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Customer Loyalty – Marrying Ease With Humanity

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The following is a guest piece by New York Times best-selling author Joseph Michelli.

Look no farther than your smart phone and you will see what your customers really want today!

They seek, and have come to expect, companies will make their lives easier and provide technological solutions that enable them to do business with you “on their terms” and in the context of their busy lives.

As such, we are all in the business of delivering “ease!” Back in high school, the last word most of us wanted attached to our personal brand was that we were “easy”; however, in business today that is a badge of honor!

If, heaven forbid, your company is difficult to do business with or if you require your customers to exert substantial effort, those customers have a world wide web of other options and the ability to expeditiously write scathing online reviews.

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review foreshadowed the emerging consumer hunger for “easy interactions” by publishing an article titled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”. In it, researchers showed that the more effort customers expended to get their needs met, the less likely they were to repurchase and the less money they were likely to spend with a brand.

Put simply, the easier it is for your customers to shop, buy, receive service, and execute returns, the more likely they are to stay loyal and spend money with you.

As such, I have been encouraging clients with whom I consult to ask their customers to assess the effort required to get their needs met across the brand journey.

More importantly, companies like Mercedes-Benz USA (with whom I have worked and written about in my latest book “Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way“) focus on making the life of customers easy by empowering staff members, streamlining processes and strategically deploying technology.

One example of this is Mercedes-Benz USA’s “Digital Service Drive.”

Before Digital Service Drive, most dealers purported to have “online-scheduling.” However, in some cases, that was nothing more than posting the service department phone number on the dealership website so customers could then call and make an appointment – not a particularly easy set of hurdles to jump if you are the customer.

By contrast, the Digital Service Drive program includes, among other features:

1. True On-line Service Appointment Scheduling – Customers are given the opportunity to schedule service and arrange a courtesy vehicle at any time using a smart device or computer.
2. Service Drive Tablets – iPads and Digital Service Drive technology enables a Service Advisor to complete the write up, vehicle history, walk around, customer information collection, and loaner contract processes, all from the advisor’s tablet. These activities take place in the service drive without the customers having to leave their vehicles.
3. Status notification automatically sent via customer-preferred method – The customer receives updates on the service process and a summary of the work being completed in easy-to-understand language.
4. Online Bill Pay – This feature enables customers to use their mobile devices to make self-service payments by delivering final parts and service invoices via text and email. It also allows customers to pay anywhere and anytime that is convenient to them. No need standing in line to pay after you talk to a service advisor!

From a dealer’s perspective, Digital Service Drive results in greater customer engagement by providing choice and cutting-edge tools that project a professional image for the dealership. From the customer’s vantage point, the Digital Service Drive simply means ease, convenience, and more productive use of time at the dealership.

But wait, didn’t I suggest that customer loyalty involves a marriage of some sort?

Ease without human warmth in service delivery is only part of the recipe required for high levels of customer engagement.

So let’s take a look at one way leaders at Mercedes-Benz USA sought to increase care and compassion at it’s dealerships through a training program referred to as LEAD. That training was rolled out across the entire MBUSA network including corporate personnel, dealership staff, and even those working in a sister company Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.

LEAD is an acronym for 4 elements essential for driving customer “delight” at MBUSA. (Delight is what executives at Mercedes-Benz have defined as the desired customer emotion.) In essence, LEAD stands for the following:

Listen
Empathize
Add value
Delight

Here are key learnings associated with each of these concepts:

1. Listen
Business author Steven Covey noted, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Listening to understand is the foundation of customer experience excellence.

Listening is an active process of clarification and summarization. It requires lots of questions and statements like, “Can you tell me more?” “Let me make sure I understand,” and “When did the problem start?”

2. Empathize
While listening is an “intellectual” process of comprehension, empathizing involves “emotionally” understanding another person. It typically requires a willingness to hypothesize about the likely emotional experience of another.

It also is an opportunity to connect with customers prior to addressing their needs or preferences. It often involves phrases like, “I can imagine you might be feeling,” or “Wow, that probably was frustrating.”

3. Add value
Since customers are surrounded by technology in their quest for effortless brand relationship, our team members need to deliver something that technology simply can’t. While technology tools can make our life easier, help us gain information with a push of a button, and keep us connected in a virtual sense, they can’t replace the need for human contact.

When customers opt to be served by a human (for example, passing up self-service on the web to reach out to a company’s call center or passing up an ATM to be served by a teller), those customers look for people who can do things that automation simply can’t.

They are looking for people to “add value” by resourcefully offering expertise or options beyond what fixed computer programs or algorithms can offer. When we share stories of customer experience excellence, we instruct and inspire team members to deliver added value.

4. Delight
Solid service brands remove pain points for their customers. They “get service right” and “make things right” when there are those occasional breakdowns in product or service delivery. By contrast, outstanding customer experience providers do all the things solid service brands do AND forge strong emotional connections with customers.

Those connections build customer loyalty and referrals. Customers often talk about brand connections by suggesting they are “delighted” or “wowed.” So what is “wow” or “delight?” It is exceeding customer expectations in small and large ways!

It is demonstrating to customers that you not only care “for” them through service excellence but also care “about” them through your personal interest, thoughtfulness, compassion, and concern for their needs, well-being, and future.

Technology that reduces customer effort and customer experience training programs are not one-time propositions! They must be prominent and ongoing components of your company’s culture and consistent strategies. For example, at Mercedes-Benz USA, LEAD is a recurring and evolving training offering and technology is constantly championed in the context of respecting customers’ time.

I wish you good fortune as you marry easy and warmly human service delivery. In so doing, you will be Driven to Delight every customer, every time – no excuses!

Joseph A Michelli, PhD, CSP, is an internationally sought-after speaker, business consultant, and New York Times No 1 best-selling author. His latest book is “Driven To Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way“.  To learn more about Joseph’s books and his services, visit his website at www.josephmichelli.com.


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