Written by Ezequiel Williams
We can all agree that great customer service is what we want when we have trouble with a product or service. Right? But can great customer service actually work against an organization? You may be thinking, “how could that even be possible?!” I know, that seems counterintuitive, but consider this: do you prefer great customer service or something that “just works” and does not require calling on customer service in the first place? Allow me to illustrate this with my own recent experience in the world of banking.
In the spring of last year I decided to move my account to another bank. I was not happy with the bad press my bank was getting, and I wanted a bank that offered me a little more convenience along with a better reputation. After some research I decided to open a test account at a branch of a national bank that bills itself as providing superior customer service and extremely convenient operating hours. My first impression was that opening a business account there took some more paperwork and time than what I had encountered at other banks, but I took this as a sign of attention to detail and diligence. Good! The staff seemed polite and professional, and I thought I had found a new home for my account.
People don’t really want “customer service.” Instead they want something that “just works.”
My first unpleasant surprise with my new bank happened when I first tried logging into my online account. The user interface seemed like something from 1997, and even banking websites in that year were more functional than my bank’s website. By the way, if you are looking to take a trip down memory lane (or just procrastinate) and see how banking or other websites looked like back in the 1990s, check out the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. But I digress, let’s get back to the story.
The state of my new bank’s website user interface foreshadowed what was to come. My online account was clunky, at times confusing, and it did not make my life any easier. In addition, my banking information did not sync consistently with my accounting program. Meanwhile, customer service at the bank branch and on the phone was great, but, of course, they could not fix these broken tools.
One day in late June I logged into my new bank account to activate a feature. What should have been a simple task became a frustrating search in the help section of the website. When I finally figured out how to activate the feature online I got a message that said that I had to go to a branch in person to finish the activation! I finally made it to the bank branch a week or two later. Again, the staff was great, but I also found out that I needed to come in no later than three days after getting that message online to complete the task. Now I needed to start the process over again, and what should have taken three clicks on a computer took 53 minutes at the bank branch during a busy week with multiple work deadlines. I left the bank that day, went to another bank with a modern tech infrastructure and opened an account that I am very happy with to this day. In fact, I ended up moving all my accounts to this bank. The joys of a solid and updated IT infrastructure at work!
The bank I ended up leaving last June seemed to have absolute confidence in its customer service, but the actual experience of their online services and processes was truly horrendous for me. So, can an organization have wonderful customer service staff and broken business processes and customer experience? Yes, it can happen, and an army of well trained customer service representatives will not make broken processes any less painful for customers.
So, you might be thinking, “shouldn’t great ‘customer service’ make for a great ‘customer experience’?” Fair question, but the answer is that those are two very different terms.
“Customer service” refers to support customers receive in order to resolve an issue, answer questions, or help customers make a decision. “Customer experience” refers to the sum of all interactions a customer has with an organization. These interactions may include the arc of a customer journey starting from awareness of a brand all the way through the purchase and use of products and services. Customer service is simply a part of the customer experience.
Remaining relevant and competitive in today’s fast-changing world requires leaders to think holistically about the entire customer experience and not just customer service. As illustrated in my story, focusing on customer service at the expense of the overall customer experience could cost a company customers, and over time substantially weaken a brand. To find evidence to support this point simply search for articles about Millennials “ruining” some business, like these articles here and here. Millennials have not ruined any businesses, instead business leaders are neglecting to refresh their approach to customer experience to meaningfully respond to the needs and desires of younger customers. Hence, these younger customers move on to other brands that cater better to them.
It is becoming increasingly easy to switch brands, even in the banking world. And this is where a singular focus on great customer service can be a major liability for organizations. Think about it. When do you contact customer service? It is usually when something goes wrong. Yet, it is so easy to switch brands these days that something going wrong may trigger switching companies and skipping contacting customer service altogether. People don’t really want “customer service.” Instead they want something that “just works.”
Instead of focusing on customer service, business leaders are better off thinking more broadly about customer experience. A good starting point is investing time in understanding customer needs, desires, and their customer journey through all aspects of their interactions with a brand. Another good practice is to make a visual map of the customer journey so a team can clearly understand and align around what works for customers, what doesn’t, and create agreement around what to do to improve the customer experience.
Investing in customer service is a good thing, but investing in delivering a great overall experience for your customers is what will make the biggest difference in an evermore competitive marketplace.
Want to give customer journey mapping a try? Read one of our past blog posts, An Introduction to Customer Journey Mapping where you can also access a downloadable customer journey mapping tool. If you need help mapping your customers’ journeys or tackling complex problems, reach out to us. We’re happy to help.
For further reading check out this article from the Harvard Business Review; Know the Difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience.