Going frictionless – finding and removing pinch-points and problems to create a hassle-free Customer Experience – is likely to figure highly this year for companies wanting to improve the way they engage with customers.
If you can do this successfully you will differentiate your service, increase customer loyalty, and be better able to withstand market pressure to compete on price.
To ‘do’ frictionless properly you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to identify all of the ways you could save them time, effort, and inconvenience when they interact with your organisation.
Take the example of renewing insurance policies. Customers are often deterred from switching suppliers by the thought of applying for alternative insurance quotes, whether by phone or online. Keying information into online forms or repeating it over the phone takes time, so many people simply don’t bother.
If, on the other hand, customers could receive a range of quotes by simply submitting a photo of their latest renewal reminder and then leaving the insurance companies to do the work of extracting the details they need from the document, the barrier to switching would be that much lower.
Another common friction is navigating the interactive voice response (IVR) systems used by many companies. They’re often slow and cumbersome, with too many options to listen to. When customers eventually get through to the right department, they are already irritated and there’s little the agent can do to make them feel better; the damage is already done.
This is where artificial intelligence bots are helping to erode friction. Using natural language processing to understand the nature of customer queries, a bot can intelligently route you to the right department or agent – or even answer simple questions itself. The best are so convincing that it’s hard to tell they’re not human.
However, transforming the current way of doing things requires care in order to avoid creating fresh problems – friction, even – in new areas. Much of the challenge is about introducing automation in a way that complements and enhances the customer’s preferred way of interacting with you.
With this in mind, here are three important considerations for anyone developing a frictionless Customer Experience strategy.
1. Don’t lose the human touch
While automation and self-service can remove friction by reducing the number of steps in a process, they also reduce human contact and can therefore distance a company from its customers. If customers never have to interact with a real person it becomes harder to make a connection, build a relationship or demonstrate softer brand values such as caring for customers.
As the number of human interactions falls it becomes vital to make each one really count. When customers phone the contact centre, for example, it’s an opportunity to impress them with how much you know about them and their previous interactions with your company.
If contact centre agents have access to a single customer view, including a history of all communications, correspondence and transactions between your company and each individual you are dealing with, it allows them to provide a more proactive, personal service without the customer having to explain themselves.
If the customer has been having a chat conversation, agents should be aware of it and have access to a transcript so they can pick up exactly where the customer left off. Likewise, if the customer is awaiting a delivery or has lodged a complaint, the agent should have all relevant information to hand.
If customers see a company as a faceless enterprise treating all customers the same, it is easy for them to be wooed away by competing offers. Think about how you can use automation to support human interaction, not just to reduce it.
2. Retain flexibility to go beyond the ordinary
A company’s strongest customer advocates tend to arise from situations where it has successfully dealt with unusual customer requirements, or exceeded customer expectations by going beyond the call of duty. However, automation often involves creating standardised ways of doing things, which has the potential to inhibit creativity and work against staff using their initiative to handle exceptions and special requests.
So in any process it’s important to build in flexibility that allows staff to break out and do things differently when required. This requires a combination of the right culture, training and technology. Culturally, it’s about giving customer-facing staff permission to use their own initiative, and rewarding them for the right things – like great customer feedback.
It is also about focusing on policies and values, rather than strict rules. Amazon is a good example: customers know it is easy to cancel or return orders, even if the official return or cancellation conditions have not been strictly fulfilled and this is one of the reasons many customers keep coming back.
Training needs to focus on knowledge and empowerment. One head of customer service told me she recruits agents for personality and has no scripts. Agents are told to own the problem; calls are never transferred. Agents use humour and personality and tailor their approach to satisfy each individual customer. Feedback from customers is used positively, for learning and development.
Technology should be used to share knowledge, and allow staff to engage with customers using any channel the customer prefers.
3. Remember: friction is in the eye of the beholder
One person’s friction could be another person’s convenient or pleasant way of doing things.
Friction is not an objective concept. Take going to the bank to transfer money rather than doing it online, for example. Some customers may prefer the security of handing over money to a real person, despite the speed and apparent convenience of internet banking.
Another example is online billing. While we all know the benefits of online bills and statements (you can check them on a smartphone, they free you from storing pieces of paper, and are more environmentally friendly), some customers still prefer the familiarity of receiving bills on paper. Business customers might still have accounts payable processes geared towards receiving paper invoices, for instance.
The key thing here is to know your customer. Demographics play a big part.
When contemplating removing steps in a process ask yourself: how would customers view the change? Do they all have the right technology at their disposal to take advantage of mobile apps, or geolocation, or QR codes, for example? How will you go about communicating the new process so they see it as a benefit rather than simply a cost-saving exercise for your company?
If possible, offer a choice – early adopters can choose to immediately embrace the new way of doing things, while you allow others to continue operating in the old way until they want to change.
Going frictionless is about giving customers an experience that is as free as possible of the old frustrations like form-filling, waiting on hold, and being passed around departments. To get this right, culture, training, technology and process must all work together to deliver a positive impact. And at the heart of any change there must be empathy.
Only by truly understanding what customers need and want can you be sure that the changes you make are for the better.