The Customer Experience Risk – It’s What You Don’t Know That Should Keep You Up at Night

The Verde Group - Customer Experience Risk

You may be like many executives who’ve had more than a few sleepless nights worrying about your customers. Particularly the customers with problems (and on average that’s 3 out of 4 of your customers – source: The Verde Group white paper) — the ones who light up the phones and fill your inbox with concerns, complaints, and helpful suggestions. Surely if you don’t act and fix their issues, they’ll take their business elsewhere, right?

It’s a common hypothesis that you should prioritize your initiatives around those known problems or the ‘squeaky wheel’ issues. The ‘known issues’ are causing friction in your customers’ experience and should be addressed, however, they may not deserve the resources or priority that you think.

In fact, it’s often the best, most loyal customers who bother to take the time to contact you and complain. And by and large, they’re not a flight risk. There’s a good chance there is no direct correlation between the frequency of customer complaints, the likelihood of retaining that customer, and the revenue impact to your business. This group of customers are passionate about your product or service, and they want to make it work.

How do you determine what the real customer issues are that may be financially impacting your business? With limited resources to address them, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Majority of unhappy customers don’t complain. Over 67% of customers who experience a problem never tell the company about it. Customers cite “it’s not worth my time” and “they don’t believe that complaining will do any good because no one cares”. These are the customers who spread negative word of mouth and then vote with their wallet by taking their future purchases elsewhere. (source: The Verde Group white paper)

Where to start? Build a data-driven hypothesis
In a prior role, I was charged with building business strategies for a start-up SaaS company to reduce customer defect and maintain the very costly customers we worked so hard to acquire. It was early days in the subscription business model, and while we had a hypothesis as to why customers would defect, we didn’t know with certainty what was driving the churn.

We had spent a lot of time analyzing the customer complaints and surveys that came in through our support desk. We could tell you with confidence, the issues that our customers were experiencing.

But as we started to dig into the customer data points associated with that segment of customers (those that contacted us) we were surprised to see that they were some of our most engaged users. They were contacting us multiple times a year and using the product more frequently and recently compared to those customers who never contacted us.

The profile of these customers was contradictory of our institutional belief, so we had to learn more. Following a big subscription renewal period, we began to analyze the data points available on customers who defected. Did they purchase through a certain channel? Did they use specific feature sets?

Examining the data of our lost customers provided us with working theories as to why they left. But the data alone was far from providing us with the necessary insight to be able to put plans in place to reduce future customer churn. We needed to understand the context of the internal data points we were seeing. We needed to understand the “why” behind these behaviors.

Ask ‘what really happened?’
What you’re looking for here is the opportunity to have a genuine dialogue with your ex-customer — an open-ended conversation where you let them talk and share their experiences. It’s important to listen without pre-conceived notions of what the customer will say. Go in with an open mind and the only goal being to listen and learn.

Using the data you already analyzed, target specific segments of users when recruiting for the listening sessions. For example, one group may be users who showed great engagement with the product, yet still defected. This focus enables great efficiency in learning the root cause because you already have some insight into their behaviors.

Each user has a unique experience, but through qualitative research such as IDI’s or focus groups, themes will emerge that will provide the insight that you’re looking for. Often, they will introduce an issue that you didn’t uncover when reviewing the data and provide critical insight in doing so.

Socialize your learnings
At this point, you have detailed customer feedback in one hand, and objective, measurable data in the other. The customers’ experience with your product or service is end-to-end and holistic. What you learn through this process will not fit nicely into just one area of the business or function.

In order to put plans in place to address the top drivers of churn, you will need cross-functional support and leadership buy-in. This is a critical and often overlooked step in the process. Don’t forget that the insights you uncover may be completely new to this audience. It may take some time to help colleagues understand these “silent killers” and why they haven’t heard about them before.

Build your action plan
Now that you have organizational alignment, you’re ready to prioritize the issues you’ve uncovered and start building a plan to address those specific issues.

Start with what you consider to be the easiest fixes that have the most substantial revenue impact. Don’t overcomplicate the solution but rather stay laser focused and have clear metrics in place to measure the impact. It’s easy to start to have scope creep and before you know it you’re attempting to build a plan that is unattainable.

Clarity of ownership is critical in getting plans off the ground. Make sure everyone involved knows their role and expectation in solving the issue at hand.

After achieving some early momentum, move on to evaluate the business case the more complex, resource-intensive solutions.

No resting on your laurels
Once you’ve moved from a reactive mode to proactively addressing customer issues, don’t make the mistake of stopping, or even slowing down. You’ll need to repeat the data review/customer conversation cycle on an ongoing basis to stay in tune with your customer’s experience and keep raising the bar on your performance.

