Emmanuel Richard’s interview on Customer Centered Service

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Developing an omnichannel strategy in the field of Customer Experience is quickly becoming the new norm. Companies are faced with the considerable challenge of having to deliver seamless service, regardless of how or when they are contacted. Emmanuel Richard, Director and founder of Extens Consulting, introduces us to the key concepts that define the Spirit of Customer Centered Service.

For those who don’t know you yet, could you introduce yourself?

I have been working within the customer relationship industry for over 20 years. Four years ago, I founded Extens Consulting, a consulting agency dedicated to customer experience. Since our creation within Sitel Group, we have worked with over 50 clients (Orange, Kärcher, La Redoute, Axa,…) in different industries. We are witnessing profound changes in the customer relationship field. One of them is the rise of omnichannel strategies and developing a culture built around Customer Centered Service. We are ushering in a new age in terms of communication, one where brands are forging different forms of relationships with their customers. For a customer, it is natural to be able to contact a company whatever channel he or she chooses to use (face to face, in-store, remotely, through a programmable logic controller, etc.). To deliver the best cross-channel experience, brands need to guarantee consistency over all of them.

Beyond this multiplicity of contact points, one of the major issues is putting the customer at the heart of the relationship. Businesses are realizing how important it is to truly perceive their customers’ point of view (their hopes and expectations). The aim here is to understand how to serve them best and develop the right Spirit of Customer Centered Service.

What defines the Spirit of Customer Centered Service?

Above all, it means having a genuinely caring mindset, one that reflects the company culture, translates into concrete actions with our customers and is embodied every day in the behavior of our associates – our number 1 ambassadors. It is about developing a mind frame that allows you to truly perceive the other, be it your customer, manager, associate… and of course to always take context into account. It requires strong listening skills as well as commitment, empathy and positive energy.
I am particularly committed to the subject through our work with the “Esprit de Service” association for whom we are designing a MOOC on the spirit of Customer Centered Service. This will contribute to raising awareness and sharing our convictions regarding this model of service.

What are the main changes in customer behavior that impact Customer Service today?

Today, customers can interact with our associates at any given time (from their first steps in-store to post-purchase customer service), which generates a strong team spirit, but also presents several challenges: being able to offer the same, consistent level of service no matter what channel customers use. They expect to experience the same Customer Centered Service and Culture with everyone they come into contact with. Moreover, this culture must be appreciated externally as well as internally among associates to truly become a lasting competitive advantage. Sustaining and promoting this culture are crucial in order to foster both your customers and associates’ attachment to your company. Even at an international level, we must keep an ear to the ground. The spirit behind Customer Centered Service must be shared by everyone at every level, and demonstrated in ways that take local contexts into account.

When and where are companies vulnerable and how can you help them adapt to these changes in customer behavior?

There is a huge imperative to support companies in developing their Customer Centered Service Culture. Understanding customer needs and expectation is far from easy and it’s even harder as customer loyalty is increasingly fickle.

At Extens Consulting, we help our clients think differently, so they can reach a keener understanding of the market and thus their customers’ need. We give them tools in order to operate and implement changes in the smoothest way possible.

What are some of the specific challenges companies face as they adapt to all these changes?

The main one is accepting that it’s possible to perform better by implementing different processes.

Another difficulty is promoting this Customer Centered Service Culture internally and at every level since it implies a big paradigm shift. Companies need to support their associates and make them understand the benefits involved so as to avoid any breaking points. Changing from a transactional to a relational model can be complex, but it is necessary, especially in a context where AI and robots have entered the equation.

How do you see Customer Service evolving over the next few years?

Customer relations is not just the name of a service or department, it is a reality that comprises the customer journey (obtaining information, purchasing, subscribing, complaining…). A strong Customer Centered Service Culture has to be shared at every level of the company and needs to nourish every part of the customer relationship. To create a unique customer relationship, it is crucial to develop trust through transparent communication and enrich personal data processing with relational data. This new form of communication will be officially endorsed by the new General Data Protection Regulation that comes into force next May (GDPR).

A powerful Customer Centered Service Spirit will create more added-value opportunities. For specific support, you can turn to the Esprit de Service France association’s (ESF) model deployment and the Customer Centered Service Spirit AFNOR labelling.