After reading The Human Experience, we interviewed author John Sills to learn his thoughts on what he claims are common myths: customer experience ROI, loyal customers, and customer feedback. But if those cornerstones of current customer experience thinking are all myths, what should the customer experience look like? Meet the 7 customer experience behaviors:
Sills says that these customer experience behaviors outline “what a human customer experience looks like.”
Simply put: can customers get in touch with you? Sills says that being accessible means:
- You’re easy to get in touch with.
- Responsive to customers who contact you.
- Have visible leadership and transparent processes.
Being open and available to your customers is one of the key customer experience behaviors.
“An organizational arrogance has appeared, with customers viewed as an annoyance, leading to the creation of escape-room-esque experiences if they have a problem and need to talk to someone,” Sills writes in The Human Experience.
Here are some of the common ways organizations avoid their customers:
- Hidden customer support phone numbers.
- Unhelpful chatbots that act as gatekeepers.
- Confusing phone menus.
- Social media channels only used for marketing that don’t interact with customers.
- “Do not reply” emails sent to customers.
“The game starts by trying to discover the hidden ‘Contact Us’ details, requires skilful avoidance of the chatbot guard, then needs the secret phone menu code to be cracked, with any failure being met with the devastating ‘you can use our website for this!’ line, immediately terminating the call and sending you back to the start,” Sills writes.
This creates unnecessary stress for your customers. The best organizations are open to their customers and welcome interacting with them.
Octopus Energy, one of the companies Sills cites in the book, give customers access to the CEO from the beginning:
“As soon as a customer joined us, they would get an email from Greg [the CEO] himself, which the customer could reply to and would go straight into his inbox. That very quickly gave us feedback from real humans without the need for any feedback form,” says co-founder Pete Miller in the book.
Up until Octopus Energy had 1 million customers, CEO Greg Jackson answered the emails himself! Now they’re distributed to senior managers, and a named individual answers each one.
Your customers aren’t zombies! Open the door and let them in.
We’ve talked before about consistency in customer service in terms of messaging, but it goes beyond that:
- Does the customer experience match your brand’s promises?
- Is the experience the same regardless of the channel your customer uses to contact you?
- Is the experience consistent throughout the relationship?
“Consistency breeds certainty, something us humans thrive on, reducing stress and worry and allowing us to live more in the present,” Sills writes. Consistency is one of the customer service behaviors that will inspire trust.
Throughout the book, Sills often likens the customer relationship to romantic relationships. In the beginning, there might be flowers, candy, and walks on the beach, and then after a while you’re watching TV every night. It’s the same with companies, who can be very warm during the buying process, only to abandon the customer later.
The challenge for organizations is to consistently offer the same great experience throughout the relationship.
Using the example of Octopus Energy again, they set up their teams so the same CSR can stay with the customer throughout the process:
“We quickly realised we’d lost that magic of someone calling and saying, ‘I was speaking to Harry the other day’ and being able to quickly put Harry on the phone… So we set our teams up so they can look after a customer fully, from start to finish, everything they might need. It means we don’t have to have long and laborious scripts that get rid of all that humanity. Instead, we can just hire great people and let them be themselves.’
Have you ever had an experience like this, from media relations specialist Jamie Douglass in The Human Experience:
“I just went to the local pizza place and tried to use one of their 2-4-1 vouchers, but the guy insisted he could only accept the voucher if you booked the table over the phone. So I went outside and called them. The same guy picked up the phone and conducted the entire conversation 100 percent straight looking at me in the eye through the glass door!”
Companies have to have rules, but—as the saying goes—rules were made to be broken. Good customer service behaviors include doing what it takes to help customers within reason.
Organizations must give front-line workers latitude to bend the rules to solve customer problems. Otherwise, your customers end up in absurd situations like the pizza place above. Or another equally absurd tale related by Sills in which a furniture store wouldn’t let him take out a chair to see if it would fit in his car, let him hold the chair at the store for pickup later, give him a refund if the chair didn’t fit, or even help him put the chair in the car.
‘In your processes you need to think about how you empower your frontline employees on a regular basis. If they feel like they have to go for approvals up the chain for anything they want to do for customers, then you’re really handcuffing them. They can’t react quickly, nor can they do what’s right for that customer,’ says Emily McEvilly, head of customer experience for Workday, in the book.
Good customer service behaviors reduce your customer’s stress and workload, and that in turn reduces unnecessary and repeat customer support calls. That means being proactive, which includes:
- Doing the work for your customers.
- Identifying potential problems and solving them before they’re problems.
- Anticipating the next question a customer may have.
