Customer-Centricity Improvement: When you first set out to become a more customer-centric organization, your instinct is to be interested in all opportunities for improvement and to attack the task like killing (or nurturing) a hundred-headed snake.

The problem, inevitably, is that a focus on “all” opportunities for improvement is basically synonymous with “nothing in particular.” So, when I start a customer-centricity or customer experience improvement initiative with a client company, I suggest they initially limit their scope. You can do the same by keeping your initial focus on the following five areas, each of which has a significant upside once addressed.

1.     Friction and Misery: the aspects of your product, processes, and business model that stand in the way of customers enjoying what you offer.  To discover these, live the customer’s experience to the extent you can: Try to get a response from your company via your own webforms—does anyone respond? (I’ll bet you they don’t, or not in time to help with a buying decision.) Are there barriers getting through your voice jail? Or physically getting into your building? (I call this principle, in fact, “park where your customers park” for this reason.)

Depending on the size of your company, you’ll do well to set technology on the task. Technology such as Eureka from Callminer offers the ability to record all customer conversations and convert the results to text that can be parsed for opportunities and hazards that should be addressed. [A resource for readers: It’s alternatively possible that what’s dragging down your customer experience is cultural. If you want to explore the elements that build a strong customer service culture, here’s a free whitepaper on the “10 Elements of Great Customer Service Cultures.]

2. How you handle customer conflict and disappointment. Many organizations handle the good times just fine, but struggle when faced with frustrated, upset, even angry customers. That’s why every great customer-centric company makes sure to implement a service recovery framework that employees can be trained on before they’re faced (or on the phone with) an upset customer.

Marriott’s service recovery framework spells LEARN; Starbucks’ memorably spells LATTE, and the service recovery framework on which I train my clients spells MAMA (and comes with my promise that if you diligently learn the MAMA method ahead of time, the next time they’re working with an upset customer they won’t feel tempted to fall on the floor in a fetal position and call out, “Mama, help me!”) [Resource for readers: if you’d like a free copy of the MAMA customer service recovery framework, email me at micah@micahsolomon.com and I’ll send it right away.]

3.     Your customer service style, including the language that you use: Service style (or another great word is “texture”) is the small stuff that is easy to overlook: how customers react to finishes, lighting, scents, fontography… everything that is, or isn’t, giving customers the feeling that this is “their” brand.

Above nearly all else, language is a key part of getting this right. In fact, If you haven’t given much thought to selecting your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. Which is why, when I’m consulting with an organization on increasing its customer centricity, one of the first pieces of work I suggest we do together is focus on achieving a consistent and comfortable style of service speech.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.

Happily, ‘‘engineering’’ a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, it can be a relatively easy sell companywide.

4.     The touchpoints that you’re already getting particularly right: Your product or service offering (or, more likely, the way you deliver it) may already be providing your customers with something valuable but close to intangible, like personal recognition, or reassurance, or “wow,” perhaps at junctures whose importance you aren’t even aware of. So, it’s important to keep your ears open for what these important interactions are, so they don’t get overlooked in the next product cycle or the next time we revamp our processes.  (Simple example: Your veteran receptionist—let’s call her Jackie—who seems to know something special about everybody who calls in may be legendary to your customers but seem just like an expense and “inefficiency” to you. Think twice or three times before replacing a customer touchstone like “Jackie” with an IVR.)

5.     Missing elements: You need to discover whether your customers are failing to find everything they need within your available selections, and you need to know if customers are being forced to jury rig your products or processes to be used in ways that we did not intend (which, when noticed, could lead you to design exactly the right product or process).

Also look for would-be attractive offerings that you mistakenly think are front and center and obvious to your prospects and customers but are actually buried either by site design or in a sea of insider jargon.

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