What is Customer Experience and What is the Contact Center’s Role in Optimizing It?

by Tyler Butterfield, NICE

Customer experience (CX) is often confused with customer service and the customer journey, but they’re all distinctly different. The confusion is understandable. It can be hard to keep all these customer-related terms straight! Let’s look at an example to help illustrate the concept.

Imagine this scene. You go to watch a long-anticipated film in a fancy new theater (remember those?). You bought your tickets online, so you’re able to bypass the long line at the ticket kiosk. Winning! You enter the theatre and settle into your reserved leather recliner. Ahh!

A server immediately appears to take your food and drink order. Nice! The movie begins and the surround sound and quality of the video are excellent. This is the experience you were hoping for in the fancy new theater. You’ll definitely be returning to this theater in the future.

And then your food arrives, and it’s greasy and cold. (Queue the sound of a needle scratching across a record.)

Suddenly, your movie experience is no longer what you were hoping for. In fact, now you’re a little annoyed. You were really looking forward to that burger and fries. The lousy food left a bad taste in your mouth and now you’re not so sure you’ll be watching any more movies here. And, in fact, you never return. But you do leave an online review on the company’s website.

The cold, greasy fries created a negative customer experience for you.

What is Customer Experience?

Customer experience is the opinion someone has about a business based on the person’s cumulative interactions with the brand. These interactions can be passive – reading a news article about the company – or active – visiting a store or contacting customer service.

As you saw from the example, one negative interaction can sour a person’s entire view of a business, even though the majority of interactions were stellar. If you hadn’t ordered food, you likely would have ended your theater visit with a very positive opinion of the business and you probably would have been a repeat customer.

The example illustrates the importance of providing consistent experiences. You were having a high-end experience until the low-quality burger and fries arrived. Maybe the lousy food was an anomaly caused by the chef calling in sick. That doesn’t matter for your personal customer experience. You experienced terrible food and that shaped your opinion of the business.

The example also demonstrates how you can lose customers after just one bad experience. Our research revealed that 80% of consumers are willing to switch companies due to poor customer service. Consumers are pretty demanding these days. The product can be amazing and the price a steal, but if an agent is off her game and has a bad interaction, the customer could end up with one of your competitors.

This puts added pressure on contact centers to provide excellent customer service experiences consistently. Contact centers need to avoid being the cold, greasy fries that give people heartburn during the customer journey.

Customer Experience vs Customer Service vs Customer Journey

Now that we’ve defined what customer experience is, let’s take a quick look at what it isn’t.

Customer experience isn’t customer service, although customer service can have a significant positive or negative impact on customer experience. Customer service is typically reactive in nature – a customer has a question or issue and reaches out to customer service for resolution. Basically, a customer service interaction is just one of many factors a person considers when forming an opinion of a brand.

Customer experience is also different from the customer journey, although how rough or smooth a journey is can impact the customer experience. A customer journey is a path a customer takes when transacting with a business, and that path can be very different from person to person.

In the movie example, your journey began on the business’s website, where you purchased tickets. Next, you went to the theater, another touchpoint along the customer journey, and you ended up back on the company’s website, where you left a negative review.

Another person’s customer journey could have been quite different. For example, they might have received an email from the theater and downloaded their app so they could access the coupon referenced in the email. Then they might have purchased their ticket at the kiosk you were so happy to avoid. And after an exceptional movie-going experience, they could have left a positive comment on the business’s Facebook page, or a bad experience could have driven them to call the contact center.

Ever-increasing digital communication methods have created the opportunity for customers to follow the unique path that fits their preferences, and it’s the brand’s responsibility to manage the multiple journeys, so they don’t create a negative customer experience.

It may help to think of customer experience in terms of preparing the main dish for dinner. The customer experience is the main dish, and customer service and the customer journey are two of many ingredients that go into the main dish. If any of the ingredients are rancid, it could spoil the entire meal.

What is the Contact Center’s Role in Optimizing Customer Experience?

While contact centers certainly aren’t solely responsible for CX, the quality of customer service plays a significant role in shaping a customer’s opinion about a company. A person is vulnerable when they need help, and the contact center can either save the day or ruin it for the customer.

To ensure your contact is doing its part to optimize CX, focus on the following broad categories of responsibilities.