In the end, it’s not the customers who complain the loudest or most frequently that should keep you up at night. It’s worrying whether you really understand your customer’s experience and whether you’re truly addressing the issues that are financially impacting your business.

Of course, if you leverage your data, have genuine conversations with your customers (and ex-customers), build organizational support and create a measurable action plan, you might just sleep like a baby.

Sarah Pierce is Senior Vice President at The Verde Group.

Collecting Consumer Data: Is More Really Better?

The Verde Group - Customer Experience ResearchIt wasn’t too long ago that industry leaders would have scoffed at the idea of collecting too much customer data. In a rush toward realizing the value of big data and analytics, customer information was the key to higher revenue and increased market share, and more was better. Too much customer data? There was simply no such thing.

Times have changed
Today companies are experiencing firsthand the challenges associated with collecting, analyzing and actioning mountains of customer data. Big companies, especially when delivering an omni-channel experience in retail, collect data in many different ways — through various touchpoints, transactional data, marketing automation and primary research initiatives.

The challenge for these companies is how to bring all of this customer experience research and data together in a way that provides value and insights to the business.

Multiple stakeholders, multiple agendas
Consider call center teams, who collect and validate basic customer information, but can also confirm customer interest and readiness to purchase. Or social media engagement tracking, which tells companies how customers interact with their content and also provides a means to monitor brand image. Sales also collects client data (installed base, key customer contact, competitive information), especially in business to business (B2B) companies. Marketing has their own data points including website traffic, email open rates and communication preferences to name a few.

Often these and other groups within an organization will drive separate research initiatives to gather, analyze and action customer data, in many cases for their specific purposes and in isolation.

A significant expense
Collecting, housing, analyzing and actioning all that customer data is very expensive. With no centralized plan, companies can incur a considerable cost for overlapping initiatives. Even if separate groups share data, there’s bound to be overlap in the data collected, and each group will mine the data based on their unique requirements. The costs in dollars, time and resources add up quickly. Additionally, your company may be investing these resources into something that may or may not have a substantial impact on the customer experience and your business.

Lack of planning can drive lacklustre results
While it’s okay and often necessary to have individual customer initiatives, the absence of a centralized and coordinated plan often creates missed opportunities and confusion for companies. Inconsistent approach to research can yield conflicting insights and drive different action plans, and rather than improving the customer experience, they can confuse or even frustrate customers.

Organizations need to start with a company-wide understanding of their goals for increasing profitability and improving the customer experience and establish a consensus on how to target and measure progress against those goals. Without these two in place, they risk investing in initiatives that may have little to no impact on the customer and not meet revenue or market share targets.

Three ways to improve your customer data initiatives
How can businesses manage all this data and build a company-wide strategy that promotes collaboration, data-sharing, and the creation of common action plans? Here are four ways that organizations can get started:

  1. Establish common goals
    While each team will have unique requirements and metrics, it’s critical to establish common goals when it comes to customer engagement and the customer experience. These goals should align with the strategic vision for the company set out by the executive team.This helps to streamline the number of goals, creates clarity and also ensures executive support for the overall initiative. An effective way to determine those goals is by conducting strategic customer experience research — this helps clarify the current relationship between company and customer, and ultimately to refine and prioritize goals.
  2. Share data and minimize overlap
    Teams collecting data should work together to consolidate their efforts. Where possible, ‘no repeat data’ should be their mantra. Customer data must be centralized and fully accessible to the appropriate stakeholders.This includes defined business requirements – how to collect the data, when it should be collected and where it will be stored and how to access the data. Consistent screening questions across initiatives will enable cross-collaboration between studies.
  3. Collect the right data points
    Companies need to carefully examine the questions they’re asking their customers. Too often, in an effort to gauge customer satisfaction, they’ll ask customers about what they like, or what makes them happy. Many organizations invest a great deal of money and effort in measuring customer satisfaction and even pay bonuses based on the results.The problem is that customer happiness and satisfaction are very poor predictors of customer loyalty or future behavior. In fact, negative experiences are much more predictive of what a customer will do in the future. In fact, 60-80% of defecting customers categorize themselves as ‘satisfied’ on surveys conducted immediately before their departure. (source: Verde white paper).

    Another point to note is that attitudinal feedback (‘I’m angry’, or ‘I’m frustrated’) is much less valuable than experiential feedback (‘this is what happened’). It’s hard to do anything with the former, while the latter provides a precise readout of that particular customer experience.

Create common, actionable insights
With shared data and goals, companies can consolidate their findings and create actionable insights that are consistent across the organization. These can serve as a platform for individual functions to align behind broad initiatives based on the desired customer experience.

