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3 Steps for Improving the Value of Voice of Customers

Every company collects customer feedback in one form or another. It is the ability to HEAR what their customers SAY that separates successful companies from “also run”s. Below are 3 steps that can help your company to improve its hearing:

  1. VOC value 1Stop manipulating it

 

The availability of inexpensive survey tools, that allow you to produce and send your questions to thousands of email addresses, does not translate into valuable knowledge of how your customers experience doing business with your company. The type of questions you ask, inevitably influence the type of answers you receive. Implement ation of a shiny new “customer engagement” software, does not translate into meaningful insights for improving your products and services. People’s motivations for choosing to engage and conditions of their engagement, inevitably corrupt a value of their input.

“Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive.” Criss Jami

Just because you have no intent to manipulate Voice of Customer does not mean your efforts produce trustworthy results. Focus on listening to what customers have to say on their own accord and without any guidance.

“It’s not at all hard to understand a person; it’s only hard to listen without bias.” Criss Jami 

 

2.  Stop being an order taker

 

It became fashionable to quote Henry Ford and Steve Jobs in arguing that VoC is not a source of innovation. I am not sure there is an VOC valueargument to be made – if customers were able to produce Market Requirements Documents, who would need innovators? It only means that if you expect customer feedback to spell out MRD for you, perhaps innovation is not your calling. The VoC is one of the best sources for learning the problems customers trying to resolve by “hiring” products available to them. Understanding of their problems and empathy with their experience, inspire true innovators to “translate” customer feedback into breakthrough products and services.

“The aim of selling is to satisfy a customer need; the aim of marketing is to figure out his need.” P. Kotler

 

  1.  Stop using selective hearing

 

Just because you pretend that VoC is limited to the customers who answer your questions, Word of Mouth does not stop influencing the rise or fall of your product’s fortunes. You can hide your head in the sand, but that will likely accelerate the distraction of your brand reputation. According to Jeff Besos, who knows a thing or two about customer-centricity:

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

You are more likely to learn from Word of Mouth analysis what really is important to your customers and why they buy your product, than from their responses to your survey.

3 Questions for the Author of “Hooked on Customers”

2014-07-05_130104Last week I had the opportunity to ask Bob Thompson, the author of the book “Hooked on Customers”, a few questions. Bob  is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of CustomerThink.com, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms.

CX-IQ.COMBob, many industry observers, as well as practitioners, agree that a culture and politics of organizational silos negatively impact experience of the customers. Have you encounter in your research any specific practices of customer-centricity leaders,  that allow them to overcome this challenge? Can you share it/them with our readers?

Bob Thompson – People often blame organizational silos for customer experience dysfunction, and for good reason. But the answer is not to “bust” silos, because they also serve a purpose: specialization. However, you can’t expect silo managers to cooperate on their own without encouragement from their boss. Having shared metrics and rewards can help. For example, if one team is responsible for the web experience and another the call center experience, management can encourage cooperation by setting up metrics and rewards that focus (and reward) both groups on the overall customer experience. Sprint used this technique, and also rallied around an internal metric that drove the business case: cost.

CX-IQ.COMIn your book’s “Habit 1 – Listen” chapter, you shared lessons for managing VoC from perspective of different companies. Some of these lessons mention benchmarking of the company metrics against their industry averages obtained from 3rd party providers. There is a debate in CXM community about methodological integrity, and therefore a value, of comparing a company’s numbers with the ones produced externally. How critical, in your opinion, is a benchmarking practice for an improvement of customer experience?

Bob Thompson - I agree that it’s difficult to benchmark, but it’s important to understand how one company compares to another in the customer’s mind. Customers make decisions based on what is different between options in their consideration set, not the absolute raw scores. I would recommend benchmarks produced by an outside firm to ensure it’s an apples to apples comparison.

CX-IQ.COM – Bob, you quote Jeanne Bliss “human duct tape” role definition of CCO. I am a big fan of duct tape – for a quick repair that needs to be done right later. As you point out through your book – customer-centricity is not a destination, it is a journey. How long can a “ship” sail, patched together with a duct tape? Isn’t a CCO only needed where CEO and CMO have failed?

Bob ThompsonAny change requires specialized help, and customer-centric change is no different. An effective CCO can help bridge the gaps in the short term while implementing systemic reforms that, eventually, will mean the CCO is no longer needed.

