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A bad customer experience, or CX for short. We’ve all had one. Think back to a time you had to hassle with a call center staff who couldn’t answer your questions. Or, worse yet, swore they knew who you should talk with and transferred you. Transferred you to someone else who couldn’t answer your questions. And then the cycle repeated itself. I had this experience just last week. I was transferred two times. And I was just trying to get something fixed with an online account.

And then sometimes we buy a product and it doesn’t meet our expectations. Then we lose the receipt or forget to bring the credit card it was charged to when we try to return it in the store. Are you worn out yet? Yes, we know what a bad CX feels like. And the worst part? It’s a time sucker too.

Building a stronger customer experience, or CX, is rather straightforward. Yet it’s so hard to attain. Why? For many reasons. Too many to go into for one article. In this post, we’ll focus on how internal communications and employee training impact the customer experience.

How internal communications can drive your CX

Good CX, at its core, is about knowing your customers, what your organization stands for and treating your customers and other audiences according to this. If you claim you are the “fastest food” in the fast-food industry, you give your staff the communications and tools they need to deliver a burger, fast, at the drive-through. If you say you provide a calm and relaxing experience to spa users, you provide the right training and human interaction know-how to greet people at the door, give them a cup of that great fruit-infused water, and encourage them to sit in the quiet, dark waiting room. All this is made possible through communications.

To illustrate our point, let’s provide some hallmarks of a good CX and connect those to internal communications.

Employees know the company’s brand: Employees know your company’s values and brand. How? They learned about it through onboarding when they joined the company, they have it on cheat sheet in writing, their leadership discusses it on a regular basis, and their company culture lives it. All internal communications.

Employees understand the end-to-end experience of the customer (customer mapping): So, this might be up for debate, but hear us out. Often, we think as long as the customer has a good experience at “touchpoints,” he or she will be a happy camper. But research says this is not necessarily the case. It’s the difference between saying “we want our customers to have a great experience with our website” and “we want our customers to have a great experience with changing a password online.” The first one is broad, and in evaluations, it might get a good mark because a customer does many different things on your website. But the second one is narrower, more specific. If you evaluate customers on their experience changing a password, you’ll get very specific feedback. To learn more about this concept, visit this white paper by McKinsey.

Employees understand your policies: This is part communications, part training. But isn’t training a form of communication? Again, this is possible because a company has a robust onboarding process to train staff on policies and any legal topics, and then ongoing training to serve as refreshers. In addition, a reliable process is in place to immediately notify staff of policy changes.

Employees know their boundaries: Related to knowing the brand and policies, employees know their level of accountability. What we mean by this is that they know when they can make certain decisions that affect a customer. For example, your company culture reinforces to do whatever is right by the customer. But in a retail setting, what if someone tries to return an item that you know you don’t carry. The system tells you. You know it to be true. Your register is screaming “He did not get that here.” And yet the customer insists otherwise. What is it worth to your business to say no? Is it a $30 toaster or a $200 cashmere sweater? Do you have authority to take the item back and provide a refund? For the under-40 crowd who might not have ever heard the tire story, find out how one retailer handled it. Fact or fiction, the story is still a good one!

Employees create consistency: Whether you’re going to a Starbucks in Montana or Florida, chances are your experience is going to be somewhat consistent. Sure, there’s always some exceptions, but there aren’t wide variations. For many people, this comfort and predictability creates loyalty. A consistent customer experience is, again, possible because of good internal communications and ongoing training on policies and expectations. These are made possible by strong leadership.

Having the right people on the bus

Of course, a good CX is only possible if you start off on the right foot, and that’s hiring the right people for the job. Good hiring practices and outcomes are the foundation for a positive CX. After all, you can have consistent communications and training. But if the receiver isn’t willing to take it in or doesn’t play nice in the sandbox, then he or she likely isn’t going to treat your customers well. These employees will do more harm than good.

Leaders’ role in creating and sustaining a good CX

There’s a clear link between the customer experience and the employee experience or engagement. And where does the buck stop for that? Leadership.

Aside from a company having strong hiring practices, strong leadership also helps sustain and grow a company’s CX. Good leaders recognize they cast a wide shadow that influences the employees’ behaviors toward customers. Leaders need to model the behavior they want to see in their teams. A good leader lifts employees, recognizing them for a job well done. After all, employees who interact with your customers are the ones driving the company’s growth.

Good leaders also tell and seek stories about great customer service to inspire their teams. They treat employees at all levels with dignity and, in turn, employees treat their customers of all stripes with dignity. Good leaders walk the walk.

So when customer service is poor and you have solid processes, policies and training in place, look at your employee engagement and investigate any cracks. And don’t forget to look at your supervisors and top leadership.

Summary

The customer experience, or CX, can be a key differentiator for any organization. A compelling one often separates the winners from the losers. This advantage then leads companies to grow faster. Foundational to the success of these efforts are solid recruitment and leadership that inspires their teams to do their best every day. If you have a customer experience you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. For more information about CX building blocks, check out one of our other recent blogposts on this topic. And if you’d like other resources about building a great CX (or like In-and-Out Burger!), check out these books.