Amazon has long been considered an exemplar of how to create a great customer experience. Yet as a recent New York Times article detailed at length, the company may be offering its customers a quick and affordable shopping experience at the expense of its employees’ health and wellbeing. Jeff Bezos and his most loyal employees have been quick to leap to Amazon’s defense, but the damage has been done.
If nothing else, judging by the response it’s received, the article has highlighted something important: Data-driven convenience and efficiency aren’t the only—or even the most important—building blocks of long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Let me explain.
Amazon has set a high bar when it comes to offering its customers memorable service, from sending them free gifts and thank you cards in the 1990s to continuing to offer one of the best return policies in the world of ecommerce. Their customer experience innovations span Prime membership, with its ever-growing list of customer benefits; to the Kindle Fire HD’s Mayday function, which allows customers to engage Amazon’s customer service agents over live video chat; and new technologies like Amazon Echo and the Dash button, which make it easier than ever for customers to engage with Amazon’s universe of products and services from the comfort of their homes.
Customers love Amazon for these experiences, so it’s therefore not surprising that Amazon ranks highly when it comes to customer retention, and their Net Promoter Scores (NPS) suggest a customer service operation that is efficient and effective.
But as the Times’ chronicle of Amazon’s employee experience revealed, that high degree of efficiency and innovation doesn’t come easily.
Indeed, while previous investigations have described the high-intensity environment of Amazon’s warehouses, the Times chronicled similar data-driven criteria within the company’s management ranks, a single-minded focus on performance metrics may also be occurring among Amazon’s legions of customer service representatives.
Quantity Over Quality?
The contact center industry has been subject to scrutiny for years for the work-life imbalances that can be caused by an overemphasis on agent yield. Even when operations are managed “perfectly,” an organization’s management strategy can be less than perfect to begin with, focused too much on purely data-driven decisions at the expense of the happiness of employees.
Now, why should it matter if employees in the contact center are happy? Because they’re directly engaging with customers all day long. Sentiment is easily transmitted from one person to another, and there are few bigger turnoffs for customers than having to resolve an issue with a disengaged, irritated, or clearly miserable customer service agent.
Moreover, labor costs are the most expensive part of every contact center operation. In an industry where annual attrition rates average over 30%, considering how to retain talent in the contact center requires a shift in HR strategy. Instead of managing performance on outdated metrics that don’t move the customer experience needle (average talk times, wrap up times, etc.), today’s customer experience leaders are looking at the entire customer journey, the customer “effort” expended to engage with the company, and organizing around the customer to better impact customer experience—to name a few.
The kind of efficiency and rigor that persist in most of today’s contact center operations may be temporarily effective, streamlining operations and improving results, but it doesn’t make for a healthy customer service strategy in the long run that yields competitive advantage and growing wallet share from customers. Why? Because it overlooks the direct connection between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
The Value of a Human-Driven Customer Experience
Now, don’t get me wrong: As the CEO of the world’s leading customer experience and contact center solution company, I know that the smart use of a wide variety of metrics—sporting acronyms like ATT, AHT, TTR, CES, NPS, and EDR—can enormously improve contact center performance and the resulting customer experience, when applied correctly. And our solutions are extremely effective at reporting data in a myriad of forms about all manner of customer interactions and how they are handled.
But data isn’t everything.
Customer experience is, first and foremost, a matter of human relationships. And data can be used to help strengthen and develop those relationships. Just ask the employees and customers of Zappos. Incidentally, Zappos is owned by Amazon, and there’s both a reason why Amazon acquired them and a reason why the company is lauded as the standard-bearer of how the employee experience translates into a great customer experience.
The Zappos model ushered in a new trend we’re seeing of organizations doing away with many traditional metrics, such as not caring how long its staff spends on the phone with customers, as long as those customers leave satisfied. Apart from providing a great selection of products and services, CX leaders are building business models on what we might call company-culture-driven customer service, which applies to the entire enterprise and not just the customer service or contact center “department.” When customers engage with the contact center, they inevitably get a taste of the positive, enthusiastic spirit that the company prides itself on. And it feels authentic. By cultivating an environment of happy employees, it leads to happy customers, who want to connect with people who enjoy what they do and where they work.
Simply providing customers with convenience may keep them coming back until they find a better deal elsewhere, but if it’s lifelong loyalty you’re after, you’ve got to give your customers reasons to love you. Just like in any other human relationship—it’s about what’s inside that counts.
The fact is, customers will speak with their wallets if they perceive too much injustice in the way a company conducts its business. It’s happened many times before. While it’s hard to say for sure what life is really like inside Amazon, given the conflicting views on the matter, we can at least thank The New York Times for starting a timely conversation on the importance of the human factor at the heart of all the data that makes a modern business thrive.
If our industry can embrace that conversation, both customers and the employees that serve them will be all the better for it.
This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Connecting Amazon’s Employee Experience to Its Customer Experience
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