CX-IQ.COMBob, thank you very much for the great book and for sharing with us the lessons you have learned in your research.

For more information you can visit HookedOnCustomers.com.

We are re-branding

Some of you may have noticed the changes in the name and the logo on our site and this blog. The focus of our research, and of our technology development efforts, have pivoted over CLOUD-TYPOS-Editedthe last few years. We feel that the new name – Customer Experience IQ – reflects more accurately the type of service we provide. The new, shorter url (http://cx-iq.com) also makes it easier to find us.

The effort may take a few weeks to proliferate through our website screens and data dashboards, that are open to our registered users.

Please forgive us for this temporary inconsistencies in your experience.

Social Media Research of Customer Experience is a Smart Marketing investment

Dudley squatListening to customers through social media channels, is a well established practice for support of  Customer Service and PR business processes. Marketing organizations are less known for their successful attempts to use social media to engage customers. Many of these attempts were widely publicized as clumsy, some even caused an adverse reaction. This underscores how far marketing has parted from its original purpose – ‘The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.’ From that perspective, Customer Experience Management discipline belongs under the Marketing umbrella. Brands, that enjoy well above average growth and profitability, understand that customers don’t buy products or services – they buy experiences.

Marketing investments in social media can produce much better returns when they are focused on customer experience research. Instead, marketers try to use this technology in advertising mode, like traditional media channels. Below are just a few reasons that make Social Media Research of customer experience a better investment than traditional marketing research:

  1. Survey participants’ opinions are less valuable than the opinions of online customer reviews. Only personnel that conduct surveys are impacted by the participants’ opinions. In contrast, a very large number of prospective customers are directly influenced by a product’s online reviews. Shoppers, who are aggressively searching for social media recommendations, would not make a purchasing decision without reading the stories of customer experiences. The content of these stories is inherently more valuable for product marketing than satisfaction scores.

 

  1. The volume of a product’s customer reviews, and other social media mentions, is often substantially larger than a sample size of even a professionally conducted survey. This translates into better Confidence Interval/Margin of Error rates.

 

  1. A survey will tell you that your customers are really satisfied with their purchase and would likely recommend your brand to their friends, family members or colleagues. Whether they will or will not do it is shrouded in mystery. In contrast, over 64% of online review writers, share their recommendations with members of their social circles via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Actions speak much louder than words. Particularly when it comes to predicting consumer behavior.

 

  1.  Social Media Research allows one to easily benchmark customer experience metrics against competitive products. Such intelligence is very valuable for product management and planning professionals who commonly straggle to predict future demand, looking at 3 months old and static numbers instead of up to date trends.

 

In the words of Brian Solis, the author of “WTF-What’s the Future of Business” – The future of branding is experience architecture.

Message to CX profession – Transparency begets trust

I get requests to complete surveys quite often. They come from my bank, after in branch transactions, websites I visited, customer service of my credit cards and cable providers. caged bird tweetsThey all want to know how I would score whatever is important to them, and leave a little space for my comments. Some of these surveys are just 2 or 3 questions long, but others expect me to answer pages of seemingly repetitive and circular questions.

I have never seen a survey request that explains coherently why my opinion is so important to them. In other words, they never indicate what is going to happen after I have completed the survey, carefully answered all the questions, and provided very detailed comments. Presumably, if the tabulated scores are high enough, whoever created or sponsored these surveys, will high five each other and cash their bonuses. But what about my needs? Would my contribution help anybody to make a better selection? How would I know if my responses contributed to a better product or service? Sometimes a company proudly advertises their customer satisfaction success, but I wonder if  their claims can be taken seriously because there is no way for a consumer to validate them. For these reasons I stopped answering survey requests a long time ago.

Amazon is considered by many, the poster child of customer centricity. I have done business with Amazon for over 10 years and made hundreds of various purchases over that time. I cannot recall a single survey request from them, ever. Could it be, customer-centric Amazon does not care about the customer experience they provide? I think they don’t survey their customers because they understand the power of authenticity that is growing fast with the advance of social consumer. Amazon understood that consumers will never trust a brand more then they trust each other. A long time ago, instead of collecting self-serving survey ratings, they decided to enable their customers to share their experiences with each other in an open forum. Yes, over the years there were incidents of manipulation attempts. Yes, the Liekert stars are not particularly informative. However, overall the customer reviews are extremely valuable to consumers who learned how use the reviews to reduce the uncertainty of their purchasing decisions.

