SOCAP International

Powering the Customer Advocacy Engine

Your contact center team holds the key to customer happiness, loyalty and engagement in their hands. Empower them to build meaningful customer relationships.

Today’s customers expect more. They want better, more responsive service. They want to be treated like individuals. They want to reach the companies they do business with through the channels they use—including social media—at the times they are available. Yet at the same time their demands of businesses are increasing, their trust in businesses is declining. According to The Futures Company, 66 percent of consumers think most businesses would take advantage of customers if the opportunity arose, and only 32 percent believe the honesty and integrity of businesses dealing with the public is at a high level.

Bottom line? Customers are looking for a more human connection. According to McKinsey, 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they were treated, underscoring the emotion involved in buying decisions. The Futures Company also found that 74 percent of customers agree that most companies today are becoming too inhuman and impersonal when it comes to connecting with their customers.

The good news is with the global customer experience management (CEM) market expected to grow from $2.68 billion in 2012 to $6.61 billion by 2017 (Markets & Markets 2012), companies investing in customer experience management have a huge opportunity to make that connection and build trust, which ultimately will help their bottom lines.

CEM From the Inside Out

Unfortunately, for a host of very valid reasons, many traditional call centers haven’t kept up with recent societal changes and consumer trends. Many are operationally driven and focused on metrics that don’t necessarily promote a meaningful customer experience. Contact center representatives with strict scripts and metrics focused solely on quick call completion, among a myriad of other practices created to streamline customer service, make it challenging to create a truly positive—not just satisfactory—customer experience. There is a big difference between the process involved in delivering customer service and actually creating an experience—one people will remember positively after they interact with your employees.

Your contact center team holds the key to customer happiness, loyalty and engagement in their hands. That is why improving employee engagement becomes an integral element in any effective customer engagement program.

According to McKinsey, 70 percent of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they were treated.

The first step in creating a truly engaging customer experience is developing a positive culture that engages employees. It’s no secret that happy, empowered employees become business brand advocates and naturally create better customer experiences. Companies like Zappos, The Ritz Carlton and Apple are known for their ability to connect with their customers in a meaningful way because of their people-first culture. They understand the one-to-one engagement moment—when your sales or service associate is on the phone, at the counter or online with a customer—is an opportunity for that individual to really make an impression. A positive experience with your employee creates a halo for your business and your brand. It’s the moment when your business can rise above others to dazzle a customer, making an emotional connection.

Case Study: Creating a Win-Win for Employees and Customers

At Hallmark Business Connections, we bring the same emotional connection Hallmark Cards is known for into the business world, helping our business clients build meaningful and memorable experiences with their customers. Using an inside out approach focused on business results, we are able to help a global banking giant with more than 50 million customers turn employees into ambassadors who strengthen customer relationships.

Asked to create a national initiative that would improve the customer experience, the goal was to turn employees into relationship builders to secure customer loyalty, as well as to positively impact net promoter scores for both employees and customers. The solution is a program that gives contact center associates the authority and ability to surprise and delight bank customers.

Elements of the program are streamlined for operational efficiency, while still providing a highly personal touch. For example, various messages associates use are prewritten in English and Spanish by Hallmark’s creative writers to establish the best connection with customers, and the program is brand specific for varying business lines. Messages cover a range of occasions such as appreciation, sympathy and other life events.

One of the most robust elements of the program is the apology component, which helps the associate mend any emotional wounds left by a mistake or error. Customer service employees are empowered to make their own decisions about when to utilize the program and which messages to use. They have the option to send a gift card in circumstances they deem require a little extra effort. A user-friendly ordering system makes the entire process easy to implement and use.

Anecdotal feedback about the impact on customers was immediate. One customer, after being touched by the program, wrote a letter to the bank president thanking the company for making her day at a difficult time. Similar stories of pleased and “wowed” customers continue to play out across the organization. In an era where 43 percent of U.S. customers say companies are helpful but don’t do anything extra to keep their business (American Express 2012 Customer Service Barometer), the bank stands out.

The business results show how this customer engagement program that empower employees and delight customers makes a difference in the financial results of the bank. Customers say they are two times more satisfied with their financial institution and over three times more delighted with how their negative issues are handled. Employees feel empowered and their satisfaction has jumped 18 percent. In the first year of use, the average balance increased by 38 percent, retention improved by 10 percent and revenue increased by 32 percent. And, both the employee and customer satisfaction net promoter scores have been positively impacted.

