How is the Customer Experience assured?
The quality focus has promoted several studies and research over several decades. A special interest has been the assurance of quality first in products and then in services. Different proposals have been presented through strategies and systems that contribute with this purpose, for example ISO-9000, Quality Improvement-DMIAC, Malcolm Baldrige, Lean Management, among others that have become an important part of organizational management. Fundamentally, these tools have been aimed at strengthening the formal system of the company, which means to design processes and procedures through a sequential management to strictly deliver the quality level offered to customers.
Although, these approaches have included the human factor given its notorious influence in the processes of quality, it has not been possible to deepen this factor sufficiently from an integral vision of the human person. In order to understand and lead human beings it is necessary to address their free and spontaneous reality, an issue that a formal system cannot resolve, even if it is an advanced system. In the functioning of the organization and its environment, it is necessary to understand the changing behavior of people to lead them with updated criteria and greater scope to achieve quality executing the processes, but also to consolidate learning that promotes organizational growth and employees’ development. In this line, considering that the quality of a product or service is not enough, we have to focus also on customer experience, whether external or internal, and then we ask the following questions: how is the customer’s experience assured?, is it possible to propose an assurance from a formal system?, what is the role of employees and how can we help them?
In the literature of service a characteristic of its nature that has constantly caused headaches has been heterogeneity, that is, the natural difficulty to offer homogeneity in the delivery of services through the employees. In the current technological age, this old problem has new solutions that are beginning to be implemented, such as the use of robots, artificial intelligence, and other systems and applications, which can ensure the homogeneity of services provided to customers. But beyond the service quality these tools can also contribute to a more effective management of customer experiences. Although this means a significant advance, there is a need to identify the new role of service employees, especially related to the creation of new experiences for customers, and thus provide them the benefits they expect, now more demanding than in the past.
The concept of customer experience leads us to analyze every one of the contacts that the customer experiences with the company through its different means, modes and moments. This focus requires identifying criteria and practical ways to ensure that each experience truly meets the customer expectations. But on the other hand, depending on his particular situation, add the right action or specific help that strengthens the relationship. In both with the touch of distinction the company wants to express. During the experience, the customer is in contact with tangible and intangible elements. The intangibles must be provided by employees with a high impact. In the tangible we can consider the material elements that the customer receives or uses, and in the intangibles are the actions, reactions, responses, solutions, and specially the personal treatment that each service employee shows with his attitudes and behaviors. Not only in physical contact with customers but also through virtual media.
Depending on the type of service and company policy, these elements will be more or less combined, but they should always be properly complemented and managed. The experience implies functions that the systems must operate, and actions that the employees must execute, the latter are decisive to achieve distinction in the results for customers. Only coherent actions, and homogeneous when they should be, allow to maintain satisfied customers and with possibility of maintaining a relationship with the company. But, it is also necessary to break some rules to provide a better solution to a particular issue or address a special situation, that is, show the ability to personalize the experience. It would also be necessary to consider the cases in which system failures occur during the customer experience that require the start-up of a service recovery process. We will not focus now on this particular process, but when addressing the role of employees during the experience we should understand the impact of a personalized action by an employee versus the application of a technology. We refer, then, to contacts and interactions to provide tangible and intangible elements to customers through service employees and thus ensure positive experiences and unforgettable experiences according to the occasion. It should be added that in a highly changing context, although technological advances and operational procedures are extremely useful, the spontaneous part of behavior that is not controllable must be carefully considered as this is modified according to the era and the new currents and generations.
As the experience has a great impact in the preservation of the relationship with the customer and as it includes not only the tangible and technological components but also the intangibles-the human actions-, it is necessary to find effective ways for these intangibles to be perceived consistently and be able to add value to the customer experience. It is not a simple task since in it the participation of each employee is not only physical, but intellectual, emotional, affective and voluntary. It is not useful to handle rightly a contact with a customer if other contacts are not in the same way. Similarly, there is little value in deploying efforts for serving customers if within the organization we have to deal negatively with employees, managers or supervisors to generate customer satisfaction. In fact we should first consider how to ensure the employees’ experience, and although this will be discussed in a future article, it is appropriate to keep this in mind as it is strongly related to the customer’s experience, as has been demonstrated by some researchers.
We must be aware that it is not possible to completely control human behavior to provide the intangibles during the customer’s experience, for example being kind, generous, careful and honest with the customer. The company normally is concerned that what is promised through its communications is met emphatically, or is adapted according to the customer’s situation. To assure this, top managers usually focus basically on the planning and design of services and the processes, now with a greater use of technologies. They think that with this effort employees are ready to create pleasant experiences for customers. What managers neglect and even ignore is how can be conducted the employees’ behavior in order to create distinctive experiences for customers. For this, the obligatory step is the development of human qualities and abilities that promote the consistency and stability of performance and behavior, especially of spontaneous behavior. Only through this human improvement is it possible to ensure the coherent action of the employee in his future duty. Although in human affairs there can be no absolute assurance, given the freedom of each person, so it is not possible to ensure or determine a concrete route in his actions. However, it is possible to have employees with solid qualities that significantly improve their way of acting, and add an intimate and spontaneous human aspect that is transmitted not only by external senses but by a vibrant heart and transcendent way of thinking. This way of behaving cannot be showed by robots or systems.
