Staff who have good experiences at work are more likely to keep customers happy – expert.

Kiwi businesses have been cautioned about relying solely on technology to wow customers.

The warning comes in a major global survey conducted by PwC which says cutting edge technology alone may not solve the 'customer experience challenge'.

PwC Experience Centre director in New Zealand, Suzanne Cross, says the survey reveals that firms who tout the latest technology or snappy design can sometimes fail to focus on the one big connector for customers – the human touch.

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She says the survey results support the view that one of the keys to business competitiveness and profitability increasingly lies with keeping staff happy, empowered and engaged: "This is a no-brainer as they directly and indirectly deliver products, services and experiences to customers."

Cross says the factors customers most value are efficiency, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service – the latter two of which are directly influenced by employees (and the former two indirectly). As a result companies are placing a greater focus on improving employee experience to in turn create better experiences for customers.

The survey - the PwC Future of Customer Experience 2017/2018 - says that three of the top four reasons driving customers to take their money elsewhere are bad employee attitudes, unfriendly service and unknowledgeable staff.

PwC Experience Centre director in New Zealand, Suzanne Cross. Photo / Supplied.
PwC Experience Centre director in New Zealand, Suzanne Cross. Photo / Supplied.

The survey comes as the company is preparing its September series of PwC Herald Talks breakfast sessions to feature discussion on what it calls the 'experience-led model'. To be held in Wellington on September 4 and Auckland on September 5, the sessions will examine fresh approaches companies can take to improve engagement with customers.

Cross says as digitisation and automation become more prevalent, it is even more important customers have better experiences when dealing with companies.

"While there are situations where customers prefer digitisation – to schedule appointments, book flights or accommodation – people still prefer human interaction, particularly when something goes wrong," she says. "They also want to be able to deal with someone who is friendly.

"Customers expect technology to always work and often don't take notice of it – unless it's malfunctioning. While many companies focus significant time and money on cutting edge technology to wow customers, these aren't as essential to the experience equation as many companies believe.

"Technology isn't the solution to great customer experiences – it should be seen as an enabler of experiences when it is done right."

Cross says the survey shows that despite advances in technology, over 80 per cent of people prefer to interact with a real person - and want to do so more often - while up to 60 per cent say they will walk away and take their custom elsewhere if they have bad experiences.

She says a recent personal "experience" demonstrates her point. "I bought a pair of shoes about a year ago but recently noticed a tear in one," she says. "I didn't think that should happen after only a year so I took it back to the shop I had purchased it from, steeling myself for 'an encounter' as I did.

"But the person I dealt with was very helpful. She immediately agreed the tear shouldn't have happened and replaced the shoes with a new pair; she was obviously empowered to make that decision and because of this good service I'm more likely to buy from them again."

Cross says employees who feel connected to the culture and values of their workplace, have the training and tools to do their jobs well and are empowered to deliver great customer experience (like the person in the shoe shop) are more likely to be satisfied at work – with businesses who adopt this model more likely to be competitive and profitable than those who don't.

Cross says creating a culture of care is also a key. "People have lives outside of work and they like to know they are supported when they are carrying a bigger burden at home," she says. "So the manager who allows a staff member to work from home for a couple of weeks when they are under pressure because of a bereavement or by a partner being away is one way of reflecting care.

"Ultimately this is all about creating competitive advantage."

Cross says the survey results reinforce the importance for companies of adopting an employee experience-led model. Its findings include:
• Over 70 per cent of people say employees have a significant impact on customer experience.
• Up to 46 per cent of all consumers will abandon a brand if employees are not knowledgeable.
• Only 38 per cent of US consumers and 46 per cent outside of the US say staff they deal with understand their needs; while 59 per cent of all consumers feel companies have lost touch with the human element.
• Nearly 60 per cent of customers will walk away after several bad experiences, but 17 per cent will go after just one.
• Human interaction matters – 82 per cent in the US and 74 per cent of non-US consumers want more of it in the future.
• Over 40 per cent say they will pay more if they receive a friendly, welcoming experience.
• Just 10 per cent of companies say creating better customer experiences is a digital priority.