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Closing the Gap that Lies Between You and Your Customers

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.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsThis is not beyond most companies’ reach, it is a simple case of understanding how to please your customers, who in many ways, have the same expectations as yourself.

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.

 

Are you serious about your CX strategy?

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.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsAcknowledging 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.

 

  

How big does your company have to be to deliver a good customer experience?

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.

Paper chain family protected in cupped handsMore 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

 

Why are Companies Loving Their Private Online Communities?

Corporate and brand image is indivisible in today’s global social streaming online culture. It is not enough to listen in on conversations, marketing needs to be at the heart of it all, steering consumers’ views in positive directions and using a tone of voice across all media that is compelling.

investigate Private Online Communities have become a popular research tool amongst marketers for trying out ideas amongst an engaged population of consumers. Companies benefit by developing products and services that are co-designed by the people who will use them, they also benefit because they have a deeper understanding of their customers. Marketing communications become more in tune with the language that motivates and works for their audience on different media and devices.

Private because few marketers want to share their ideas with their competitors.

What is a Private Online Community?

This is an invitation-only targeted community of consumers brought together on a web platform for the purpose of enabling marketing to gain valuable insights over a period of time.

Communities are frequently built around internal CRM databases and often use people who are already signed up to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc and are active in expressing their views and sharing posts.  The community will share a common interest in a brand, product or service, or represent a specific customer segment. Their views and opinions are important and marketing can dip in and out to test ideas and hypotheses amongst this brand savvy audience.

Examples of types of research for online communities:

Co-creation, Concept development and progression, Semiotics, Surveys, Customer journey development, Tracking studies, Advertising development  

Are communities an expensive way to do research?

Yes and no. There are of course limitations to a defined panel and it is not ideal for all research needs; factoring in the cost of a panel as well as other research requirements may be prohibitive.

But if the client has a regular requirement for research of the type listed earlier which a defined community can address there can be considerable cost and time savings over traditional online research methods. For companies which require frequent feedback, and may be going through a development or change process, or who are running a long term customer engagement or communications program, a panel is a cost effective solution.

Who manages the community?

insightA community manager keeps the panellists active on a day-to-day basis. The manager ‘listens’ to conversations and feedback from panellists, and regularly feeds them with activities that will deliver important insights to the client. The WDG Community Manager is a researcher and insights specialist who can moderate groups and interpret the ‘voice’ of the panel to the client.

For more information about our panel services contact Margot or Louise on 01494 772436 or email info@wdgresearch.co.uk

Corporate Communications taking greater control of Marketing

InterpretSocial media’s mega flow into all aspects of business and personal interaction is having a significant impact on corporate communications. A report conducted by executive search company Spencer Stuart and pr firm Weber Shandwick, and neatly summarised in Warc News suggests that CCOs are placing greater emphasis on content publishing and are taking more responsibility for marketing within their company. The reason? –  The Rising CCO report says that 84% of respondents agree that corporate reputation and brand reputation have become indivisable.

This report is based on research among 203 CCOs in Europe, N America, Asia Pacific, and Latin America 73% of whom are hiring more social media experts in response.

Does Supply Chain Experience Impact Customer Experience?

investigateI was passed an interesting report to read on Customer Experience and it created more questions for me than it could answer, which is no reflection on the report itself – it is worth a read. It is the Customer Experience Index 2014 by Forrester Research in USA which benchmarks the customer experience for 175 US brands in 14 industries including retailers, hotels, banks, credit card providers, insurance firms etc.

As you can see Forrester’s research was conducted among service industries, and shows that companies can make improvements and adjustments which result in a demonstrable positive shift in their Customer Experience Index. This CXi is arrived at by averaging the net scores to three questions: is the company effective at meeting my needs? how easy are they to do business with? how enjoyable are they to do business with?

A positive CXi shift is clearly good news for the company, particularly the customer facing end but what of the supplier-customer chain that finishes at the end user? How far back in this chain do improvements and adjustments need to be made in order to impact on a positive shift in end user CE?  I suspect not that far back in service industries such as those under Forrester’s scrutiny.

So let’s think for a minute about the supplier-customer chain that exists across all industries. In our own business we could be close to the end of the chain, or further back, nearer its beginning. Doesn’t it behove us as much in B2B as in B2C  to meet our customer’s needs, be easy to do business with and at least make the experience enjoyable so that the customer will want to come to us again? And our suppliers who had a second degree input into our customers’ positive experience, how much does our own experience of them have to be positive for it to have an effect on customer attitudes and buying behaviour; and what of our supplier’s supplier?….. What I am questioning is the existence of a virtuous spiral.

We at WDG have conducted customer experience studies at different touch points in our clients’ businesses but most commonly among end users. If it was possible to have comparative measures across the whole supply-customer chain  it could prove the existence – or not – of a virtuous spiral of CE. So, if it does exist and it could be measured and controlled it would have a phenomenal impact on how business is conducted. It would focus attention on delivering the best service to our customers and there would be greater emphasis on performance indicators and quality control in the supply chain, and perhaps more loyalty shown to suppliers.

Companies in a competitive space need to stand out in delivering a great customer experience, and there are an abundance of examples of marketing programs designed for just that purpose, but mostly targeting end-user customers. Including the supply chain, setting CE indicators and creating quality standards is a step towards evaluating the potential to directly influence our customers and create a better working environment.

If anyone out there has carried out a comprehensive supply chain CE study and it’s impact on the end user I would be pleased to meet with you!

