THE FIVE LEVERS OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

p-2In an effort to better understand how some people can deliver legendary customer experiences while others fail, the author and his team set out to interview a wide variety of professionals in a cross-section of different industries. What they found was that the account managers who were most loved by their customers and therefore more capable of delivering extraordinary customer experiences, all demonstrated five core behavior patterns, or “levers.”

When used together, the “Five Levers of Customer Experience” help account managers and customer service professionals tap into their customers’ emotionally driven motivations. The levers are:

  1. Put Customers First
  2. Connect
  3. Solve Problems
  4. Build Trust
  5. Create Positive Emotional Experiences

PUT CUSTOMERS FIRST

“Customers First” is not a slogan, but a belief system. When internalized, this belief system works to constantly adjust account managers behavior to better serve their customers instead of doing what is personally easiest or most pleasurable. To develop a “Customers First” attitude that is always working on an unconscious level, account managers must bridge the “Experience Gap” or the difference between what they want and what the customer wants. This requires the cultivation of empathy to better understand what their customers’ experience is like. By taking time to ask their customers what they want to experience, if their current customer experience is enjoyable, and what changes can be made to deliver a better experience, this can be accomplished.

In many ways, likability is the gateway to connections. When account managers increase their likeability, they are putting their customers first by being more pleasurable to do business with. Blount calls likability “relationship glue” as it often solidifies a customer’s willingness to give a second chance after any problems or mistakes arise with service. While some people are born with likability, others must work hard to achieve it. There are several elements within anyone’s control that can improve likability:

*Flex Your Style. When someone flexes their style, they are adjusting their interpersonal behaviors so that customers are more comfortable working with them. There are many different personality types and subsequent styles of communication. Account managers must first identify and understand their own styles then make the necessary adjustments to fall in sync with their customers’ styles.

*People Respond in Kind. Customers respond in kind when it comes to likable behaviors. Effective account managers understand this and use it to their advantage, especially when dealing with upset customers. By remaining calm, respectful, and pleasant they are setting the tone of a conversation and increasing the likelihood of their customers reciprocating the same behaviors.

*Smile. A sincere smile is the most effective way to connect with a customer and convey authenticity. When people do not smile it can make them appear self-absorbed and unapproachable. To combat such perceptions, Blount suggests making a conscious effort to always smile sincerely at clients by thinking of something pleasant or by practicing in the mirror beforehand.

*Be Authentic. People should avoid the temptation to pretend to be someone else when interacting with customers as it can diminish trustworthiness and integrity. Most people have a great deal of intuition and can tell when someone is being inauthentic with them.

*Be Polite and Respectful. Good manners ensure a better customer experience. To convey respect, account managers must give their customers their undivided attention and express gratitude through simple “pleases” and “thank yous.”

*Be Kind. A positive reputation can be created by being kind to everyone, no matter what the circumstances are.

*Compliment Often. Compliments boost customers’ self-esteem and make them feel good. Delivering sincere compliments requires keen observation skills and a genuine interest in other people.

*Passion, Enthusiasm, and Confidence. Passion, enthusiasm, and confidence are all reflections of an individual’s feelings and beliefs. When customers witness passion and enthusiasm from their account managers, they often begin feeling the same way. When working with customers it is important to have the confidence and courage to tell the truth and be decisive.

CONNECT

While there is no way to make customers love their account managers, there are ways in which an emotional connection can be forged. When customers feel emotionally connected to their account managers they are more likely to treat them like a member of their own team, renew their contracts, and introduce more business. According to Blount, the real secret to connecting with customers is to make them feel important. The more account managers listen to their customers, the more their customers feel important and will connect with them. The art of listening to customers well requires discipline, selflessness, and patience. The following exercises are suggested for developing excellent listening skills:

*Active Listening. Active listening is a set of behaviors that demonstrate to the speaker that he or she is being heard. It includes the listener making eye contact, giving both verbal and body language feedback, and summarizing what the speaker has said.

*Eye Contact. Eye contact should be maintained with the speaker at all times as it demonstrates empathy and forges emotional connections. Accountmanagers should turn off any potential distractions when listening to a customer, including cell phones and computers.

*Listen Deeply. The act of listening is not limited to just hearing words. To “listen deeply” is to absorb every component of the speaker’s delivery including his or her body language, expressions, tone, and pace. By looking for verbal and nonverbal emotional cues, a deep listener can determine relevant follow-up questions.

*Keep Them Talking. The more account managers allow their customers to talk, the more customers trust them. That is why it is important to not cut customers off, but rather facilitate the conversation moving forward by using supporting phrases like “Yes, I see,” and behaviors such as nodding their heads and smiling.

SOLVE PROBLEMS

In its purest form, customer service is about helping other people by solving their problems. The key to becoming an excellent problem solver is asking questions that get to the root of the issue and avoid miscommunication. Blount offers five rules that develop effective questioning skills:

1. Rule 1: People Will Not Tell You Their Real Problems Until They Feel Connected to You. Most customers do not want to be taken advantage of and will try to hide their feelings. However, when a customer has a connection with an account manager, the customers feel safe and is more likely to be honest.

2. Rule 2: Ask Easy Questions First. The more customers talk, the more they will reveal about their problems. To get the conversation flowing, it is important to begin with questions that are easy for them to answer. After awhile they will open up and the account manager can start asking more strategic questions.

3. Rule 3: Real People Connect with Stories. Customers communicate with stories, not with lists of facts. It can be difficult for account manager to sit through customer stories, but ultimately it is their job and will improve the customer experience. No matter how angry or pointless customers’ stories may initially appear, buried deep within are the clues to solving their problems.

4. Rule 4: Be Empathetic — Follow Emotional Cues to Problems. Observe the speaker’s body language tone and choice of words to identify their emotional cues. Once these cues have been found, it is possible to design the right follow-up questions that will reveal their true problems.

