A slowing economy is an ideal time to be focusing on making it easy for your customers and prospects to do business with you and on making it easy for your customers to reach their goals. Yet most organizations are so busy trying to cut costs and to convince cash-strapped customers to buy that they neglect investing in the most customer-critical things. Some of the things your customers need to make their lives easier may be low-hanging fruit that has been ignored.
I remember talking to a client in the customer support group at Cisco during the last big tech downturn. She was happy to report that as times got tough, the company had stopped throwing more people into customer support, and turned its attention, instead, to empowering customers and customer-service agents with better information and better tools—the things that she had been advocating. Cisco also changed the compensation structure for customer service agents at the time, to reward them for solving tough problems and turning those solutions into self-service wizards, rather than rewarding customer service personnel on the number of cases they resolved per day. Downturns bring opportunities. Make sure you’re taking advantage of yours!
So here’s my top 5 list of customer experience tactics you should be doing right now. The first three are Web-related because, for most of us, the Web is our customers’ first port of call:
1. Improve the Findability and Quality of Information on Your Web Site(s). This is a continuous improvement project. It starts with analytics. What search terms are people using? What navigation paths are they taking? What results are they getting? How accurate and up-to-date are those results?
Are customers seeing what they need to see in order to buy something and/or to solve a problem? If you don’t have a fancy tool to analyze what people are doing on your Web site, use the free tools from Google Analytics.
Have someone whose job it is to focus on understanding and monitoring and reporting from these tools. Provide easy-to-understand reports to all of the critical content stewards and the top execs in each department that contributes content. Take the simple steps required to provide better, up-to-date content that includes all the terms that customers are using to search for things on your site. Focus, in particular on the content required for each moment of truth in your customer-critical scenarios. Can customers quickly find all the information they need to make a buying decision? Can they quickly find all the information they need to convince themselves and others that this is the right choice? Can they quickly find all the information they need to diagnose a problem? Can they quickly find all the information they need to solve that problem on their own? Can they quickly find out how to renew or replenish their own services or supplies or to renew or suspend a subscription?
2. Make It Easy for Customers to Transact Online. Today’s customers are accustomed to self-service. Yet for many sophisticated products and/or products sold through channel partners, it’s often not easy for customers to at least start the transaction online. Add a chat button to the shopping portion of your Web site in order to help customers with questions they have as they’re considering a purchase. Provide online tools for customers to select the products and options and delivery dates they need and pass that information along via email if necessary to partners or subject matter experts who can quickly call the customer, gather their requirements, and make a quick offer. There are no products or services that customers should not be able to at least begin to order or request a quote for online.
3. Give Customers Easy Online Access to Their Transactions, Information, Profiles, and Projects. Stop worrying about your internal CRM systems, data, and inconsistent customer information. Start worrying about giving your end-customers (better) online access to their own profiles, account information, product information and inventory, purchase histories, billing records, service contracts, past information or software downloads, and other information that relates to their products and projects. You can take it one step at a time. Start with the easy stuff. Add the harder things over time. Use RSS feeds, simple services APIs, XML to ease the integration challenges. Remember that what customers care about is themselves, not your products and services. They want to control their experience and to manage their own accounts and information. If you make it easy for customers to gain access to THEIR information, you’ll benefit by having much cleaner and more accurate customer data. You don’t need to invest in a major portal initiative in order to give customers a secure way to log in to a private area on your Web site where they can view and manage their own account information, see appropriate offers, and update their information. You may need to re-architect your infrastructure over time to provide better tools, single sign-on, and tighter integration. But don’t let a “big bang” project keep you from making incremental improvements.
4. Make It as Easy as Possible for Customers to Select and Buy Your Products. Making online product information easy to find and understand is important. So is making it easy for customers to transact online. But there’s more to helping customers select and buy than good online information and transaction support. Customers need to be able to feel confident about their buying decisions. They may need to convince others. They often need to kick the proverbial tires. They may begin with online research, do some investigation on the phone or in testing the products, talk with other customers, talk to an expert, or visit a store, and then consummate their sale through any channel (phone, Web, face to face). In a B2B context, the person who selects the products or service may be handing off the purchasing process to someone in their purchasing department. Whether your customers are consumers or businesspeople or both, take a look at our Customer Scenario® pattern for Select and Buy, Ronni Marshak’s report for this week, to be sure that you have addressed each of the canonical moments of truth that are typical for most customers in many contexts. Run an audit. What customer metrics are you hitting for each of those moments of truth? How do they differ from your customers’ ideal metrics? Do you know what your customers’ ideal metrics are? If not, find out!
5. Pick One Customer Pain Point and Get Everyone in the Organization to Focus on Addressing It. Select something that both annoys and frustrates customers and keeps them from doing business with you or from using your products or services effectively. The challenge will be picking one single thing. But you’ll make much more progress if you do. Make sure to describe that customer pain point in the customer’s own words. (It takes too long to do X…. I can’t find Y…. I can’t figure out how to do Z…Your X policies are too onerous…There are too many steps to do Z. … I can’t use X with Y.) Document the current state from your customers’ point of view. How many screens do they have to navigate through? How long do they wait on hold? How long does it take them to upgrade? What’s the total elapsed time from when they realize they have a problem to being back in business? How many steps or people do they have to go through to sell internally? Then select an ideal customer metric to shoot for (ideally one that customers have given you), to either eliminate the problem altogether or to mitigate it if it can’t be eliminated. Once you’ve picked your customer pain point to eliminate, get everyone to brainstorm ideas. You can do this in brainstorming sessions and using online suggestion boxes. Yes, you want to identify the root cause(s), but you also want to consider work-arounds, duck tape, simple policy changes, better expectation setting, and simple things like improving the search and findability of the appropriate information on your Web site. Ideally, recruit insightful customers to help you brainstorm solutions and better ways of doing things. You will no doubt discover some simple things you can do to mitigate customer-impacting issues as well as some difficult root cause issues for which you’ll want some great out-of-the-box thinking. That’s where your most imaginative and passionate customers can help!