These days, customer interactions rarely begin and end with a sale. Consumers have become more brand-focused, viewing their buying decisions as lifestyle choices, and the prevalence of social networking sites have made giving negative reviews as easy as pressing send. In light of this, maintaining customer loyalty is more important than ever.
Customer experience management (CEM) software can bridge communication gaps between companies and consumers, letting companies instantly reach out and make personal connections with consumers and, in turn, creating more happy and devoted customers.
What is customer experience management?
Customer experience management refers to the systems and strategies used to oversee the entire customer lifecycle -- that is, the steps involved in someone becoming and remaining a customer. These steps typically encompass considering, purchasing and using the product and -- if the customer is satisfied -- continued loyalty and patronage.
When CEM is used correctly, it improves the dialogue between consumer and company. Ideally, this leads to higher customer satisfaction and a greater chance of creating a repeat customer. The customer experience was once limited to interactions such as product purchasing, customer service requests and call center conversations. Today, CEM must also take into account the power of social networking for customer service. As more consumers take to Facebook and Twitter to voice their satisfaction and air their grievances, CEM strategies must take into account every type of potential customer interaction to be successful.
OK, so what does a strong CEM strategy look like?
The No. 1 rule of CEM is: Make the entire experience as easy and stress-free for customers as possible. The communication between company and customers should feel seamless on both ends and should never feel like a hassle to customers. It's also important that customers feel their specific needs are being met. Sometimes, that leads to some very creative approaches.
Coca-Cola, for example, has reportedly boosted customer satisfaction with its Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, which allows users to mix their own beverage recipe from more than 100 combinations, according to Denis Pombriant, CEO of Beagle Research Group. Users can even scan their recipes with their smartphones for later use at other machines. What Coca-Cola did right, Pombriant said, was to listen to what its customers are interested in -- namely, customization and integration of their purchases with their personal technology -- and respond accordingly. This sort of initiative not only enhances the correlation between customer needs and company services, but it shows consumers that the company is hip to new technology and able to adapt to changing markets.
How important is social media to CEM?
Today's consumers are greatly attached to their smartphones and to the social networks that allow them to express their opinions. Ignoring this reality would be a poor CEM strategy, cautions Paul Greenberg, president of CRM consulting firm The 56 Group. "Customers now have the chance to make their feelings known," he said. "That's scary for businesses, but it's also a huge opportunity."
Corporate social media accounts give companies the chance to make their products not just purchases, but experiences. The success of these experiences can be measured by the Net Promoter Score, or NPS. According to Pombriant, NPS is a numerical measurement of "whether the customer would recommend a business, its products and services to friends and family." To calculate this number, he suggested, use the highest-ranking scores from customers -- generally a 9 or 10 out of 10 -- and subtract all other lower scores. High NPS scores are, of course, very desirable, and social media can be a way to turn scores around quickly.
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Companies that are skilled at managing profiles on Twitter and Facebook have a greater chance of connecting directly with customers and providing the feeling of personalized service that is so often lost in the busyness of a call center. This is a double-sided coin, however. Today's CEM requires putting the right people at the helm of social media accounts, as well as in customer service. An inappropriate Tweet or a poorly worded Facebook status can instantly become a public relations nightmare, so make sure that social media staff understands what does and doesn't fit into the organization's ideal CEM model.
How should CEM be measured and monitored?
Any business strategy is only as useful as the data collected from it, and CEM is no exception. The most important step to take before launching a new CEM initiative is to set goals ahead of time. What aspects of customer experience interactions will you be measuring? What are your metric guidelines? What will success look like from a data perspective?
Companies can assign customer ambassadors to make sure that CEM standards are being met in all customer interactions. A few useful applications for measuring CEM are Alexa for tracking site visitors, Google Analytics for looking up search engine trends and hot keywords, and Summize for searching Twitter. Companies can also measure CEM success through more obvious metrics, such as Facebook corporate page "likes," and retweets on Twitter.
Where does the IT department come into play with CEM?
The most important thing an IT department can do to further a CEM strategy is to maintain good communication with the call center. Technical problems in the call center that are not swiftly handled by IT can lead to customer frustration and overall dissatisfaction.
Internal service-level agreements are a great place to start bridging the gap between IT and the call center. Company executives can help shape these agreements, which generally include contact center goals, time frames for how long service requests to IT should take, and an understanding on IT's part of what sort of business change requests constitute emergencies. If IT and the call center can work together to keep things running smoothly internally, that will be reflected to the outside and make for more positive customer call experiences.
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