“Customer Experience is a Journey, Not a Destination.” – A Chat with Annette Franz

This week, we got to talk to customer experience confidant Annette Franz, writer and founder of industry blog CX Journey. As director of VOC Consulting at Confirmit, her job is all about helping companies build positive customer relationships and achieve market success.

Annette took some time out to teach us a thing or two about the world of customer service, such as why its a never-ending process…and why actually, the customer doesn’t always come first…

How did you get started in the customer experience field? When did your career start to take shape?

I guess I’ve thought about a great customer experience all my life. I grew up on a farm, where we raised and sold livestock, which comes with its own lessons around delivering a great experience for your neighbours or your customers, knowing full well that if you do things right, they’ll come back for more. If not, they’ll go elsewhere; their options are not limited.Annette-Franz-CXJourney

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic. I started working in retail jobs when I was 16 and took that work ethic with me then – and every day since then. With that work ethic came a strong sense of doing what’s right and doing the right thing, being kind and respectful, and treating others the way you’d want to be treated were you in their shoes.

I didn’t originally set out on my career path with a mission to evangelize about improving – or to help improve – the customer experience, but I’m happy that that’s the field in which I’ve landed. My career really started to take shape in the early 1990s, when I joined J.D. Power and Associates. I’ve been working on the vendor side of the business since then – except for a year-long stint working at Mattel – both working with clients to listen to the voice of the customer and to transform the voice into action and improvement as well as leading and developing teams of consultants to do the same. I’m currently Director of VOC Consulting at Confirmit, a role that has me wearing many hats, including pre-sales solution consulting; client consulting; developing the strategy and methodology that our consultants use when working with clients, and thought leadership (blogging, speaking, webinars).

What was the inspiration to start up your own blog, CX Journey?

I started CX Journey™ in 2011 as a way to share my learnings and experiences from the last 20+ years – and to continue the crusade to educate others about the importance of the employee experience and the customer experience to the success of a business.

You place a lot of emphasis on the idea that customer experience is a journey and not a destination. What’s the reason behind this belief, and how can this perception help companies deliver a better customer experience?

“Destination” means to me that there’s an endpoint; you’ve arrived, and it’s over. I don’t believe we ever want to rest on our laurels and be satisfied that we’re delivering the best experience possible. Customer needs and expectations evolve over time – so must our efforts to deliver a great experience.

When we engage with customers (or, when they engage with us), we are (hopefully) engaging for the long-term, developing a relationship. We want customer relationships, not just customer transactions. And relationships take time and work, every day; the focus and the desire to keep the relationship alive and strong should never stop because, when it does, the relationship will end. That never-ending focus – that’s the journey.

Along similar lines, every transaction or interaction, when combined, sums up to the total experience. While we need to ensure that we deliver a great experience during each interaction, if one of those interactions breaks down, it doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all. We don’t give up. We work to correct and recover and then do better at the next interaction. That’s the journey.

Those organizations that focus on delivering a great experience at each interaction, at each touchpoint, but don’t lose site of the bigger picture, the journey, will find success.

And finally, the customer experience is the sum of all the experiences along the customer lifecycle, and that lifecycle is often represented as an infinite loop. We want an infinite loop. That’s the journey.

What, in your opinion, are the foundational ingredients of a good customer service experience, at the most basic level?

I believe the foundational ingredients for a good customer service experience include:

Hiring the right people – they have to be people-people; never hire someone who has no desire to serve and to help others.
Training your employees – on-boarding and continuous training not only on your products but also on what it takes to deliver a great customer service experience are key; provide guidelines and set expectations – if they don’t know what it means or how it looks to deliver a great experience, how can they meet your expectations.
Empowering your employees – provide them with the guidelines and set them free to do what you need them to do; lose the script; allow them to speak to customers as humans and make things right on the spot, without question.
Developing a people-centric culture – a culture where employees are engaged and well cared for and where employees understand the importance of doing right by customers and the benefits of delivering a great experience.

As you can see, it’s about the people. If you set up your employees for success, your customers will be happy, and your business, in turn, will reap the benefits.

In today’s consumer market, what do you think is one of the largest problems with regards to delivering customer service?

I think many companies do the bare minimum with regards to delivering customer service: they hire warm bodies to answer the phone or to interact with customers. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions. But I’ve seen and heard my share of customer service calls to know that many businesses don’t necessarily do a good job at any of the things I mentioned in the previous question. Often, they outsource or offshore their call centers and expect that the result will be the same as if they’d have brought the call center in-house and properly trained the staff according to their standards.

Assuming they are hiring the right people, I believe many companies forget that the employee experience comes first, before the customer experience. You must take care of your employees. Employee engagement is not overrated. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.

I’d like to mention one other customer service issue that is quite pervasive, and it’s related to the people issue: consistency from one customer service rep to the next. Why can I call about the same issue twice and get two different answers or two different attitudes (helpful vs. not) of service? While companies can’t fix the attitudes (except to hire for it), they can fix the inconsistent responses: employees need to be trained at the same levels, to the same standards, on an ongoing basis.

Which 3-5 entrepreneurs or business innovators do you think have managed to nail the approach to customer service within their company?

There are more, for sure, but these folks just come to mind first:

Tony Hsieh, Zappos
Naomi Simson, RedBalloon
Tom Feeney, Safelite Glass
Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

If you had to pinpoint just one, which area would you recommend all business owners should invest in for the best effects?

You can never go wrong investing in your employees.

You have a strong belief that if companies take care of their employees, putting them first ahead of the customer, then happy customers will naturally follow. Can you give any example(s) where you have seen this concept in action?

Here are some great examples: Barry-Wehmiller, HCL Technologies, Zappos, Ritz-Carlton, HubSpot, Rackspace, Southwest Airlines.

What companies/brands do you believe are bringing excellent service and experiences home to their customers every single day?

In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, I would add USAA, Ace Hardware, and Auto Club of Southern California. Without a doubt, there are others, but these are a few that are top of mind. I’ve also seen some local brands doing a great job.

 


Annette Franz is currently the director of VOC Consulting at Confirmit, where she consults on VOC and CEM best practices. Through her blog, CX Journey, Annette shares her passion for helping companies understand the importance of the employee experience and its role in delivering an exceptional customer experience, as well as how to transform company cultures to ensure the customer is at the centre of every conversation.

She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP); is CEM Certified, and is a local networking lead for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). She was recently recognized as one of “The 100 Most Influential Tech Women on Twitter” by Business Insider and has been recognized by several organizations as a top influencer in customer experience.