Updated: Dec 31, 2021
This year is all about action and opportunity - if you are willing to take charge and hold yourself and your team accountable for meaningful goals.
You will doubtless see dozens of "best of" and "New Year Predictions" posts over the next few weeks and most are just a shot in the dark. Don't be fooled by those 3,000 word articles that abound with exposition and fanciful language - my goal is to get to the meat of the issue (or tofu if you are vegan) and on the path to results.
Before we go any further, I want to say thank you - thank you to the first responders, essential workers, and front line teams who have been stretched to breaking point these past 2 years. It has been hard and many of you have stepped up in a way no one could have expected, but which we all appreciate.
I've been out living Customer Experience across the country working with restaurant groups, travel industry companies, technology firms, chambers of commerce, and professional organizations - and I've been talking directly to guests for 4 months solid asking them the only question that matters.
What do you want from the brands you do business with and what would make you more loyal to them.
As I collected this data, I spoke to leaders in all these different industries and asked them one simple question.
How the heck are you going to do that?
What follows is the culmination of these conversations, along with an eye toward execution and the lens of sustained execution. In other words, my advice on how you can get there.
The risk with these predictions is that they tend to be vague, overly strategic, and offer little in the way of actionable steps. If you're looking for nonsense move along, because this is about abandoning the excuses and finding a way forward.
Remember the Pandemic and external pressures will continue to kick you in the face this year - it's just the reality of what's coming. But how you handle those external forces will determine your level of success in 2022.
There is no room for excuses as you move into the new year - and here is what you can do to focus on driving success rather than explaining what went wrong.
PEOPLE MUST BE THE PRIORITY - AND YOU HAVE TO MEAN IT
There is a cost to providing fast, effortless, consistently amazing customer experiences. The fight for better, faster, and cheaper has taken it's toll on the domestic workforce and now there is a reckoning when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent. There has been an exodus from the service industry in particular because many were not treated well in the quest to provide outstanding service at lower prices.
It is popular to say that employee satisfaction goes beyond pay - but ignoring what you pay your workforce doesn't work either. There is, of course, a limit to what you can pay employees at each level of your business, but make sure you are staying in line with the caliber and experience needed for the role. It is easier than ever to know what the going rate is for a position, and your team won't be bashful about moving to achieve their financial goals.
That said, money is never enough. Flexibility, purpose, training, leadership, and communication all play a role in recruiting and retaining star talent.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Understand that your employee experience will drive your customer experience - and commit to actually do something about it. Ask yourself if you need to be the cheapest to win your industry channel. Think about how you and your leaders engage with team members and associates. Without appropriate pay, training, recognition, an understanding of purpose, and a path to advancement you will continue to see the quantity and quality of your workforce diminish.
SUPPLY CHAIN SHORTAGES WILL CHALLENGE YOU
We all know that supply chain has been a challenge - and depending on your industry and volume it has had varying levels of impact on your business. Customers know this is happening in the marketplace, but most think it doesn't apply to them or that they have selected companies that know how to work around it.
Customers become the most anxious when something they take for granted stops working for a moment - we learned that during the shortages we encountered early in the pandemic.
The reason those shortages were so concerning to consumers is because, at least domestically, we haven't encountered them in a while. Also it hit so quickly and so dramatically that reaction times by brands were painfully slow.
Customers have no appetite to continue hearing about supply chain challenges going into 2022 - they want alternatives.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: This is a time for planning. Opening the umbrella after it starts to rain doesn't do a thing to keep you from getting wet - and the same goes for supply chain shortages. Look ahead to what may give you availability headaches and plan your response in advance. Customers are not shy about moving on to another provider when their preferred company can't deliver what they need. Are you sourcing alternatives and are you ready to make recommendations to customers based on what you can provide in the moment? Now is the time to plan that path to alternative purchase so that you are seen as a problem solver rather than an excuse maker.
