Do you have a team that provides support to your customers? If you do, you must focus your time and energy on delivering a fantastic customer experience.
After all, your existing customers are the best marketing tool to have in your kitty. But they won’t spread the word about you for no reason. They must love the experience you provide. That includes the time they call you, chat with you, or send you an email.
Most organizations look at acquiring customers through various possible avenues. Only a few companies understand that existing customers are the best salesmen who do not even need to be paid. They pay you instead. How cool is that?
Many businesses fail to understand the potential of their existing customer base and ignore the importance of providing excellent customer service.
Marginal gains deliver long-term results
During our latest business venture, we had to provide support to our customers online, over chat, and email. Customers considered the quality of our support below average. We had never bothered to check how good or bad we were. When the lousy experience started hurting our image, it dawned upon us that we needed to change.
To fix the problem, we tried introducing massive changes like:
- Intensive training
- Expensive tools
- Exhaustive knowledge base
Six months later, the customers still complained. The changes had caused a short-lived improvement in the ratings, but we still hadn’t provided a better experience to our users.
At that point, I came across a technique called the marginal gains. British cycling coach Dave Brailsford used the method to achieve unbelievable results.
When Brailsford started, Great Britain had won 1 medal in the past 100 years. In the next decade, they went on to completely dominate world cycling. From 2007 to 2017, they won over 150 world championships, brought home over 60 Olympic Gold Medals, and bagged the Tour De France 5 times.
Brailsford must have used a complicated method to achieve such phenomenal results, right? Absolutely not. His approach was dead simple. All the team did was aim for small improvements every day. Here are some examples:
- They tried a wide range of massage gels for the best muscle recovery
- They hired a surgeon to teach the sportsmen how to wash their hands to avoid a cold
- They handpicked pillows and mattresses for optimal sleep
- The chef had to account for the ingredients used while cooking
- They painted the floors white to notice any specks of dust which could hamper bike maintenance
While each change seems insignificant by itself, the long term results added up to produce a compound effect. Many other coaches have used the same technique to achieve mindblowing results. You can read the complete guide on the marginal gains technique here.
I decided to apply the same technique to improve our customer experience for six months. Here is how we went about the process:
The leaders of the relevant teams met each week to discuss ideas.
We gathered all forms of input we received from the users. We compiled data of all ratings we received on tickets, the results of the surveys we sent out, any complaints we received over the website, and the direct input received from the sales and marketing folks.
We started analyzing every little piece of feedback we received. Every two weeks, we met with the team which interacted with customers to discuss and agree upon action items.
Our analysis started simple. We looked at all the worst feedback we had, dug into chats and emails to figure out what had caused the bad experience.
In most cases, the reason was glaringly obvious. The common causes for awful experience were:
- Slow response
- Customers needing to follow up to get a reply
- Failing to understand the user’s problem
When we realized our goof-ups, finding improvements was simple. It was less laborious and pricey than the other methods we had tried before.
By incorporating small changes to fix our issues, the number of negative ratings decreased by over 70% in 2 months.
Two months into the marginal gains approach, we started looking at tickets with an average rating. Finding what went wrong was not as easy as it was in phase 1, but we identified improvements nevertheless. When we failed to narrow down the exact reason, we agreed upon a possible cause and moved ahead.
In this phase, we also started working on other minor improvements. For example, we started acknowledging tickets with a human response instead of waiting for a solution to reply. We introduced a process to prevent new team members from handling sophisticated tickets to avoid the understanding problem.
Like the first two months, the changes were simple and easy to implement. Nobody in the team felt uncomfortable executing those changes.
Four months since we started the continuous improvement method, we had fewer poor and medium ratings while our positive ratings had risen.
In any support environment, satisfied customers usually do not leave a rating or feedback. So, we started analyzing all the positive ratings we received. We identified what actions from the team members made a customer happy. We put together all the right behavior and shared pointers with the team as learning lessons.
Some of the changes we made during this phase were:
- Thanking customers whenever appropriate
- Providing an update about the action taken even if we did not have a solution
- Initiating a separate conversation with people who had a bad experience
Now, because of all the recent improvements, we barely had any blatant mistakes to analyze during our meetings. We started using the time to make our approach more proactive.
We analyzed problems we could prevent so that a customer never had to reach out to us. Monitoring systems were put in place to alert us about a problem before any user felt an impact.
Six months after we started, we did not have a single poor rating in a whole month. We had a couple of average ratings, but the rest were all positive.
Today, we are no longer trying to increase our average ratings. We are now aiming for a goal of pre-empting most problems so that fewer customers have to reach us to report anything at all. A year back, I would have laughed at such an ambitious goal, but now we truly believe that we are capable of achieving it in another six months.
The Lessons We Learned From The Experience:
1. Customer experience is a long term team game
You cannot change what your users are experiencing in a week or two. Even if you implement drastic changes successfully, your customers will take a while to digest and notice the difference, especially if you provided a bad experience before.
One experienced leader cannot single-handedly change things upside down either. The whole team must agree on the idea, contribute suggestions, and be on the lookout for improvement. If you introduce changes which the team members do not agree with, the better ratings will be short-lived. People will go back to their old habits in no time.
Aim for the long haul and ensure your team members are equal contributors towards continuous improvement.
2. Little changes matter more than the massive ones
When it comes to improving the experience, you won’t find one single Eureka moment, where everything switched from negative to positive. The little changes contribute over the long run for your results.
Significant changes are uncomfortable for the team members and hard to follow as well. If you introduce minor improvements, no one in your team will feel a pinch. You may not notice the results immediately. You must trust the process, enjoy the journey, and wait for the payoff.
It took us six months, but the time it takes you will depend on your circumstances, user base, team size, changes required, and so on.
3. Consistency is the key
People remember the bad experience more than good ones. Therefore, you have to ensure that your best practices are habits and not a checklist to follow. Whenever you introduce a change, you must keep a close eye to notice any lapses.
Sure, on some random occasion, one team member will goof up, and you cannot prevent that. But if you do not catch that error, you will find more of your team members making similar mistakes.
You can take longer to implement improvements if you like. But all team members must follow any change you introduce consistently over the long term. If not, it can create a worse experience.
The marginal gains technique has been used in various industries to achieve great results. Improving customer experience is one area where this method has never been spoken about despite having tremendous potential.
No matter what kind of customers you deal with, you can use the same approach. I can outline the method in 3 steps:
- Correct your terrible mistakes with interactions first
- Focus on the other areas which are impacting the experience
- Identify ways to spot problems before your customer does
Try this for a year, and I can guarantee you that your customers will sing the praises of your customer service.