Wouldn’t it be great if consumers queued up to be your customers, rather like the queues outside Apple Stores? You would have customers in the palm of your hand, clamouring to know what you were going to do next to make their lives that little bit easier and happier.
In over 30 years as client and agency insight specialist I have witnessed many market research departments and market researchers scratch their heads over economic models of consumer behaviour as predictive tools. Consumers are unpredictable and prone to impulse which creates a gap between what people say they will do and what they actually do.
Over the last decade WDG has been looking into this phenomenon, and has worked with customer experience specialists and behavioural economists and we all agree that organisations that direct their business model to achieving customer excellence are more successful at closing the gap. They achieve greater control of consumer behaviour by understanding how they can optimise the customer’s experience at each point of interaction.
By looking at your business through a different lens, for example, how customer-focused are you as an organisation? and what happens at points in the customer journey where they interact with the business? you can start to develop a program that is all about creating positive and, importantly, memorable experiences for the customer.
Shifting slightly to the left of complex rating systems and behavioural models, WDG has developed an intuitive process that is easy to understand and implement. It is also one that the entire organisation can invest enthusiasm for and put into practice. We use CX insights and metrics to understand from the customer’s perspective the key touchpoints where company/brand and customer interface. We use the same process across each customer segment and journey map. Working with your internal teams we can develop performance targets to each significant touchpoint in the customer journey.
Customer excellence is achieved where companies have operational confidence to far exceed customer expectations at each touchpoint. In effect, treating your customer as you would want to be treated as a customer. Not only is this an income generating initiative it has positive effects for your team in terms of emotional reward and job satisfaction.
Giving students practical experience in the workplace before they leave education has to be a good thing, yes?
Last summer we were pleased to take on a work experience student from a local grammar school. The placement only lasted a week but it was as positive an experience for us as it was for the student (see July 2015′s post: “Experience a work experience student in the workplace”). While Yasmin gained insights in working in an agency/small business environment, we were able to set her tasks that gave her practical experience and contributed to our understanding of a new business direction.
This year we were approached by Matthew, a year 11 student from the same local school, interested in spending his full 2 weeks work placement with us. This, again, was a mutually enjoyable experience, and re-affirmed our view that these 16 year olds are work-ready, not work-shy as is often suggested. Please read Matthew’s account of his time with us below.
Compulsory work experience for all students aged 14 – 16 years was scrapped in 2012, so the decision to continue offering this service lies with local education authorities and learning trusts. In the county of Buckinghamshire placements happen just after GCSE exams are over and earlier in the school year students are encouraged to approach the businesses where they would like to gain some work experience. For those students who have a career path in mind, and even for those who have no idea, the process of application and subsequent placement gives them confidence in the workplace and a better perspective on the type of work or further studies they may pursue. Moreover, the work placement looks good on a CV. But not all students are motivated to participate and some lack the confidence to make the initial approach. Buckinghamshire Learning Trust steps in and finds work experience opportunities for them doing work that plays to each individual’s strengths, is in a safe environment, and mutually benefits employer and student.
Around this time of year (Summer/Autumn) newspapers fill column inches with articles which condemn students’ lack of workplace skills. They publish studies that describe the increasing gap between student and employers expectations. So placing students in a work environment (preferably of their choice) while they are still at school must surely be a beneficial eye-opener for them? It gives them the opportunity to relate at least some of their retained knowledge to the work environment and an idea of the type of skills they need, as well as the notion of working with people of different ages and abilities. It also serves to remind students of the benefits of earning and apprenticeships in the face of rising university fees and student loans. Work experience helps students make better informed decisions, even if they are only based on 2 weeks’ work.
I have just finished two weeks of work experience at WDG research and feel that I have gained a valuable insight into market research. I decided to try and secure a work placement there as I didn’t really know what career I wanted to follow once I left school and market research seemed like an interesting field to investigate, which I had not previously encountered.
On arriving at WDG I was greeted with a small team who immediately made me feel welcome. In the first few days I spent some time with each member of WDG, learning about the different areas of market research. First I did some quantitative analysis of data collected from a survey. This involved looking at how likely different demographics were to give certain answers and was interesting as it was different to anything that I have done before.
I then did some qualitative analysis, creating charts to show responses to various adverts from three focus groups. This gave me an interesting view of how different age groups respond to the same material.