Sills says one of the worst offenses companies make is asking, “Is there anything else I can help with?”
“Eight, seemingly inoffensive, overly polite words. But eight words that annoy me more than any other in customer experience because, more often than not, they haven’t helped with the thing I wanted help with in the first place. Instead, they’ve usually just answered the specific question I’ve asked rather than helping me achieve the outcome I wanted,” Sills writes.
Being proactive doesn’t just reduce stress for your support team and your customers, it builds trust, because the customer gains confidence that you’re on top of the situation and will resolve their issues.
In the book, Gil Wedam, Citymapper’s head of brand, offers an example of how they build that trust:
“We have this ‘pause’ feature for Citymapper PASS to pause your subscription. It’s worry-free, so if you go on holiday you can pause it easily. During the pandemic, over 90 percent of passes were paused, not churned, which is amazing given the world stopped moving. I think it was because of the comms about that feature. Two days before it’s about to restart, we send an email, notification and SMS and give a one-tap option to pause it again. There was a lot of honesty about that feature, about the openness of us. Just straight up, no shady stuff. That builds trust and pays off in the long term.”
This may seem obvious, but Sills says that basic respect is one of the often-forgotten customer service behaviors. “Respect and humility are crucial human traits that seem to have gone missing in the past decade, more broadly in public discourse and more specifically in customer experience,” Sills writes.
- Respect for the customer as an individual.
- Respect for the customer’s time.
- Showing humility when necessary.
One example Sills cites is how Amazon issues a refund the minute the package is dropped off. Amazon trusts that the customer hasn’t filled the package with bricks or old newspapers.
“But one reason Amazon [is] winning is because they treat me as if I’m a good, honest human, not a crook trying to get away with a free pair of trainers which, combined with their low-effort and low-cost shopping, is a fairly compelling experience,” Sills writes.
This is another one of the customer service behaviors that seem obvious but is worth consideration. To be responsible means:
- Caring for the well-being of your customers.
- Helping your customers achieve their desired outcomes.
- Taking ownership of the experience and any problems that occur.
“…it’s not unusual for companies to give a great welcome experience, only to go missing once the sale is made. When a problem occurs, many companies prefer to make excuses rather than accept responsibility, or pay customers compensation and hope they go away, as we saw with my broken bicycle. Sometimes they prefer to pass the blame onto customers, as with my confusing train ticket, rather than doing all they can to help customers achieve their outcomes,” Sills writes.
Organizations need to take responsibility for the entire experience, including being proactive in designing fool-proof processes.
“Human beings are fallible and regularly make mistakes. Understanding this will help companies build more fool-proof processes. This is a far better use of time than blaming mistakes on time-poor customers, chasing them for fines and leaving a bitter taste in their mouths when they get punished for their error. Put simply, if a customer makes a mistake, it’s the company’s fault for making it possible for the customer to make a mistake,” Sills writes.
“You should never ignore customers or try to make excuses if they have an issue. At the end of the day, it is the companies’ fault because they haven’t been able to do what they said they’d do. Take the blame for it not working and try and be honest. If companies treat people like adults, they’ll respond like adults,” says Patrick Harris, director of future agenda at NHS Blood and Transplant.
To be straightforward means:
- Making the customer certain of what’s going to happen and when.
- Communicating in clear language without jargon.
- Treating customers as adults.
An example of providing customer certainty is how many delivery services now let you track the package down to the point of seeing where the truck is. Or the American Red Cross telling you when and where your donated blood was used.
Another key is to stop saying sorry constantly, which can be counterproductive. It’s better to actually work to solve the problem.
“If there is a problem, the company should own it, explain it and resolve it. If not, they should stand up for what’s right and have a human conversation with their customer, building a better relationship as they do,” Sills writes.
At the same time, while you want to be straightforward with your customers, you don’t want to unnecessarily expose them to your inner processes. For instance, your CRM shouldn’t make the title field mandatory if a customer doesn’t want to offer a title, which leads to humorous situations like a package being addressed to “Unspecified John Sills.”
“Customers don’t necessarily want to know every part of the process, to be exposed to all the inner workings of an organization, but they do want to understand what’s going on and not be made to feel stupid, which is why the simplest and most impactful first step in creating a human experience is to use human language,” Sills writes.
More Human Customer Experience Behaviors
Hopefully, these 7 customer experience behaviors from The Human Experience give you some ideas on how you can create better experiences for your customers and skyrocket your customer experience ROI.
Consider how you’d approach any human relationship when you design the customer experience. You want someone who’s available, consistent, flexible, proactive, respectful, responsible, and straightforward. Your customers expect and deserve nothing less.