Unbabel occasionally features business leaders’ hot takes on the modern world of customer success. Martin Schilling, former COO of N26 Group, is a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about scaling purpose-driven tech companies, with a focus on customer experience and service operations. The blog post below is excerpted from a recent LinkedIn post in which Martin describes the fundamental principles of service excellence, and 15 practices to implement them.  

In today’s world of Anything-as-a-Service, building great tech products is no longer enough. From banking-as-a-service to music-as-a-service to transport-as-a-service, consumer businesses can now launch with the click of a mouse button—creating an ever-greater number of peak athletes competing in each race.

Which means that your service experience will make the difference between simply joining the competition or taking home the trophy.

This is why every leader on your team must become a Chief Customer Officer, turning customer experience (CX) into the lifeblood pumping through the heart of your business. Every employee needs to view exceptional customer experience as a primary goal, on par with growth, profit, revenue, and cost savings.

How do you drive growth with service excellence? It requires four essential building blocks:

  • Establishing CX as a top priority for the executive team
  • Preventing customer issues before they arise
  • Enabling customers to use automated services for routine episodes
  • Resolving interactions instantly through live service, while leveraging emotive situations to create moments of service delight

No matter the size of your company, it’s never too early or too late to build this foundation. Start by asking yourself the four questions below.

Is boosting CX among the top priorities of your executive team?

In many companies, while executives may claim everything they do is to improve customer experience, each department measures success differently (i.e., new customers per month for marketing, usage rates for product, etc.). This is akin to a distance runner training their legs but ignoring their arms, rather than conditioning the entire body to compete at the highest level.

By contrast, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair in his executive team meetings to symbolize the importance of the customer, while at Apple, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) is the hallmark of success across all organizational levels. This is because companies with the highest NPS grow by more than 2x on average compared to competitors with an industry standard NPS.

Step one, then, is to make a holistic Net Promoter management approach a top priority for the executive team. This includes setting NPS goals and reporting at the customer episode level, implementing regular NPS feedback loops to the executive team, and incorporating NPS development into performance appraisals and/or bonuses. Step two involves breaking down department silos and organizing around customer episodes, which I explain in depth here.

Are you preventing product-driven customer issues before they arise?

The more a customer needs to contact you, the lower the NPS. In one direct bank we studied, customers who contacted the company at least once had 20% lower satisfaction scores and were 20% more likely to stop using its services. Across industries, when the customer has to contact a company even once, their customer loyalty is four times more likely to be negatively affected (see Matt Dixon, “The Effortless Experience,” 2013).

This is why “the best service is no service.” Eliminating the root causes behind customer contacts should be a cornerstone of your service excellence strategy.

Because 80% of contacts originate outside the service organization, they can only be avoided through cross-departmental collaboration. Working together across departments to prevent customer issues reduces the churn rate, improves the NPS, creates more referrals, and ultimately drives growth. It also saves costs. Our analysis of various industries reveals that 50–70% of routine contact volumes can be reduced through targeted investment, including in automation. For this to happen you need to embed CX and product maintenance early on during the product development. And you need to implement the ‘polluter pays principle,’ in other words product driven contacts should be allocated to product owners. 

Are you enabling customers to do self-service?

Taking up running is as simple as hitting the road; you don’t want or need a gold medalist to show you how. Likewise, most of us have no desire to contact a service representative to download a statement or re-order a product. We want to take care of routine transactions ourselves — whenever, from any location.

If customers start their journey digitally but end with a human interaction, the NPS will be 20 points lower compared to a purely digital customer episode. Hence, there is huge potential for making customers happy with seamless self-service, while simultaneously reducing costs-to-serve. You do this when you get your basics right: well-structured FAQs that you can search and an IVR are still powerful tools. In a fast-growing company you should always start with live service as default channel, but with easy breakout options to live assistance. And a machine-learning driven bot can resolve up to 60% of requests that are simple and transactional. 

Can your live service resolve issues efficiently while leveraging emotive episodes?

Despite your best efforts to resolve product issues or enable customer self-service, some issues will still require personal resolution. At this stage, your live service teams should get you across the finish line. As the last line of defense for keeping customers happy, they need to be available across all relevant channels, resolve customer issues, and deliver moments of service delight that go viral.

One place to start: by harnessing the power of self-organized teams. Take a page from T-Mobile, which was able to cut service costs by 13%, boost its NPS by 50%, and reduce attrition and absenteeism by 50% in three years under the Team of Experts Model (TEX). In this model, teams of 50 colleagues run as mini-companies serving a specific region, with a focus on customer loyalty and relationships vs. handing time. 

Another idea is to enable moments of service delight that are publicly and internally celebrated. Brazilian FinTech Nubank, for example, relies on its customer service reps to go off script, whether by sending customers handwritten notes, putting together a gift box for them, or even ordering a cap paid for by the company. Don’t try to do this at scale, though, as it is too expensive. 

You can find more ideas to let your live service reach its full potential here.

And there you have it. To undergo the kind of growth that will turn heads, focus on the four building blocks outlined above. Whether you are a large corporation that has to overcome legacy processes and structure, or a scale-up still focusing almost exclusively on products and technology, find your starting point and build from there. If you can get all four in place, you’ll be sure to outstrip the competition as you head for victory.

*Thanks to Nikola Glusac and the Bain & Company team for their help and input.