The quality of the customer experience across the entire spectrum of market segments is plummeting in the face of a job market that is becoming tighter with each passing month.
“CPQ can turn street green new hires into product experts in hours or days versus months and years.”
Fast food has never been known as an exemplar of quality customer experience. Nonetheless, cheeseburgers with no cheese, cold French fries, missing condiments or improperly prepared entrées provide easy-to-see examples of incompetence on the part of customer-facing individuals bungling the customer experience. Thankfully, no one ever died because the ketchup packets were missing from a bag of carry-out burgers.
A more serious example happened to me recently. After picking up my car following a brake job, I noticed the car shimmied as I cruised down I-75 toward my home. Upon arriving at home, I looked at the car to see if something was obviously wrong. It was. Several lug nuts were missing from my front wheels and those remaining were close to falling off the lug. The technician had failed to tighten the lug nuts after fixing my brakes.
As the job market tightens up it is evident that fewer high-quality job applicants are available for entry-level jobs. Companies are having trouble finding trainable individuals to fill the jobs they have open. The result is lower-quality personnel filling jobs, which means lower performance quality by those employed.
Is this robust economic cycle forcing companies to compromise their hiring standards? Are qualification criteria reduced to include any candidate having a pulse?
Companies that bring in employees that are below spec need to invest in processes and systems that make up the skills shortfall. Processes that elevate the new hire’s understanding of the importance of delivering excellence hasten the development of the individual into a productive employee and systems that make up the knowledge shortfall in the interim.
Those companies leaving this evolution to chance will likely subject their customers and prospects to errors at the hands of their incompetent employees.
What Does This Mean for Selling Organizations?
The effects of these errors are immediate. For many companies the initial effect of this skills gap is monetarily brutal. Botched orders have to be corrected. This can involve considerable waste in terms of disposing of defective merchandise, replacing it with new merchandise and perhaps even throwing in some inconvenience consideration in the form of add-on product or even refunds. Regardless, the transaction is either completed at a loss or with severely reduced margins.
Beyond the initial loss of income or margin are the longer-term ramifications.
The brand is poisoned in the eye of the buyer. Memories are long, and trust is fragile. The next time a sales rep visits the customer, the experience may well come up and become the primary topic of conversation. Instead of talking about pains and needs, the buyer wants to let the rep know that they really don’t trust the brand any longer. This assumes the rep can even get an appointment with the affected company.
Other effects are more difficult to track. Potential prospects will doubtless hear about the issues of quality or any wanting customer experience. They are now prejudiced against your brand as well. Their trust is lost before a conversation even takes place.
The message is, companies must make customer-facing quality issues a priority. They can’t just put bodies into entry-level positions and hope they develop into quality-focused employees.
Elevating Customer-Facing Roles
We often see positions such as receptionists, service agents, call directors and sales associates as low-paying, entry-level jobs. They may be entry-level positions, but why is bottom-rung compensation considered appropriate?
These employees are typically the first individuals your customers and prospects will encounter during their initial contacts with your company. Impressions made and opinions formed during these encounters will impact future interactions with other employees.
What to Do?
Compensation plans for any customer-facing position should include some incentives for superior performance in these roles. These incentives should include monetary reward, peer recognition and a promotional career path toward more rewarding positions.
Conversely, individuals who do not perform well in these positions should be removed as quickly as possible.
Increased selectivity should also be present in the hiring process to weed out candidates that are not enthusiastic about interacting with the public. Candidates should be demonstrably curious and actively engaging.
They should embrace the notion of making each call a successful call in terms of helping the customer achieve their specific goal. This is the basis of a customer-success-oriented relationship.
Automation and technology play a role in this process as well. Care should be taken to ensure that automation tools are truly helpful and not just a low-cost alternative to a high-paid human worker. We have all suffered through endless automated telephonic call director applications that offer endless menu options, none of which match our needs.
Effective automation solutions are designed to enhance the customer experience rather than lengthen or discourage or prevent the customer from engaging with a human.
Examples of Automation and Technology in Customer-Service Operations
Problem resolution and tracking systems are an excellent example of how automation can assist the customer in the early stages of an engagement. Users call or log into a customer portal which offers clear and precise choices in terms of the nature of the problem experienced, the severity of the problem and expectations regarding what constitutes a successful resolution of the problem.
These systems need to be tied to specific products or issues rather than simply deployed to handle general inquiries.
CRM systems offer the ability to centralize information about each customer and prospect in a single repository accessible by those who are likely to engage with those customers. Existing problems, known goals, concerns or objectives and other intangible knowledge can be stored there to guide the agent in their interactions with the customer.
This serves as a kind of collective memory for the organization. What is known by one can be known by all.
CPQ systems are also extremely useful in elevating the agent’s knowledge and the customer experience. One of the issues new hires frequently face is product knowledge. CPQ can turn street-green new hires into product experts in hours or days, versus months and years.
Complex products may have hundreds of options and feature many complex sub-assembly and alternative configurations that are selectable based on the needs, wants and environmental requirements of the buyer. CPQ software guides the conversation via an interactive interview process that helps the sales agent and the customer move through the hierarchy of selectable options. The final configuration is revealed along with a bill of materials, itemized part list and order entry data.
New hires can learn to use CPQ quickly and effectively. The product builds tribal knowledge and expert knowledge into the interview questions. Part numbers, regulatory implications and pricing are all automatically handled by CPQ.
Sale agents learn about the product as they use the CPQ system in a productive role serving the customer. CPQ is also compatible with eCommerce systems for online selling environments.
Customer Success is the Main Metric
Focusing on customer success is the best way to ensure customer service is delivered effectively. Elevating the role of those individuals who encounter customers on a regular basis and equipping them with the technological and process-enhancing tools to make each interaction a positive and successful interaction is the only way to ensure your prospects and buyers will enjoy positive customer experiences.