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Six signs your customer service strategy is broken

Consultant Rick Davidson urges CIOs to take the lead on improving customer service in the digital age -- and spells out the signs of a customer service strategy gone wrong.

CIOs are in a unique position to improve the customer experience, Rick Davidson, President and CEO of Cimphoni,...

an IT and business consulting company, said at the recent Fusion 2015 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wisconsin. CIOs, like CEOs and CFOs, have the proverbial "enterprise-wide" view of their companies, but they also understand the digital technologies that companies increasingly must use to interact effectively with their customers, Davidson said.

"You probably know how processes work, you know the enabling technologies, you probably even know where the problems are," said Davidson, who is also the interim CIO of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the motor and leisure travel organization.

In the "age of the customer," having the power to change and improve the customer experience is more important than ever, he said.

"If you don't support the customer and provide an easy means of doing business with your company they'll go somewhere else," Davidson said, adding that he describes customers these days as "impatient narcissists" who want smart, simple and easy-to-use channels to interact with a company.

Davidson urged CIOs to take the lead on transforming the customer experience. On their quest, CIOs should make sure to get the backing of the CEO as well as partner with someone from customer service, Davidson said. "[Customer service will] be partners in crime with you. They'll appreciate the fact that you want to go fix this."

But what should the CIO look to fix? Here are Davidson's six signs that a company's customer service strategy is broken:

1. The customer needs to use a manual or call customer service

"If your product or service requires a user manual or a call to a customer service agent, it's already broken because that means it's not easy to use," Davidson said.

Davidson used his experience with an American rental car company as an example. Davidson, a loyal customer, had racked up about 500,000 rewards points, but he wanted to transfer those points to his wife. After spending 45 minutes on the rental car company’s website with no solution, Davidson called customer service. The customer service agent said he could transfer his points to his wife if his wife was a Gold Member. His wife was not and so Davidson signed her up as one. However, the agent told Davidson he would have to wait 48 hours after signing his wife up before he could transfer the points.

Although it ultimately worked out, it was a difficult process, Davidson said. Ideally it should have only taken 15 minutes and been done all online.

An example of a company who does this well is MyChart, an electronic health records portal, Davidson said. Available to use online or download as an application, MyChart lets patients schedule appointments, cancel appointments, see the results of tests or labwork, and more. Davidson said all he had to do was download the app and it worked great.

2. The company's customer-facing employees aren't empowered and informed

Customer-facing employees should be familiar enough with their customers and customers' data to be able to personalize customer service, or as Davidson said in an email, treat customers "like royalty."

"Cable and telecom companies don't do well here," Davidson said in an email. "Customer service representatives often lack a complete view or history of a customer's interaction with the company."

On the other hand, the Four Seasons is a great example of a company with employees empowered to know and understand customers. "They empower employees to make decisions in the customer's interest and retain information on customer preferences to be used at the next stay," Davidson said in an email.

3. The company tries to get its customer to do irrational things

Davidson said his friend noticed that a large consumer electronics corporation was offering a discount on TVs online. Davidson's friend went to the store and was told by the company's salesperson that he had to buy it online if he wanted the discount. Davidson's friend went outside, got on his phone, bought the TV from company's website, chose the in-store delivery option, then went back into the store, showed the salesperson his receipt and asked if he could pick up the TV now. The salesperson said yes.

"Here's what I think happened. Somebody in marketing … is incented to drive online sales versus retail sales. Their bonus is related to that so they want to see higher numbers online so that's where they drove it," Davidson said. "[It] had nothing to do with what was good for the customer and had everything to do with somebody's bonus back at headquarters."

4. The company hasn't figured out a customer after several interactions

One Fusion audience member said that for five years his large multinational phone company consistently forgets to turn on and then turn off international calling when he travels. For five years he has called the telecommunications company about this but the problem persists, the audience member said.

Davidson said if a company hasn't figured out its customer after two or three interactions and hasn't asked the customer what his or her preferences are, then its customer service strategy is broken.

On the flip side is AAA, Davidson said. AAA knows everything about its members: their life stage, what cruises they go on, etc., and the company has a place on its website where members can enter in their preferences, he said.

5. The company blames the customer

Davidson booked a flight with a major American airline, which suggests passengers check in and pick their seats before the flight. He was in a rush and didn't do this. At the gate, Davidson said he learned the airline had overbooked the flight and denied him boarding. The agent at the gate said, "Don't you know you're supposed to log in the night before and confirm your seat?" Davidson recalled.

"They blamed me because they oversold the flight," he said. "Don't blame your customer when you make a mistake. Try to prevent the mistake from happening in the first place."

6. The company can't interact with customers via mobile

If customers aren't able to interact with a company via mobile then the company's processes are most likely too complex, Davidson said.

Uber, for example, "built a whole business around the convenience of a mobile application," he said later in an email. Via this one mobile application that is easy to use Uber provides a full service from ordering a car, to seeing it en route to pick up the passenger, to paying for the services. "The experience is focused around ease of use for the customer," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34.

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What strategies do you use to improve customer experience?
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One of the most critical, and a personal mission of mine, is to alert people to the fact that "accessible design is good design", and that emphasizing accessibility from the outset will help design products that are inherently more usable by everyone.
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Many of those points to apply to my organization. I know that there is an ongoing initiative to make it easier to be one a client of ours. I'm not sure if that kind of thing really falls under the scope of the CIO's responsibilities though; it really reaches beyond that and requires many enterprise level changes.
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Michael - I definitely agree that customer experience needs to be thought of early in the process to be ultimately successful. Too many companies think about it only after the product is complete. 
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Even though this article focuses on CIO’s, the six ideas in this article are appropriate for anyone in any company involved in creating a better customer service experience. Simple ideas such as, “If your customers need a manual or to call customer support, it’s already broken because that means it’s not easy to use.” Or, “The company blames the customer.” Some of the ideas may seem like common sense, but unfortunately you shouldn’t be surprised to find that they aren’t as common as you would think.
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