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
A number of recent business articles have been banging on about the reduced need for websites as businesses and consumers have become more interested in using community platforms and user generated content. In other words, they have lost relevance to todays aggregated digital information streaming society. As one article put it ‘the delivery of content and interaction has been set free from conventional web design’.
Last year we launched this website. It may not be perfect but it explains our market research business, and we anticipate that we make subtle changes when needed to keep up with digital technology, and we overhaul the site every 2 to 3 years or when larger changes are afoot, whichever comes first. We operate B2B and use blogging and social media to drive traffic here, and with over a third of our new business last year coming through the website I am reluctant to describe it as redundant, at least not yet.
The journey that websites have taken in just two decades shows that they are willing to change and function as part of a digital strategy. However, there will come a time when website will mean something completely different, possibly a generic term for all content generated by a single user held in the cloud. What websites succeed in doing today will be incorporated into new technology tomorrow and that’s fine by me.
The last few years of marketing press has been about Big Data, it’s impact and effect of every one of us. We are surrounded by data noise but we continue to feed the data baby with social media, instant messaging, purchase transactions, GPS signals, mobile phone usage etc. It is insatiable.
Famously, IBM recently stated that we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, so much so that 90% of the data in the world has been generated in the last two years alone. Does this mean that we are becoming more enlightened and sophisticated in the sharing and use of information? Much of the time we are responsible for creating data without even realising, which is a frightening thought. Servers record our every move / opinion / image posted, building a massive footprint for every one of us.
When we are in control of the information we generate it can have a huge impact on our lives, enabling us to make informed decisions about our spending, the products we use, travel, health issues, investments etc. Social media has transformed the lives of many creating a wide network of ‘friends’ to share thoughts, create ideas, post images and videos, and stream media. When it is out of our control it we can simply feel disconnected at best, or it can inflict serious damage to our reputation at worst.
Businesses on the other hand have only scratched the surface of Big Data. Too often it is seen as a CRM tool, as a means to capture prospects, to broadcast their brand message across the net. Many companies still do not have a social media marketing policy. They generate the same content across Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter et al without understanding the different platforms, audiences, usage patterns etc. Multi media advertising is seen as a great opportunity for many advertisers, but it risks alienating customers: consumers can find it ‘annoying’, ‘intrusive’, or skip it as soon as it appears on their screen.
Companies can benefit from getting to know their customer beyond the CRM metrics. Engaging with them on social media creates a greater opportunity to manage what is being said about the brand, and identifying advocates creates a mouthpiece for positive marketing. Crowd sourcing and co-creation treats customers as part of the team and engages with them in a way that was hitherto seen as risky by marketing teams.
Big Data has so many more applications for business it is almost unfathomable. Detailed knowledge of suppliers, supply chain and prices can deliver efficiencies and greater control over the costs and timescales impacting the business. As for consumers, we are benefiting from the impact of information through greater choice of products and services, more intelligent pricing, and a broader knowledge of the world around us.
Like it or loathe it, like the universe Big Data can only expand.
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.
I am sure you have been there: one minute your relationship works, you are both happy and you have invested a lot of time in each other; the next minute it all goes eerily quiet, he doesn’t call or answer your emails and you begin to realise that it may be all over. Then you hear that someone else is on the scene and you start to question why. What did you do that was so wrong?
Clients can be very fickle folk – I’ve been there and I know. As an ex-client I can say with hand on heart that it is not always the agency’s fault when a relationship comes to an end. Often it has simply run its course and the client wants to try out other suppliers. Budget influences the continuation of a relationship, and no agency worth their mettle wants to regard themselves as cheap. Internal politics may change the structure of the client department or restrict the process of appointing external suppliers. All of which is frustrating for the agency that has developed a deep understanding of the company, its products and services, its interface with customers, and its employees.
Even more frustrating for the supplier is when a client contact moves on. This is the primary point of communication with the company and once it is lost it knocks the relationship with the company back quite significantly. He or she may inform their suppliers and pass on the details of the new incumbent but this happens as much as it doesn’t. Finding out on LinkedIn is not ideal, but at least it is a place to reconnect and be referred to the contact’s replacement.
When you are in the middle of a good relationship it is easy to forget what it took to get there; the emails and phone calls, the numerous small projects and presentations that finally won the client over. Like any relationship it has to add value to both parties. From the suppliers perspective having a developing knowledge about the company is not sufficient, it has to introduce fresh ideas for the client to think about, recommendations that move the business forward, and be prepared to challenge the client when needed. A good client should be transparent with the supplier in a long term relationship: be up front with budgets, honest with timings, and prepared to share the intended outcome of each project. A good client should not take advantage of the relationship expecting ‘freebies’ or impossible timings, or even usurping the supplier’s time with other clients.
And when it comes to the end of the road, be honest. Tell them and explain why. Nobody likes to be dumped without a good reason.
The YouTube video pokes fun at clients. I apologise, but as an ex-client and agency researcher it is very funny
Why a simple act of sharing and empathy became viral and how. Luke Lewis writes in the Guardian to explain this incredible phenomenon that raised more than £8mn in as many days. It demonstrates the value of keeping it simple and in this case all you need is a mobile phone.