User experience, customer experience, voice of the customer, customer sentiment, customer focus, customer-centricity… regardless of how you describe it, there’s no denying that when it comes to digital, fast, simple and frictionless experiences are becoming the most important determinants of how your customers perceive your service and, by extension, you and your organisation.
However, this is not the sole preserve of digital and whatever the channel, whatever the service, the goal must be to make the services you offer more useful, easier to use and more pleasurable, all with the aim of delivering a better customer experience (CX).
Everyone has choices
Some people might argue that CX is not relevant to housing providers because tenants (i.e. customers) have “no choice” and don’t need to be “delighted” in the same way that, say, private tenants or owners need to be. Believe this at your peril; everyone has choices and customers of whatever status deserve to receive a quality service and with the proliferation of social media, if someone is unhappy, they won’t keep it to themselves.
In an ever-changing sector, who knows where the next opportunity or threat will come from and anyone that cultivates yet ignores an unhappy customer base is potentially storing up trouble for the future.
Having a positive experience by doing what you’re supposed to do equates to customer satisfaction but taking that to the next level (i.e. doing what really matters to the customer) equates to great CX. So, getting CX right is the ‘holy grail’ but there is a distinct lack of agreement as to its definition and its measurement.
Today, customers are more sensitive than ever to all aspects of their (service) experience and factors affecting this include: customer needs or expectation; product/service features; perceived value of the service being provided; previous experience; customer mood; attributed responsibility for service success or failure; perception of fairness and equity; influence of other customers; and influence of new service delivery models, such as internet shopping and automated interactions with service providers.
Availability, reliability & recovery
CX has been shown to be a multi-dimensional challenge in which customer perception and rating of service quality have many drivers but of those, availability (service is available when needed), reliability (service is performed dependably and accurately) and recovery (what happens when it goes wrong) have been found to be the most important factors.
What does it all mean? Across all these dimensions, experience is governed by: desired experience (what customers would like to receive), expected experience (what customers think they will receive) and perceived experience (what customers think they have received).
Any gaps will elicit an emotional response – delight, satisfaction, trust and credibility in the case of a positive gap, and sacrifices, dissatisfaction and distrust where there is a deficit.
CX and revenue growth
Research by Forrester has shown that there is a direct correlation between the quality of CX that businesses provide and their revenue growth. And despite Forrester reporting that 72 per cent of businesses say that CX management is their top priority, the same research then goes on to suggest that only 14 per cent of brands deliver a good CX – shockingly bad, but is it any better in the housing sector?
Be in no doubt – CX doesn’t just happen and needs to be factored in at the outset as part of the end-to-end service design. Doing this helps you identify what customers want at each stage of their interaction with you, how you are currently delivering against those customer expectations, where the pain points are and what causes them. You never know, it may also show how and where you can unexpectedly delight customers, taking you beyond mere satisfaction.
Good service experience design demands customer participation and starts by ‘walking in their shoes’. Service quality must cover: basic factors (must-have features); performance factors (expressed needs); excitement factors (unexpressed needs); indifference factors (no impact if present) and reverse factors (adverse impact if present). Now ask yourself, how many housing providers spend time asking the right questions regarding their measures of service quality, service factors and so on? Do you walk in their shoes?
Hopefully we’re all agreed that CX is important so now the challenge is how to measure it because, as we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
The performance management and CX field is awash with three- and four-letter acronyms (CSAT, CES, NPS, AHT, FRT, FCR…) but there really is no single, holistic measure that covers the true end-to-end customer experience. There is no universal standard, no unifying KPI and what we have is a selection of point solutions, each providing valuable insights but each through its own lens.
Some examples include the Forrester CX score which focuses on effectiveness, ease and emotion; the Decibel DXC score which uses big data analytics to link e-commerce website conversion to revenue growth; Actual Experience who quantify the CX of digital products and services, and DownDetector for empirical digital sentiments through submitted customer insights.
In answer to the inevitable “so what?” question, whatever measurement approach is adopted, it’s vital that CX can be tied back to real business outcomes with associated KPIs, people, process, technology and vitally, the capability to deliver the necessary improvements.
A common mistake is to create measures that mean little or nothing to the customer and often have nothing to do with the quality experienced by users in real life – that’s a classic fallback of service management, whose performance is often defined in terms of SLAs, particularly in IT where technically-derived KPIs, such as bandwidth, latency, resolution time, call-answer time and ticket closure, are very common.
Blinded by numbers…
These are undoubtedly important because there might be a lack of quality when an SLA is not met, but relying on them too heavily will risk long-term damage to your organisation; you simply get blinded by numbers and forget about the service. After all, an SLA that has been met doesn’t guarantee the user, customer or tenant has actually enjoyed a great experience.
This is a perfect example of a great quotation from Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War who said, “If you can’t measure what is important, what you measure becomes important.” Are we measuring what’s important or simply what’s available?
SLAs are missing something – letting performance be dictated by the one person who feels it the most (i.e. the customer), and as Apple’s Steve Jobs said, “You must start with the customer experience and work back towards the technology, not the other way round.”
Step forward a new kid on the block that looks set to shake up the status quo by providing an alternative view to the old SLA through a shift towards the XLA or eXperience Level Agreement.
Experience level agreement
The XLA is an evolution of the SLA developed by Giarte and represents a change in culture by shifting the focus from technical or contract performance to the experience of the customer. Another maturity level is needed to manage expectations of service and to optimise the experience around how this is received. Such agreements are in the XLA and record goals from an end-user perspective, connecting these with the improvement and delivery of any products and services, IT or business.
So how do you create and measure an XLA? This starts with the targeted end-result and re-engineering back to a relevant way of working and a set of agreements that must then be factored into the service design. The main dimensions are very familiar because they align very well with the service-quality criteria mentioned earlier: reliability, assurance (security, credibility, courtesy, competence), tangibles, empathy (communication, accessibility, customer knowledge) and responsiveness.
XLAs apply to customers, internal staff, suppliers and partners, and require an absolute commitment to quality and functional monitoring. You have to get your staff on board through the creation of ‘personas’ and mapping the customer journey, but over time you will notice an interesting shift; you might start missing the odd SLA target yet your CX continually improves.
Research has shown that those brands that really want to break away from the pack should focus on emotion and that means putting the customer at the centre of everything, designing your services and metrics accordingly.
And remember: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
Martin Joy is a director of Itica.