“Amazon does not make money selling goods. Amazon makes money helping customers make good purchasing decisions.”

According to Keller Fay Group research, two primary reasons customers write reviews and publish them online are:

  1. (90%) Help other consumers to make the right choice for them – kind of: “pay it forward”
  2. (70%) Help brands to improve their performance. Consumers rely on the transparency of their input to motivate brands to act

I can only guess that since Amazon does not survey their customers, they probably use the content of reviews, posted on their properties, to measure the level of customer satisfaction of doing business with them. There are plenty of very informative references in many product reviews that indicate how customers regard their experience with Amazon. Explosive and continuous growth of this company is also a pretty good indicator of the consumers’ affinity.

So why do so many companies still shy away from exploring the content, provided by their customers without solicitation? The answers I’ve been given by Voice of Customer practitioners over the years have a common thread:

  • Lack of control over the process
  • Doubts in authenticity of reviews
  • Fear of negative sentiments

In other words, it seems these companies do not trust consumers, who provide their feedback transparently. Yet, these very companies expect consumers to trust them with their feedback without any transparency at all. How reasonable is such expectation?

Short update on the experience of smartphone customers

Some long time readers of our blog will remember extensive posts dedicated to market intelligence of customer experience with smartphones. Smartphone customers are one the most active social communities. That means they often share their rich and plentiful factual experiences with phones they buy, for the benefit of consumers at large. We, at Amplified Analytics, are very grateful to this and other active communities both as consumers and as opinion mining technologists. Their content contributions enabled us to train and optimize our software over the years. As our technology became more mature and stable, we shifted the subjects of our posts from what kind of social marketing intelligence can be mined to how such intelligence can be leveraged to achieve better business results. However, some of our readers keep asking for updates about the smartphone market changes, and this post is a very brief snapshot of flagship models experience only.

For this update we have mined reviews published by 12,062 customers and measured 40,249 distinct opinions about a variety of specific attributes of their experience. Reliability is the most “important” attribute of customer experience for smartphone users.

Smartphone CX-Reliability

 

According to these customers, Samsung Galaxy S5 is 20% more reliable than the average phone of this group. Nokia Lumia 1020 is the least reliable of this group. These numbers are the aggregate measurements from the time these phones became available to consumers.

Overall Usability is the second most important attribute of CX for these smartphone customers. Apple iPhone 5S is at the top of the “class”.

Smartphone CX Usability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I promised to keep it short, I will stop with the details here and offer a combined picture in the screen shot below.

Smartphone flagship MI update

Click  here to request access to this interactive dashboard, including insights into customer experience with these phones. If you are a consumer, interested in other models, please follow this link to the CX backed recommendation site. If you are a marketer, interested in customer experience market intelligence related to your products or brands, please request info about custom reports and pricing.

 

 

Beyond Buzzwords – 4 Keys to Effective Action

I don't always use buzzwordsA few weeks ago I attempted to provide a clear distinction between customer experience and customer support in this blog post. Since then, the post was re-published on a number of customer experience and service websites, was shared by many readers and drew some very interesting comments. The subject clearly hit a nerve.

While obviously not everyone agrees with the definitions proposed in the article, the discussion itself serves a purpose in solidifying the important concepts in our consciousness.Clear and practical definitions of terms have tremendous implications on the formulation of business strategies, and help us to communicate constructively. One of the reasons it is so difficult to gather support and to obtain financing for customer experience related initiatives is the perception of “squishiness” which is a by-product of fuzzy subject definitions.

I would like to propose a draft for a short dictionary of terms related to customer experience subject matter. The word draft is used purposely to indicate that you are welcome to offer any constructive suggestions for improvement. These definitions are borrowed or re-constructed for the sole purpose of achieving further clarity:

  1. Customer-centricity -  a value based belief system or philosophy.

Like many other “religions” customer-centricity is (supposedly) easy to understand, but difficult to practice – according to Micah Solomon. In my own experience in the context of business, the things that are easily understood and sincerely accepted for their value, are not very complicated to practice.

According to Bob Thompson in his book  Hooked on Customers – it is “a management approach to executing business strategy of delivering the total customer value that drives genuinely loyal customer attitudes and behaviors in a target market”. Bob also states that customer-centricity is not a destination, but a journey.

