Customers didn’t expect much from companies in the past. They bought a product, anticipated a “thank you” and perhaps a smile. Today’s customer relationship equation is markedly different.
Customers expect not just friendly service; they expect a distinct set of behaviors and experiences. And they have grown progressively more disappointed. According to a 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, roughly 93 percent of U.S. consumers say companies fail to exceed their service expectations. Moreover, more than half reported abandoning a purchase due to a poor customer experience.
The current business environment is one of heightened competition, where customer experiences are part of a complex matrix that determines loyalty. The essential elements of molding a customer experience — such as operational procedures, brand standards and conflict resolution tactics — are likely to ring hollow if employees are not taught to identify and manage the most important aspect of a customer’s experience: emotion.
An emotional disconnect from the customer experience can have grave consequences for the successful resolution of the customer’s concern, as well as the overall perception of the company. Being unaware of how a response will register emotionally for a customer often leads to a cascade of behaviors and communications that alienate and frustrate. According to a 2012 AchieveGlobal study, the greatest service failures noted by global respondents resulted from customer service representatives appearing to be “rude, short, nasty, unhelpful and impatient.”
Using a canned script in dealing with issues and saying “no” or “I don’t know” also ranked among the top customer experience frustrations. All of these behaviors communicate a lack of care and emotional awareness for the consumer.
To ensure employees are equipped to respond to the emotional needs of consumers with appropriate emotional effort, CLOs should teach leaders to:
Focus on the defining moment. A defining moment is the instant when a customer forms a judgment, positive or negative, about the company or employee he or she is engaging with based on the current interaction.
Employees must be trained to identify defining moments and respond accordingly. In doing so, they will better understand not only the business, but also the human need necessary to make that defining moment a positive one. An unbroken sequence of positive defining moments is the hallmark of an exceptional customer experience.
Avoid surface acting. Presenting the right emotional effort can be tricky for employees, as they may not always feel the actual emotion that the customer is seeking. Employees can sometimes fumble on emotional effort by applying “surface acting.” Surface acting occurs when employees pretend to feel the expected emotion.
This approach, however, increases the stress on the employee by divorcing what is felt from what is expressed. Often surface acting gives the impression that an employee is reading from a canned script or uninterested in the issue.
Focus on deep acting instead. Rather than encouraging employees to provide superficial responses, leaders should aim to train employees to use “deep acting.”
Deep acting involves recalling an emotional memory similar to the one a customer is experiencing. By relating the customer’s challenge to a past challenge of their own, employees are more likely to both feel and express the expected emotion. Deep acting, because it’s genuine, is much more likely to create a positive defining moment.
A successful customer experience strategy requires employees who make the emotional effort to meet both the human and business needs of every customer. While this can be challenging given the variety of customer requests, it is essential to drive brand preference and loyalty. By enabling employees to appropriately pull on the customer’s heart strings, CLOs can help ensure consumers continue to open their purse strings.
Sharon Daniels is CEO of AchieveGlobal, a workforce development firm. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.