Another task that I worked on was using a business intelligence website to find potential clients for WDG. This was an interesting experience as there was a wide range of articles from firms in different industries that wanted to find out how to increase their market share. It also felt like I was doing something that was genuinely useful to the firm after all they have done for me.
As well as the insight into market research that WDG has given me, I have also been given a view into the inner workings of a small firm which is very different to what I would have imagined and can only be fully appreciated through personal experience.
Overall I would fully recommend doing work experience, as it has been a unique look at a work environment and the team at WDG has allowed me to gain the most out of my two weeks by finding an interesting range of activities for me to work on.
Great leading article in an earlier edition of Marketing Week this month reminding us to not get too carried away with the terminology and the latest buzzwords. Those of us who cut our teeth in the pre-internet marketing era have witnessed the evolution in tools and channels and they are exciting. However, as this article suggests the basic processes of marketing are the same now as they were then.
It has been over a decade since the penny dropped in B2C marketing departments across the globe: the internet and social media has made consumers more powerful so it is more effective to treat them as individuals rather than customers as a whole. This same message has got through to B2B businesses, albeit somewhat later.
Acknowledging the importance of Customer Experience as a key component to company strategy is one thing, but getting the right amount of investment is the biggest hurdle CX teams have to overcome. There is a plethora of quotes from CEOs of companies that have successfully adopted customer excellence citing full staff engagement with the mission to treat each customer as an individual. These organisations talk about a top-down approach to achieving customer excellence, building a product that each member of staff from CEO to sales team would be proud to own, and taking their eye off the profit line to focus on the customer. How they actually achieve this is by constantly investing in their people, systems and products to create a positive customer-centric experience.
Customer-centric begins with having an in-depth understanding of each individual customer, and not just about why they buy the product or service. It means profiling the customer at the start of the relationship, and monitoring how it changes as the experience becomes more relevant to the individual.
‘Now’ is the benchmark containing ‘needs fulfilled, nothing special’ and ‘Tomorrow’ is the goal with ‘needs fulfilled better than expected, memorable service, outstanding value’ and ROI. Success is about creating meaningful, relevant and engaging experiences for the customer and for each element of change to reach ‘Tomorrow’ it is important to set KPI’s and intermediate goals. Frequent monitoring importantly removes surprises, minimises bad decisions and allows the CX team to adapt the strategy to new information and protect its investment. Companies that crack this realise their reward in increased market share and profit growth. (e.g. Amazon, John Lewis Partnership, First Direct Bank, Delta Airlines)
There are still companies that fail to see the point of market research (we understand our customers/our CRM tells us all we need to know) and do not invest in marketing technology to facilitate better understanding of the customer. They rely on 2 dimensional data, social media monitoring and internal software. Some companies fail to set measurable goals – or set the goals but do nothing if the plan misses the target – and wonder why ‘Tomorrow’ never comes. They lose C-suite support and investment shrinks further. Believe me, it really happens.
Too many companies do not fully embrace the importance of creating a positive customer experience, some attempt it at the coal face but its relevance becomes increasingly diluted the further away from the customer the business is. The result is under investment in CX and losing out to competitors who do take it seriously. This first quarter of the first century in the third millenium has seen so much power handed to the customer that ignoring them is perilous.
Customer Experience is something I expect we all know a fair bit about. We are all customers and at the user end of hundreds of products and services daily, the experience of which is mostly subliminal until something exceptional happens. At this point we are propelled towards delight in one direction (tweet, tweet, fb, fb!) or deep disappointment in the other (tweet, tweet, tweet, fb, fb, fb!!)*.
As a CX researcher I pay close attention to the performance of companies called to deal with complaints, requests for refunds, dispatch of replacement items or booking appointments for repairs. Most of us understand that a company that cares about its customers will employ people who are well trained in dealing with the public empathetically, and who have a good knowledge of the company’s products. Retailers like Waitrose and John Lewis, and online retail like Amazon, First Direct and Office Depot (Viking Direct) have taken creating a positive customer experience to a fine art. They understand the equation:
Happy customers = loyal customers = customer advocates = £££
The many organisations that outsource their customer contact services needn’t lose out on achieving positive CX so long as the appointed agency understands its value to the client, and the need for training consistent with the client’s internal programme.
