Inbound Feedback is Only One Piece of the Customer Experience Puzzle

The Verde Group customer insightCompanies who rely solely on inbound feedback to gain a greater understanding of their customers’ experiences may be missing the opportunity to solve for the problems that are most related to customer loyalty.

Most organizations understand the importance of focusing on negative customer experiences. Customers who’ve had problems or are unhappy are more likely to change their shopping behavior, and also to tell others about their experience — both to the detriment of their current provider.

Many businesses rely on inbound mechanisms to capture that negative feedback. They’ve invested a great deal in creating multiple, effective ‘listening stations’ to gather feedback — call centers, sales team, websites, programs, market research and social media.

These companies believe that, with multiple channels harvesting customer inputs, they’re sure to understand customer issues and negative experiences throughout the customer journey.

Unfortunately, our research doesn’t bear this out. According to Verde Group findings, more than two-thirds of customers (67%) experience problems and never contact the company about them. Instead, they’ll choose to explore other options and often take their business elsewhere and you’ll be left wondering why you lost a perfectly good customer.

Even if customers do call in with problems, they may only identify issues they think you can fix. Worse, the ones they tell you about may not have a significant revenue impact on your business.

You may spend time and resources addressing issues that have a minimal effect on your bottom line while having no real window into the negative experiences that are making customers walk away — and taking their wallets with them.

Luckily, by looking beyond inbound customer feedback, companies can gain a better understanding of customer issues while also strengthening relationships with those customers.

Get proactive
Reaching out and asking for customer feedback can make a world of difference in the quality of the responses you receive. If they believe your intentions are genuine, many customers will open up about their experiences, both good and bad.

There are a number of ways to do this. Many companies will send out an email survey (or better, a personalized email) after a customer engagement. Some will initiate a call-back to the customer after a purchase is complete.

Even better, develop a plan to reach out to the customers you haven’t heard from in a while. They will offer a unique and valuable perspective compared to new customers or customers who have proactively contacted you.

Where viable, a more in-depth, personal interview can yield the most valuable feedback. A conversation gives the customer the opportunity to be more candid and detailed in describing their experiences with your company.

Feedback gathered from proactive outreach can provide your cross-functional partners with a wealth of information. Socializing these findings is a great way to drive customer centricity within your organization.

Fix and follow up
When a customer does share a problem or a negative experience, your next move is critical. You need to resolve the customer issue, and in such a way that the customer is happy with both the outcome and the interaction.

The fix may fall outside of policy, and in some cases may be expensive, but wherever possible, resolving the customer problem should be your prime consideration.

The next step is equally important — following up. From a customer perspective, there’s nothing worse than thinking your issue is resolved, only to find that it’s not.

Following up to confirm you’ve addressed problems to the customer’s satisfaction will ensure there are no outstanding issues, and create a lasting, favorable impression with the customer.

Many customer service centers send a survey for feedback immediately following an interaction. At times, this can provide a false positive. The customer believes that the problem was fixed only to realize a week later that it wasn’t fully resolved. Consider the timing of the customer service survey to ensure the customer has had time to fully implement the fix or solution.

Revisit your inbound efforts
While inbound feedback alone does not provide a complete picture of the customer experience, it is an excellent source of information. As part of your overall initiative, you should ‘re-tune’ your inbound process to ensure you’re collecting the best feedback possible.

One way to do this is by reframing the questions you’re asking the inbound customer. Rather than ‘are you satisfied?’ consider ‘what didn’t you like about your interaction?’ or ‘what could we have done better?’ You want to develop your questions in a way that provides actionable feedback. Feedback is useless if you can’t drive action to fix the issue.

Once uncovered through your inbound efforts, any issues identified can be managed with the ‘fix and follow up’ process you’ve already established.

The stakes are high
Even the best companies can’t avoid customer problems — it’s how those issues are brought to light and handled that makes the difference. It’s critical to capture feedback not only from customers who self-report problems but also from those who never report at all. Over time, dissatisfaction levels will drop as you tackle one problem after another and loyalty will rise.

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

 

 

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.