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Customer Experience

Rethinking CX On The Frontlines Of Brand


Rethinking Customer Experience On The Frontline Of Brands

Brands are quick to identify customer experience as an area of critical success for them. Yet too often those responsible for its delivery lack the authority or the experience to fully act in the interests of those customers.

I’m a huge admirer of frontline teams. They are a key touchstone for the brands they work for and the work they often do is grueling, monotonous and emotionally taxing. They are on the receiving end of customers’ whims and fantasies and yet their reactions and the processes they must use are often tightly controlled and the latitude within which they can make decisions is very small.

It doesn’t make sense to me that brands often assign their most ‘junior’ people to frontline roles or that they make them follow ridiculous lines of procedure that may make sense internally but utterly fail as customer experience parameters. In my mind, if you have to control people to that extent, then the brand has failed on a number of fronts. First of all, it has failed to instill its values to the point where they drive and inspire great behaviors. Secondly, it has failed to attract the right people, because clearly, if they need that many rules, then the only implication is that they cannot be trusted. Thirdly, if frontline staff are not in a position to respond in a human way to the situations they face, then every customer experience is cursory at best. Finally, if frontline people are trained to approach physical, digital and voice interactions as separate disciplines without an agreed over-riding brand philosophy, they will only ever do what the policy says they must and they will run each interaction within prescribed and silo-ed guidelines.

All of this accounts for what is known as the “customer expectation paradox”. Customer wants have accelerated as technology has changed the pace of daily life, so they naturally are looking for everything to be faster, easier, simpler, more available. Yet, increasingly, they expect to be frustrated – and the reason they have that expectation is because of the experiences they have received historically. There’s the disconnect: they want more (in fact, many believe they are entitled to it) and at the same time they believe that their chances of that happening are getting smaller by the day. So the opportunities to ‘delight’ are harder to generate and the interactions are becoming more negatively charged as customers approach frontline with a schema that pigeon-holes them as unhelpful until proven otherwise.

There is no single answer to this dilemma. But it seems to me that the current approach is locked into a failure spiral that will affect brand profitability and frustrate a lot of people along the way. As consumers increasingly use mobile technology to self-serve and pre-select, the role of frontline is changing from one steeped in reactive answers and awkward sales processes to one that revolves around logistics, conflict resolution and proactive help based on big and little data insights. And that, it strikes me, is a very different set of skills than ‘someone to answer the phone’ or ‘to talk to at the counter’.

If brands are to continue to prove their worth to picky customers in crowded markets, then simply upskilling people in changing technology and changes in the regulatory environment will not shift the preference dial at all, nor will it solve the paradox I alluded to earlier. Instead, brands need to be thinking about how they can hire people for their hospitality skills, train them in mediation and negotiation, provide them with deeply human processes and procedures, encourage them to see the purpose and the values as their principal accountabilities, give them the greatest degree of latitude possible (in other words, start with what’s possible, not what’s permitted) and provide them with career tracks that make that investment worth it.

Brands now know more about their customers than they ever have. But all that information is just pointless datasets unless they are prepared to do something good with it. The reality is this. For all the talk about social and engagement, too many businesses still have brands that customers don’t want to talk to or that they don’t feel they can. That’s not good for business.

The Blake Project Can Help: The Customer Experience Workshop

Become A Better Marketer. Build A Stronger Brand. Join us for The Un-Conference: 360 Degrees of Brand Strategy for a Changing World, May 2-4, 2016 in San Diego, California. A fun, competitive-learning experience reserved for 50 marketing oriented leaders and professionals.

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Ed Roach
Twitter: edroachbranding
on February 27th, 2016 said

Derrick it’s been my experience that a lot of companies don’t properly educate the frontline staff as to what the anticipated CX actually is. Many are left to their own devices with only a hint of direction. I believe many brands treat the frontline as the dumping ground for confused behaviour.

A good example of this and a pet peeve of mine is shopping in person at a store (touting superior customer service) and once at the till, interrupting the closing of the sale to answer the phone and proceeding to help THAT customer while leaving me in a holding pattern.

When I complain – their answer – is that it’s company policy to not immediately help that potential customer on the phone all while ignoring the bird in the hand at that moment.

Many brands love the concept buy not the execution of CX – it doesn’t have to be difficult.

    Mark Di Somma
    Twitter: markdisomma
    on February 29th, 2016 said

    Perfect example Ed. I agree with you entirely that it’s a lot easier to talk about delivering an experience than to actually do it. And online, many are indeed “left to their own devices” in every sense. Thanks for sharing.

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