Michael Tropp is Vice President, Business Development at The Verde Group.

 

Start Small To Create a Company-wide View of the Customer

The Verde Group - Customer Insight

I’m sure you’ve heard the ancient parable about the blind men and the elephant.

It’s the story of a group of blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time. They all touch a different part of the animal, then draw different conclusions as to what they’ve experienced. In some versions of the story, the men violently disagree and almost come to blows. The moral of the story, of course, is that people often form different conclusions based on a partial view of the same information.

This is precisely the challenge many companies have when collecting, analyzing and actioning their customer data for customer insight. How best to link multiple sources of data to capture a complete, holistic picture of the customer experience?

Islands in The (Data) Stream
For many companies, views of the customer experience are functionally focused. For example, the team in charge of packaging design understands everything about the customer’s perception of their packaging. Sales knows about product features and benefits and is competition-savvy. Customer service is full of experts about everything that can go wrong with the product.

Often, especially in large organizations, each of these teams captures, prioritizes and actions different (and incomplete) data about the customer experience. However, customers don’t view each of these areas separately — their perception of their purchase experience and the company as a whole is much more holistic.

From a company-wide perspective, this functional approach is wildly inefficient. It’s hard to know what to prioritize and take action on if you’re only focused on your small area and can’t see the big picture. It can lead to competing (and sometimes conflicting) action plans, duplication of efforts, and resources spread too thin to be effective. 

More Than a Systems Issue
A common theme, again in large companies, is to put the problem down to deficiencies in systems. With the mountains of data collected and stored, the refrain goes, it must be a systems limitation that prevents customer data from being pulled together into a centralized view.

It’s true that it’s difficult to consolidate disparate data sources like customer service data, transactional data or product usage. Systems issues are real enough. However, even more than systems, this is a leadership issue. Leaders must embrace the need for a complete, ‘single source of truth’ for the customer, and acknowledge that it’s worth the time, money, and organizational disruption to do it. It’s a long-term initiative and not an easy call for leaders to make, given other more pressing, short-term issues.

It may be easier for startups to implement the ‘single customer view’ as a priority than for established businesses. It’s simpler for smaller companies to build from the ground up — to agree on what data should be collected and how it will be shared and actioned. Startup mode gives these companies the luxury of building systems around the process, rather than the other way around.

Look at how Netflix has leveraged their data gathering and their understanding of the customer experience. By collecting and analyzing user preference information, the company can recommend shows they ‘know’ you’ll like based on your previous viewing habits. Moreover, armed with a holistic view of their customers, they are creating bespoke programming that’s almost certain to be a hit with their target audience.

Starting Small The Best Approach
Ironically, the optimal solution to tackling a customer view that’s too narrow is one that involves starting small and staying focused. Remember the elephant? Not that you would, but if you had to eat him, ‘a bite at a time’ is the right approach. The same goes here.

The idea is straightforward — pull together cross-functional teams and build agreement on a small number of ‘must-have’ customer data fields that you think are the most important and impactful to your business. Next, brainstorm about the best way to collect that data if you aren’t already, determine how it can be easily shared and interpreted even if it is a manual process while gaining traction with leadership/ Once the organization begins to see that there is consistency in how teams are looking at the customer experience, it is time to leverage that data and build coordinated action plans from your findings.

Once the cross-functional team has had success with limited data streams, you may see a snowball effect. Perhaps you started with a Top 5 list of must-have customer data fields, but the team can now see gaps and opportunities that lead you to expand the initiative.

While the cost benefits of this approach can be substantial — less duplicated effort means a lower cost of data collection — the real benefits to the organization are far greater.

This focused, cross-functional approach yields a single ‘true picture’ of the customer,  supported across the enterprise. Stakeholders share data and analytics and execute universal programs and get-well plans. The company develops a greater understanding of the customer experience, and that understanding is the key to building deeper, more meaningful relationships with its customers.

Sarah Pierce is Senior Vice President at The Verde Group.

Three Ways to Optimize In-house Customer Research Teams

The Verde Group In-House Customer Research Teams

Customer research provides critical intelligence that companies simply cannot do without, and in-house research teams bring unique skills and domain expertise to the table. That said, in-house teams face a number of obstacles that challenge their ability to deliver consolidated, customer-centric insights to their business stakeholders.

 

The Advantages of In-house Customer Research Teams

In-house teams possess a deep understanding of their company, their competitors and their industry. They know the evolution of their businesses and customers, what has worked in the past (and what hasn’t) and have a robust knowledge of the competitive landscape.

Internally, they are steeped in the culture of their organization, including its strategic priorities and challenges. This cultural awareness means that in-house teams ‘speak the company language,’ allowing them to effectively message key insights across the organization.

