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