I probably don’t have to spend much time trying to convince people that there is a gap between the experience customers expect and the one they actually receive.
Before I gloss over the evidence, let’s just say that there is a significant population of marketing executives who believe they are providing a great customer experience. However, their customers rate the experience as poor.
None of us can assume we have the customer experience under control. Even if all appears to be well, it can slowly come apart.
Here is one small example. The grocery business in Richmond, VA is extremely competitive. One particular store has really worked hard to ensure the atmosphere in their store is friendly and helpful, and it’s been noticeable.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I arrived at the deli counter, took my number then stepped back to await my turn a number of other customers. The three staff members were diligently slicing away when one of them shouted “NEXT”.
Those of us with numbers looked up at the displayed number then looked at each other and tried to sort out who had the next number. This went on for the next few numbers until someone behind the counter advanced the numbers.
I started to pay attention to the conversation and body language of the staff. Clearly, they were not happy. Some had missed breaks; others were late for lunch.
Their behavior demonstrated a lack of commitment to good customer service.
While this experience may not send me scurrying off to a competitor, it was a fairly sharp contrast to what I had come to expect from the store.
After this experience, I started to think about some of the customer experience gaps.
What are some of the gaps?
There are many gaps, however, for the purposes of this article, I am highlighting three.
The most obvious gap is customer service. Customer service covers a lot of territory. Often it’s the first contact point for a consumer experiencing some kind of question or difficulty. Customer service is often used interchangeably with customer experience, customer service is actually a vital subset of the customer experience.
Increasingly timing is becoming a gap. Consumers have high expectations about responses from brands. These response times are beginning to be measured in seconds. At a recent conference, a senior hotel executive indicated their customers expected a greeting within twelve seconds of their arrival.
Customers want a personal experience. They expect brands to use their information appropriately. Customers are often asked to enter information the company already has, often repeatedly within the same transaction. Most consumers see through the “we are only asking for this information to protect your security” excuse.
To identify gaps, start with competitive research. What do your customers associate their businesses with? Is your brand missing out? Text Optimizer is a great tool for that:
Identifying Gap Drivers
Since customer service is such an expansive topic, there is no shortage of drivers. At the top of the list, are hiring and training. Before I address these two, there is one that is more important – the lack of a customer experience strategy. Without a strategy, each group provides an experience based on the function they are designed to fulfill. This may or may not align with the customer’s expectations.
Most companies have some sort of customer service positions, often they are located in call centers. Typically, there is a high turnover rate due to the nature of the work. The incentives offered are designed for efficiency not necessarily for ensuring a good customer experience. Others in the company may feel little or no ownership of customer service because that job belongs to someone else.
The lack of a formal training process usually results in employees who aren’t equipped to provide a great customer experience. Employees are assigned to shadow a colleague or given little formal training. This results in employees who are left to fend for themselves and inconsistent experiences for all stakeholders.
Companies that provide outstanding customer experiences make it a point to hire the right people. The right people in the right positions make a huge difference.
Most marketers are focused on collecting data that will help the company sell more products and services and retain more loyal customers. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. But, not much attention is given to how information might be used to enhance the customer experience.
10 Customer Gap Questions
Start by listening carefully to the conversations that are taking place. Then begin to ask probing questions. Here are a few to ask yourself, you’ll think of many others.
- What kind of challenges are our customer-facing staff experiencing?
- Do they need more training, more technology, more anything?
- How secure is there data? This is big! To learn how big it is, read Hari Ravichandran’s story.
- How long do our customers have to wait? (Ask this for every interaction and process)
- How can we reduce waiting time?
- Do our customer service questions cluster around consistent topic questions that might point to a systemic issue that needs to be addressed?
- How can we reduce any kind of friction, especially in our buying processes?
- Are we leveraging the customer data we already have to improve the customer experience? Are we hiring the right people?
- How are my employees or colleagues doing? Do they have what they need to do their jobs?
- What are our customer’s frequently asked questions?
Closing the Gap
Whether you are managing a huge business or starting an online boutique, start getting answers to the questions listed above. Form cross-functional teams to explore these topics and challenges. Functional silos can create barriers that get in the way of a great customer experience. Working collaboratively on solutions is an effective way to begin to replace barriers with bridges.