Finally, most in-house teams have at least a high-level view into other ongoing research initiatives and hold relationships with the key players involved. This should offer the ability to coordinate and consolidate individual research efforts and connect the dots across various research initiatives. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

 

The Challenges of In-house Customer Research Teams

Driving research programs is demanding, and in-house teams often face the following hurdles:

For example, performing data analysis is often an additional requirement, as is vendor management if the company employs outside research firms. Wearing these multiple hats can make the exacting work of conducting research even more difficult. These demands may also make it onerous for staff to invest in the updated training they may need to be fluent in the latest technical aspects of measurement and research design.

Especially in larger companies, separate research initiatives can create significant issues for the organization. These initiatives are usually driven by different teams or lines of business, often with diverging agendas and methodologies. Members of each team may not have a detailed understanding of the other research projects underway.

A deeper problem exists if there is no coordinated overall plan and no central point where all the research and analysis comes together. This can create a cacophony of results, with various stakeholders drawing their own conclusions (sometimes misleading conclusion), creating distinct strategies and executing non-aligned action plans all while expending resources on an insight that may or may not truly have an impact on the customer or business.

 

Three Solutions For In-house Customer Research Teams

#1. Coordinate research efforts
Where possible, research projects should have common design elements, and execution should be aligned. If every project is a one-off, then it’s difficult to tie research together operationally or analytically.

This presents an opportunity. By identifying common aspects of separate research programs and building that alignment into program design, companies can get more bang for their research buck. For example, a standard set of screening questions can be developed and utilized by various segments of the business. This can provide consistent cuts of data like demographics, customer segments, etc. that can be analyzed across studies

#2. Build a consolidated, customer-centric view
This goes beyond simply ensuring you’re not engaging the same customer too frequently. Invest the time to better understand the business challenges to provide insights and not just data dumps. An internal, consolidated customer view brings the sum total of your organization’s knowledge of that customer to your research, allowing for a more personalized interaction and potentially greater insights.

#3. Take a system-wide approach to managing all research
In-house teams should take a holistic view of all research initiatives. They need to gather all the insights from different research programs to understand not only their individual significance but more important, what do they mean collectively, what are the higher truths can be extracted from the combined research? A great place to start is with your customer journey. Step-by-step live the various touchpoints a customer has with your company and document the data points already being collected today. You’ll most likely find that there is no lack for data…but rather lack of people/systems bringing the data together in a usable way.

 

A Final Word

Customer research only truly matters when it drives action and improvements to the customer experience and therefore business profitability. The lack of an integrated view of research design and execution compromises the ability for companies to build a strategic, customer-centric view from their research initiatives.

Luckily companies can begin to overcome this challenge by driving a few key initiatives that will deliver a more holistic and valuable view of customer data.

How Educated Customers Raise the Bar on Retail Experience

Customer Dissatisfaction - how educated customers are raising the bar on retail experience The Verde Group

Customers love the ability to shop anywhere — online, in the store, or over the phone. What they hate is the fact that often they feel they don’t have all the information they need to make an informed decision. Or worse, they feel they’ve been misled.

Retailers should consider that their customers usually aren’t wrong. Instead, they may have made a wrong choice because they’re unclear, and it’s often because the retailer didn’t give them all the information they needed.

Educating customers has never been easy, and it’s getting more difficult. The multi-channel shopping experience means customers may get a different experience depending on how they interact with a retailer.

Customer dissatisfaction – broken communication
For example, if the customer bought something online and decides to return it, can it be returned to a brick and mortar store? Is there a cost to return it via courier versus in-store? If the customer phones the store, will the person who answers be able to accurately describe their options and the implications of each?

To make matters more complex for retailers, customers are relying on a number of methods — both online and in-store — to educate themselves prior to purchasing.

A 2017 Canadian Consumer Retail Research Study conducted by WisePlum, Microsoft and the Retail Council of Canada determined that 68% of department store shoppers found that ‘comparing product details or specifications in-store’ was very useful. At the same time, 61% said that ‘comparing product details or specifications online’ was very useful, and 60% said the same about ‘browsing for information on their smartphone’.

Even as retailers struggle to provide complete and consistent information to customers across all channels as part of a true omnichannel experience, customers’ expectations continue to rise. They’re not just comparing retailers with their direct competition, but with every other recent customer interaction they’ve had.

So if they recently had a flawless return experience with Amazon, then a poor experience with another retailer, the former is the new benchmark, and the latter is viewed as a failure.

Customer dissatisfaction – problems pre-purchase
And, according to the 2017 WisePlum research, that shopping experience is often anything but flawless. For example, 39% of department store shoppers said they had at least one problem before purchasing, with the number rising to 47% for Gen Y and Gen X shoppers.

