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Connecting People and Technology to Deliver the Best Customer Experience

Bill Schimikowski, VP, Customer Experience, Fidelity Investments

I recently visited a regional hardware store and received an amazing customer experience. Unsure of the layout of the store, I flagged down an associate asking for help in locating a $10 replacement part for some lawn care equipment. Instead of just telling me which aisle it was located in, he asked me to follow him so he could show me exactly where it was. When we got to the right section and aisle, however, we discovered the part was not in stock. Disappointed, I thanked him for his help and planned to order it online. 

Before I could walk away, he asked me to wait a moment while he checked inventory. He then pulled out a device to see if the part was ordered and informed me that the part had just been received in the store earlier that day but was still in one of the many boxes they received as part of the shipment. I thanked him again and said I would return in a day or two to pick it up (although I still planned to just order it online as I would have it in two days with free shipping). 

He then offered to search through the boxes in an effort to locate the part for me. I was surprised at his offer and thankful for his willingness to put in the extra effort in order to assist me. I really wasn’t in a rush that day so I agreed to wait around while he looked. Naturally, I ended up finding other things I “needed” and spent another $100.

  Customer experience is driven by people and technology 

As I thought about my interaction afterwards, I was struck by a few things: 

• The associate didn’t just tell me what aisle the part was in—he walked with me so he could show me where it was. I wondered if this was part of his training or was it just something that he did to provide a better customer experience. If he had just given me the aisle for the part, I would have left when I saw that it was not in stock.  

• During the short walk, he also asked me about the particular lawn equipment and how I liked it. Whether he knew it or not, he was gathering Voice of the Customer (VOC) information that he could use when dealing with other customers. So, he saved a sale and gathered (VOC). Impressive.

• What a great inventory and tracking system—it allowed the associates to track inventory real-time so they could help customers without having to walk to another part of the store in order to look up the part (on a desktop). That technology, however, would not have been a part of the experience had the associate just directed me to the correct aisle. 

• I was amazed that the associate was willing to look through the boxes and search for the part for me. After all, this was just a $10 part, not a $500 grill. I am sure he had tasks that he was supposed to complete that day (like restocking the shelves). This would certainly delay those tasks. Maybe he was trained to offer this type of assistance, but I think it is more likely that he was empowered to make decisions like this. Associate empowerment is a large component of delivering an exceptional customer experience that is often overlooked. 

As I thought more about my overall experience, I realized that the human interaction allowed the technology to shine and the technology allowed the human interaction shine. The combination created an amazing experience that took my purchase from $10 to $110 and created a loyal customer.  

Too often, I see companies that think customer experience is driven by technology (e.g. “let’s add this service” or “we need to add this functionality”). But, customer experience is driven by people and technology (I would say process is another big component of customer experience but that is a separate article). According to a recent study from Accenture Strategy, 77 percent of those surveyed want human interaction when they need guidance. Guidance is not telling a customer where the part is located, but rather showing them where it is and taking the opportunity to connect with them, learn from them, and then sharing the learning with others.

The companies that have mastered customer experience truly know how to combine human interaction and technology. As you continue planning for 2017 and beyond, consider these questions in regards to your customer experience and technology strategy: 

• How does your strategy allow associates to shine in the customer experience? 
• How can your associates help your technology shine in the customer experience? 
• Do your associates receive the right training that includes both hard and soft skills? 
• Are employees encouraged and empowered to go above and beyond for customers?  
• Are employees exposed to the voice of the customer so they can be empathetic to customers? (FYI: This is not just for customer-facing employees)
• Does your technology roadmap balance the need to add features for customers that self-serve and the technology needed to make your Associates shine? 

By asking these questions and answering them honestly, you too can create customer experiences where the human interaction allows the technology to shine and your technology allows the human interactions to shine. This is the sweet spot where customers are delighted and loyalty increases.

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