You may not know your customers as well as you think

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I’ve been married for a long time, certainly long enough to know my wife Alicia pretty well.  Or so I thought.

But last week while dining out, I learned something new.  At the end of our meal, the server ran my credit card and returned it to me, saying  “Here you go, Jon. Have a great evening.”

This made no impression on me whatsoever.  But Alicia commented “Boy, I hate it when a waitress uses my name like that.  It’s just so phony!”  To which I replied “No kidding?  I didn’t know you hated that!”

My point is not that after many years of marriage my wife still surprises me.  (Although she does.)  My point is a business point:  we all interpret experiences differently.  I don’t care one way or another whether a server calls me by name.  Others find it aggravating.  Still others are charmed by it.

We all interpret experiences differently.  This principle underlies all of Verde’s Customer Experience work, and is embodied in our “EAB” Model: Experience drives Attitude, which in turn drives Behavior.  What makes an experience good, neutral or bad is how we interpret the experience.  Two different customers may experience the same problem, but have wildly different reactions, depending on their temperament, personal history and circumstances.

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Companies seeking to redesign the customer experience to drive more lucrative customer behaviors should keep this principle in mind: strategies and service interaction tactics need to be tailored to address the specific issues most damaging to specific customer segments.

Consider some of the segment-specific differences in problem experience Verde has discovered in our client work:

  • Gender. Verde’s retail experience work with the Wharton School of Business (Executive Summary) has identified some unexpected differences between the shopping experiences of men and women.  For example: the top problem suppressing share-of-shop for female shoppers (by 6%) is “I can’t get sales associates help when needed.”  But for men the top risk issue (5% share-of-shop loss) was “The item I was looking for was out of stock.”
  • Health Condition. Last year Verde conducted a major “Adherence@Risk” study, where we prioritized the specific patient problem experiences that decreased their likelihood of adhering to their medication regimen. We ran the study for a leading injectable product indicated across multiple conditions.  We found that for patients with one disease, more than 50% of all adherence risk was based on injection issues.  Yet for patients with a different disease, injection issues were completely immaterial. Instead, these patients pulled back their drug regimen due to problems understanding their condition and what to expect from the drug.
  • Line of Business. In a recent customer experience assessment for a Health Insurance client, Verde determined that 7% of policyholder loyalty in the “Small Group” segment was at risk due to “plan materials that were too detailed and insufficiently relevant” to the policyholder.  Yet this issue was isolated to the Small Group segment; the loyalty of policyholders in all other group segments was unaffected by this problem, even though the materials were fundamentally the same.

In each of the examples above our clients were surprised by these differences.  Of course they knew that different customers hold different attitudes concerning their service models and go-to-market approaches.  But they did not expect to see such pronounced differences in the specific experiences underlying those attitudes.

This client surprise is not uncommon when Verde presents its findings, and it is one of the most gratifying aspects of our work.  But it also reflects my surprise at my wife’s restaurant reaction. We think we understand those we spend a lot of time with: our families, our co-workers, our customers.  But we often understand far less than we think we do.

Don’t take for granted that you know what is happening with your customers.  Taking the time to really understand what matters to them is the first step to creating great customer experiences that deliver long-term, successful customer relationships.

Jon Skinner
Executive Vice President, The Verde Group

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