Shoppers encountered many of these problems while they attempted to educate themselves pre-purchase — determining online availability, slow and challenging website navigation, discrepancies between online and in-store pricing, and even a lack of information about delivery charges.

While it’s true that many retailers are making heroic efforts to proactively educate their customers and provide them with complete information, customers could be forgiven for thinking that things are getting worse, not better. Especially if they’re using a credit card or renewing their cable service.

Credit card companies don’t make it easy for consumers to understand their statements. From hidden fees to service charges to how interest is calculated, many customers are unable to untangle the information and make poor choices as a result.

The rules often change with credit card companies as well. Look no further than ever-shrinking payment grace periods. According to consumer advocacy site WiseBread, “Grace periods are getting shorter or being eliminated”.

While cable companies are also known for indecipherable statements, it’s their ‘secret negotiation’ tactics that make many customers’ blood boil. Come renewal time customers know there’s a good deal to be had, but they’re not given the basic information they need in order to make a decision. Instead, they’re forced to speak to a line-up of customer service reps and loyalty managers, repeating their story over and over and watching the clock until a deal is finally reached.

Bad actors aside, there is a lot that retailers can do to reverse customer perceptions and make sure their customers are well-informed. Here are three points to consider:

  1. Look outside your industry for best practices
    Savvy retailers know that they share their customer’s wallet with a wide range of suppliers, not just those in their own segment. Many companies are both creative and effective in how they educate and inform customers.  There is much retailers can learn from them.
  2. Understand how customers buy, and not just from you
    Retailers should use customer feedback and detailed interviews to learn how customers buy and consume from everywhere, and what they view as their most positive experiences. Once it’s understood how they buy and what they’re most receptive to, education efforts are much more likely to hit the mark.
  3. Fix the customer’s problem first, then fix your system
    When a customer has a problem, fix it. They don’t need (or want) to know why your back-end process won’t let them do something or the 12-step escalation chain of command they need to follow. Retailers need to create a culture that says, “Send the customer home happy, then work things out”.

As customers embrace the omnichannel shopping experience, keeping them informed and educated is more important than ever. And if they do have a problem, companies can’t let the customer’s lack of information or understanding get in the way — they need to just fix the problem.

Think of the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, who authorizes employees to spend up to $2,000 per day to improve the guest experience. Who will be raising the customer experience bar even higher tomorrow?

Paula Courtney is Chief Executive Officer of The Verde Group and Product Founder at WisePlum.

Beware Cross-Culture Comparisons In International Research

customer experience risk The Verde Group

The other day one of my clients forwarded to me a research report citing that 68% of Chinese shoppers were “happy or overjoyed” with their shopping experiences, versus only 48% of American shoppers. While this is an interesting factoid, the data point suggests a more important topic: how to manage the complexities and risks of CX comparisons across global regions.

As of this writing, Verde is conducting baseline and tracking research in 26 countries across 5 continents. Most of these programs are global in nature, meaning that our clients seek to understand and improve their CX in multiple regions. From this work, I’d offer the following considerations for those embarking international CX measurement initiatives.

 

Culture Influences Scale Response

When measuring customer CX attitudes on an international footprint, it is crucial to acknowledge that different cultures respond to scales differently. For example:

  • Latin American and Middle Eastern survey respondents are more likely to offer responses at the extreme poles of a scale, either positive or negative.
  • Asian survey respondents are more prone to “intermediacy”, with scalar scores clustering in the middle.
  • Verde recently was asked by a client to explore a curious situation in the Benelux region of Europe: customers who were “loyal” by most measures (order size, tenure, etc.) but who also were providing Willingness to Recommend scores of zero. We found that these customers were culturally inclined against brand recommendations of any sort, believing that others should make up their own minds with respect to the products they use and promote.

The reasons for cultural scale bias are many, and broad generalizations are obviously risky.  But the biases are definitely there, and they can impact scalar measures such as NPS. This is a key reason Verde supplements scalar measures with binary “ yes/no” assessment of what problems customers have and how those negative experiences impact NPS.

 

CX Maturity Influences Customer Expectations

A country’s CX culture and infrastructure “maturity” will influence a region’s overall expectation set with respect to product and service quality. I have to confess I don’t know much about Chinese shopping habits (Verde’s work in Asia is primarily in financial services, logistics and agribusiness) but I’d be willing to bet that they are appreciably different than those of the US or Britain. So does “overjoyed” mean the same to a shopper in Guangzhou as to a shopper in Nashville, Tennessee?  Probably not.

