Creativity and Innovation for Customer Service Excellence

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Words Caroline Gathuru

“You must believe in something larger than yourself, and your ideas will become the biggest ideas of your time” – Barbara Bush. Customer service excellence bowsvery much to the same refrain – to generate delightful customer experiences, brands must indeed think of something bigger than themselves to sustainably deliver on their promises. And what pray tellis this big thing? An unyielding central focus on the customer.

It is indeed extremely rare to find products or services that are absolutely unmatched, uniquely peculiar, and without replication world over. The basic functions of end products are the same, and what creates that unique difference is the service. Where service in this case represents, both service deliveryand the user experience with tangible products.  So if the basic ingredients arepretty muchthe same, what should brands do to differentiate themselves and gain solid customerloyalty?

Ideas Ideas Ideas……………..

Ideas are the raw material from which creativity and innovation for customer retention morph. Ideas must be actively solicited, carefully nurtured and purposefully implemented to generate distinctive strategies for service excellence. There is no other way that customers will continuously be glued to your brand unless there is product and service reinvention and innovation.  Whereas these may seem like abstract terms, in reality Paul Sloane from Innovation Excellence defines: creativity as the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual; innovation as the implementation of something new; and invention a the creation of something that has never been made before. Creating unusual customer experiences, implementing new customer service ideas and inventing new ways of delivering the same service arethings so doable for the customer, and in the very same‘definition’ right?

This confirms that indeed if ideas are put together and given the opportunity to see the light of day, the customer will be the ultimate winner and the brand will deliver its value proposition. Customer experience improvement ideas are not some far-fetched theorem that needs research and development over the years. No. Infact the best ideas come from the customers themselves. If brands took the time to reach out to their customers as partners in the process of continual improvement, and ask them for their ideas, suggestions and proposals of what can be done differently to enhance their experience; they would be very pleasantly surprised at the ideas that emanate from the customers. And the more customers are asked for their ideas, the more willing they will be to give genuine feedback. The folly of many brands is to initiate surveys as a matter of scheduled routine, rather than to genuinely converse with customers before, during and after their engagement at the different brand touch points. Customers being the ultimate users, have a vested interest in having their brands of choice provide enhanced service. When requested with sincerity, they will be very happy to contribute. And nothing delights a customer more than to see an idea they proposed, taken up and converted for use. This provides such a fiery incentive to generate and provide more useful ideas, and to share with others how their brand listens to the voice of its customers.

Another really important way to generate ideas to enhance the customer experience is by initiating and driving an ideas lab internally.  Harnessing ideas from staff and further developing them will serve to deliver an improved experience for the customer. The staff have a wealth of experience by virtue of their interaction with the products and services they provide or dispense to customers. Based on this continuous interaction often on a daily basis, they constantly have thoughts on how to ensure things work better, easier, faster and smoother. The need to improve the processes and systems they work withhas the customer as the ultimatebeneficiary. Improved internal systems translate to improved outcomes for the end user. Staff also have direct contact with feedback from customers who mention to them directly or indirectly what pleases or displeases them. These may emerge in the form of compliments or complaints and sometimes outright suggestions. Armed with these inputs, staff are well placed to propose changes, and to provide avenues for discussion on the reinvention of systems and processes for improvement. Providing a responsive platform for dialogue with staff motivates them to yield more and more great ideas. And just as with customers, the realization that proposed ideas are actually taken up by management for implementation galvanizes staff into positive action. Having a galvanized workforce is every CEO’s dream.

Whether customer experience creativity and innovation is generated internally by staff or externally by customers, the brand must be willing to anticipate, accept and adapt to change. Investment may already have been made in a process or system, but should there be every indication that a change is required to go with the flow of customer needs, the fluidity required to make this happen is what differentiates well led brands from the rest.

Innovation and creativity need to take center stage with regards to implementation of customer experience strategy. Brands that thrive on the constant need to reinvent themselves, restructure their systems and revitalize their products to keep customers refreshed, are positioned for success. Every brand needs to reflect upon the fact that customers are the key drivers of business, and innovating the customer experience is just as important as having innovative products and services. The critical question to ask at this point is – is creativity and innovation underlined and highlighted in bold in your customer experience strategy? Please go and check?

Caroline Gathuru is an accomplished brand specialist, marketing strategist and founder of LifeSkills Consulting. She is an ardent customer service practitioner with over 15 years experience. Email: cgathuru@life-skills.co.ke