Of course there are many more definitions, like this one “placing the customer at the center of a company’s marketing effort, focusing on customers rather than sales” that sounds good, but is not particularly actionable or accurate, in my opinion.

The best distinction between customer-centricity and product-centricity was offered by Don Peppers in this article.

My own understanding of this term also requires the clear choice of including the company’s customers into the circle of the company’s stakeholders AND excluding share traders from that circle. There is a difference between investors and speculators. This choice re-defines the focus of management decisions from importance of quarterly earning per share results to a long-term sustainability of the business.

  1. Customer Experience – a perception your customers share about the totality of their experiences of doing business with your company. A more commonly used definition is

 “Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.”

While its completeness and inclusiveness are open for a debate, I do not see any critical omissions or contradictions which would negatively impact any specific business initiative. The real debate is whether customer experience can be managed or measured.

  1. Customer Service/Support – for the full context it is best to go to the original post.

Many agree with Chris Zane that

“The Customer Support starts when Customer Experience Fails!”

The most damaging thing about the confusion of Customer Service with Customer Experience is that it makes it all too easy for some to change their title and a shingle on the door,  and pretend that nobody noticed – well, customers will.

  1. In e-commerce and other internet businesses, Customer Experience is often confused with User Experience.

(UX) involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human-computer interaction and product ownership. Additionally, it includes a person’s perceptions of system aspects such as utility, ease of use and efficiency.

The UX surely is another element, attribute or subset of Customer Experience, but the confusion makes it easy to take your eyes of the ball when it comes to fulfillment, support, and other processes that impact the experience of your customers doing business with your company. Consider that some of your  customers may love their User Experience, but hate their Customer Experience. The opposite is not likely.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if these distinctions are not understood a measurable change in your customers’ experience is not likely to materialize.

Customer Engagement is a Double Edge “Sword”

Inside the mind of the consumer-funnyEvery week I get at least two invitations for webinars exploring various customer engagement technologies.  Apparently brands are really interested to engage consumers. At least technology vendors think so, and provide them with powerful tools to do just that. The problem is – nobody seems to know whether the consumers want to be engaged with the brands. Neither the technology vendors nor the brands ever bothered to ask the consumers this question. They just charge ahead and expose consumers to practices that often create negative customer experiences.

A recent online purchase from a well known retailer triggered an immediate avalanche of emails begging me to rate their performance well before the item I purchased was delivered. It was mildly irritating at first. It became outright annoying when the merchandise was not delivered on the promised date. When it finally arrived, I had a chance to experience it sufficiently and respond to the rating request. While the rest of my customer journey was quite smooth, the untimely attempts to “engage”  me, resulted in less than a favorable rating.

While shopping for a kitchen appliance in a well established brick and mortar store, my wife and I met a major brand’s ambassador who gave us very informative product demonstration. Upon completion, she asked for our emails to “continue the engagement”. Unfortunately, the brand did not supply her with any meaningful information about why and how this engagement will be conducted. We chose not to provide our email to the brand. I asked the ambassador about her rate of success in getting email addresses, and her answer was 0%.

I am not suggesting that consumers want no engagement with brands, or that a use of technology for engagement is a bad idea. I do suggest that marketers should ponder on the following questions before they attempt to deploy any technology for customer engagement:

  • What is a value of engaging with your brand from a customer’s perspective?
  • Can your brand benefit from attempts to emotionally engage with consumers? Presumably, brands want to engage with customers to foster loyalty, and consequently grow their sales. Consider that customers may buy your products because of their reputation and not because of brand loyalty.
  • If upon considering the above, you decide to deploy a technology, please think of the details – what type of information, when, how, and how frequently you want to attempt engagement. Think about these from the perspective of a recipient, not the perspective of your brand. Small and easily avoidable errors in deployment can completely de-rail customer engagement initiative – even if the value conditions (first two points) are met. For example, the online retailer described above, could easily trigger their request for  a performance review with the shipping company’s delivery notification. That would avoid alienating this customer with a premature request. Instead they multiplied negativity with repeating the error with an unreasonable frequency.

The most important thing to remember before you start planning a customer engagement campaign: we no longer sell products, services or expertise – we sell experiences.

How to Assess Return on Investment in Customer Service

Customer Service don't careAny investment in Customer Service a company considers, has to be examined for its potential negative impact on overall customer experience.

