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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.

 

Big Data: do you control it or does it control you?

Online paymentThe 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.

Companies perceptions of why consumers use social mediaBusinesses 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.

 

 

 

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.

Risks with Research

Talking Marketing Research here. There are plenty of risks taken, shelved and avoided in business; that’s what makes it exciting. In marketing research the plan is to lessen the risk with clever insights using carefully considered research design.

When I was a junior client researcher I attended numerous training courses and workshops aimed at increasing my understanding of research techniques and analyses. Without fail, someone would mention ‘risk limitation‘; that by using market research to test theories or products or customer opinions it limits the company’s risk of making a costly mistake. Some went as far as to say that risk limitation is the definition of marketing research.

In my last blog I referred to an article questioning if companies are becoming more risk averse. Certainly, the article mooted, UK companies were more risk averse than their US and European counterparts. This has been reflected in the shallower depth of pockets of most marketing departments, although more recently budgets have improved since the economy has shown ‘shoots of recovery’.

Risk aversion in a competitive market is a foolish strategy. By definition it limits investment where there is no tangible proof of return. Many large companies have already invested in software to keep a keen eye on their customers and suppliers: in-house CRM and Salesforce systems serve as eyes and ears among a definitive audience; digital marketing activity, channel marketing and social media monitoring effectively keep the audience busy. But how do metrics, likes and click thru’s convert to sales in a dynamic market? And what of stagnated product development and the open invitation to competitor’s to enter, or the impact of competitors’ activity on customer loyalty? What effect does risk aversion have on employees?

In a non risk averse environment marketing research limits the risk by identifying pinch points in any development plan. These glitches can be ironed out by further research so that at each stage the level of risk diminishes.  A program of research drawn up at the same time as the marketing plan/strategy keeps a hold on the budget and prevents it from spiraling off the chart. It is not a case of the more you spend on research the less the risk, but the greater the risk is when you fail to acknowledge the value of marketing research.

Risk management is a much healthier strategy for uncertain economic times. Knowing which activity to progress relies on more than in house metrics.  Ad hoc marketing research is needed from concept development to launch and beyond. A multi media campaign, brand launch, or promotions campaign, for example will require measures to test their effectiveness, that the message is understood and engaged with.

Marketing research does not sit aloof from CRM and Salesforce systems. Rather, it works alongside the data, fleshing it out and making sense of what is happening. As marketing spend recovers from the austere years UK companies will be more challenging in their campaigns I have no doubt. Where there is great (marketing) success, there will be a fine researcher.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

New Generation vs Traditional Research methods – you choose?

A quick clarification of ‘new generation’ before blogging on. Online research has been around for some time now with lots of options to choose from (online panels, communities, internal CRM, social media..). Improvements in digital and mobile research has meant that greater value can be gained across all nternet-based platforms to reach an audience. These tools are evolving in sophistication and accessibility, so for the moment we are using the collective term ‘new generation’ to separate them from traditional approaches in quantitative research.

Online research, social media and community panels have now eclipsed traditional quant methods in terms of preference by marketers, but seriously, does new mean better? There are limitations to both and it is these that hinder the quality outcome of studies. So before embarking on a new research programme, consider the options against the objectives and the audience to be measured.

At WDG we believe in the specific merits of both new generation and traditional methods and will always promote the best tool for the job. Online research is cost effective, fast and controllable. Traditional face to face and telephone interviewing benefits from person-to-person interaction; the interviewer can challenge responses and clarify questions at any point in the proceedings.

Simplifying your choice

The benefits of new generation research methods

It’s cost effective. There is no denying that this is the case; recruitment costs are reduced where respondents are more easily reached through the internet; social media sites have a ready made engaged audience to test early concepts and opinions; in many instances survey software has already been developed thereby minimizing set-up costs.

It’s time saving. Time is money and automated analytics is a significant time saver; the process from questionnaire deployment to analysis is faster; real time data can be customised and fed instantaneously to key personnel, regional offices, and stakeholders.

It’s convenient. Respondents can complete the study at a convenient time and place – within a stated time frame; smartphone and tablet usage enables greater convenience and comfort in completing surveys; sensitive and personal questions can be asked without compromising respondents’ privacy. This achieves a potent quality and reliability of response.

A wider geographic reach as more of the UK/global population uses internet and digital media.

Multimedia stimuli can be used and responded to.

 

The benefits of traditional quantitative methods

Not everyone is internet/social media savvy; just because someone has internet doesn’t mean they have the time or interest in completing online surveys; traditional survey recruitment reaches all segments of the population.

Benefits taste, smell and feel studies, such as product development.

Non-verbal responses add depth and clarity to trad face to face interviews

Challenge responses where it is felt respondent didn’t fully understand question; ideal for more complex surveys.

 

When deciding which approach will work best for your research study, consider who your audience is (are they active social media users? what is the internet/smartphone penetration amongst this audience?), and what you expect them to do and over what duration (online has a higher drop-out rate than traditional).

We hope we have overturned the myth that traditional quantitative research has had its day – it will always have an important place in marketing development and planning. New generation methodologies are improving and developing to enable faster and more precise readings of audiences, but human interaction is here to stay.

