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Big up your customer contact charm offensive

 

wordcloud (3)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.

 

SMEs and the Importance of Creating Positive Customer Experiences

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.

Customer Journey

 

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:

B2C SME

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.

B2B SME

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:

  • Handshakedemonstrating 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.

Jeff Bezos quoteIn general

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.

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

 

Finally a move to tackle ‘sugging’ and ‘frugging’

POSTED ON July 16th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized

In this week’s research-live.com it was reported that the Market Research Society – which governs the research industry with extensive and rigid Code of Conduct – is tackling the nuisance callers who sell and fundraise under the guise of research, known as ‘suggers’ and ‘fruggers’. This insidious activity has long been the bane of the market research industry as they undermine its reputation and professionalism.

As a research agency of many years operating in this industry, and feeling at unity with our fellow agencies and fieldwork suppliers, we appeal to the MRS to raise the profile of its stand against suggers. The public has grown tired of the volume of callers claiming to conduct ‘lifestyle surveys’ and has become increasingly aware that these companies are really just harvesting personal data to sell on to third parties – a clear breach of the MRS Code of Conduct. It makes it harder for genuine CATI researchers to break through the wall of resistance and discontent felt by the public who cannot be expected to know the difference between a nuisance call and a genuine research study. While telephone interviewing continues to be an important information gathering tool, the MRS must visibly and audibly defend it.

And while we are on the subject, the public is no stranger to sugging and frugging on the high street, and it has started to invade our digital and mobile spaces too. So, we are calling for a potent authoritative voice from the body that regulates and defends its industry and is supposed to protect the participating public. This is needed now, in places where that public can hear and see it, and not in an industry journal or newsletter.

If you would like to report a sugger/frugger please contact the MRS on 0800 9759955 or email sugging@mrs.org.uk. Your complaint will be handed over to the Information Commissioners Office, or for more serious offences the police will be contacted.

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

Brief us well, brief us good

POSTED ON March 25th  - POSTED IN Business Leadership, General Stuff, Market Research, Uncategorized

For more than two decades WDG Research has enjoyed working on many interesting and varied market research projects. Our client portfolio extends across many industries from fmcg to finance, automative to leisure, advertising to DIY – to name a few – and we are pleased to have a family of clients who repeatedly use our services over the years. Here are some considered thoughts about briefing agencies, specifically marketing research agencies but the rules certainly apply to other marketing services.

It is no surprise that every client has a specific style in briefing a job; some are verbally delivered over the phone, or at a meeting, or more commonly we receive briefs by email and on the odd occasion on LinkedIn. Sometimes we are given an initial general description in return for a ballpark quote, while others prepare an extensive and detailed document, and there are many variations in between.

There is certainly no right or wrong way to deliver a research brief so long as there is a stage where both parties reach a point of clarification on the objectives for the research, method of research to be used, sample size and structure, locations, materials required from the client, timings and of course the cost. The parameters of budget and timescales are important in designing a solid research project – good research cannot be done yesterday but a reputable agency will pull out all stops to deliver. So often research is used as a final sign-off at the end of a development programme and inevitably tight deadlines arise and the client often has only loose change left to spend. We’ve all been there.

That said, there are good briefs and bad briefs. The bad ones blindfold the agency, preventing it from designing a good solid research method that will meet all objectives. Bad briefs withhold the context of the research or its role in the development and marketing programme. Agencies need to know this information to create data and insights which will move the project further along in its development. Remember, if the agency is a member of the Market Research Society it is governed by conduct codes which include client confidentiality – code B6. So please clients, trust your agency and regard it as a member of your team at least for the duration of the project.

Sometimes the details of the research are not always delivered contemparaneously as different departments have their input. As  client researchers, a role more commonly found pre-Millenium, it was our responsibility to gather inputs from all relevant departments and design a complete brief before approaching an agency.  At WDG we are all ex-client researchers and we care about the value of the research to the client. We aim to understand the client’s objectives for undertaking research and as the direct link to their customer/audience it is important for us to make worthwhile and salient recommendations.

A good brief on the other hand is fully considered before the research agency is approached – sometimes discussion with an agency can help the client to reach this stage pre-brief. Ideally the client is able to explain the context of the subject to be researched and the brief will include how it impacts on subsequent activity. The agency can then design a research study that is timely, that uses the optimum methodology, and explores all the issues. Moreover it can deliver recommendations that are relevant.

Ultimately, any brief is a good brief, but the client will get sharper results with a brief that is complete in itself and embraces the agency’s knowledge and skills in delivering great insights. Try it out and know that you are spending your budget wisely.

 

 

 

 

 

Customer Loyalty – does it exist?

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 neilg@wdgresearch.co.uk

 
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