It doesn’t seem that long ago when the keynote speaker at a seminar proclaimed that soon internet access would become ubiquitous with free Wi-Fi at the library, bookstore and coffee shop. That seemed a bit far-fetched at the time, as my own personal internet usage started via phone connection at home (yes, I can still hear that sound it made connecting in my head), or via Ethernet at work.
Of course, that prediction was spot-on, as just last week one of my colleagues who lives in a rural area was able to work from the local gas station/sandwich shop when her power was out. And for her, me and the rest of us, that omnipresence of the internet is now the expectation – even when the nearest town is 70 miles away.
At the time of that seminar, I was thrilled if my phone internet connection even worked so I could take my Friday afternoon conference calls from home. Fast-forward to today where I’m frustrated that power isn’t wireless after seeing a phone on TV do it. And even though I can readily remember when streaming a movie wasn’t possible, as soon as I learned it was – that became my new standard and expectation.
Today I expect Wi-Fi everywhere, high voice quality on my cell phone calls, movies on demand on any device, content sharing across all my devices, and an immediate answer to any question ever within seconds.
Your competitors aren’t your only competition
If you ask what type of customer experience they deliver, most contact center managers believe they are doing similar or better than their industry peers. The general thinking is that as long as I’m benchmarking myself against my closest competitors, or those that are considered “best” in my industry, I’m good.
But is that really the case? Can you rest on your laurels in today’s ultra-connect era taking solace in where you reside on your industry’s bell-curve? Perhaps in some instances you can, but when it comes to the way you interact with your customers, probably not.
One example where a new standard has been set is with free shipping for B2C retailers. If the purchase total meets some reasonable minimum standard, it is now an expectation that shipping will be free. It’s so prevalent at this point that it’s turning into a competitive disadvantage if you don’t. That hasn’t jumped to other industries, however. For B2B retailers, manufacturers, healthcare, pharma and others, shipping is still a customary charge.
The lines of industry distinction are blurrier, though, when it comes to interactions for customer service. What organizations may not realize is that their customers’ expectations are no longer based solely on just their last interaction with you or your peer, but are now shaped by their last experience with every other industry.
- My bank proactively sends low-balance notifications – so why can’t my utility text me updates on when the power will be restored after a storm?
- The agent at my on-line shoe retailer knows every purchase I’ve ever made (and my tendency to buy running shoes twice per year) – so how come I feel like a stranger every time I call the cable company?
- My airline allows me to make and confirm same day flight changes on-line – so why is my only option to call the water company (and wait on hold) to turn-on service?
Your customers no longer compare your construction or at-home healthcare business to who you see as your competitor – they are comparing you to their best (and most recent) customer experiences, period.
What can you do?
- Objectively assess your company’s ability to quickly adapt to ever-evolving customer expectations in this ultra-connected era (tools, systems, processes, philosophy, corporate culture).
- Charter a small cross-functional team (marketing, sales, operations, customer service, HR) to look at customer communication trends. Map out the potential impacts on your customers’ experience when interacting with you for sales and support.
- Benchmark yourself inside and outside of your industry. Assign key team members the task of learning how other companies approach the customer experience (seminars, trade shows, periodicals, networking). Have them report back to the cross-functional team on a quarterly or twice yearly basis.
The rate of change seems to be moving faster – as are our own expectations as both consumers and employees. Now more than ever, it’s worth taking the time to seek out that seminar with the keynote speaker who will make that next far-fetched prediction.
To hear more about how customers want to communicate, join us for our upcoming webinar, “Engage with Customers in an Ultra-Connected Era,” Aug. 16, 11 a.m. EDT.