Arguably the best differentiator for companies in today’s competitive and, for many industries, an increasingly commoditized marketplace, is to deliver exceptional, memorable customer experiences. Done well, stellar service can build customer loyalty, boosting retention rates, market share and new business referrals, agreed CEOs gathered for a recent roundtable discussion sponsored by Chief Executive and Walker Information.
At the same time, providing exceptional experiences isn’t always as easy as it sounds. “How to know what consumers really want is one challenge,” pointed out Alfredo Timermans del Olmo of Telefonica Internacional USA. “Because sometimes they lie. They tell you, ‘What I love is a great price,’ but then you change the price and they don’t respond the way you expected.”
OrthoNet CEO Roger Shedlin is addressing that issue by seeking ways to quantify the service equation. “It’s a little hard in the healthcare space, but we look for ways to track how we’re doing,” he reported. “Renewal rates are one metric, but we’re trying to dig down in the areas of provider abrasion and insured friction to identify and measure the pain points for our customers.”
At a time when a massive amount of information is increasingly available, companies able to collect and analyze data to predict, rather than respond to, customer needs will have an edge in the service game. “The question is, what is the next generation of innovation and features that we will bring to the customer?” said Patrick Dempsey, CEO of Barnes Group, whose company recently began serving end-consumers in addition to providing parts to industrial manufacturers. “To understand what the [end] customer really would like to see, we’re going very forcefully after that voice of the customer with surveys and through the use of third parties to collect data.”
“Within literally 30 days, I put a new policy in place that there should be a 24-hour turnaround on those financing requests,” said Greig, who reports that by addressing issues like that one by one over time the bank brought its poor customer experience scores into the top 10 percent. “I went into a company that had very bad customer experience and the executive team had to substantially change systems, processes and really just behavior in the field to change that customer experience. Today, we’re viewed as one of the best in the industry.”
To deliver a consistently strong customer experience, companies must extend their efforts across every touchpoint, noted Farooq Kathwari, chairman of the home furnishings design company Ethan Allen. “In our business, you can do a fantastic job, create a terrific product and then, if you don’t do the delivery aspect well, everything is lost,” he said. “Customer service encompasses the entire integrated chain, every element of the business, from the concept of the design through engineering and manufacturing and also the delivery of the product.”