  1. Quickly, competently, and conveniently resolve issues
    • This is a foundational responsibility of contact centers, and it’s become table stakes in today’s CX environment. Consumers expect and value quick, convenient issue resolutions. This means contact centers need to deliver the following:
    • Short queue times. The length of time a customer waits in a queue sets the tone for the entire interaction. Making a customer wait too long can be difficult for even your most skilled agent to smooth over. What does “too long” mean? Salesforce found that 83% of consumers expect an immediate response. Those are high expectations! To meet them, contact centers need to optimize forecasting and scheduling to ensure they consistently meet service levels. If your contact center struggles with this, it might be time to upgrade to AI-powered workforce management software.
    • High first contact resolution rates. A Microsoft study revealed that 33% of consumers rate first contact resolution as the most important aspect of a good customer service experience, making it the top vote-getter.[3] A never-ending issue can spoil a person’s opinion of a business like a cold hamburger. To maximize first contact resolutions, ensure your agents are well-trained, have effective tools, and are provided easy access to information. And make sure each customer is routed to the most qualified agent by using smart, data-driven routing.
    • Make it easy. A business shouldn’t make it hard for customers to get issues resolved. In fact, contact centers should streamline the issue resolution process so it’s convenient and fast. This means routing customers to the right agent on the first attempt, providing effective self-service options for those customers that want to solve their own problems, and delivering omnichannel experiences so customers can move seamlessly across channels and not be required to repeat information.
  2. Make proactive, personalized connections
    • Now we’re moving beyond table stakes and getting into what can differentiate businesses and truly optimize CX. Proactive and personalized customer service experiences can positively influence CX and turn customers into loyal fans.
    • What do I mean by “proactive?” Going back to your movie theater experience, what if a representative of the company called you as a result of your bad review? What if they apologized for your disappointing food experience, explained that their very skilled chef had been sick that day which affected their normally delicious food, and offered you two free tickets to an upcoming movie? That may have swayed your opinion of the business and convinced you to give them a second chance.
    • This is an example of how contact centers can help optimize CX through proactive outreach.
    • But saving relationships isn’t the only activity that will move the needle on customer experience. Contact centers can also improve their customers’ opinions of the brand by making memorable personal connections. One way to do this is to personalize interactions.
    • Personalized interaction is one tailored for a customer based on the information you have about them. For example, let’s say that you called customer service after leaving the bad review because you were still worked up about that hamburger. If the agent says, “I see you purchased movie tickets online a few days ago and were disappointed with the food. Can you please tell me more about what happened?”, you just had a personalized experience.
    • Personalization is a data-driven approach to CX that requires all your channels, including self-service, to access holistic customer information. Data integration of sources such as CRM applications, website analytics, order management software, and, of course, contact center systems is essential.
    • Contact centers are treasure troves of customer input. Customers tell agents whether they’re happy or angry, what they like or don’t like about products, details about their issues, and more. But to leverage this valuable, unstructured information for personalization, contact centers need AI-powered tools to transform the raw data into meaningful insights.
    • Interaction analytics is an example of software that analyzes customer conversations and turns them into useful information. Interaction analytics applications can analyze all interactions from all channels and provide insights about factors such as customer sentiment and contact drivers.
    • Let’s return to your movie theater experience to see an example of how these insights can be used for personalization. Recall that you eventually called customer service to complain (you were really looking forward to that burger and fries!). The interaction analytics tool would determine your sentiment (positive, negative, or neutral) throughout your conversation with the agent. Interaction Analytics would record the sentiment so that agents could access it the next time you call. This information helps agents determine how to set the tone of the conversation.
    • And speaking of tone, when agents effectively use soft skills, they can make powerful personal connections. Soft skills include showing empathy, active listening, building rapport, and making people feel like they’re dealing with a fellow human who cares about their feelings and will own and resolve their issues.
    • All of these methods - proactive resolutions, personalized interactions, and empathetic conversations - can enhance the customer experience and set businesses apart from their competitors.
  3. Collaborate across the enterprise

In the “What is customer experience?” section, we talked about factors like news articles and store visits that impact customer experience. Notice that these touchpoints have nothing to do with contact centers. That’s because so many other business departments also play a vital role in shaping branded customer experiences.

    In our movie theater example, the contact center didn’t enter the picture until after you stewed about those greasy fries for a while and needed to vent. Up until then, the online team, theater operations, and food service were involved in your customer experience.

      All these business teams need to perform in a way that supports the brand’s overall CX strategy. This requires collaboration and the elimination of silos.

        Because of the valuable information they collect, contact centers are well-positioned to take a leadership role in cross-departmental collaboration. Contact centers are often the first to know about product defects, website issues, fulfillment problems, widespread billing discrepancies, and more. They have essentially become the hub of information that impacts the customer experience.

          With that knowledge comes the responsibility to alert other teams about new issues and collaborate with them to develop solutions that make things better for customers. Close collaboration will also help ensure contact centers gain access to the customer data they need from other departments to personalize interactions and improve the customer experience.

          What is customer experience? Something your organization should begin optimizing right away!

          Gartner found that over two-thirds of businesses compete primarily on the basis of CX. This has elevated the role of contact centers and increased the importance of continuously optimizing customer service experiences. When it comes to CX, be the glorious surround sound, not the cold, greasy fries!

          At NICE we are passionate about removing the friction between companies and consumers, creating extraordinary experiences that build brand loyalty and create unbreakable bonds.

          We enable organizations to address today’s consumer and employee expectations, by delivering effortless, consistent, and personalized digital-first experiences with CXone, the world’s leading cloud CX platform.

          We are known for our innovation and comprehensive end-to-end CX approach, combining digital entry points, journey orchestration, smart self-service, prepared agents and complete performance suite, all embedded with our purpose-built CX Analytics, AI, and domain expertise.

          For more information about NICE, go to www.nice.com.