DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, CUSTOMER SERVICE AND CUSTOMER CARE

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By James Bayhack

Customercentricity is not merely a catchy corporate buzzword for the modern business. In fact, the notion is evidenced as far back as the sixteenth century, when King Louis XIV is quoted as saying:  “Everything starts with the customer”. If by this we assume that everything ends with the customer too, then we need to optimise every step of the customer’s journey as he or she travels with your brand.

To be truly customercentric, a company first needs to deliberately place the customer at the centre of its business by being aware of every customer touchpoint going into and out of the organisation. Then you need to have a strategy as to how you are going to entice and enlarge a loyal customer base of brand advocates by keeping them happy at every one of those touchpoints. Business stalwarts like Bill Gates agree that every day we should be assessing and innovating new ways to keep our customers happy.

Customer experience, customer service and customer care are often confused, and while they all contribute to enhancing customer relations, they represent different facets of this critical business issue. Once businesses know the differences between them, they can start to better use them to their advantage.  

Customer Service

Indeed, customer service does begin before the customer even becomes a customer – for instance, when brands give advice on which product or service to choose – but, most importantly, it should be sustainable long beyond the initial sale. Giving assistance to customers on an ongoing basis should include best-practice advice, trouble-shooting any problems and an overall dedication to ensuring that the customer has more than just a satisfactory buying experience.

The Covid-19 outbreak has been a true test of companies’ abilities to raise their customer service at a time of heightened anxiety and lots of questions. Those that quickly adopted new strategies to field new demands and prioritise customer service issues are the ones  that will survive current business rigours and go on to remain relevant in the future. With the unprecedented shift to online operations, certain industries have struggled to keep abreast of consumer queries online and on social media. A recent BrandsEye customer service report cited a 26.6% drop in the customer service response rate across all industries during Covid-19 lockdown. Banks suffered from the largest response rate drop of 39.2%. It will be interesting to see which brands and industries suffered the greatest damage to their reputations because of mismanaged customer service when customers needed it most.

A company that identified communication as a customer service opportunity long before the pandemic struck is the Automobile Association of South Africa. In the unfortunate instance of a break down, their customers have access to an app which gets critical case-related notifications to their customers, assuring them of the progress on their case. The two-way mobile messaging system enables fast access to emergency medical or roadside assistance. By selecting an emergency, using either the “road” or “medical” buttons, users are able to send a panic alert to the AA’s customer care agents. With location services enabled while using the app, time is saved in getting response vehicles to the user, while eliminating the need for them to provide a physical address or location.This is one of many examples of companies using modern technology to enhance human connection and deliver the best service.

Customer Care

Customer care takes customer service to a deeper level. Within this discipline, the emphasis is on how well customers are taken care of while they interact with the brand. An industry that has made great strides in defining and improving customer care is the healthcare industry, particularly in hospitals. Case managers are assigned to patients with the express purpose of listening to their needs, finding solutions and escalating issues for swift resolution. This often results in building an emotional connection during the process, so it is crucial to ensure that the right person with a high emotional quotient is employed for the role.

A recent publication discusses how the South African Ministry of Health has started to deliberately focus its efforts on improving patient-centred care. According to the report, increased attention has been placed on developing health systems that are more patientcentric to allow greater responsiveness to patients’ needs, expectations and preferences. It is evidenced that moving health care organisations towards patient-centric and value-based care trajectories is aligned with evidence that links the use and dissemination of patient data care trajectories across health care organisations to steer patient-driven changes.

Outside of healthcare, establishing and maintaining personal connections with customers in all industries is entirely possible. By investing in the right tools, you can create a single view of each customer, coordinate all conversations with them and engage on one platform. Multichannel solutions allow users to harness the power and efficiency of traditional communication platforms like email, short message service (SMS), voice and popular messaging channels like WhatsApp and Viber to consolidate your digital communication. This enables the perfect flow of customer care for every single customer via the communication channel they prefer most.

Customer Experience

Customer experience is typically the sum of how you make the customers feel throughout their entire journey with you. Interestingly, business focus has certainly shifted to competing for customers based on experience, rather than price or quality. Failings in the latter two will often be overlooked if you listen to the voice of your customer and deliver accordingly. In this way, the result of good and bad customer experience is intrinsically linked to the company’s bottom line. Because this informs the customer’s lasting impression of you, customer experience is closely linked to brand reputation. If your customer has a good experience with your brand, product, or service and the people representing or delivering it, they’ll tell one friend (87% of the time); but if you’re bad, they’ll tell three friends (95% of the time).

To match and exceed customers’ expectations and provide them with a great experience, you need to be where your customers are.  Instead of making it difficult for customers   to come to you by forcing them to download apps or use platforms they are unfamiliar with, businesses can leverage the channels that customers (and potential customers) are already using. This makes it much easier for customers to interact with and purchase from your company and they’re more likely to have a good experience when doing so.

Instead of leaving your customers’ experience to chance, you would be well-advised to empower your team with the tools to accelerate and automate the customer journey with personalised and relevant communication that boosts their overall experience with your brand. A mobile marketing platform can help you do this. A great platform combines customer data from several sources, enables personalised communication and empowers support agents with powerful multi-channel chat and voice solutions. This will give you a 360° view of each customer and allow you to maximise engagement with targeted communication.

In summary, customer service, customer care and customer experience are three critical ingredients of the coveted customer satisfaction cake. Without them, you won’t have happy and loyal customers that keep coming back for more. Luckily, smart technology exists to help businesses provide excellent care, service and experience, so there is no excuse not to prioritise your customers.

The writer is the Sub-Saharan Africa Director, CM.com

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