Understanding Your Customers: 5 Practical Techniques


A picture of the concept of understanding your customers

Liz Doig of Wordtree sets out how to keep your teams in touch with what customers really want and need – and provide outstanding customer service as a result.

The better technology gets, the more people shop and do business online – so when they need support, they’ll bypass the high street and get in touch with contact centres instead.

This leads to a situation where two people who’ve never met – and who frequently don’t share a same first language or culture – have to problem-solve together.

This leads to a situation where two people who’ve never met – and who frequently don’t share a same first language or culture – have to problem-solve together.

In business schools, this kind of scenario would result in lengthy modelling and teaching. Yet these are problems that contact centre teams have to deal with in minutes.  So we often turn to protocols, scripts and processes. All of which, of course, are measured minutely.

But what can sometimes happen in this formulaic way of dealing with “contacts” is that we forget – just a little bit – that customers are real live human beings rather than a part of a process. And when you start thinking of process first, it can become a significant blocker to good customer service.

Customers don’t like feeling they’re being churned through a sausage factory. No one does.

So how can you get your teams to better understand customers and see them as more than “contacts” – but still keep the metrics on track? Here are some ideas…

1. Create a Customer Panel

This is a community of customers who give you information directly about what they like and dislike.

Reach out to customers to ask them if they’d like to be part of a panel. This is a community of customers who give you information directly about what they like and dislike. If you have a large enough community, you could also home in on particular kinds of customers to find out about particular challenges.

When you have customers who want to be actively involved in your brand, you have a goldmine of insight, opinion and ideas that you can feed directly into your approaches and training programmes. This will prove very useful when trying to provide good customer service.

In return, members of your customer panel could receive vouchers, tours of your facilities – or any other kind of incentive.

It’s worth checking with your colleagues in marketing or customer experience to ask if a panel like this already exists in your organization – and to see how you could tap into it.

For more ways of gather customer feedback like this, read our article: 25 Good Customer Feedback Examples

2. Bring Your Customers Into the Contact Centre

OK, maybe not in person. But videos of your customers in their homes or at work (depending on the organization you work for) can show your teams exactly the kinds of people they’re speaking to – and the circumstances they’re speaking to them in.

Videos help to show the context of your customers going about their daily life. Even a 60-second clip can show their home, the fact that as well as running a company, your customer needs to feed their dog and call in on elderly parents – or that as well as being a mum, they’re also training for a triathlon.

When teams see customers and hear a little about their lives, they automatically see them as a little more “real”. The focus switches from the enquiry or “contact” to the customer themselves.

It’s a subtle but important shift in thinking that will help you to provide good customer service. Instead of simply considering an issue that needs to be resolved, your team member thinks more about the person behind the issue – and her response is more empathetic and caring as a result.

So the next time someone calls to say their parcel hasn’t arrived, you can shift from the conversation on the left to the one on the right:

Focusing on the Case… Focusing on the Customer…
“I can see on the system that your order is marked as delivered… so yes, this means your order has been delivered… Do you want me to check the delivery address?” “Your order hasn’t shown up? That’s a pain. Let me check what’s happened… OK, so it’s saying here that your parcel was delivered… but that doesn’t necessarily mean to your house. Is there a neighbour who could have taken it for you?”

If you have money in your training budget, you could send professional videographers to people’s homes (and if you have a customer panel, this shouldn’t be too much of a headache to organize).

Alternatively, you could ask customers to video themselves and send their films to you. If you decide to go for this option, speak to your legal team to make sure you get the rights to use a customer-submitted video for training purposes.

3. Have Images of Customers Around Your Contact Centre

Having big, colourful images of your customers in your call centres can help to focus teams on them and on providing good customer service. It helps to have photos of customers in context.

As an example, a travel insurance company could have their customers’ holiday shots – while a commercial insurer could have images of people at work.

Similarly, a retailer could have pictures of people at home – and a mobile phone company could have images of real customers interacting with technology.

Business-style head and shoulders shots aren’t as effective, because they don’t give your teams any information about your customers’ circumstances – and circumstances are exactly what they need to understand when they communicate with your customers.