 

 

Brand MOT – a fail or a pass?

Brand MOT – a fail or a pass?

At WDG Research we spend a fair bit of time checking brand health on behalf of our clients. Often when companies approach marketing research agencies like ours they have brands with recognisable identities and customers who have bought in to their proposition. The issue is holding on to customers (as well as increasing!) and with every marketing activity companies take a risk in upsetting the rational and emotional constituents that make up this complex brand proposition.

Gallup have conducted an extensive survey among customers, and found that a break in a brand’s promise explains why one in five disengaged customers no longer patronize that brand. Gallup eloquently explain their findings in Gallup Business Journal and advise companies to look beyond the rational and cognitive customer measurements and study the emotional factors which play an important role in determining customer behaviour and ultimately the health of the brand. Words that WDG wholeheartedly echo.

Collaboration takes the sting out of the recession

It’s an interesting word, collaboration. It labels something that most of us do without thinking and often take for granted in our personal life. For as long as we have been scratching one another’s backs we have collaborated in performing side by side for mutual benefit.

Pop stars collaborate and enjoy a shared audience, screenwriters and authors collaborate to bring the written word to life, governments collaborate to wield a greater share of voice on the world stage.

I have never used the word ‘collaborate’ as much as I have over the last fifteen years since becoming a serious business networker. In fact it is one of my top ten lexicons when discussing business development. Why this has become such an important word to me is historic-ish.

I am a partner in a market research agency which has been around for over 25 years. During the recession in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s WDGresearch held steady with its regular client base and while larger agencies went under we survived. As we came out of that recession I was able to look back and see clearly that we did nothing to steer ourselves away from the precipice, it was the success of our relationship with our long standing clients that pulled us through. It could quite easily have gone the other way if our clients’ budgets had dried up or if our contact within the company had retired, moved on, been made redundant. The shock of realising that simple truth made us review the way we ran the company, analyse our market positioning, overhaul our client and business development, and steer our own ship.

With an ambition to achieve sustained growth we allocated a realistic budget to business development. Our first step was to increase visibility which for us meant collaborating with many of the businesses with which we had strong associations in the past. We realised we were competing with industry heavyweights so we needed to have a greater offering when taking our business to industry conferences and networking events. The collaborations meant that we could make greater use of digital marketing and we had more to say when presenting ourselves in industry journals.

In the year that followed the change we noticed a significant increase in our average billings because we were able to offer more in-house. We received more cold enquiries, our attendance at conferences and networking brought more ‘warm’ contacts to the database, and ultimately our business grew to more than twice the turnover of the previous year. This allowed us to employ more staff to work on client retention and new business.

Subsequent years have seen sustained growth until the current recession started to bite but our collaborations are still working to mutual benefit and support.

This time around, many of our clients have experienced budget cuts and in some cases redundancies. Business information has changed since the last recession and companies rely on CRM systems and digital marketing strategies to get answers about their customers, shaving a complete corner off the marketing research industry. Consequently our business has evolved in parallel. We have new collaborations which reflect the shift in marketing businesses.

We were fortunate to survive the last recession, but now I know that we control the success of WDG Research and the mutual support received from and delivered to our partners in marketing services is the backbone needed to get through this one.

Who says anyone can do market research?

POSTED ON May 16th  - POSTED IN Brand Marketing, Customer Satisfaction, Market Research

I have just had a frustrating phone conversation with a marketing manager of a mid-sized drinks manufacturer. Actually, it’s more than frustrating but I am redirecting all my negative energy into this article, (so it could be a rant – that’s for you to decide).

The marketing manager is young, younger than I have spent building a career in marketing and research – that young! She stated that her company does not spend money outsourcing market research other than industry tabs and audit data. All other marketing research they do themselves because “it’s not rocket science….anyone can run a focus group….we get semi-decent results”

Well good for them! Aside from an inevitable bias in design and implementation of their studies, what worries and angers me is this: if that is the view of the younger generation of marketers who have had to manage their activity on smaller recessionary budgets does this mean that decisions are based on limited methodologies and understanding of their customer’s behaviour?

How effective is their research if they are only using standard methodologies such as focus groups, social media monitoring, product tests? Another worry is the amount of time a marketing department can commit to running research programs. “Semi-decent results” doesn’t say much for its design and analysis.

If it is a cost issue, the cost of bad research is poorly executed campaigns, loss of customers, strained relationships down the distribution channels, and internal fractures. I agree that good marketing research is not cheap, but there is a cost in not doing good research.

Do I really need to debunk this view that marketing and market research is not rocket science? You only need to consider the technologies and methodologies developed in data collection, concept evaluation, eye-track monitoring for advertising, behavioural studies, volumetric testing, co-creation clinics – and so on – to know that it does compare to rocket science. We are dealing with the human brain and how it is motivated after all.

I would be interested to know if any readers feel the same as the young marketing manager. At a time when the customer has greater power and influence, isn’t it important that more effort is placed on distilling information from them?

Rant over. It would be good to hear your views on this subject, especially if you are a client marketer.

 
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