I often tell the story of never planning to build a career in this space – when I began at Field Technologies, I intended it to be a transitional step in my journey. Life unfolded as it does, and for many reasons this world of field service and service industries became my career – and my passion. Part of that is because as I dug in circa 2008, we were at the beginning of a very intriguing evolution. This was when organizations began talking more about the focus on customer experience; the early days of seeing service as a potential source of differentiation and profits.
It’s been incredibly interesting to me to see this journey unfold, for various companies across industries and across the globe. The reality, some years later, is that while the focus on customer experience and customer satisfaction has become the forefront of focus for just about every service-based business, there exists a gap between the focus and the impact. The effort is there, but the outcome often isn’t.
IFS recently sponsored a global study of more than 1,700 executives and 12,500 consumers titled “Fixing the fundamentals: Understanding new business models and opportunities in the wake of Covid-19” to examine this topic and how, in many instances, the gap that exists has been exacerbated by the pandemic. IFS CEO Darren Roos states in the opening of the findings, “Long before the pandemic, the ‘Amazon effect’ had revolutionized customer expectations for speed and consistency. But now, companies in industries ranging from paint manufacturing to air travel are finding the pandemic has made both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) customers even more demanding.”
The study reveals that “although some 79 percent of organizations are investing the time and resources to identify where each inflection point is, nearly a third (29 percent) admitted that they report problems but don’t act. A further 18 percent said they are too busy to report an issue unless urgent, while 38 percent of respondents only act when it is urgently required. In fact, only 14 percent said that they are proactively planning for problem prevention across their customer inflection points.”
So, while organizations collectively realize the criticality of customer focus, and are likely actively investing in improving in this area, they are struggling to take action besides times in which it is urgent. And we know the cost of customer neglect. The study reports that 26 percent of respondents would be unlikely to engage with a brand after just one negative experience. Further, according to the study, “some 30 percent of businesses see product/service quality as the single largest determining factor for winning or losing customers, while 25 percent feel success hinges on product/service reliability. By tackling issues with internal processes, enterprises can directly improve both product/service quality and product/service reliability—yet many are still not joining the dots.”
As I read this research, I began to think to myself – why are we struggling so much with moving from reactive to proactive when it comes to the customer experience? It brought to mind three particular areas of conversation among my interviews that I think are playing a big role in the gap that exists within this study and beyond between customer focus and customer impact.
Organizational Siloes Kill Customer Satisfaction
The first is that many companies have yet to achieve the level of operational alignment and collaboration that is key to the streamlined, simple experience customers are looking for. Many efforts underway exist in a particular function and can be disconnected from the larger strategy of the organization. While this can result in some incremental improvement, the siloed approach can never achieve the ultimate desired customer outcome. In order to create success with customer focus, it needs to be a company-wide initiative, focus, and effort. There must be overarching goals for which each function is aware, in agreement, and measured upon. Regular, cross-functional examination of customer efforts and satisfaction needs to occur, and actions assigned with accountability for completion. I think a big part of why the issues identified aren’t addressed until they are urgent is because without a cohesive approach, ownership and accountability isn’t clear and therefor issues that aren’t urgent are easily overlooked or fall prey to “passing the buck.”
Modern Technology Fuels the Customer Experience
Another major problem, and stemming from the overall issue of siloes, is that the level of customer experience desired today simply cannot be delivered without the use of modern, cohesive technology. Legacy systems that are decentralized, highly configured, and just plain outdated present far too many failure points in the seamlessness that is critical in today’s landscape. Legacy systems also oftentimes fuel the siloes that we already discussed – without companywide visibility into customer insights, performance, and analytics, it is relatively impossible to achieve the alignment and collaboration necessary to succeed. Standardizing on a modern platform that creates a single source of truth from which the entire organization can operate is a must for closing the gap between customer focus and customer impact. And customers know this – they are well aware of the sophistication of technology that exists today based on its use in their personal lives, so their tolerance for outdated technology from service providers is increasingly nonexistent.
Customer Focus Isn’t Represented in Employee Compensation
Finally, while the mission to improve customer experience is clear for most companies, in many it hasn’t yet been reflected in how employees are motivated and compensated. In field service, for instance, technicians who have historically been urged to increase number of jobs per day have a driving force that is at odds (in many cases) with allowing them the time and empowerment to provide a positive customer experience. Examining how the performance of each function, again companywide, is measured and incentivized and ensuring that is aligned with the customer-centric objectives you have is another crucial aspect of ensuring you have overall consistency in your quest for customer success.
I’m quite sure these three issues are not the only challenges that exist within the gap between intent and impact, but they are three that come up quite often. While both research and conversations prove that intentions are good when it comes to the topic of customer centricity, we need to work toward a more proactive versus reactive approach – and I do believe these three categories are a very good place to start.