By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor
“Customer experience is the sum total of all interactions a person has with a company,” write customer experience gurus Jeofrey Bean and Sean Van Tyne in their book, “
Achieving outstanding customer experience is a concept that AmeriFleet Transportation has enthusiastically embraced. AmeriFleet opened its Customer Experience Center in a new building in Alpharetta, GA in March, staffed by 50 employees in an open office setting designed to promote collaborative efforts among its employees.
John Norris, AmeriFleet’s president, notes the difference between customer service and costumer experience. “For most companies, he says, customer service deals with some key ‘moments of truth’ for customers. That function is important in efforts to improve customer experience. But firms can’t just focus on customer service interactions or offload responsibility for customer experience to the customer service organization. The bottom line: customer service is an important component of customer experience.”
Chris Zaccaro is a Customer Experience Owner (CXO) with AmeriFleet. He explains that title and its role: “A Customer Experience Owner takes ownership for each order and makes sure that the customer is completely satisfied at the end. Customer service is reactive,” he says, and notes that it often deals with something that has gone wrong. Customer experience, on the other hand, is about a proactive stance. “I don’t want you to have that misstep. We want to get out in front of it and avoid it. This is not with the customer care department. The customer experience is with sales, it is with accounting – all the way down to the invoice level; it is the totality of contact a customer has with your company.”
Phil Henderson, also an AmeriFleet CXO, explains that five tenets undergird AmeriFleet’s approach to providing top-notch customer service:
- Knowing the customer’s world
- Creating a structure for intimacy
- Emphasizing the customer’s well-being
- Enhancing the customer’s experience at all touch points
- Measuring the quality of the customer’s experience and rewarding those who improve.
“We work with our fleet management partners and the drivers who are receiving fleet vehicles to make sure that both parties have a great experience,” says Henderson. He points to an example: “One woman to whom we were delivering a vehicle had mentioned that she had a newly-born baby and didn’t want us to come to her home and knock on the door or ring the bell. She asked if we could give her a phone call when we were close by that way she could kind of creep out of the house and meet us in the driveway and not wake up the sleeping baby.” Henderson says he is proud they successfully met her needs, employing — he points out — the five tenets.
In addition to those tenets, Zaccaro emphasizes the importance of three guiding principles behind AmeriFleet’s drive to improve its customer experience:
1. A structure for customer intimacy: Know how they think, how they feel and understand every aspect of their expectations. Each customer is unique; understanding their uniqueness is the key to delivering a world class experience
2. Outcome ownership: Someone must be responsible to insure we deliver the best experience in every interaction (if everyone owns the order no one owns the order). “Who Owns the Order?” is a question for which AmeriFleet must always have an answer.
3. Customer well-being emphasized in all decisions: Our natural tendency as human beings is to focus on what might be easier to execute; that can mean more effective execution but it may also mean that what we deliver is not what the customer truly wants. A great customer experience requires meeting each customer’s specific expectations and striving to give them exactly what they want in every possible situation.
The philosophy embodied in the five tenets and the three guiding principles is also manifested in AmeriFleet’s 26 behaviors. These doctrines are displayed on a wall in the customer experience center, and one of these 26 is the focus of behavior on a periodical basis. Currently, the behavior focus is “Look and Act Professional.” A simple, deceptively common sense precept, but as Zaccaro notes, spotlighting these behaviors is a key part of AmeriFleet’s customer experience efforts.
As emphasized by all AmeriFleet employees, a significant part of achieving outstanding customer experience is hiring employees who bring the right characteristics and attitude, says Chris Carroll, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development. “We look for employees who embody the spirit of AmeriFleet – wanting to help the customer, the willingness to help the customer; a real customer focus. That is how we interview. We put a lot of time into our selection process by having them screened by our recruiters, interviewed by the members of management, and even at the top level some of our senior leadership team also gets involved in the hiring just to make sure that we are getting the person that embodies the AmeriFleet spirit.”
Rich Pinnock, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for AmeriFleet Transportation points out that customer experience resonates in the IT department. There are three IT-based elements to customer experience: “The first: is the system fast?” he says. “The second is whether the user is getting the information he needs when he accesses our system. We have to be sure the information is both accurate and applicable.” Not only that, he says, “Customers want us to provide more support for them than we ever have. Information is a key driver in their business and they want us to support those goals – getting more information and getting it faster. Finally, he says uptime is even more important than ever: “We have to make sure that our systems are up. The expectation used to be 99.6%. Today, the expectation is nearer 100 percent. Things happen, sure, but that shouldn’t impact our customers’ ability to do their business, just as it cannot impact our ability to do our business. Our systems have to be designed that way.”
The last word, fittingly, belongs to John Norris, who is the driving force behind the implementation of the customer experience initiative at AmeriFleet: “Customer experience, in its essence, is the feeling a client has through every interaction with your organization, throughout their ‘journey’ with you. In some businesses that journey may be simply a one-off transaction. In our case, the journey is over many, many, many years. We build customer experience, not just through the customer service reps that are a component of customer experience, not just through the billing department, not just through the order entry folks, but at every touch point throughout the journey.”