But just think how many times you have contacted a customer enquiries or credit control line only to be transferred multiple times across some complicated telephony system before speaking to someone who is ill-equipped to deal with your enquiry. Or, you become stuck in a queue with other equally frustrated customers. When the time comes to replace the product or renew the service contract this experience will inevitably be a factor in deciding to stick with the company or go elsewhere.
Yet, the path to CX enlightenment is not overly littered with obstacles if the company’s focus on its customer is in the correct place: at the heart of the business. So here are a few basic steps towards creating satisfied customers:
- Employ people for front line positions (sales floor, customer services, contact centre, credit control) who stand out in interviews as personable, energetic, eager to learn and empathetic
- Ongoing product and services training across the business. Of course the level of knowledge required depends on the department, but a customer services agent who can converse with a customer about a product, understand the issues and reach a good and rapid resolution is a powerful advocate for the company.
- Treat every customer as an individual, their relationship to the product or service bought (or intending to buy) is as important to the company as it is to the customer
- Improve the telephony process: reduce call answering times, speak to an operator rather than an automated redirection message, good training (as above) will ensure the caller is directed to the correct department.
- Select outsourced services such as contact centres and logistics on the basis of shared customer focus and empathy, good training and personable call handlers. Outsource agents should share the company’s values
- Go beyond the CRM in trying to understand the customer
- Set performance indicators to measure improving customer relationships, and to identify where greater attention and training is needed.
For more details on measuring customer experience levels, or any aspect of CX please contact WDG Research.
*The reference to social media where more comments are posted when customers have a negative experience than a positive one is borne out by years of CX (customer experience) research carried out by WDG Research.
If you are given the opportunity to take on a work experience student for a week or two – TAKE IT!
If you’ve been scared off by thoughts of babysitting a dilatory teenager, or read that the majority of today’s kids leave school illiterate, innumerate and unmotivated, then pay attention. They’re not all like that. Take Yasmin for example. During the third week of July this year our offices were visited by this bright year 11 student on the second of her two work experience weeks. Yasmin attends a local grammar school and had just completed her GCSEs.
Yasmin thought that we might be the type of business she would be interested in. Not really knowing what direction she wants to take after sixth form this seemed like as good an idea as any.
The idea of work experience is to introduce the student to an environment where they can apply some of the skills acquired during their education and gain new skills while learning about the world of work – this is something every student is expected to do. The employer therefore has to prepare a proper experience for the student and not simply expect them to take orders for coffee and stand by the photocopier.
We set about planning a timetable for Yasmin which included many aspects of our business. She would be a junior research assistant – entry level for the market research industry. Not knowing her strengths we decided that a little time spent with each team member will give Yasmin sufficient insight, and help her decide if any aspect of market research interests her. We weren’t sure what to expect, but from the moment she arrived in our offices we were presented with a smart, smiling, confident young lady.
Yasmin listened attentively as we each explained our roles in the business, and she then applied herself to a project involving desk research for a new business initiative. She worked hard, asked questions, and smiled constantly; over the few days she became part of the research team. On the fourth day she presented her desk research to us; it was carefully put together on Powerpoint with all the relevant headings and bulletpoints. Her presentation was full of information we hadn’t known about the subject, and has become a useful tool for our new business drive. We all agreed that Yasmin presented with confidence and clarity.
Yasmin said of the experience that she came into our company knowing nothing about the technicalities of running a small business, and by the week’s end she understood “the processes from start to finish and everything inbetween”. She liked the ability to think independently, manage her own time and work out where to find the information needed for her desk research. She decided that she enjoys investigating and prefers the reliability of quantitative research over the more insightful qualitative research. She knows Powerpoint as well, if not better, than any of us, and had exposure to Sage accounting system in her previous work experience role.
Our take on the experience was very positive and the symbiosis in what she learned she gave back to us. Had we not prepared for Yasmin’s arrival the outcome might have been different, which would have wasted this important opportunity for both parties. So this is our advice to any organisation considering taking on a work experience or intern:
- Devise a work plan or timetable
- Set time aside on a daily basis to work with the student, to guide them and find out their skills and interests
- Enable them to do work that they can take ownership of
We know that there are young students who are ready to be an asset in the workplace and will be ready to repeat the process next year.
By dint of size, growth and contribution to the UK economy, the small to medium sized business is the ‘new black’. But while the UK government is just beginning to recognise its importance by the recent introduction of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act and making strides in encouraging young enterprise, many established SMEs are still in recovery from a long and punishing recession.