The personal negative experience, I recently had with my investment company’s customer “dis”-service organization, caused me to reach out to the CEO in desperation. To his credit, my plea was handled immediately and constructively. The problem, that was bugging me for a few months, was resolved within an hour the CEO was made aware of it.  In his email to me, he wrote

“We have made a significant investment in customer service and process. I hope you decide to give us another try.”

That comment made me think about how management assesses their investment in customer service. Without knowing when and how the company made their investment, it is hard for me to be definitive whether that investment produced an expected return from the management perspective. However, from my perspective as a customer, it obviously did generate an experience I would not recommend to others.

In my experience, most managers use the term investment in relation to customer service when they talk about technology, processes and cost reduction.

The subsequent call from the VP of Customer Experience, to get my feedback about the resolution, has confirmed my suspicions. He treated this incident as a UX Designer would, as oppose to a Customer Experience professional. I agree, that their site, and underlying processes, could be improved and/or expanded to prevent an incident like mine from becoming a problem. However, it is only a part of the problem. The crux of the problem is the company’s culture and HR practices, that tolerate people who are not interested in helping their customers.

There is no doubt that product/service design has great impact on customer experience. Particularly, in a startup environment. Startups disrupt status quo business practices. Because there is so much to be learn about newly introduced products, it often falls on customer service to bridge gaps in product functionality and handle customer frustrations with undiscovered use cases.  Investment into the evolution of the product, relieves pressure on customer service, as the product matures. However, such investment will fail without adequate attention to, and funding of,  the customer centricity culture. Such focus should precede any investment into efficiency of the operations or product improvement. If customer centricity is not a startup’s religion, it is – build to be acquired, i.e. to make a quick, handsome profit for their VC’s and themselves, but not to become a real leader in their market.

“Real” Customer Service takes ownership of their customer problems and invests the time and effort required to find a resolution. Pretenders ask you to re-install, re-boot, or otherwise deflect the problem back to you. They are also excellent in denial

Tweet Exchange

 

The best return on your investment in Customer Service is an investment into it’s culture. Invest into creation of “real” customer service. Tolerance of pretenders is a fatal flaw a great startup cannot afford.

 

Why Brands Often Fail at the Zero Moment of Truth

Digital DarwinismGoogle introduced this term to describe the impact of online information, i.e. social media reputation, on the intent of a potential customer to engage with a brand. According to the research that influence, and consumer dependence on it,  are growing very fast from year to year. Consumers checked 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011. This is a dramatic increase from the 5.3 sources

This more recent study found that positive consumer reviews increase both intent to purchase, and product value, by about 7%.  An online share (customer review, Facebook share or tweet) has a value of between $0.33 for a brand or store recommended by a stranger, and $1.33 for brands recommended by friends or family.

ZMOT Influence

Online content sharing and recommendations now hold more sway over consumers’ buying decisions than brand, or even price.

Given the importance of the Zero Moment of Truth:

  1. Why is it so difficult for consumers to find a reasonable number of customer reviews for a specific product? Attention spans are very short and if consumers can’t easily satisfy their thirst for information within seconds, the opportunity to impact their selection is gone.
  2. Why is there an information gap?  Consumers are looking for factual information, but marketers insist on engaging them with the company’s message (fluff). At the Zero Moment of Truth the fluff repels potential buyers.
  3. Why is it so difficult for marketers to understand the ZMOT is a by-product of a customer experience?  The recommendations, referrals and other forms of social proof cannot exist without delivery of superior customer experience. The kind of experience that inspire customers to share with others. The term UMOT = Ultimate Moment of Truth holds the key to success:

It’s what happens after the buyer experiences…

  • your business (including you and your staff),
  • your sales and after-sales processes,
  • your product or service,
  • your customer service and support,
  • your guarantee or warranty claims, etc.

Form ZMOT to UMOT

For decades marketers were in control of the customer journey because they could out-shout the voices of consumers with big advertising budgets. The advent of social media changed that by arming customers with a much larger “soap box” to share their stories, and advertising budgets don’t buy as much influence as they used to. Unless you think this is just a fad, it is the time to let consumers “teach”­  you what is important to them. Fortunately, they are willing to do so, and the marketers who have learned to subjugate their ego to the reality of the markets, consistently experience remarkable successes.

Those marketers, who keep treating consumers as “marks”, are not likely to survive the onslaught of Digital Darwinism.