Four skills that future-proof your career (and you might already have them!)
Customer Experience is one of those slogans that has been around for an age but still always manages to be a new headline. It's: the latest new trend; a company's competitive advantage; the key to long-lasting partnerships. But what does customer experience actually mean in the context of your career? A lot.
Historically, supply has come before demand in sectors such as banking and finance, travel and transport. Organisations developed products that customers bought, simply because they were the only products available. If it was expensive, clunky, complicated or challenging to use? Tough; that was the product that was available. Thoughts around customer experience generally revolved around familiarity, convenience, or speed and customers typically engaged or stayed with an organisation due to time or option limitations.
As technology lowers barriers-to-entry across most industries, there are increasingly more disruptive start-ups entering traditional markets and forcing large corporates to reconsider how they position themselves and define customer experience. A significant portion of start-ups succeed because they've looked at the customer first, then developed a product to solve an ongoing issue in the industry. Hotels too expensive and lack a homely feel? Welcome Airbnb. Taxis in bad condition with drivers that don't know where they're going? Welcome Uber. Merchant fees too high for retailers? Welcome Square.
What does this mean for you and what can you do to remain relevant in the landscape that's shifting more and more customers centric? The simplest way to understand the importance of customer experience is to think about the phrase as being synonymous with interpersonal interactions. Customer experience is the quality of others' exchanges with you and how they feel about you following those interactions. Ergo, good customer experiences are vital to your career. In that context, how do you create good customer experiences and future-proof yourself?
Chances are you probably already have a lot of skills and experiences that make you relevant in the market place, you just haven't thought about the potential in what you already know and have. For example, you probably have an abundance of soft skills that are fundamental to understanding and enhancing the customer experience and better yet, they are transferable across industries. They can be grouped into four buckets:
1. Relationship Building
Relationship Building is more than about establishing good rapport. Occurring with both internal and external customers, building relationships involve making deeper personal connections based on trust as well as being able to anticipate others' needs. It is crucial because understanding, depth and trust are foundational to finding and establishing common goals, and common goals are win-win situations that are easy for everyone to commit to.
Understanding the different needs within a group and how individuals fit together organically builds an environment of ideas and success in which you and your customer can work collaboratively.
Want to know what your customers want to experience? Listen. Whilst organisations are using rich analytics to better understand consumer behaviour, customer experience is being enhanced through a more traditional method: face-to-face conversation.
In recent years, organisations have started reviewing the Customer Journey through all phases and touch points; analytics are being used to understand what is happening, conversations are uncovering what customers would like to happen. Products are being designed tailored to the outcome of the conversations. The best way to get the most out of conversation? Start with the right questions and then listen, listen and listen.
Being able to engage with different audiences to persuade and sell ideas benefits both internal and external customers.
Influencers have a strong voice and can take the lead.
Articulating yourself with concise, controlled and coherent expression means you can take people on a journey and that translates directly to taking customers on an experience. If you can influence, you can influence your customers' experience.
Putting ideas into action is never easy, but doing what you say you are going to do ensures quality customer experience.
Your customers' experience is only ever going to be as good as what you have managed them to expect, so begin by agreeing to clear outcomes. Part of good delivery is having speed, precision and effectiveness, but more important are achieving predefined goals and staying on track. This vigilance minimises risk and ensures successful delivery. Consistently delivering instils confidence in stakeholders.
If you've worked in a professional environment in the last decade, these skills will be absolutely familiar to you. The key is linking them to improving your customers' experience. In a world preoccupied with innovation in order to future-proof, sometimes future-proofing yourself is about focussing on existing skills.