The last thing you want is to make your customers miserable. We call these "pain points"—when a company’s inefficiencies make customers feel frustrated or uncertain or completely fed up. There’s little that’s more infuriating than coping with a canceled flight or waiting on hold with customer service for 20 minutes.
You risk losing not only your customers’ attention but also their future business. So if you want your customers to stick with you, find ways to ease the problems that result from your operational inefficiencies.
Inefficiencies are often the result of outdated operational processes that fail to take advantage of new technologies. Simple tools such as Twitter or online chat support are quick, easy ways to turn poor service or more embedded operational efficiencies into positive experiences. More than a dozen customer service reps manage Delta Airlines’ Twitter feed [@DeltaAssist] to assist passengers with flight delays, cancelations, and other problems—in-real time.
There’s more to it: Operational efficiencies drive margin growth. Twitter makes those same reps far more efficient than they are when dealing with phone inquiries, because Twitter lets them handle multiple issues simultaneously. Delta reduces its costs while more customers get served—and without investing in new infrastructure.
Emergency rooms are infamous for having infuriatingly long wait times. You may wait two hours or eight, but you’ll certainly wring your hands over whether you should be there in the first place.
Customer-savvy hospitals, such as Metro Health in Michigan and Memorial Hospital in Florida, have ER texting, which delivers ER wait times for nearby hospitals. The technology optimizes the mix of patients that arrive in the ER and helps hospitals manage their patient load. For customers, knowing the wait will be excruciating may diminish the mental struggle over whether to go to the ER. Many may just skip it and follow up with their doctor instead. For Metro Health, there’s a financial benefit because it optimizes the use of one of its most costly resource: physicians. Their ER ranks in the top 5% of ERs nationwide for patient satisfaction.
You can also reframe an operational process in a way that turns customer frustration into an efficiency gain, with cost benefits for the store and emotional benefits for the customer. We all know what it’s like to be in a checkout lane at the supermarket, annoyed at the person ahead of us, who has an item that the scanner can’t read or a bag of green beans for which the store forgot to add the code, and envious of the next lane, which is moving at a brisk pace.
In response, some American supermarkets have introduced European-style "metro lanes" to improve operations and help customers move through lines fast. Shoppers stand in one line until directed to an open register. Gary Huddleston, a spokesperson for the grocery chain Kroger, which has remodeled its self-service lanes into metro lanes, says they’re three times faster than express lanes. The store benefits because fewer people can process the same volume of customers. Metro lanes also take up less room: Six metro lanes fit into the space of two standard lanes.
To figure out how to become customer-facing, start by creating a touchpoint map. The tool identifies each interaction a customer has with an organization over a specific range of time and records what customers say, think, and feel at each touchpoint.
This map identifies three touchpoints:
- Moments of truth: moments that leave the customer with a lasting impression of the organization.
- Pleasure points: when experiences meet or exceed customer expectations.
- Pain points: situations that the customer finds difficult or frustrating and which are often the very source of the inefficiency.
Companies use this service design tool to map out what’s working and what’s not. A good touchpoint map makes a process transparent and reveals places where there is room for improvement and records the continuum of interactions that customers have with providers.
By addressing pain points with an operational mindset, leaders can make efficiency gains that improve the customer experience and the company’s bottom line. Because it can be prohibitively expensive to utterly redesign, say, the way a help center functions, it’s wise to pinpoint moments in which intervening on behalf of the customer doesn’t add costs but removes them.
Written by Jeneanne Rae and Greg Berguig
[ILLUSTRATION: Girl with Phone via Shutterstock]