Support is not a touch point, it’s an experience. Design for it.

Designing great customer experiences is what sets best-in-class brands apart. Nektarea Cameron-Smith writes about the opportunity that exists for brands to treat customer support as more than a touchpoint, but rather an opportunity to connect and show humanity and personality. 

In a world that’s getting quicker, slicker and focused on the frictionless, curating the right kind of friction in special human moments can set your brand apart.

Friction can be fun

Our lives are filled with tech designed to make things easier and help us get life admin done. Siri sets our alarms and we’re forgetting how to order at a bar thanks to Mr Yum. But when you set out to design a frictionless experience, you risk designing amazing people – like great bar staff – out of the picture. Brands have an opportunity to create authentic, human interactions that stick in customers’ memories – those who can will gain the advantage.

When Mecca first launched, they set new standards for service and transformed the beauty industry. Service reps in other stores could only offer so much time or care, and you often felt the pressure to purchase. In came Mecca, where friendly, informed and empowered reps actively encouraged you to try before you buy with generous samples and a liberating purchase promise: That if it doesn’t work for you, just bring it back.

So, brands should ask themselves: Are we designing transactions or interactions when it comes to support experiences?

A transactional encounter is when you’re just going through the motions to get a task done. That’s where reducing time and energy is most valuable. Interaction occurs when two people are engaged in a dialogue or actively participating in the process and it’s something to celebrate and maximise.

Here’s how.

Define values that resonate

First, you need to nail your definition of ‘great’ moments, otherwise, how can you expect your team to consistently deliver them? Quantifying what great looks and feels like for both customers and staff allows you to design for it strategically.

Up is growing fast, from launch to 360,000 customers in less than three years. We’ve had to dive deep to quantify what makes our current support interactions great and implement tools to design the perfect new ones.

To identify your brand’s support values:

  1. Start by asking the right people the right questions: If you want buy-in and honest answers, it’s a good idea to ask the people doing the work and the ones receiving the support (so, both team and customers). And make sure you’re asking engaging open-ended questions that represent your brand and encourage creative feedback.

  2. Turn all that richness into something meaningful and quantifiable: There are times to automate analysis and times to roll up your sleeves. This moment is the latter. Review, identify keywords, group trends and quantify into themes. Then rank these themes in order of importance.

  3. Finally, turn all those insights into a real life representation of your customers’ expectations: Plaster it to your walls, scream it from the hilltops. You now have a shared understanding of what your customers and team think GREAT looks like. You’ve got the formula, now you can measure current experiences and design better ones using it.

One theme that rose above the rest when conducting Up’s values research was that both our staff and customers want us to ‘be a mate’. Customers want to feel like they’re talking to someone they trust, someone that has their back and knows when to be serious or have a laugh. Our team wants to help in a real, human way, without awkward corporate gloss.

 

Turn values into good times (for all)

Working those shared values? Amazing. Once your team is on board and curating great experiences, add some rigour and scalability to make sure you’re nailing it across all interactions, because without a baseline you have nothing to jump from.

Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research to keep a regular, close watch on the quality of your support. A mixture of solicited feedback (surveys), operational metrics (like time to resolve) and deep-dive analysis into end to end interactions can be assessed against a quality framework built around your values. This will generate a rich pool of insights and opportunities that is far more valuable than chasing industry benchmarks alone.

Also critical is empowering your team to live the values and make them their own. In practice, this means allowing your Service team to play an active role in the broader innovation processes, collaborating with engineers and product designers to co-create new ways to support customers. If your business currently treats its service team as somehow less important than either customers or the product, you’re risking their motivation – and you can’t have engaged customers without an engaged team. So, if a customer or a support team member is upholding your values, celebrate it. But if someone isn’t treating your team the way they should, don’t put profit before people, make your Support team’s happiness a priority. Never be afraid to fire customers for bad behaviour.

Curate the good kinda friction

People tend to be more forgiving of technology than they are of humans. People are used to turning their devices on and off again, but customers consistently place higher expectations on receiving good quality service. At Up, our banking app makes managing money easy but if it all falls apart when you contact us for help, what’s the point of slick UI and best in class design? Conversely, when a customer is getting frustrated but support delivers an amazing, heartfelt save – that’s where some of your biggest fans will be born.

So connect your people to your customers to stand out from the pack

Every interaction between a brand and its customers sets the tone. If your Service team is part of your strategy for success, and they feel confident and empowered to deliver experiences not just transactions, your customers will reap the benefits. Customers aren’t the silver bullet for innovation, but they sure will tell you if you’re going in the wrong direction. It’s up to brands to read between the lines and create opportunities to inject more humanity, personality and life into service design.

So if you’re in the Customer game, and you’re lucky enough to get opportunities to engage with the real life people that make your business a reality – curate human experiences that make them smile. Getting supported should feel like a hug, not a chore.

Nektarea Cameron-Smith is the head of customer experience at Up Banking.

Photo by Meghan Schiereck on Unsplash.