 

You Can’t Provide Identical Surveys in Two Different Languages

No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to fully preserve a question’s absolute meaning when translating from one language to another. While not a research example, consider KFC’s experience exporting their slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good” to China. As it turns out, when translated into Chinese the slogan becomes “We’ll eat your fingers off.” Hardly a trivial difference.

Shifts in meaning arising from translation may be important depending on which aspects of the customer experience are being measured and whether the questions of the survey have a high degree of nuance.

This is another reason Verde emphasizes experiential assessment of a customer’s loyalty: experiences are tangible and observable, which makes them easier than attitudes or beliefs to render uniformly across languages.

 

And Also…

These three areas are hardly the only complexities when conducting international CX research.  For example, increasingly stringent privacy regulations in certain regions (e.g. the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation overhaul) may make it more difficult for you to maintain comparable sample composition across countries.

Or you may contend with different countries having very different field interaction preferences (email vs. phone. vs. face-to-face) which can introduce modality bias to the findings.

But let’s not get too lost in the weeds.

Candidly, conducting good CX research with clear insights and actionable findings is hard to do anywhere.  It’s just harder to pull off internationally.  Keeping matters of culture, CX maturity and language in mind upfront during the design stage of your international programs will pay large dividends when it matters most: in interpreting the data and developing credible, defensible action plans to improve your global CX based on the insights arising from your data.

Jon Skinner is Executive Vice President at The Verde Group

The Problem With Not Fixing Customer Problems

customer research and not fixing customer problemsNobody likes to hear bad news, but successful companies recognize that negative feedback is a vital mechanism for improving their products and customer service.

So when they hear that there’s bad news that customers aren’t telling them, many companies assume it is product or service-related. They should be asking another question, though. Why aren’t customers sharing the negative feedback? The answer is critical to understanding the customer experience and potential loyalty risk.

Your customers won’t share feedback with you if they don’t believe you’ll take action.

Registering a complaint with a large company isn’t easy — often it involves wading through several phone menus, waiting on hold, then speaking with a customer service rep who may not be empowered to fix the issue.

As a result, many people just don’t go through the complaint process because it’s more of a headache to complain about the problem than the problem itself. And that’s how we end up with products that don’t work, services we don’t want, and ongoing charges that we don’t think we should be paying for.

If customers don’t think they’ll get a resolution to their issue, often they won’t bother to raise it.

A customer who does not bother to let a company know when they have a problem is a customer with serious loyalty risk.  In a 2017 Small Business services study, Verde found that customers who take the time to contact when they have a problem are 50% more loyal than non-contactors, assuming that they are fully satisfied with their problem resolution.  This is typical for nearly all customers across business verticals, both B2B and B2C

That’s good news for companies that make it easy for customers to register complaints and focus on positive resolution. If you are able to fix a customer’s problem and they’re happy with the result, generally they end up every bit as loyal as if they had never experienced an issue.

Citing the same 2017 SMB study, Small Businesses who experienced a problem were 80% less likely to be a Promoter of our client’s services.  But when their problem was fully resolved, all that lost loyalty was recovered.

So how can companies use this dynamic to their advantage?

Make it easy
Customers typically have many options when it comes to lodging a complaint — phone calls, online chat, email, web forms, and even social media. The instructions for each should be clear, and all options optimized for simplicity and speed of response. How many customers calling in for help have had to navigate multiple voice menus, then wait in an endless call queue?

Make an effort
When customers do take the time to reach out, your team needs to know that the objective is to understand and fix the problem. Train and empower everyone, particularly customer service, to focus on a positive outcome — when the customer hangs up they should be happy with the results and satisfied with the interaction.

Follow through and follow up
There’s nothing worse, from the customer’s point of view, than to think you have a problem resolved, only to find out it isn’t. Whether it’s a credit card charge that wasn’t reversed as promised or a missed service call, this event is often the final straw for even the best customers.

Companies need to ensure they’ve taken all the steps to fix the customer issue, then they need to take a final step. They should follow up with the customer to confirm everything is correct, and to make sure the customer is satisfied. This is what is known as a closed loop. Learn more about Verde’s full-service closed-loop tracking program.

Be honest and open
I’ve written about this in a previous post, but it bears repeating. An honest discussion with customers is often the best way to resolve their issues and retain their loyalty. Admitting that your company isn’t perfect, acknowledging your errors, and committing to fix them is a great beginning — just remember it’s all about the follow-through.

Michael Tropp is Vice President, Business Development of The Verde Group and WisePlum

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow is Fine. Free is Fine. What Else Can You Do?

The Verde Group Customer InsightCustomer Insight: How Logistics Raises the Bar on Customer Expectations

Ask any customer shopping online when they want their order delivered, and it’s a good bet they’ll answer ‘tomorrow’.

