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Helping Those Who Help Themselves

By Geoff Galat
Nov 1, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Online consumers are more demanding than ever. They have little, if any, tolerance for website issues, poor site design or longer-than-necessary processes. For organizations with e-commerce channels, this leaves little margin for error. In fact, research indicates that when saddled with an unsatisfying online experience, visitors are likely to abandon their transactions and take their business elsewhere.

Helping Those Who Help Themselves

Despite these daunting conditions, businesses are increasingly moving to online self-service applications. Offering the potential for significant cost savings, online self-service can also help to set a competitive edge.

For instance, think of the bank that lets its customers deposit a check by simply taking a picture from an iPhone. Great, you'll never have to set foot in a bank again! However, remember that customer-facing applications are only as beneficial as the customers themselves deem them to be. Without a healthy understanding of how customers behave online, self-service can be a perilous undertaking.

So the question becomes how to get a clear picture of customer behaviors and proactively identify customer issues. This is where customer experience management, or CEM, comes into play.

Defining Customer Experience

Joseph Pine and James Gilmore first defined the concept of "customer experience" in a seminal Harvard Business Review article, "Welcome to the Experience Economy." They wrote that successful organizations encourage sales through engaging, authentic experiences that render personal value.

The impact of the customer experience should not be underestimated. Organizations that have increased their investment in CEM over the past three years reported higher customer referral rates and greater customer satisfaction in a 2009 Strativity Group study of more than 860 corporate executives.

Customer perceptions of an organization are built as a result of their interactions across multiple channels, wrote Gartner analysts Ed Thompson and Esteban Kolsky, and a positive customer experience can result in increased share of wallet and repeat business. Now that additional channels -- such as email, online and mobile -- have become mainstream, it's necessary to manage the customer experience across an even broader set of media.

Helping Those Who Help Themselves

The reward of moving to online self-service can be quite high. Do it well -- that is, provide a streamlined and efficient channel providing an experience that's more satisfying than traditional means of customer service -- and you'll increase customer retention and have bragging rights over the competition.

However, launch a self-service channel that's fraught with issues, and you'll spend a lot of time and money trying to win those customers back. Problem is, it's nearly impossible to catch all the things that can cause customers to struggle on your site.

Web analytics might show that, say, conversion rates have plummeted, but they don't show why this has happened. To understand the why part, you'll need accurate information on customer behaviors. What's more, you'll need it immediately in order to minimize the number of customers impacted by any issues -- and you'll need the information 24/7, because your online channel never sleeps.

CEM Can Be the Difference Maker

Customer-centric organizations are leveraging a new generation of digital analytics tools to optimize their online channels. Voice of Customer, or VoC, solutions provide customers an avenue for delivering timely feedback on their online experiences. On its own, however, this data can be hard to decipher, and it tends to lack the context of the poor experience that prompted the comment.

Another approach is CEM, which captures all the interactions a visitor has with a website -- the pages he saw, the form fields he completed, the inefficiencies that caused him to struggle or even abandon. In doing so, CEM provides not only quantitative data (how many shopping carts were abandoned by Norwegian customers in response to a specific promotion) but also qualitative information (those dissatisfied customers were asked to complete a form that wasn't formatted for Norwegian phone numbers).

CEM shows the "why" -- like why so many customers accessing a self-service application suddenly need help from the contact center. Until you know why things are going wrong, you can't fix the causes of poor customer experience.

By focusing on the customer and not on the channel, you can help customers no matter how they come in -- be it the website, self-service applications, mobile, etc. Additionally, with more detailed analytics across multiple channels, you can focus on improving your self-service channel and make better business decisions.

For example, if a contact center is equipped with CEM, call center reps can immediately understand the website issues that led to calls from frustrated site visitors, enabling them to turn poor customer experiences into good ones.

Improving the Online Customer Experience

This can be a complex issue, but here are three basic guidelines for improving the online customer experience:

  1. Gain visibility into customer actions and behaviors -- from the customer's perspective -- across all your online channels;
  2. Create a way for your customers to speak -- and make sure you're listening closely;
  3. Continue innovating around customer preferences such as mobile or online self-service.


Geoff Galat is CMO of Tealeaf.


Salesforce Commerce Solution Guide
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