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.
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
I 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
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.
Talking Marketing Research here. There are plenty of risks taken, shelved and avoided in business; that’s what makes it exciting. In marketing research the plan is to lessen the risk with clever insights using carefully considered research design.
When I was a junior client researcher I attended numerous training courses and workshops aimed at increasing my understanding of research techniques and analyses. Without fail, someone would mention ‘risk limitation‘; that by using market research to test theories or products or customer opinions it limits the company’s risk of making a costly mistake. Some went as far as to say that risk limitation is the definition of marketing research.
In my last blog I referred to an article questioning if companies are becoming more risk averse. Certainly, the article mooted, UK companies were more risk averse than their US and European counterparts. This has been reflected in the shallower depth of pockets of most marketing departments, although more recently budgets have improved since the economy has shown ‘shoots of recovery’.
Risk aversion in a competitive market is a foolish strategy. By definition it limits investment where there is no tangible proof of return. Many large companies have already invested in software to keep a keen eye on their customers and suppliers: in-house CRM and Salesforce systems serve as eyes and ears among a definitive audience; digital marketing activity, channel marketing and social media monitoring effectively keep the audience busy. But how do metrics, likes and click thru’s convert to sales in a dynamic market? And what of stagnated product development and the open invitation to competitor’s to enter, or the impact of competitors’ activity on customer loyalty? What effect does risk aversion have on employees?
In a non risk averse environment marketing research limits the risk by identifying pinch points in any development plan. These glitches can be ironed out by further research so that at each stage the level of risk diminishes. A program of research drawn up at the same time as the marketing plan/strategy keeps a hold on the budget and prevents it from spiraling off the chart. It is not a case of the more you spend on research the less the risk, but the greater the risk is when you fail to acknowledge the value of marketing research.
Risk management is a much healthier strategy for uncertain economic times. Knowing which activity to progress relies on more than in house metrics. Ad hoc marketing research is needed from concept development to launch and beyond. A multi media campaign, brand launch, or promotions campaign, for example will require measures to test their effectiveness, that the message is understood and engaged with.
Marketing research does not sit aloof from CRM and Salesforce systems. Rather, it works alongside the data, fleshing it out and making sense of what is happening. As marketing spend recovers from the austere years UK companies will be more challenging in their campaigns I have no doubt. Where there is great (marketing) success, there will be a fine researcher.
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 email@example.com
The golden chalice of any business is having raving fans who return time after time to enjoy the great experience of a good service or product. More than that, these customers exude positive messages to their contacts about their experience thereby inviting more customers and hopefully more raving fans.
But how many businesses enjoy customer loyalty and how much effort goes into winning and protecting this loyalty.
As the title of this article implies I question the existence of customer loyalty on the basis of no matter how generic or specialist a product or service is the user has unique associations with it. These associations can be belief-led, historic, cultural, aesthetic, indeed anything that motivates the individual to become a consumer/customer. Overlay these associations with individual experiences of the product or service and the result is a myriad of reasons to buy and sensitivity to change.
The marketers role in trying to hold this loyal audience is understanding the equity of the product. Tampering with the marketing mix can be a costly business; inevitably this is as likely to break the positive product associations amongst consumers as it is to give others the motivation to buy.
At WDG we have used Customer Experience days and Customer Journey models with clients as varied as high street banks to the automotive industry to demonstrate the importance in understanding the many associations customers have with their brands and products. Marketing to customer segments is often a far less risky strategy than developing a catch-all campaign which alienates the would-be loyal.
For more information on Customer Experience or Customer Journey contact firstname.lastname@example.org