The breakdown: Disjointed internal operations lead to disjointed customer experiences
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By Lauren Drexler, client director, Elicit
From your customer's perspective, your business should run like a well-oiled machine. Too frequently, however, disjointed internal teams, tools and processes lead to negative customer experiences. My own experience over the holidays demonstrates how things can go awry — and how to make them right.
On Black Friday, I stopped into a store to check on a pair of shoes I'd been coveting and they were marked 20 percent off. I asked the sales associate if the sale would change on Cyber Monday. Would I be better off waiting a few days? She assured me it would not. On Cyber Monday, I received an e-mail from the retailer offering 30 percent off any purchase.
Confident the company would refund me the difference, I called customer service. The agent told me they could only address questions or issues with online purchases, and had no visibility or control over any purchases that occurred within one of their 50 nationwide stores. I called the store directly, where the message was similar: the sales associate had no visibility to corporate's promotion calendar and could not issue a refund.
As a customer, I was peeved. As a consultant who has worked with companies large and small, I wasn't surprised. I even empathized with the front-line individuals who feel the brunt of blowback caused by broken internal operations.
The source of the breakdown
There are three (fixable) hot spots where issues often surface and bleed into a negative experience for your customers:
Problems arise when organizations are designed with internal efficiency and not the customer experience in mind. This is common when teams organically develop and grow around specific functions. Within marketing alone, we frequently see companies with separate teams for each channel, product or region. This structure can make sense, but complications occur when coordination is lacking or a clearly articulated customer experience strategy doesn't naturally bridge the teams together.
Fix-It: Aim for consistency. Customers expect a reasonably cohesive experience when they interact with your brand. While they don't assume a store associate will know about their online shopping habits, they rightfully get annoyed when they're hit with ads for items they've already bought or see different prices and promotions across different channels.
Fragmented systems and tools
Companies are rapidly investing in a variety of different tools and technologies to help manage their customer interactions. No vendor, however, has cornered the market on a complete, integrated ecosystem yet. As a result, tools are often populated with different customer segments, variables and communication cadences, leading to a scattered customer communication map.
Fix-It: Hire or develop a marketing technologist whose sole focus is managing your network of marketing systems and tools. If that role doesn't make sense for your business, allow and encourage your vendors to collaborate directly with each other. Too many companies shy away from putting their vendors together in a room, but vendors will typically jump at the chance to work together. It helps them deliver a better outcome for your business, and evolve their products to work more effectively in multi-source environments in the future.
Most companies today are sitting on a pile of customer data. Collecting that data is relatively easy; the challenge is storing and integrating it in a way that makes it easily accessible and usable by your analytics and marketing teams. When customer, product, purchase, web and marketing interaction data are kept in different systems and can't be linked back to an individual customer, it becomes difficult to understand who your customers are and how they behave. This makes it nearly impossible to create a cohesive cross-channel customer experience.
Fix-It: Prioritize. First, make sure you have a solid process for generating and tracking unique customer IDs. Next, create a list of the most important and commonly used attributes for your customers – variables like annual sales, last purchase date, communication preferences and product propensities. Work closely with your analysts and technologists to ensure that these variables are clearly defined, calculated at the individual customer level and made available in your various CRM tools and systems.
My Black Friday experience suggests that the company's structure likely created separation between the online store and brick and mortar teams, or the tools used by the customer service team didn't sync up with purchase data from the in-store POS systems or there wasn't an ID that linked my in-store purchases to my web-generated account. Possibly all three!
Where to begin?
Put yourself in your customers' shoes. Take to a white board and begin mapping out customer journeys. Specifically, start by identifying three things: the most common, most positive and most negative interaction points, and optimize for those. Which teams have an impact on those interactions and are they collaborating on the experience that occurs? Which tools need to be used at that interaction? What types of data are we collecting, and what variables do we need to use, to be effective at that interaction? Once you've identified which parts of the customer experience need to be seamless, you can fix those issues first.
The customer doesn't care how your business operates and they shouldn't have to. If they get exposed to your company's inner workings, it usually means something's gone wrong.