Thanks to masters of logistics like Amazon and Zappos, customers have come to expect 2-day or even 1-day shipping, sometimes at no cost. They want things NOW and will choose companies based on that expectation. If you can’t deliver, you risk losing customers — even if you have a great product and competitive pricing.

A case in point. Prior to a recent business trip, I needed a new laptop bag. It was Saturday, and I was flying on Wednesday. I found a nice leather case I liked and identified several online retailers who carried it. Whom did I choose? The one who could get it to me by Tuesday and didn’t charge a premium for fast shipping.

Evolving logistics capabilities have impacted the customer experience in other ways. Consumers now want to know ‘where’ their order is every step of the way. And these expectations have spread across industries. If Uber and Dominos can tell you the exact location of their driver, exactly where the driver is, consumers expect that their package delivery company should be able to do the same?

Companies who can meet these constantly rising expectations are being rewarded with increased sales and customer loyalty. Those who can’t may suffer the consequences. Faced with the customer challenge of ‘why drive to the store when I can double-click and two days later it’s at my door?’, Toys ‘R Us had no answers.


Fast and Free Delivery Is Not Enough
With delivery speed and accuracy quickly becoming the norm, how can companies further differentiate the delivery experience? For that, they’ll need to get creative. Going back to my recent laptop bag purchase — supposing the retailer had included a small sample of leather protector in the box? Unfortunately, they didn’t, but adding a small gift or discount coupon can further endear customers to a brand while also providing an opportunity to cross-sell.

Post-delivery follow-up provides another opportunity to differentiate from the competition and add value. This generally takes the form of a post-purchase survey or a request for a product review. Most customers appreciate the touchpoint, and the post-sale interaction typically promotes brand loyalty.

However, when companies master logistics, they can take the Customer Experience to even higher levels. They know exactly when you received the product, how long you’ve had it, and when that product is due for replacement. This mastery of logistics and “big data” gives these companies an edge on their competition – it enables them to be more than a “one and done” with the initial transaction.

 

Where Do We Go From Here?
Customers now expect to get anything and everything to their front door FAST. This has created industries that didn’t exist just a few years ago — think of meal preparation companies such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron.

The continued growth of online sales and the globalization of supply chains will keep driving logistics innovation. We’re already seeing trials of drones and driverless long-haul trucks. The automatic re-ordering and shipment of products based on a pre-set delivery cycle is certain to disrupt some industries — just ask Gillette, who late last year introduced cheaper razor blades to fend off competitors Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s.

And of course, there’s Amazon, ever the leader in logistics innovation. Amazon continues to surprise consumers with their innovations. In April 2018, they partnered with GM and Volvo to offer product delivery to the trunk of your vehicle rather than your front steps by remotely unlocking your vehicle through the car’s internet connection.   Granted, not all Amazon customers may want to take advantage of this offering, at least initially.  But for those who do (perhaps those with “front porch security concerns”), this is a potentially high value-add service.

Most companies now understand that there is a direct correlation between their logistics ability and their customer loyalty (NPS score). The challenge for these companies will be to develop and deliver innovations to their customers that represent relevant, timely and meaningful improvements.  Understanding which delivery innovations will materially shift customer spend and brand affinity will become a competitive advantage, particularly in those categories where product quality and price are weakly differentiated.

Want to learn more about the link between logistics, innovation and the customer experience? Check out a few of my favorite customer insight articles on the topic:

How Innovations in Logistics Fulfill the Experience Demand

The Amazon Supply Chain: The Most Innovative in the World?

Lori Childers is Vice President, Client Solutions at The Verde Group

Why Do We Lose Customers?

The Verde Group Customer Research

Every business knows the value of keeping their customers.

Yet despite companies’ best efforts customers still leave, and the reason often feels like a mystery. Why do they go?

They experience a problem
This is by far the biggest reason customers move on. 68% to 73% of customers stop doing business with companies because they experience a problem according to Forum, Bain, Verde customer research.

Many companies place a huge focus on fixing the problems they hear about from their customers. It’s a logical action, yet it misses the mark. In fact, more customers will leave for problems companies never hear about — the ‘silent killers’.

You have become irrelevant
This happens when you’ve stopped delivering a product or service that the customer feels is appropriate. Either another company has taken your place, or you’re no longer communicating with the customer in a way that’s meaningful to them.

This last point takes on more significance in the era of data-sharing and personalized social media. Customers assume that when companies take their data, they’ll use it to customize and improve the customer’s experience.

Companies continue to ignore this at their peril. For example, if a customer doesn’t have children but a company promotes online offers at them for diapers, soon the customer may begin to question that company’s relevance in their life.

