The Power of Thinking About Customers as Individuals

Understanding the meaning behind someone's need to interact with us is the key to creating experiences that customers appreciate and share.

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Basler_2That group of human beings you call customers doesn’t actually exist as an aggregation or an abstraction. Truthfully, there’s just one customer—the one you’re facing.

There’s only one Jerome. One Margo. One Alicia. 

While many companies, perhaps even your competition, continue to think of customers as a whole, you should think of them as individuals needing personalized attention. Serve and interact with them based on their uniqueness. Jerome, Margo and Alicia are each unique human beings who should be celebrated through a personalized experience.

Unfortunately, before a customer interaction begins, contact center employees often face a disadvantage. Enough poor service experiences with other companies has lead consumers to have a preconceived notion that the person on the other end of the interaction won’t care, can’t do anything and will probably waste their time.

Creating a Personal Experience

Basler_3So how do we create personal experiences that show our customers we don’t view them as a simple number in a faceless conglomerate and that our people power—our associates—really do care about them individually? It starts by looking at the customer’s experience with our companies from his or her point of view. For the customer’s experience to be personal, it has to be meaningful. The hard part about meaningful experiences is that what is meaningful to one person, isn’t to another.

It takes intense listening, intuition and empathy to uncover the meaning behind an interaction. After we uncover what is meaningful to the customer—often the emotional reason behind their outreach to us—we can empower our associates to convey that we understand what is meaningful to them and can tailor the customer experience to just them.

Jerome, who lost his mother to cancer, feels so alone as he works through disconnecting the utilities to her home. Margo, who is elated with the birth of her third child, is leading her family to buy a larger home. Alicia, who is returning her new dress, is upset that she has gained a few pounds. Understanding the meaning behind someone’s need to interact with us and the emotions that are driving their thoughts and feelings is the key to creating experiences that customers appreciate, love and
share with others.

Case Study

By recognizing every customer is different from the next one—Jerome from Margo, Margo from Alicia, and Alicia from Jerome—and deserving of their own, unique, tailored experience, Consumers Energy rolled out a program that empowers customer service representatives to listen, understand and demonstrate empathy with customers.

“Service from the Heart” empowers contact center associates to show how they truly feel about an interaction by sending Hallmark cards to customers, allowing them to express regret, sympathy, excitement, condolences or congratulations. With management approved options easily displayed via an online user interface, associates push a few buttons to select the appropriate expression, tailor the card to the experience and ship a personalized card.

The process is highly efficient for the contact center environment, but allows each customer service representative to be unique to three critical elements in the interaction: their personal style, the meaning and feelings of the customer, and the nuances of the situation.

Business Results

“Our associates have a tangible, measurable way to act on our company’s commitment to our customers,” says Alicia Roach, program leader and manager of Royal Oak Call Center. “We’ve seen a boost in our quality scores just 30 days after we started using Customer Care. That’s an accomplishment that has made us all proud. The whole program has performed beyond our expectations.”

BaslerConsumers Energy’s management team also noticed an immediate impact on the culture of its customer care centers. John Racine, who manages their Alma, Mich., location, notes the improved employee engagement: “The difference in employee engagement is amazing. We could feel a positive change in our culture from the first day we starting using the Hallmark program.”

Feedback confirmed the Hallmark solution enriches the experience for both the customer and the associate. It’s a great day in our contact centers when we hear from customers saying highly positive things like:

“I was so excited to get a thank-you card from the representative, I bragged to all my friends about it. My friends couldn’t believe it. I’m going to tell everyone what Consumers Energy did for me. It made my day.”

“I am so grateful that Consumers Energy cares so much. That was really nice of her and it was even a Hallmark card. It made me cry.”

“I am completely shocked that Molly sent me a card. I want to thank you for thinking of me, as I just got married and was totally stressing out when I talked to her. The card totally made my day!” 

“I have had such a difficult time with my father’s passing. I am grateful and touched for the sympathy card. Many thanks.”

The Power of the Human Relationship

I challenge you to think of each of your customers as core to your success. Every single individual is truly irreplaceable. In each of your contact center interactions, seek opportunities to consider Jerome, who likes leisurely service with plenty of time to consider his options. Consider Margo, who is always in a hurry and doesn’t necessarily have time to hear how your day is going. Think about Alicia, whose mind is focused on her sick cat at the vet, and isn’t in the right mindset to appreciate your warm thoughts.

If Margo leaves, she’s gone forever. That Margo-ish opportunity has evaporated. Your available market has diminished by one—one you already had on your side. But by treating Margo as an individual and providing her with an extra human touch that shows how important she really is, you create a memorable moment for Margo that strengthens her relationship with your organization and makes a meaningful difference.

Micah Solomon has been named by The Financial Post “The New Guru of Customer Service Excellence.” Business speaker, consultant and #1 bestselling business author, Solomon is known for his ability to transform business results and build true customer engagement and loyalty.

Rhonda Basler leads the customer engagement segment at Hallmark Business Connections. Her leadership role in developing its new customer care solution began two years ago at the SOCAP national conference and has blossomed into a game-changing solution for contact centers.