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WHAT KIND OF HOSPITALITY YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT IS EVOLVING
The pandemic has changed many things about customer experience and hospitality. This goes beyond the obvious of becoming more comfortable with self service, embracing chatbots, and falling even more in love with delivery.
People are hungry for the familiar - and they are looking for experiences that deliver on the basics while finding just the right amount of surprise to keep things interesting. There is a general sense of fatigue with the pandemic and the restrictions that some are experiencing in parts of their lives.
According to the FAA there have been over 5,700 incidents on planes this year through December 21st, 2021. This is up 5x to the pre-pandemic levels.
We are even seeing verbal and physical altercations while waiting in line at Disney and you can feel that many are just a bit on edge each day.
You need to help your customers reacclimate to the world and be as patient as you can with them. Some are finding it challenging to be out in public among others - and we see that dramatically illustrated within the airline industry.
More than that customers are grappling with the amount of service and personalization they receive - which makes reading customers a skill that your teams must adopt. This will allow them to understand when customers need help, who wants to have a chat, who wants to be left alone, and who may need service recovery.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Look at your customer's experience from their point of view. Focus on the key touchpoints of People, Place, Product, and process from the customer's point of view. Are these touchpoints delivering on the key Experience Guidelines of Safety, Hospitality, Quality, Simplicity, and Inclusivity? Think about how you can deliver the most familiar experiences possible while keeping your customers safe and following the rules of your locality. Training will help here as you use an empathetic approach to understand what your customers need as they interact with your brand.
ONLINE ACCESSIBILITY AND PRIVACY MATTERS TO CUSTOMERS
We learned during the pandemic that there was still much room for digital evolution. As more services moved online there were data breaches and complaints around accessibility. It became clear that there was work to do as lawsuits alleging that apps and websites were inaccessible to those with disabilities increased 64% in the first half of 2021.
Your customers expect you to provide online experiences that are easy to use for everyone and that will keep their personal information safe. This isn't revolutionary, but you have to take action.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Look at your digital experience from the customers' POV (and that means all customers). Evaluating your digital assets from the point of view of those with disabilities will help you understand their challenges. Then find experts in this area and put them to work building inclusive and easy-to-use digital experiences.
While you are evaluating your use of alternate text, subtitles, audio descriptors, and security, you should also look at the flow of your site from a usability standpoint. Is it easy to understand, fast to load, and simple to use?
The call to action here is simple, but don't mistake that for easy.
You have to take action - you can't just give it lip service, nod your head, and do what you've always done.
You actually have to communicate with your teams better (start with pre-shift huddles)
Give your team the training they need and develop them to advance in your business
Make sure your digital presence is easy to understand, easy to use, and keeps personal information safe
Plan what you will do to curate alternatives for customers who experience out of stocks - and do it before it impacts customers
Take a step back and look at your business from the customer point of view - what are they trying to accomplish and how can you help them feel a sense of comfort and familiarity?
Do this and you will find that even as 2022 tries to pick up where the last 2 years have left off, you will be able to chart a different course.
While other lament, you will commit.
When the competition lags, you will soar.
When your customers call, you will answer.
That is how you keep your customers - and your team - at the center of everything you do.
Tony Johnson, CCXP Customer Experience Speaker | Author |Trainer | Consultant 606.356.7447 FREE RESOURCES AND TRAINING TOOLS WEB - TWITTER - FACEBOOK - YOUTUBE - INSTAGRAM - LINKEDIN - PODCAST - CALENDAR Improve Your Customer Service with my Book: TOGETHER WE SERVE: Four Proven Strategies to Create Winning Experiences for Your Guests and Your Tea. Click to Purchase on Amazon.com
Tony Johnson is an award winning speaker and author on the topics of sales growth, customer experience, and leadership. Tony speaks to thousands annually and has been featured on ABC News and Fox News. He is available for business planning, motivational keynotes, leadership workshops, and employee service skills training.
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