They don’t need your product or service
Perhaps the customer no longer uses that type of product. More likely, however, they no longer view you as competitive — with your price, your customer service, or the freshness of your product offering.

Reading The Signs
There are clear signs that customers may be headed for the exit. Shopping frequency declines. Share of customer spend drops off. Surveys show a spike in customer problem experiences. Separately or together, these signs all point to a significant risk to the business.

What actions should companies take? They need to engage with their customers and relate to them in a meaningful way, invest in what the customer wants, and understand what those customers are buying from other companies.

Companies should understand that from a customer experience perspective, they’re not just competing with others in their segment. The last, best experience a customer has will become their new benchmark — their expectation for a buying and service experience they now demand from everyone. Fair? Maybe, maybe not. But is it the reality? Yes.

Companies cannot afford to simply react to systemic customer problems. Even if the company recovers, there’s still a permanent dent in customer loyalty.

Recovery systems aren’t enough. With today’s multi-channel businesses and mobile, online and in-store customer interactions, it’s almost impossible to build and maintain a consistent, flawless recovery system. Companies can’t rely on them alone — they must also identify and understand potential ‘iceberg issues’ and do their best to steer clear.

The Uber Effect
Many companies are looking at more radical approaches to transform the customer experience and maintain or increase relevance with their customers. They look to Uber as an example where a technological innovation (in this instance, one that dynamically matches consumer demand to driver supply) has transformed the customer experience, disrupted an industry and allowed Uber to take huge market share from traditional taxi companies.

Companies going down this path will want to look outside of their existing businesses to incubate and innovate. If a transformation is attempted in-house and within the trappings of their industry, the most likely result would be a cycle of continuous improvement, not innovation.

Paula Courtney is Chief Executive Officer at The Verde Group and Product Founder at WisePlum

 

The Four Biggest Mistakes Companies Make When Implementing a Customer Measurement Program

Transform your customer insights by avoiding these common errors 
Technology and analytics have provided companies the means to understand their customers in ways they couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago. Almost every large organization invests heavily in customer measurement programs, yet many don’t achieve the customer insight they’re looking for.

Why?

It turns out that a handful of common missteps are responsible for the unsatisfactory results:

#1. Unclear Measurement Goals
What are the reasons for undertaking the measurement program? Is it a desire to improve your customer’s experience? Are you trying to gauge the success of a recently launched product or service, or understand how you stack up against a competitor?

Companies need to establish clear objectives for measurement programs and ensure there is alignment across the entire organization. Extensive planning and engagement with key stakeholders are critical, as is a clear strategy for the use of the data captured. What decisions will be driven by that data, and who is accountable to take action?

 

#2. Not Enough Time Spent Establishing Ownership
Building alignment within the organization is fundamental to the success of any measurement program. But it’s not enough to just inform stakeholders, collecting their input into the objectives of the program, how it will be structured, and how findings can positively impact their specific business metrics — these are all are critical to the success of the program. And all require a lot of work upfront to get it right.

The most important step is to establish a link between the findings of the measurement program and business issues those findings promise to address. Stakeholders need to know how the program findings may help improve or transform their business.

 

#3. Measuring Customer Loyalty or Satisfaction in a Vacuum
Customer surveys only provide a single data set in any customer measurement program. A single data source provides an incomplete picture, and sometimes a very misleading one.

To truly gain customer insight, you need to establish multiple listening posts across the entire organization. This means gathering information from your sales team, the call center, your service teams, and your complaint management system.

All of this information should be reviewed and packaged holistically. The different data sources may corroborate some findings and create different perspectives for others. This provides a much broader understanding of your customer’s experience.

 

#4 Thinking You Know What Customers Want
Preconceptions can ruin a customer measurement program. Often programs are built in isolation and structured based on what is perceived as important to stakeholders.

Good programs need to be constructed outside-in. Speak to customers before building a survey. These upfront discussions provide customers with the opportunity to tell you their full stories, and many times it’s the qualitative insight you gather that proves most valuable.

This feedback also helps you understand and adopt the language your customers use to discuss your business, which may not align with your internal company vocabulary. For example, if your survey poses questions about the effectiveness of your claims department, but your customer refers to it as your customer service department, your findings will almost certainly be skewed or incomplete.

 

My Challenge to You
Customer measurement programs can provide you with critical customer insight that helps improve your business metrics and shape your company strategy. For these programs to be effective, however, you need to establish clear goals, cultivate alignment and ownership across your organization, and most critically, ask for your customers’ input as you’re building the program.

Paula Courtney is Chief Executive Officer of The Verde Group and a lecturer at The Wharton School