With the influence of e-commerce, the increased use of social media and online referrals it has become harder for some businesses to keep hold of customers or clients, so it has never been more important for SMEs to review their customer strategy.
WDG Research over a number of years has used market insights to assist B2B and B2C clients create a successful customer experience (CX). We have also spoken to associates that operate in the SME B2B sector and, for them, maintaining a positive and authentic client relationship is crucial to their success.
Here are some thoughts shared:
Business media frequently publishes articles on customer excellence achieved by big brands, paying little attention to customer facing SME businesses. Yet smaller businesses are often more able to deliver a good customer experience and generate brand fans without huge investment, by simply delivering a consistently reliable optimised service.
Why is this important? Customer reviews online has become the ‘go to’ default for many intended customers, from Trip Advisor to Google Reviews, even for local businesses. Facebook and Snapchat provide an opportunity to share and discuss (mainly negative) experiences amongst a wide audience. B2C businesses need all the positive reviews they can get.
There are simple strategies which create CX success which small businesses can adopt. WDG’s insights from CX studies reveal some basic expectations:
- Reliability: consistent quality and delivery of service/product
- Personalised service: customer is treated as an individual (i.e beyond the CRM)
- Uncomplicated channels of communication: navigable website, accessible and friendly call centre, minimal telephony routeing – continue a consistent positive experience across all channels
- Rapid resolution of issues
First Direct is an example of how to get it right from the very beginning. In 2014 it came top of a list of 263 UK brands in a study conducted by Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre. First Direct consistently delivers a personal service where staff knowledge and empathy play an important part. How do they do it? By way of meeting and often exceeding customers’ expectations, because the customer – rather than the profit motive – is placed at the centre of their business in the knowledge that positive financial results will follow.
Another example is Waitrose, which was in the top 10 brands in Nunwood’s study. The partner-ownership model lies at the heart of its customer experience: MD Andy Street says “being served by an owner…is bound to see you getting better service at the front line.” And while the Top 4 retailers find themselves in an ongoing price war with ALDI and Lidl, Waitrose is able to take an outside position.
Suggested best practice for B2C SMEs: the training and culture within the company should tie in with delivering a great customer experience. Establish social media monitoring and pay attention to negative reviews. Even though they are less able to commit and sustain the same relative levels of funding for CX programs afforded by the big brands, SMEs can adopt a customer centric approach, and consistent good standard of service.
Out of the limelight, customer excellence in business to business is a greater challenge. With fewer customer accounts, a tendency to longer sales cycles, and servicing a range of client roles, planning a CX strategy is more challenging but nonetheless important.
There are a number of cornerstones to achieving a good experience and ultimately greater business opportunities:
- demonstrating a good understanding of the client’s sector and its traditional culture
- customer confidence that they are working with a reliable company
- the supplier is seen to genuinely care about making a difference to the customer both in strategic and commercial terms.
Every business sector has its own culture and norms. This is particularly prevalent in professional services such as accountants, solicitors, patent attorneys, barristers etc. From formal language to formal suit, suppliers need to understand the rules and processes and assess what approach is needed. Tom Horigan of Horigan Professional Services Marketing says that in this sector decisions are not taken lightly and the process from enquiry to adoption can typically take 18-24 months.
Nick Wake of Awaken marketing and communication services, who primarily operates in leisure, sport and I
T sectors says that availability is important, “the client knows that they can contact me at any time…I will always get back to them as soon as I can”.
Reliability and trust are also important functions of a strong client-supplier relationship across most SME business sectors. Setting the parameters on expectations from the outset and being honest and transparent about issues that arise really benefits the relationship and the overall client experience.
So often in business-to-business interactions the focus is on selling and hitting targets rather than helping the client improve their operational efficiencies or achieving their growth targets. Tom Horigan says “a positive client experience comes from really understanding what the firm wants to achieve and recognising that each firm is different in terms of structure, culture and ambition”.
Some small businesses work with subcontractors. Maintaining a positive client experience extends to the external agents you work with. Nick Wake suggests if you are working together for a client under your company brand, you need to be sharing the same values.
Suggested best practice for B2B SMEs: be comfortable with the company culture before entering a transaction with a new client as dissonant values may hamper a smooth relationship; keep communication channels open, engender trust and transparency; be prepared to take ownership of issues and respond quickly; exceed expectations.
