Stress-Free Christmas – Mission Impossible?

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Belinda GerdtChristmas is right around the corner and the tasks on the to-do list keep on piling up – both at home and in the office. The windows in the advent calendar are running out, which will cause panic even for the most experienced Christmas enthusiasts. How can I do all this on time? Christmas preparations are more or less like a giant puzzle – even if you plan to spend the Holidays on the road.

For the consumer business, Christmas seems to come by surprise as well. The long lines and slow customer service astonish us year after year. The very idea of Christmas shopping in a winter jacket will make you sweat. That’s why many people have started to use e-commerce for all their Holiday shopping needs. That’s not always good news for the Christmas Shopping Survey (in Finnish) published by the Finnish Commerce Federation. For instance, only three out of ten of the most popular fashion online stores increase the revenue of Finnish companies; everything else flows into the pockets of foreign businesses. According to the Finnish consumers, foreign e-commerce companies offer not only better selection of items but also better customer experience.

One could simply state that customer satisfaction is being born as a result of the interaction between the customer and the company. Customer experience is the end result of the entire value chain the customer has to go through, when she is doing business with the company. The value chain has changed; it no longer is the same as it used to be during the Industrial Age, when manufacturing, logistics and distribution were the most crucial processes. We’ve made a transition to the service economy, where the consumers demand personal and customized service. Have the value-adding processes changed to meet the needs of the customer? In many cases, they haven’t changed enough.

When it comes to customer experience, we get stuck too often in the dilemma of service. Is the service we provide good or bad? How and where should we offer our services? Customer experience should be analyzed more broadly.

Different customers appreciate different things. For some of us, self-service is the most convenient way to be served, as for others it may be a showstopper. Some customers expect personal contact, yet most take the process as far as they can online by themselves. The amount of data increases all the time and now we have to be able to analyze it and make an effort to create customer understanding.

All the various service channels should be integrated as one. The consumer can make swift transitions between different units and service channels, but unfortunately the same rarely applies to service tickets and customer information. When the right foot doesn’t know what the left is doing, things will go terribly wrong. In commerce, we need to integrate the brick-and-mortar business with e-commerce as well as digitalize the traditional brick-and-mortar service. We’re just taking our first steps on this path.

Consumers want to be served wherever they are. Reactive customer service is no longer enough if the customer has a problem. Proactive listening is needed. The company should be able to predict customer intentions and think a few steps ahead. Besides the phone, various other service channels are needed. Over 90 % of all customer service in Finland is still done by phone. However, over 65 % of Finnish customers would like to get service in digital channels (Gartner 2014).

Everyone is in charge of creating an outstanding customer experience: customers have no respect for organizational hierarchies. Every encounter with the customer is customer service, even if the sign on your door doesn’t say Customer Service. Digitalization calls for a big change in our service culture. Sweating in line is not very tempting, even though a beautiful smile and helpful professional would be waiting for you at the cash register. The processes have to be developed further as well.

Efficient information systems can help to make the business profitable and streamline the customer service processes so that they are reasonable for both the customer and the company. When we raise the bar for customer experience, it will be faster and easier for the customers to do business. Maybe this will lead to a less stressful Christmas?

Belinda is in charge of the CRM and ERP solutions at Microsoft Finland. Before joining Microsoft, she worked in marketing communications and held management positions in various technology companies. Belinda is passionate about good wine and food as well as the digitalization of business and marketing.

You can follow Belinda on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn. Read more about outstanding customer experiences: wowpalvelua.wordpress.com (in Finnish).