reps the know-how and the confidence they need to fully utilize the equipment. The training should be done in advance of a technology roll-out and there should be follow-up to the training to verify that employees picked up the information. A dry run then a soft rollout is also beneficial.

Related Article: Use Design Thinking to Put Yourself in Your Customers' Shoes

Tenure 

Depending on industry, customer service reps often have an extraordinary amount of knowledge about products, industry best practices, company policies and the confidence to verbalize and make decisions to best help customers. The best training and technology in the world can’t teach someone all of this. Experience can’t be overlooked as one of the most important tools to outstanding customer service. 

Senior employees tend to make more money than their junior counterparts — in large part due to their knowledge. Two challenges arise when it comes to tenure: first, it is difficult to get people to stay at a company as long as needed to attain the experience and education they need to be such a vital asset. Second, tenured employees are expensive. Not only is their salary higher but so is their 401k match and pension (if your workplace offers such).

Employees tend to be happiest at their jobs when they are given the proper technology to work with and the proper training on the technology. While other factors clearly play a part here, taking care of these two parts will go far to handle employee attrition and when that's done, customer retention will follow.

Customer experience begins with technology and ends with human knowledge and empathy. The best CX is a hybrid approach with humans in control. While the investment is more abstract than in technology infrastructure, it is of utmost importance that all customers are serviced how they please.