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How to improve customer experience

Billy MacInnes questions experts on what they’re doing to digitally transform the customer experience and asks what advice they have for channel partners

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Customer experience (CX) has become the top business priority for European companies in 2019, according to IDC, which predicts the CX market will grow to $128bn by 2022.

Customer care and support, digital marketing and order fulfilment are the highest spending areas for CX and will continue to be a strong investment area throughout 2022. The fastest growing use case, however, will be omni-channel content.

What role can channel partners play in supporting businesses and organisations to deliver better CX to their customers? And what can channel partners do to improve the CX they provide to the businesses and organisations they serve?

Mike Cullen, vice-president of customer experience and business strategy at SolarWinds MSP, stresses the importance of customer relationships. “They are foundational to success, so channel partners should be offering advice, training and support to their customers to encourage stronger, more valuable relationships,“ he says. “This isn’t about fluff or ‘feel good’ stuff, this is because it’s absolutely necessary to the business.”

Cullen also cites research from SolarWinds MSP, which found that for every five customers acquired by managed service providers (MSPs), four are lost.

MSPs can spend too much time focusing on questions such as: Should I try this sales tactic or that one? What’s the latest and greatest technology? Should I hire another salesperson? But Cullen believes a more important question is: How can I make the most of the investment I’ve already made in my existing customer base?

It’s more expensive for MSPs to acquire a new customer than expand on their existing base, says Cullen. “The experience of your customer can make or break you – which is why it’s so important to provide your customers with industry knowledge, insightful education and a supportive community to help them thrive. It goes way beyond the technology,” he adds.

Transforming the customer experience

Keith Jackson, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) director of channel sales at 8x8, says there’s been a shift from CIOs placing digital transformation at the core of their business strategy to those who now plan to compete based on customer experience. But a recent Bain & Company survey found that while 80% of CIOs believe their company delivers a superior customer experience, less than 8% of customers agree.

“There’s a major disconnect here between perception and reality. This is because expectations have changed and so has how we define an excellent customer experience,” says Jackson.

He believes that the channel has an important role to play in guiding businesses down the correct route towards a better customer experience. “Ultimately, channel partners can lead the way in ensuring that customer feedback is collected regularly and communicating these insights to vendors,” he says. “This will drive improvements in technology and make communications between vendors, partners and customers run much
more efficiently.”

Brett Theisen, senior vice-president of NICE inContact, agrees that partners play an essential role for businesses looking to escape the challenges presented by siloed interactions and drive CX transformation through cloud and a digital-first approach.

“Many businesses offering customer service are still driven by voice interactions and don’t even offer digital channels beyond email and web chat,” he says. “But today’s customers are increasingly looking for a digital-first experience. Channel partners can play an integral role in educating clients about the most recent CX trends and consulting on how to achieve a truly digital-first experience.”

As customers adapt and move to a digital-by-design customer experience, the channel will play a vital role in supporting them, says Jeremy Payne, vice-president of alliances at Enghouse Interactive.

“When you look at the myriad technologies that most organisations have already bought and used in some way, layer all that’s available in the market and sprinkle on some hype and hysteria about bots, AI [artificial intelligence] and the cloud, it’s easy to see how a customer could end up taking a wrong turn,” he says.

That’s where good, experienced partners, who understand the technologies available and how to glue them together, can play a powerful role by utilising what the customer already has in an intelligent and often cost-effective way, adds Payne.

For channel partners to improve the customer experience they provide to their clients, they need to spend more time understanding the culture of those organisations. “Often, the biggest challenges with any software implementation have very little to do with the software and a lot more to do with a company’s culture and openness to embrace change,” says Payne.

Richard Massey, vice-president of EMEA channel at RingCentral, says that channel partners can exploit their awareness of technologies to play a major role in helping customers achieve better CX.

“Most businesses today will understand that improving CX means delivering the frictionless journeys that customers increasingly expect,” he says. “These journeys are powered by technology that channel partners can provide. Partners can assist with cloud integrations and installing APIs [application programming interfaces]. Both are essential to making the customer journey more seamless.”

But there’s a lot more to it than that, he adds, echoing Payne’s point about the understanding partners have of their customers’ business. “A good channel partner is more than a technology provider,” he says. “True partners will possess a strong understanding of a customer’s market and landscape. Armed with this understanding, partners can assume the trusted adviser role that all customers value.”

Fuelling the revolution

Seb Fitzjohn, vice-president for alliances and channel ecosystem EMEA at ServiceNow, emphasises the significance of customer experience in fuelling “the consumer digital revolution” and disrupting business models.

“We have entered the platform age where platforms provide the foundation for digital transformation and new ways of delivering services,” says Fitzjohn. “But the platform is only part of the picture – without a vibrant ecosystem of partners, vertical industry and business domain experience, organisations are less likely to realise the full business value of their technology investments.