Every small business sector can benefit from placing the customer/client at the centre of its operations and employing staff who are 100% on board with the strategy. It is obvious to most customers when a company has no inherent interest in them and is just focussed on the transaction. Why should the customer return to that business if the same service or product can be found elsewhere?
It is an unassailable truth that all customers arrive at a number of touchpoints with their supplier, irrespective of the length or duration of their engagement. The first touchpoint could be a website, a sales call, or a face to face interaction. At this entry point the supplier’s brand promise is formed in the eyes of the prospect so it has to be spot on. Other entry points could be a referral or introduction, and in that instance the supplier is managing the reputation of the referee as well as his own. Thereafter touchpoints become all and any interaction with the suppliers from communication channels (text, email, phone) and published articles including blogs, to face to face meetings. If any touchpoint fails to deliver this creates a dissonance in the relationship.
There are few companies whose business flows smoothly without any issues. Companies that deliver customer experience excellence know how to resolve issues swiftly to reinstate the customer’s positive associations with them. Often a sincere apology, accepting responsibility for the issue, and rapid remedial action is sufficient. In some instances the issues may conceal a deeper problem which requires greater introspection, and a review of the internal processes of the company.
At the heart of positive customer experience strategy is making every customer feel valued so that they will return and, most importantly, recommend the business to their network.
This week I attended a most enlightening webinar on Customer Experience Excellence delivered by David Conway, Nunwood’s Chief Strategy Officer. In it, David compared customer experience among USA companies with UK organisations and concluded that, using Customer Experience Excellence ratings, the US is years ahead. It may be something to do with the fact that digital technology and social media are much more an integrated part of business in the USA, rather than the separate disciplines that many UK and European companies consider them to be.
More likely, according to Nunwood – and no way I’d disagree – the main reason why organisations excel at delivering good customer experience is because they excel at getting the culture right in their business in the first place. They employ people with the right attitude, who are motivated to work hard and who understand the company ethos which centers around the customer. This only really works well if it is driven from the very top of the organisation, a visionary of how the customer experience should be delivered : : think Walt Disney and the Disney theme parks.
Nunwood isolates the key constituents of good CX into ’6 Pillars of CX Excellence’:
- Personalisation – treat the customer as an individual, understand their needs, show them you know them
- Integrity – trust, demonstrate that the company stands for something bigger than profit
- Time and Effort – value the customer’s time
- Expectations – raise the bar, go the extra mile and surprise the customer with something relevant
- Resolution – transform a poor experience into a great one, assume the customers’ innocence and see their point of view
- Empathy – show emotional intelligence to the customer
Companies that embed each of the pillars into their culture and across every channel, who continuously listen to their customers and innovate their approach to CX, are at the top of the customer experience pyramid. Companies like USAA, Publix, Disney, Costco and Southwest airlines in the USA, Amazon in USA and UK, and First Direct, Waitrose, John Lewis, Nationwide and Specsavers in the UK. All excel at their customer experience.
But what about SME’s? Adopting Nunswood’s 6 Pillars is more than just a simple case of sitting the workforce down and explaining that a few things around the place are going to change. Smaller organisations are, on the whole, more adaptable to change but possibly less committed to make the financial investment required to imbue the business with a customer-centric culture. This might involve redesigning the CRM, retraining all customer facing employees and salesforce, digitising the business for social engagement, reviewing customer support agreements – indeed whatever it takes to bring the customer into its heart.
In fact, creating a good customer experience needn’t involve massive costly change all at once. For instance, take Telephony: reduce the time taken to answer customer calls AND employ a real person with product knowledge to answer calls OR reduce the number of steps in an automatic call system before customers reach the intended department. Take e-commerce: make sure your site is mobile friendly AND customer friendly signposting AND information such as carrier tracking and returns policies are clearly shown before payment is made AND the customer can get instant feedback to questions.
Of course, as most of the great CX organisations understand, putting the customer first and central doesn’t mean losing touch with the bottom line. In this inverse relationship with business the internal investment in CX becomes the main contributor to the bottom line.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better” Jeff Bezos CEO Amazon
Market Research Society has published findings from a study on consumer privacy that shows that despite continuing negative publicity surrounding banks, they are still most trusted with our personal information. According to the research, concerns about increased government surveillance and websites and communications platforms that soak up personal data has led to only one in ten of us feeling in control of our personal information.
Read more in the article:
Here is a survey that demonstrates that consumers still want to exercise choice