 

 

Could this be the future for business?  As part of a product or service development process is inbuilt

The perfect modern marriage of Marketing and Insight

To drag out an old cliche, everyone’s a critic now. Cliche’d or not it has never been more apt in an era of social media where customers are increasingly airing their opinions and companies are struggling to respond fast enough. Sometimes the opinions are positive, constructive, and affirming, but some are negative and occasionally damaging in their vitriol. The fact that each customer is likely to share their bad experience with, on average, 5.3 social contacts (American Express Global Customer Service barometer) should be sufficient evidence for companies to realise that they need to forge better relationships with their market and pre-empt potential bad experiences. In other Marketing needs to tighten its control over its brands.

If a negative experience can send shockwaves rippling across Facebook, consider the impact of a positive  customer experience. Customers who feel valued and listened to soon become advocates of your brand, and since people are more inclined to take recommendations from friends and peers rather than advertising or marketing, a glowing review is more effective in building brand loyalty and trust.

Engaged customers are invaluable; they understand the brand, have positive associations with it, know what it delivers in the way that they as individuals interface with it i.e. their own personal journey.  This intellectual capital, when tapped into and employed becomes an extension of marketing’s think-tank. The honest opinions and real-time reactions of a social community of brand advocates and influential customers is  invaluable when it comes to creating and progressing concepts and ideas. This engaged community make important contributions to the process and their reward is knowing that they have a say in how their brand is developed and communicated.

In the ‘olden days’ marketers rejected the idea of customers as creatives. Today Co-creation is a valuable insight and development process. It uses the creative energy of engaged consumers, brand experts, designers and stakeholders to significantly reduce the idea generation and gestation stage of a new product or marketing campaign. Physically bringing these groups together in a day of co-creation activity can’t be described as an exact science but is a hugely successful approach to Big Thinking where  disruptive ideas emerge, are refined and developed until desirable concepts emerge. The entire approach is inclusive to all groups and entirely transparent.

Co-creation online is sometimes criticised as unwieldy with no control over intellectual property. However, many companies have achieved success using this approach. Coca Cola most famously used a global online community to co-create ‘Energize Refreshment’ as explained by Leonardo O’Grady ASEAN Director of Integrated Marketing Communications http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyLh9jwVCGs

Insight techniques are developing as fast as consumers are becoming digitally sophisticated. That’s not to say that keeping close to customers and involving them in brand decisions has become less complicated. It hasn’t but the advantage with today’s insight tools is that companies can  engage 24/7 with their customers, identify brand advocates, and tap into their intellectual capital. It’s all about using insight to deliver better understanding of customers, build brand loyalty and respond in real-time to marketing challenges.

 

 

Have clients become more risk averse?

An interesting article in Campaign asking is risk taking in marketing dead and gone. More clients are playing safe with their brands which can in part be blamed on the recession but also the influence of social media in shaping brand perceptions.  If marketers are using brand-focused communities to co-create ideas then the element of risk is undoubtedly diminished.

What is True Brand Loyalty and the Secrets of a Long Shelf Life?

As a company that has spent over two decades talking to customers, consumers, companies and employees there is not much we don’t know about the importance of having a healthy brand. The ideal is to have loyal customers (and employees) who have an emotional and rational connection with the brand based on a promise they have absolute trust in.

Very few brands however hold the golden chalice of true brand loyalty, those that spring to mind are Heinz Beanz (note the absence of ‘Baked’ recently changed as seen as a bit of a mouthful, and respelling of ‘Beanz’ as a tribute to the slogan ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz‘), HP Sauce, Apple, Google, Coca Cola. Famously with Coca Cola we know that the brand is more powerful than the product and the sheer weight and global influence of Google has made it almost indispensable. These brands have become a generic in their categories with consumers in the UK asking for HP, or a ‘coke’, or  ’googling’ for information.

What is it about these brands that keep customers tuned in to them? In every case there is an emotional connection, an assurance that the brand understands them. Advertising reinforces this by tapping into the emotional values of the brand; just think about the Christmas campaign for Coca Cola, or the numerous Beanz Meanz Heinz family-based campaigns. The parent companies are not complacent in reminding customers why they engaged with the brand in the first place.

These successful brands are not just about the products they represent, but the ideas and aims behind the products. Apple’s mission written and declared by the personable Steve Jobs is about its commitment to delivering the best personal computing experience around the world through innovative hardware, software and internet. This is their brand promise and it allows the customer to be patient and forgiving of small glitches from time to time. Take the iPhone 4S which was launched with unexpectedly short battery life. Although it took Apple several months to fix following numerous complaints the brand’s reputation has remained intact.

None of this is achieved without confidence in the market, the competition and the consumer, all of which is achieved using market insights and research. For aspiring brands the road to customer loyalty is hard fought on social media and through distribution channels. Customers have a shorter attention span than 10 years ago; sites like Facebook and Twitter can persuade and influence change and of course there is the internet shopping mall. But just like successful brands companies can use social media to engage with consumers, create interest around the brand, tap into the emotional link and communicate its promise, resulting in powerful brand advocates..

The challenge for aspiring brands is respecting the value customers place on the brand promise. If the promise is consistently broken and the emotional connection is not established then the company has a brand in name only. This proves that brand loyalty is as important a relationship for the company as it is to the consumer. To grow a strong brand that sits confidently on the balance sheet requires an unwavering promise to the customer and a connection that taps into different emotions.

A further challenge is ensuring the brand is not left behind in a dynamic commercial landscape. We encourage our clients to regularly monitor the health of their brands across all channels as well as keeping their finger on the customer’s pulse when the competition is active, and pre- and post-campaigns.

For more information about establishing brand loyalty contact the WDG team at info@wdgresearch.co.uk

 
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