Learning through Customer Interactions

“Instead of using technology to automate processes, think about using technology to enhance human interaction.” – Tony Zambito

Customer interactions are events, which can be both positive and negative. Either way they have a significant impact on a company and are great opportunities for learning. Learning through customer interactions would help a company to change the existing policies and may be establish new strategies for better and more successful interactions with its customers. Customer interactions teach a company something new each time. They can reveal the strengths and shortcomings of a company, help the company identify which areas their employees need training in and even understand whether their company is at risk of losing customers for a variety of reasons. If a company fails to learn through customer interactions it misses a number of opportunities to learn about its customers and make any positive changes towards improving its customer service.

Customer interactions of any kind – especially the very good or poor (extremes) – can prove to be very effective in teaching companies and ideally must be used to motivate them to change their attitude towards service and customer expectations. Over time if companies fail to manage customer interactions well, they would find it hard to survive. When a company has customers, the premise is that it would need to be prepared to change and become flexible about the way it conducts business. Customer interactions – calls, messages, emails, social media comments, highly irate communiqués – whatever the interaction and through whichever medium – the fact is that customer interactions will provide insights and information into how they perceive your company and what your company can and should do better.

Learning through customer interactions should ideally go beyond the business association your customers have with you. The learning should be about being able to know more about your customers – their preferences, what they like, things that are special to them, their needs that would make keep them as customers and a plethora of other aspects. Such learning helps a company have a complete understanding of their customers, which in turn enables it to create and deliver personalized offerings and experiences. Such personalization attracts and engages customers for a long time, translating to customer loyalty and profitability over time. The more personalized service and offerings, the happier customers become and their enthusiasm usually spills over in the form of letting other people know about a company and the awesome service and value they receive. This word of mouth is perhaps one of the best forms of advertisement and promotion for a company.

Learning through customer interactions however does not just happen. There must be a willingness and openness to learn. It is also about a company’s capability of extracting as much information and data about customers as they can get from online channels especially social media. Leveraging this sea of information better and faster than anyone else will set a company apart from the crowd. It will also allow customers to perceive the company’s commitment to providing the best to them and consistently learning through customer interactions. It may sound tough and even impractical to try and learn something from even the shortest customer interaction – but the companies that do ignore the ‘signs’ – however small, will probably lose the opportunity to gain a differentiating edge and forge ahead of its competitors.

The idea of learning through customer interactions has highly tangible benefits – happy customers and anyone running a business would know that the value of happy customers cannot be underestimated and overemphasized. As customer interactions, become enhanced and of higher quality, customers come to identify with and prefer the company’s offerings and brands. This in turn boosts its revenue from existing customers while gaining new business through strong referrals and testimonials. Customers become loyal and stay with a company, which again is a huge advantage both for the reputation of the company and saves the company costs and effort required in gaining new customers.

Customers expect the best service and products each time they interact with a company. However, this is even more challenging now given that there are multiple channels through which customers can interact and at each contact point, companies must provide the same high standard of service. The learning through customer interactions on each channel would be different too – companies would learn that customers that connect via social media for example, usually expect almost immediate responses. This would be different to the expectation a customer has, post sending an email. It is only by integrating all the channels and remaining consistent across each will a company receive any feedback from customers thereby enhancing the learning and ‘education’ they can get from customers.

For enhanced learning through customer interactions, it would be prudent for companies to divide their customer base into smaller portions or segments. There could be some commonalities between certain customers and segmenting them based on those common requirements would make it simpler for companies to manage each segment’s expectations better. The closer companies can get to customers, the more relevant and appropriate services and offerings they can deliver to the customers. The better the offers, the higher would be the rates of retention and loyalty. As companies expand their business and take it global, the customer base too becomes different. It would be highly useful to take every opportunity to learn about the varying beliefs, cultures, needs and behaviours through the customer interactions – companies with ‘global experience’ would be preferred by customers across the globe as compared to companies that never venture out of their country of origin.

Learning through customer interactions also implies that companies provide humane and empathetic service, which would seem personalized for every customer. Every customer, even if they are from the same industry or have common interests, is different and by maintaining focus on these differences, companies would be able to enhance their experiences. A deeper understanding of customers would enable the company to add context to each customer interaction such that every customer feels important and can see value in doing business with the company. Learning through customer interactions is about remaining receptive and open to feedback and ideas – even if they be critical in nature. Customers very often just leave a company if they are unhappy – however, if a company learns to listen through customer interactions they would gain invaluable insights directly from the people who form the foundation of their business.

Every company, despite its best efforts, will do something to mess up with customers. However, with a mind-set to learn and recover from the errors, a company would use every one of the customer interactions to make things right. Without making amends by learning, a company would literally be sending the customer over to its competitors. It is a lot better for a customer to get mad and provide feedback rather than to become so angry that they walk away silently and wreak havoc by posting negative feedback on platforms for all to see.

Every company and its representatives would have faced customer ire – however, learning through even these customer interactions is the sign of a progressive, healthy and potentially successful company. Such ‘learning companies’ gather customer support and respect, which in the long run develops and helps in maintaining a successful business.

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