5. Rule 5: Never Make Assumptions. It is disrespectful and dismissive for an account manager to jump to conclusions about a customer’s problem. Whether intentional or not, it demonstrates that the account manager believes he knows better. To provide a great customer experience, an accountmanager must assume nothing, listen well, ask questions and then begin the troubleshooting process.

The most effective problem solvers are those that execute “dual-process questioning.” This means that they can ask relevant questions while simultaneously maintaining their emotional connections with their customers. To accomplish this, account managers must first implant a collection of relevant questions in their memories that they can seamlessly draw on at any point in the conversation. Then they have to practice with customers until it becomes second nature. It is important to use this skill to proactively tackle problems and prevent issues from escalating. When finally presenting the solutions to their customers’ problems, it is essential that account managers articulate how the proposed strategy will benefit them in the long run.

BUILD TRUST

By relying on their account managers to deliver their promises, customers are put into vulnerable positions. If they do not trust their accountmanagers this sense of vulnerability will snowball into feelings of suspicion and anxiety and make for an overall poor customer experience. Accountmanagers can build trust with their customers through the following methods:

*Going the Extra Mile. The majority of account managers and customer service representatives are good at their jobs and keep their customers satisfied. There are few who go the extra mile and therefore few who enjoy a deep-rooted sense of trust with their customers. To go the extra mile is to be committed to excellence, even when off the clock or no one is watching.

*Consistent Behavior. Customers cannot trust unpredictable behavior. In an effort to be reliable and trustworthy, an account manager must ensure their actions are always consistent. This requires them to think before they speak and act and to always take the time to consider the consequences of their actions.

*Sweat the Small Stuff. While individually, little things like missing deadlines, inaccurate facts, and not returning phone calls be forgivable, when added up they indicate that the individual cannot be trusted.

*Leverage Your Support Team. Every account manager needs to leverage his or her support team when executing a customer’s account plan. Customers trust an account manager that knows how to reach the right people and resources to get things done. The more diverse the specialties of the support team members, the more varied and informed the solutions to customers’ problems are.

Few people understand that admitting fault and apologizing are also opportunities to build trust. When an account manager admits to a customer that they have made a mistake and sincerely apologize, they are demonstrating a high level of character and integrity. This is especially true of someone who never blames a disembodied “they” when a problem arises. An account manager who takes responsibility for any problem that arises, instead of blaming “they” is someone worth trusting.

CREATE POSITIVE EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES

Top account managers understand that they cannot depend on their products or services alone to keep their customers. To anchor their customers’ business they have to create positive emotional experiences. This requires habitual expressions of appreciation and kindness.

The Law of Reciprocity states that when someone acts kindly and gives to someone else, the recipient will feel the need to return the favor. This rule applies to customers who reciprocate their account managers‘ kindness with loyalty, additional business, and new contracts. To be successful, account managers must sincerely give to their customers without the expectation of getting anything in return. When the Law of Reciprocity is exercised with a me-first attitude, customers can sense the gesture’s phoniness.

Thoughtful and personal gestures create positive emotional experiences with clients. The secret to uncovering opportunities for these types of gestures is to listen deeply for self-disclosure. When customers are talking, account managers should heighten their awareness of what is being said to find clues to what is emotionally important to them. Self-disclosures should be noted and organized in a customer relationship management system so that no birthday, anniversary, or big event goes by unnoticed.

There are endless little opportunities for account managers to touch their clients emotionally. While the business world is filled with over-the-top gifts and acts of kindness, Blount argues that affordable gestures are just as effective. Cards, hand-written notes, framed relevant newspaper clippings, and unique meals are all great ways to create a positive emotional experience with a client.

MAKE BREAKING UP HARD TO DO

Customer retention is the backbone to any profitable business. While it is inevitable that some accounts will be lost over time, there are several ways companies can protect their customer bases in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. The first is in the way they deal with “pissed off customers.” The better customer service professionals are with angry customers, the less likely they are to lose their business. Blount offers three rules for dealing with upset customers that help prevent their departure:

1. Rule #1: Don’t piss them off in the first place. When customers call with complaints it does not necessarily mean they are angry but it does mean that they need help. It is important that the customer service professional does not escalate the situation and actually make them angry by being inaccessible, unable to provide a quick response, combative, or generally undependable.

2. Rule #2: Don’t make it worse. It may be difficult for a customer service professional to be yelled at by an angry customer, but it absolutely imperative that they stay calm and respectful and do not exacerbate the situation. At no point should a customer service professional tell a customer to calm down, act defensively, or tell a customer that there is nothing they can do, or blame someone else.

3. Rule #3: Shut up and listen. Angry customers are often looking for a fight. By respectfully listening to their rants and admitting fault no matter what, a customer service professional is taking the wind out of the customer’s sails. The customer will calm down, appreciate the respect they are given, and leave the conversation satisfied.

Every customer has companies competing for their business. That is why account managers must take systematic, daily action to protect their “turfs.” This requires analyzing all current accounts and ranking customers based on their revenue and profit contributions. Account managers must then develop plans for the frequency and method of contact necessary to keep each customer.

When a customer calls with a cost reduction request, the account manager must find a way to demonstrate to them the difference between the price of the products and the total cost of the program. The customer will then see the value of what they are currently getting despite the claimed lower price of competitors. Additionally, the account manager can offer testimonials of other satisfied customers. After this effort is put in, more often than not the customer will reconsider leaving. Customers typically leave when they feel taken for granted and unimportant. More often than not this is the direct result of being neglected by their account managers, who over time have stopped checking in and seem not to care. By regularly checking in through quick phone calls and emails, customers feel less neglected and their accounts can be saved.

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