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Customer experience management gives Dell, AmEx an edge

See how American Express and Dell turned around their customer satisfaction ratings by applying customer experience management (CEM) principles.

To be truly successful in customer experience management (CEM), companies must know what their customers care about and design their business to deliver. First call resolution is widely accepted as the ultimate service metric. More important than measuring customer service is managing what enables it.

Regardless of the channels they use, customers expect companies to acknowledge a full history of interactions, readily understand the context of their plight and provide a prompt solution. Companies following CEM technology best practices regularly test their assumptions about their customers’ perceptions and expectations and orchestrate their strategies accordingly.

American Express ‘hires the will, teaches the skill’

American Express Co. reinvented its customer service by focusing on what the customer thinks, according to Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.  A Net Promoter Score metric, along with satisfaction ratings, is tied to compensation for everyone from front-line employees to senior executives. These tools replaced traditional service metrics and internal quality monitoring.

The credit card provider applies positive customer feedback to future calls, which are viewed as opportunities to build relationships and create lasting emotional connections with customers. These calls help customers access unused benefits from their existing credit card (but it’s not necessarily an up-sell to a different card).

Negative customer feedback is used to follow up with customers to learn how to better understand and address their concerns. This feedback acts as a teaching tool that customer care professionals can learn from. Integrated customer data and contextual cues eliminate the need to access multiple screens during a call, and the virtual service center is continuously improving customer-centric navigation and ease of use.

American Express shifted from hiring people with call center experience to “hiring the will and teaching the skill,” with a professional development path to advance employees’ careers in the company. Training focus is 30% technical and 70% on active listening. The ideal interaction involves an assessment of the customer’s mood, understanding the reason behind the call, unscripted conversation and a description of existing features that the customer might be unaware of or unsure how to use . The customer decides how long she wants to spend on the call and agents determine their own schedules.

These practices led to an average increase of more than 10% in “Recommend to a Friend” scores and an 8%-10% lift in customer spend, as well as a 50% drop in employee attrition and a 10% increase in service margins. Since adopting these methods, American Express has topped the J.D. Power and Forrester rankings for credit card providers, and it has been listed among the BusinessWeek Customer Service Champs.

Dell revamps its CEM technology strategy

Dell also reinvented its customer service with an unrelenting focus on the customer. The company had invested in technologies during the 1990s to listen to and communicate with customers. However, it found that technology is necessary but insufficient, as negative customer sentiment peaked in 2005. The Direct2Dell blog and IdeaStorm suggestion system opened dialogue between customers and senior management.

Executives also asked front-line employees to notify them of “dumb things we do” and involved employees companywide in focusing on customers. To help customers find the right content at the right time, workflow was transformed across 13 billion Web pages in 26 languages.

For the 150 countries serving Dell customers, content can be readily coordinated with product launch delays and other changes. Content is rapidly deployed within the context of the website, using rich content editing and review tools and system-based workflows for collaboration and approval.

User experience has greatly improved, with easier browsing, minimal broken links and dynamic search. In redesigning workflow, Dell conducted extensive customer studies to ensure effectiveness of the site and its benefits from the customer perspective.

Focus on customer service expectations

Knowing what customers expect from their support experiences is essential. One leading software maker directed customers to request refunds through self-service on its website. It discovered that this was actually escalating customer dissatisfaction, as the majority of customers really wanted verbal confirmation from a live person for refund situations.

Now in the process of retooling its workflow, the company learned the expensive way that assumptions should always be tested across the customer’s end-to-end experience. Testing all channels from a customer’s point of view may provide valuable insights and empathy, but remember that different types of customers have different perspectives as well.

Customer experience leaders such as American Express and Dell view service as an opportunity center rather than a cost center.

“It’s easy to make the case that large call centers have customer influence on par with, if not greater than, that of mass advertising campaigns,” said Kerry Bodine, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

“Assuming a call center with 3,000 agents and an average of only 50 calls per agent per day, a company has the opportunity to make 1.05 million personal connections each week—and 54.6 million each year.”

Expanding those figures to all multichannel service touchpoints provides organizations with a more accurate estimate of personal connection opportunities. Remember that only a fraction of the people exposed to an ad campaign eventually produce revenue for the company, whereas the vast majority of people accessing its services are already producing revenue.

Customer experience stands out when technology, people and processes cater to what customers are trying to accomplish in the larger context of using a product or service. There’s no substitute for a deep understanding of the customer’s world and the reasons behind her viewpoints in a company’s quest to optimize the customer experience.


Lynn Hunsaker leads ClearAction customer experience management (CEM) consulting, and has led CEM programs in Fortune 250 companies since 1989. She is on the Advisory Boards of CustomerThink, The Customer Care Network, Marketing Operations Partners and Customer Experience One.

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