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
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.
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 email@example.com. Your complaint will be handed over to the Information Commissioners Office, or for more serious offences the police will be contacted.
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.
WDG has undertaken many investigations involving consumers using the internet in the last couple of years. We have tracked the customer’s journey from initial category search and research through e-commerce sites and interface with retail companies, and on to final transaction and post purchase experience. We have talked to consumers about their search experiences, the influence of different forms of online and digital advertising, and what it all means.
Most of them understand the relationship between what they search and the advertising that appears on their digital screen. They realise that advertising revenue on social media sites enables users to enjoy the freedom of engagement with a wide population. This is acceptable to some and can be an annoying consequence for others.
Advertisers and media buyers, with a larger pond to play in have to be more canny with their budgets. Clever use of algorithms on search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc) allows advertisers to target their audience and create greater ROI opportunities. More detailed analysis of time lag and keywords used in searches means that consumers are “bombarded” with adverts for a search interest long after the interest has evaporated.
This is not so acceptable amongst the consumers we spoke to – hence the frequency of the expression “bombarded”. Rather than show a residual interest in the advertised brand, they declare that they ignore it, or ‘close’ it. Unless the brand relates to a frequently purchased item (e.g grocery) or renewal products such as insurance or mobile phone contracts the consumer will move on because they are “no longer in the market” to buy.
At a cognitive level the advertisers of frequently bought and renewal items (e.g supermarkets and comparison sites) will have greater success than advertisers whose products have a longer shelf life, say white goods or smart TVs. Frequently appearing ads for products that consumers are no longer interested in become “annoying” and “interfere” with their enjoyment online in a way that TV commercials simply don’t. Can advertisers afford to upset their audience and waste valuable media dollars?
Online and digital advertising is still in its infancy and media analysts have an increasingly sophisticated set of tools to measure search patterns and frequency amongst segmented audiences as well as create campaigns which are more engaging and interactive. WDG will continue to talk to consumers and feedback to advertisers and media agencies, and look forward to a time when audiences can have greater engagement with, and a positive reaction to, online adverts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
You may not realise this but you could be marketing your small business at this very moment. Are you sitting at your laptop in an office or on a train, or are you reading this on a mobile device in a public space? Wherever you are you create an impression of yourself to the outside world, and there are times when this impression matters to you and your business.
For instance, when you meet new people each of you is assessing one another for all sorts of cues (how old, interesting, funny, intelligent, wealthy, single, married ….). In a business environment you may be looking for integrity, common values, knowledge, experience etc. People can generally see through insincerity, and more often than not are tuned in to blaggers. The visual cues are constant and even when you think people aren’t noticing you – they are.
Standing at the edge of a rugby/football/hockey pitch on Sunday mornings cheering on little Oscar/Wayne/Pippa may not be the obvious place where you are marketing your business, but just think of the conversations you have with other spectators/parents. Initially the chat is casual, bantery and overall convivial. Simply by shooting the chilly breeze with a fellow you inevitably market yourself, and by extension what you do. Eventually – perhaps not on the first meeting – you mention your business or what it is that you do. This is when what you do and who you are should have some positive congruence in the mind of the listener (“I like this person, she comes across as intelligent and switched on and is good company on a cold day. Interesting, she says she is an accountant, I bet she’s not lazy/unconscientious…”). Next time his accountant gives him grief you will be on his list of replacements.
The clothes you wear are also part of your marketing kit bag. Some businesses have uniforms or logo’d sweatshirts, or a colour preference. Your personal marketing effort has to be in line with the company’s positioning or it can be a truly disappointing experience for everyone else. The miserable and indifferent airline rep at the check-in desk can create a bad experience for the customer even if the airline is known for delivering a first class customer experience. The uniform that represents all the brand values that the customer has come to expect is totally incongruent with the service.
Dress for success is a seasoned adage used by stylists which doesn’t necessarily mean suited and booted. Wearing clothes that suit you, are comfortable, stylish and get you noticed are far more likely to create a confident impression. Even if your business requires overalls or a hard hat, dressing smartly when making a first contact with clients is always a favourable move.
Social media is another place where we need to take care how we present ourselves – it is becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool. Remember to stay true to yourself and not follow the crowd for added popularity – it often backfires and at the very least you end up with 00’s of followers who you would prefer not to have. Blogs, photo files, profiles all reflect an image of you so make sure its the image you want people to see.
I do a lot of formal networking and have run networking meetings. What you say and how you behave at such events will affect how people perceive you and your company. Many people just don’t ‘get it’ and within minutes of arriving are delivering non verbal negatives. In such environments focus on being you and show an interest in others. Be the touchline buddy who can engage in conversation, be authentic and impress your fellow networkers with your integrity. You may be surprised how many good networkers regard contacts as business buddies because they know about each other and have shared values in business. They refer business opportunities to one another and work in association because they know that this will enhance their business. Networking success doesn’t happen overnight but it can deliver the sweetest business in the long term.
In a perfect world we should all be marketing ourselves with the same open authentic approach, but while there are still plenty of people who remain oblivious to this need there are opportunites for you to make it work to your advantage. Focus on your subliminal marketing activity so that you always send out the message you want. Get followers who follow you because your message resonates with them and remember (without paranoia) that people notice you when you are least aware. When they meet you, they should get a feel for what a great business you run.