Leonardo Polo makes us see that when leading employees a boss must take into account that they are dynamic systems. So, when acting employees are modifying themselves, they are improving or worsening, not only as workers but also as human beings. It is not possible to think that human behavior obeys exclusively to fixed conditions. The person as a free being is unpredictable, and his actions influences in his way of being. Therefore, it is impossible to think that when employee acts, nothing happens to him. The result of such action must not be only external, but something must happen internally when acting, be it a positive or negative learning. For example, committing an injustice with a customer is being unfair as a person. In this case, the modification of the person, as such, is negative, then, the company loses and also the employee is affected, rather than the customer. The acts pass, the habits remain. When the habits are positive, it is possible to improve the person and prepare him for more complex actions in the future. This contributes to increase the capacity of action of employees when creating experiences for customers.
In order to generate positive experiences to customers, it is necessary to improve the behavior of employees, not only those who contact directly with customers but also those who support them in back office. This is not only achieved through new tools, better processes or advanced technological systems, but with the effective use of the superior human capacities: intelligence and will. To use correctly these capacities, the improvement of the character is a priority considering its force to conveniently conduct those capacities and forge the personal development. The habits are the concrete and effective way to forge the character and strengthen employees’ behavior that contributes to create great experiences for customers. Habits are the natural path to achieve authentic participation of employees using correctly and generously the talents they have. In this way, they are in the process of achieving efficient performance and sustaining coherent behaviors to create healthy experiences, both with customers and with co-workers. Although the talent of employees is necessary, without their best guidance and continuous improvement, it is not possible to advance and sustain performances. It is the character, through the habits that it incorporates, the irreplaceable energy to achieve progress in personal development and contribute to organizational goals. If the company needs that employees patiently treat its customers, first employees must incorporate patience as a personal quality, that is, a positive habit becomes their useful resource when dealing with customers. But this habit will only be acquired with effort and perseverance. And this requires a sufficiently educated will that is oriented towards noble goals that the person has previously reasoned.
It is very important that the organization identifies the habits needed to create positive and great experiences for customers, considering the type of service it provides and the image that it wants to project. Then, those habits should be fostered in middle managers and employees in order to get their authentic participation and distinguished contribution in the processes they execute for customers. It is not enough to select the right people for the company, the challenge is to maintain them and strengthen their habits in the organizational environment. The way of being and acting of each employee must make a real difference with competitors and add what cannot be added by technological system. This is a human capacity based on the way of thinking and a passionate will. To get this, habits are the sure path to foster the discretionary behavior of employees, or the extra-mile. Doing what must be done and putting in each action the total energy is not easy, it is not achieved with money or only through social and professional motivations. What is necessary is a relationship of greater transcendence towards a solid commitment to a mission, both institutional and personal. In many organizations it is frequent to observe a weak commitment or a lack of commitment of middle managers and employees, as several worldwide studies have verified. The essential factor about this problem is not to understand the relevance of habits in the employees’ behavior.
Habit means operation, in other words, action. Hence, the will plays a decisive role. The habit leads the person to move in a certain direction, which has been previously understood by the intelligence and therefore is desired. When a habit is acquired, there is a facility to behave in such way, then the actions flow naturally without obstacles. The person knows perfectly where he is going and feels comfortable behaving that way, although it takes effort at first. Thus, the habit achieves what a formal system cannot: to activate the best of each person. The set of habits is shaping the character that in turn becomes the basis of the way of being. But the habits of employees can be negative and then they will show mediocrity, complacency, lack of initiative and interest, a mere activism and efforts without a clear direction. If this occurs, the company’s capacity to create positive experiences and customer satisfaction is reduced. This situation deteriorates the image and fosters negative learning within the organization. No matter how effective the technology is, these ways of behaving will be showed in the operations and processes in one way or another. When the habits are positive, they are the foundation of employees’ actions and generate positive learning, which leads them not only to develop as workers but also as human beings. This achievement contributes to forge a solid culture in the organization. So, Schein points out that what character is for a person is the culture for an organization. In other words, he refers to those ways of being internalized and shared by the members of the organization. Positive habits, such as telling the truth, being responsible, generous, helpful, showing kindness, even sacrificing at a certain time for others, facilitate the incorporation of other institutional values and thus are the best resource that employees have to create great experiences for customers. They also strengthen the identity and the future of the organization.
An employee with a solid character sustained by positive habits is better prepared to face the uncertain situations and new efforts required by new customers’ experiences. That employee is also eager to add something new according to each situation that emotionally impacts the customer. A formal system of processes with high technology can solve the eternal problem of heterogeneity in services and can contribute to ensure that the experiences are carried out in a homogeneous, ordered and controlled way. But only with spontaneous noble behaviors it is possible to manifest human energy that adds passion and transcendence to every experience. This is only viable from the deepest aspect of each employee and through the use of his full freedom. To achieve this, it will be imperative that the managers become clear references of the positive habits that are required to cultivate in each team in the organization. This is a lesson that should be learned in companies that will help them significantly to assure the customer experience. Although in this world it is really difficult to completely assure something.