Translating Your Vision Into Action

Dust off the vision, mission and value statements and ensure your employees understand their role in delivering on them. When a call center associate moves from acting because they “have to” to acting because they “want to,” interactions with customers move from superficial to truthful. Your associates are the most powerful representatives of your brand. How they embody your values and mission in their everyday interactions with customers influences perceptions. Engaged employees who understand the importance of their work in the bigger picture are more likely to feel like their work means something, therefore, customers’ perception of their interactions with your company are noticeably different.

Managers play a critical role in building the foundation to inspire and motivate employees. They are in the best position to make personal connections with frontline associates that clarify the tie between an individual’s unique contributions to fulfilling the vision and elevating the customer experience. Ideally, they also actively reward and support customer service representative who use their knowledge and the program tools effectively to create to foster deeper engagement with customers. Contact centers that truly embrace the vision and values of their company not only deliver on expectations, but naturally go above and beyond when needed.

An empowering customer engagement program catapults your contact center staff from company observer to active participant in living the mission. Engagement strategies and touch points can be designed to help associates live the brand and convey it very personally and profoundly to customers.

Clear Goals and Measurement Metrics

Developing the right customer engagement program for any business requires forethought and careful planning. Balancing process with empowerment and providing your employees with the right tools and metrics for success is critical. You have to let employees create human moments, but they also need the appropriate tools, goals, reporting processes and training to ensure success. Luckily, if you have the first three down, the training comes easily.

Consider how you set goals. Not just for the overall customer engagement program, but also for each individual. What are the expectations for the number of associates who will actively use the program? The highest user adoption rate we’ve seen has been 80 percent; the worst, less than 20 percent. A 20 percent adoption rate obviously limits your ability to have a measurable impact on employee satisfaction and customer engagement.

Next, think about how many opportunities your organization will have in a given day or week to delight, apologize or do something above and beyond for a customer. How often should your team create a really memorable customer experience? For example, if a contact center representative interacts with 50 people in a day, he or she might have five to 10 opportunities to create a meaningful experience that impresses or touches a customer in a personal way. By extrapolating that figure, you’ll create a realistic goal for the number of times you want your associates to create a human moments with your customers.

By having group and individual goals for user adoption and program usage, you’ll be able to monitor outcomes and know where training and incentives need to be applied. With an easy-to-use system, training your employees is simple and quick, and you’ll benefit from higher adoption rates and speedier deployment across the organization. As a result, you’ll start building deeper relationships with your customers more quickly, see timelier results and the impact will go more deeply into your customer base.

One of the most robust elements of the program is the apology component, which helps the associate mend any emotional wounds left by a mistake or error.

Keep in mind that according to Michael Maoz, vice president and customer experience management analyst at Gartner, “Nowadays, just responding to a customer’s immediate request for help is grossly insufficient.” You want to promote use of your customer engagement program with employees. You want them to believe responding to a complaint isn’t enough, and they can do more. To enhance employee engagement with the system, think through how often you will use employee incentives to boost use and what kind of metrics you want to track about how often each employee uses it. You may want to capture feedback metrics like qualitative comments from both employees and customers and use positive feedback to enhance employee happiness with the system and in turn, with their job.

Short-term and long-term key performance indicators should be established upfront. Short-term indicators, such as improvement in customer and employee satisfaction measures, net promoter score and openended comments will be the first signs of success or indicate immediate areas to improve. Longer-term measures such as improved retention rate, upsell and cross-sell metrics, and overall financial results should be monitored routinely, but most companies find that it may take anywhere from six months to years for the program to impact the longer term success measures depending on the nature of the business.

Powering the Customer Advocacy Engine

Ultimately, when a contact center is empowered to create human moments between the company and its customers, something magical happens. This magic is as old as business itself, and has always been and will always be, a critical success factor. Have you treated your customer so well, and in such a way that they will advocate for you, your product or service, and your brand? Will they tell their 500 Facebook friends, their next-door neighbor and the carpool on the way to work? Will they feel so connected to your company that if a service hiccup occurs, they forgive you like it never happened?

When you enable your contact center associates to build and create the relationships that will turn your customers into advocates, you’ll know you’ve achieved success. It comes down to increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty, and then going a step further to create a tighter bond with your customer through personalized, human connections. Connections that ultimately not only deliver customer brand advocates, but also bottomline results.

7-Basler_Rhonda_headshotRhonda Basler, director of customer engagement for Hallmark Business Connections, leads the company’s customer relationship business. Her customer advocacy expertise stems from more than 15 years experience in data-driven brand marketing. She started her career working in both inbound and outbound customer service call centers. As the business unit of Hallmark Cards, Inc., the company leverages more than 100 years of creativity and innovation to strengthen business relationships with employees and customers.