A picture of a shopping delivery to an elderly customer

Use images of real customers. If you have budget for it and it’s appropriate, have professional photos taken.

Also, use images of real customers. If you have budget for it and it’s appropriate, have professional photos taken. If you don’t or it’s not, get them to send you their own images.

4. Align Team and Customer Environments

We’ve all seen swanky contact centres with the latest equipment, beanbags, Xboxes and latte machines. We’ve all also seen our fair share of dull, grey rows of carpeted cubicles, surrounded by hand-made posters and fraying team break-out areas.

The environments we work in can have a profound impact on our mood, productivity and the ways we work. Researchers consistently find that fresher, more modern workspaces result in greater levels of productivity, lower levels of attrition and a greater ability to provide good customer service.

And what’s becoming more apparent is that physical environments also influence people’s ability to empathize. Or in other words, people are less likely to care if their environments are not cared for.

5. Design the Contact Centre as an Expression of Your Brand

As well as keeping contact centre environments comfortable and interesting, style them like your customers’ homes or workplaces.

Following on from the last point, we have an idea for you. As well as keeping contact centre environments comfortable and interesting, style them like your customers’ homes or workplaces.

For example, if you’re a furniture retailer, create a contact centre that looks like a home office. If you’re a gardening retailer, have your contact centre feel like a comfortable potting shed. If your customers are corporations, make your contact centre every bit as cutting edge as their offices.

If your teams are spending several hours a day in an environment that’s very similar to the ideal place your customer wants to be, it will be easier for them to empathize.

And as researchers have noted, the cost of even major upgrades to working environments can often be offset by reduced attrition – because people tend to stay longer in nicer workplaces.

For more advice on improving your internal culture, listen to the following episode of The Contact Centre Podcast, with Dan Moross, the Director of Customer Experience at MOO.

Why Is All of This Important to Providing Good Customer Service?

Customers have more choices today than they’ve ever been faced with before. Which in theory means it’s easy for customers to jump ship.

However, the reality is that we’re all so short of time that it takes a serious amount of unhappiness to make us go through the faff of switching a bank account… or even buying our dine-in meal from a different supermarket.

Showing customers they matter is important simply in terms of reassuring them – through good customer service – that they have made the right choice with your brand.

This means that showing customers they matter is important simply in terms of reassuring them – through good customer service – that they have made the right choice with your brand. It also means that they’re more likely to recommend your services to others.

You might be more expensive. Your products might not be quite at the cutting edge. But time after time, customers will stay with – and recommend – the organization that makes them feel they’re respected and valued.

So, it’s worth taking time to make sure empathy is just as important as process and technology.

Just Avoid Defensive Thinking

A picture of a "no excuses" sign

There’s a fear in some organizations – particularly in financial services – that if you’re too nice while providing good customer service, then it’s easy to be taken for a ride.

But understanding customers and being human doesn’t mean being a push-over. In fact, understanding customers can mean understanding the customers you really don’t want to have as well as the ones you do.

You just need to keep it in proportion. So, if you’re an insurer and you know your industry estimates that 10% of calls are likely to be fraudulent – then fine, work on understanding the flags for fraud and stick to your processes.

But you must remember that 90% of your customers have had a really bad day by the time they call you. So talk to everyone in the same way you’d talk to a professional contact.

In Summary

In the highly measured environment of a contact centre, the drive for efficiency can become an all-consuming force – so much so, in fact, that it becomes easy to lose sight of customers.

A headshot of Liz Doig

Liz Doig

However, if we have a great understanding of our customers, we will understand their values and what they expect from us, so we can provide the kind of customer service that will bring people back to us.

To better understand your customers, follow some of the advice in this article and use the insights that you gather to better train the team and maybe even redesign the customer experience.

Thanks to Liz Doig at Wordtree for sharing this article with us.

For more on using customer insights to improve the contact centre and customer experience, read our articles:

Published On: 22nd Apr 2020 - Last modified: 23rd Apr 2020
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