“Rule Number One of CRM: Don’t get on your customer’s nerves.“

Customer Experience Concept. Woman hand showing on five star excellent rating on background, copy space
August 16, 2022 | Leadership and Organizational Development

Economist Nils Hafner has been addressing the topic of customer relationships for a quarter of a century. In an interview with Janice Köser, he talks about the early years of his profession and his experiences since that time. The core of his elaborations: the importance of satisfied employees for a positive customer experience and examples of good and modern customer orientation. 

Too many mistakes

As part of his dissertation, Nils Hafner developed a system aimed at measuring the quality of customer relationships. His practice partner was a huge corporation – Siemens. The task involved analyzing discussions with customers who were searching for a solution to the problem relating to their telephone system. The result: From long wait times to poorly resolved music while on hold, to being connected to several different contacts, there was so much that it made customers’ moods worse. “At times, I thought it was just hilarious, but then my mind was opened to the optimization potential. I also realized there was a huge opportunity to develop a whole new profession out of this”, Nils Hafner explains. His success proves his point.

The correlation between satisfied employees and customers

Many especially successful companies, such as Amazon, have given in-depth thought to the question of what their customers actually want. Especially as relates to service, the answer is: “A quick, correct solution, presented in a polite and competent manner.” The company itself needs to create ability to do so: Answers to the most frequently asked questions should already be on the website. On the other hand, if they have a problem that is not addressed here, the customers do have the option to call. This way, employees always have contact with the customer if they are confronted by a particular challenge.

This kind of procedure makes a dialog with the customer much more comfortable for the employees in customer service. Staff that does not have to continuously deal with bad-tempered, even irate callers, asking the same questions over and over again, you’ll be much happier – and satisfied employees will remain with the company. They learn, gather experience and continuously improve their abilities to assist the customers faster and more competently. This starts a positive spiral: “Satisfied customers remain loyal to the company. In the long run, this increases profitability and growth.”

Satisfied customers remain loyal to the company. In the long run, this increases profitability and growth.

Nils Hafner,
professor at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
Header Market and Customer Excellence

Automation – but in a way that makes sense

The trend towards digitalization has long since made its way into customer service. Yet, this does not automatically improve interactions between employees and customers. The task of Customer Experience Management is to identify where the problematic issues are in these interactions with the customer. The best way to go about this is to ask customer service employees: after all, this is something they have to listen to almost all day long.

Once the issues have been identified, the question to ask is how to remedy the situation: Which tools are suitable, and which are not? This applies not only to the concerns on the customer side, but also to the day-to-day work of employees: Where is automated support beneficial to service quality, and in which areas is it relatively irrelevant? So, not only should the new tools satisfy the customers, but also employees. Nils Hafner expresses it this way: “We are definitely interested in ensuring that tools that employees use are cool, that they are perceived by them as cool, as attractive, time-saving, useful tools – and not just as a necessary evil.” 


We are definitely interested in ensuring that tools that employees use are cool, that they are perceived by them as cool, as attractive, time-saving, useful tools – and not just as a necessary evil.

Nils Hafner,
professor at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

We are definitely interested in ensuring that tools that employees use are cool, that they are perceived by them as cool, as attractive, time-saving, useful tools – and not just as a necessary evil.

Nils Hafner,
professor at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts

New employees have to fit the corporate vision

Those executives currently dealing with digitalization and automation in the field of Customer Relationship Management need to make sure that their employees keep the customer in focus. “Colleagues have found that employees make the difference in 60% of all fantastic customer experiences, but interestingly, they also make the difference in 70% of all frustrating experiences,” Nils Hafner reports.

Accordingly, so Hafner, when interviewing candidates, it is important to make sure that their mindset matches the company’s vision: “This is about nothing less than the mission of a company. The mission is something like a long-term reason for being. This is where a clear customer focus is key.”

New ways to increase customer satisfaction

For Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, factoring in the customer’s perspective into every decision is of utmost importance. Other companies, however, are also thinking hard about ways to focus more on the customer and, consequently, are breaking with long-established rules. Nils Hafner cites two examples of this: Smart and the BLS (formerly Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon Railway).

At Smart, they avoided silo formation between marketing, sales and service, which is widespread in the automotive industry, from the very beginning. On the one hand, this meant that responsibility could not be passed on and, for example, that blame could not be laid at the door of a different department. On the other hand, it immediately freed up capacity to attend directly and actively to customer concerns.

After analyzing its customer calls, BLS discovered that the majority of calls were about wait times for car loading. The company subsequently automated the relevant information and customers now receive very precise details on the current wait times.  

Efficient customer service with satisfied employees – Conclusion

To improve customer service satisfaction, it is imperative to prevent situations that are potentially extremely annoying to customers from developing in the first place. The customer’s perspective can be ascertained with the help of the employees. In turn, employees can work more efficiently if digitalization is used to automate the process of answering questions that recur again and again, enabling them to focus on specific issues.

Interesting and enlightening information about the ability of companies to change with respect to their processes, structures, employees, qualifications, leadership and corporate culture as parameters for success can be found in the study Companies in Change.

Host Janice Koeser

Janice Köser

Manager Academy

Guest

Prof. Dr. rer. pol. Nils Hafner

Keynote speaker, consultant, professor

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