“Partners are able to offer advisory, transformation and implementation services that offer unique opportunities to align the people, process and technology around the user experience as the ultimate north star. Delivering a great user experience with the right platform strategy and a scalable business model will provide a rich source of ongoing innovation potential,” he adds.

Channel partners can also showcase new ideas to attempt to achieve something different to exceed customer expectations when it comes to delivering better CX, according to Chris Adams, president and CEO at ParkPlace Technologies. “They can do this by encouraging accounts to think about and execute standalone activities and campaigns, or foster changes to create an impactful customer experience,” he says.

Adam Bimson, director and co-founder of Vuealta, gives a practical illustration of how his company tries to deliver the best possible CX, which he describes as essential to the
business success.

This is achieved by approaching the process as a partnership, implementing a “one team” mentality to every step of the project, he says. Customers need to recognise that it is a collaborative process. Bimson gives the example of an insurance group where the project implementation was a collaboration in every sense.

“We ensured that a dedicated architect with expertise in the insurance industry led the project and was on hand for key decision making at all times,” he adds.

Vuealta worked closely with the company to roll out training sessions with key stakeholders and ensured a user guide was available to support staff and help with enquiries promptly. “For channel partners, value comes in the form of expertise,” Bimson says. “Understanding your customer’s industry and related business needs is essential for delivering an exceptional CX.”

Alan Logan, head of customer experience practice at ECS, says: “Changing the internal culture at the client is essential for a successful customer service outcome following a CX transformation, but it is often overlooked.”

Channel partners can help to instill culture change throughout the organisation, introduce agile processes and train client teams in new software development techniques and cloud tools so that they can become self-sufficient over time.

“Partners with experience in CX have the expertise to help clients unlock siloed data so that they can use this treasure trove of insight to better serve and retain their customers,” says Logan.

Steps for improvement

So what can channel partners do to improve the CX they provide to their customers? Massey warns that a poor channel partner experience can drive a frustrated customer away for good, and that partners need to be aware that today’s good customer experience could be an outdated and clunky one tomorrow. He believes partners need to recognise that continued development and investment is needed to deliver the best experience.

It’s important not to neglect customer-facing support staff, Massey adds. “These are the staff who will be interacting with customers day to day, and have the potential to develop and maintain long-term customer partnerships. Continual skills and personal development is the key to ensuring that these staff members are making customer experiences as pleasant as possible,” he says.

NICE inContact’s Theisen stresses the importance of partner knowledge: “To help businesses undergo CX transformation and achieve a digital-first omni-channel model – where customers can contact agents through a variety of channels, including social media, email and text messaging – channel partners need to develop a wealth of knowledge.”

This means that they have to understand the challenges businesses are facing, the key trends in the market and the solutions that are available. “One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to delivering the most appropriate tools for CX transformation, and channel partners can certainly add value in helping businesses determine what is right for them,” says Theisen.

Logan at ECS agrees that expert knowledge is an important resource for channel partners to draw on, along with a track record in real-life implementations to simplify the CX transformation process, share best practice and accelerators and help the customer avoid nasty “gotchas”.

“We encourage customers to simplify their CX transformation and not be sidetracked by trying to make the new solution look like the existing setup,” says Logan. “It’s far better for customers to take the opportunity to use AI, bots or automation to remove any waste and effort in contact centre interactions when you have the chance. One organisation had 27 different address change variables to manage, which is not a straightforward interaction in anyone’s book.”

ParkPlace’s Adams says one option partners might like to explore is to work collaboratively with other channel partners to provide a customer with a wider range of services, or solutions they are looking for. But he warns that if channel partners are working together, they must ensure their customer experience delivery is uniform and matches the customer’s expectations.

It’s also important to encourage organisations and businesses to complete regular surveys and questionnaires about the partner’s brand, services, people and customer experience to shape improvements in channel partner service delivery and customer experience delivery, he adds.

Cornerstone to success

Cullen highlights something that partners have always been urged to do with their customers over the years, but places it in the context of CX this time around.

“One of the most important things a business can do to improve the CX they provide to their customers is to listen,” he says. “The voice of the customer is the cornerstone of customer success. Partners need to nurture their existing customers by taking the time to talk to them and listen to their ideas and concerns.

“Business is more than just a transaction, and regular communication and transparency can save a customer even before they know they may be a churn risk. In other words, don’t wait until they have one foot out the door before trying to make them feel like they matter. The emphasis is on the day-to-day experience of customers so they never think about leaving.”

Cullen describes churn as one of the top points of failure for MSPs. “Stopping churn means continually driving value, which in turn drives loyalty,” he says. “Communicating with, educating, integrating and supporting your customers is key to cultivating your business and theirs. Doing business with these points in mind will help drive a better customer experience and help ensure a healthy and engaged customer base.”

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