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Without the commitment of the leadership, you will never be able to deliver a genuine customer experience, however much the frontline is pushing this.

The DNA of C-Sat champions

When it comes to customer satisfaction, there is a gap between the C-Sat superstars and the also-rans. We look at the traits that separate the best from the rest.

If you want to know what differentiates the best C-Sat companies from the rest, then looking at the example of the world champion in customer satisfaction is probably a good starting point.

Amazon, the world’s largest internet retailer, has topped the customer satisfaction charts in the last six bi-annual surveys conducted by the UK’s Institute of Customer Service. Across the Atlantic, the retail giant also regularly takes top place in the American equivalent, the ACSI.

Amazon claims that it is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking.

Turn talk into action

Making grandiose claims about your intentions is one thing; fulfilling them is another. Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, drives C-Sat from the very top of the organisation. At board meetings, he leaves an empty chair at the table to represent the customer, whom he regards as the most important person in the company.

Indeed, Mr Bezos is on record describing his company’s relationship with the customer as follows: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Part of that involves making sure everyone in the company has experience of dealing directly with the customer. Regardless of their role, all employees, including Mr Bezos, takes a turn of manning the phones in the company’s call centres to get a better sense of the customer. Listening to the customer has been the origin and driver of most of Amazon’s innovations, from its Prime delivery service and Kindle electronic book to the creation of Alexa, its voice-controlled virtual assistant.

Set the tone from the top

Jo Causon, CEO of the Institute, agrees that the best performing C-Sat companies focus on developing a genuinely customer-centric culture: “The companies that score highest on C-Sat understand that their purpose isn’t only to make money. That might be an important outcome but they are focused on delivering a great customer experience and helping employees understand why they are doing that.

“They are relentless and focused. They constantly ask themselves whether everything they are doing supports that purpose. It’s about high-performing teams. It’s about being the best you possibly can be. And always driven.”

She emphasises that the very best companies do not see C-Sat as a discreet function or the responsibility of a single department: “The CEO and the board need to get behind the measure. Without the commitment of the leadership, you will never be able to deliver a genuine customer experience, however much the frontline is pushing this.”

Focus on outcomes

Great customer-centric organisations are constantly curious, fostering a culture of innovation and continual self-improvement. They are focused which means they’re listening all the time. They are challenge themselves, but they're very clear about their purpose: it’s about the impact they have rather than the function they carry out. Process matters but outcomes are paramount.

Research by the Institute revealed some common characteristics of the top 10 best C-Sat companies. This could almost be described as the genome of excellent customer service. All were rated favourably in terms of customer effort, trust, ease of contact, caring about their customers, employee helpfulness and competence, speed of response (especially via text, webchat and social media), getting things right first time and complaint handling.

These distinguishing features prove the importance of consistency and coherence across every aspect of an organisation’s relationships with customers. The top 10 organisations all have markedly higher satisfaction ratings for customer experience in all the main communication channels but especially in relation to the quality of phone and website experiences.

Excellence in C-Sat means understanding your customers and their expectations. Companies like Amazon constantly seek to capture customer data about every aspect of their transactions and overall experience. They then use this data to create personal experiences for different types of customer.

Hire for attitude

Recruiting the right people and developing the right people is a vital part of that process. Customers know when employees are engaged and this directly influences their satisfaction and future buying behaviour.

“Recruiting for attitude is a guiding principle,” says Causon. “Hire people for their attitude and then train them for the skills they need.”

She points out that there is a recognisable profile of the ideal candidates for customer-focused organisations: “They are selfless, or certainly not selfish. They are curious, interested in things and other people. They care about the greater good and the purpose rather than their own personal position. They constantly seek to help others to enable them to be even more effective. They’re very driven and they’re very authentic and they’re very honest.”

Developing processes for identifying and retaining such motivated, committed employees is one of the defining behaviours of great C-Sat companies. They are continuously upskilling their people. They praise them for their successes and encourage them to take part in brainstorming sessions about improving customer experience.

Regular team meetings allow managers to share the results of customer satisfaction and employee engagement surveys with staff, keeping them engaged.

The highest performing organisations share a coherent focus on employee engagement, customer experience design and effective deployment of technologies.

Don’t rest on your laurels

The top performers are also mindful of getting the basics right and keeping standards consistently high. As people spend less there is even greater focus on delivering a brilliant service experience in order to gain market share.

But the best C-Sat companies never get complacent. They realise that delivering a great customer experience is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. As technologies improve, customers become more demanding. Thanks to their focus on customer satisfaction as the number one benchmark, the best companies respond quickly and effectively to these changes.

In his latest letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos noted that “people have a voracious appetite for a better way and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’.

“You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. The customers won’t have it.”

We explain what C-Sat is and why it’s so important for organisations’ performance.

The best C-Sat companies are raising their game not only to meet but to exceed their customers’ higher expectations.