Customer Satisfaction

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How (NOT) to Gather Customer Feedback that Instigates Positive Change

Sometimes, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking, you just have to ask. I launched an experiment earlier this Spring meant to help three retail businesses garner these kind of insights. We set up physical comment boxes in all of their stores, and posted signs inviting them to “text the manager” (I was simultaneously testing a customer feedback service for a software buyers’ guide I write).

My overall goal was to see if the stores could receive enough feedback to instigate the following changes:

  • Workers would improve their behavior because customer feedback was more transparent and immediate.
  • Managers could use the feedback to create incentives (e.g. the store with the best, or most positive feedback would be rewarded).
  • The feedback would provide insights that could be used to make changes that would improve the customer experience.

I left the signs and comment boxes out for a total of four weeks. Between four bicycle shops, one ice cream store, and three burger joints we only received five comments. This wasn’t enough to affect anything. This bad news was worse when I started to read the comments.

“We love your store!” Nice to hear, but not really useful for any of the goals I wanted to achieve. After the experiment was over, I took a step back to try and find out what went wrong. I called customer feedback experts and asked for their ideas on how I could have garnered more actionable feedback. Here’s what they had to say.

Enforce a Customer-Feedback Centric Culture
One of the biggest reasons the experts thought my experiment failed was that I didn’t properly prepare staff. I interviewed several employees and managers for each store after the month was over. A few reported customers asking about the signs, but it was clear they did not have a process in place influencing these interactions. They were not invested in getting or using the data.

If the culture isn’t built in such a way that people know they are the first line of defense for customer feedback, just making the service available isn’t going to change anything. Management needs to enforce rules and expectations. This could be something as simple as verbally explaining the service to customers as they check out, or are walking around the store. And of course, responding to feedback when it is received.

Creating the appropriate procedures and culture for leveraging customer feedback isn’t exclusive to the in-store experience. Companies should make sure it is obvious for customers where on their website they can submit customer feedback, be that from a form, surveys or another request. Creating context is the most important factor. The customer needs to feel like there’s benefit to them in providing the feedback, as in you will take their feedback and implement real changes.

Correct Bad Experiences in Real Time to Increase Customer Loyalty
Customer feedback shouldn’t just be used as a data set. It can also uncover bad experiences in the moment, and provide an opportunity to correct them.

Think, for example, when you’re eating at a restaurant. A good waiter will ask a few minutes after receiving your meal whether everything arrived okay, and if there’s anything else they can do to improve the experience. If your order was wrong or cold, you could let them know at that moment and the waiter could correct the issue. This would not be the experience if the restaurant asked as you while walking out the door, or emailed you a week later. Sure, you could still let them know about the cold food, but they can’t actually do anything about it.

This same concept extends beyond the dining experience. In my experiment, for example, one comment we did receive in a text message said, “no one talked to me the whole time I was in the store.” The manager could have responded at that moment apologizing and emphasizing that that’s not how they want their customers to be treated. Then, he could have provided a coupon, or other incentive to come back and allow them to correct that experience.

Look for Opportunities Beyond Just Measuring Customer Satisfaction
When I started the experiment, I assumed that companies used customer feedback primarily to measure and benchmark satisfaction. While many companies do use survey and feedback technologies exclusively for this purpose, I learned that this kind of goal really limits the value of generating the customer feedback in the first place. After all, what do you actually gain from learning whether satisfaction is improving or declining if you don’t know what you can do about it?

To gain insights other than overall customer satisfaction, you have to ask more specific questions. In my experiment, the ice cream store could have asked “What kind of flavors would you like to see this summer?” Or the bike store could say, “What clothing brands would you like to see in our stores?”

Answers to these questions can provide more specific points of feedback the business owners could have used to change what they are doing. But you would also need to know if these suggestions actually improve the customer experience. Would more flavors or brands actually influence more customers to buy from you?

Instead, companies should work to determine the causal relationships and key drivers that lead customers to buy from you. Once those are determined, you can ask for feedback around those specific drivers in the right context, and to the right customers.

How does your company generate actionable customer feedback? Join the conversation with a comment here.

6 Keys to Drive Revenue and Increase Loyalty

Increase Your Customer LoyaltyWhen you find yourself in a tough economy and your market share is under attack, what is the one thing you are hyper-focused on? Customer loyalty.

World-class companies are fanatics about loyalty, regardless of the economic cycle or their own market dynamics. But what is the definition of loyalty? More importantly, how do you measure loyalty?

When asked, most of us might say things like customer retention, stickiness, or even customer satisfaction. But what does this really mean? At the end of the day, what we are talking about is revenue per customer. That is the real measure of loyalty, isn’t it? Will they spend their hard-earned money with me again and again?

In a market with many choices and fewer dollars to go around, standing out in your customers’ minds often boils down to a lot of intangible nuances. In other words, your customers must not only like you they must love you!

It seems to me the manufacturers are really struggling with this, and it becomes even more complex when selling non-inventory items like services – especially through an independent reseller channel. Some have even suggested that their MPS programs are simply ‘straw men’ thrown out to keep some level of mindshare. My take is that they are just like the rest of us trying to figure it all out; they are happy to provide programs that incent growth and traction for channel providers, but dealers and resellers are hitting the same wall: That is, the customers are more informed, have more choices and are hanging on to their money more now than ever.

So do we just suck it up and say the economy is what it is? Do we simply adjust our expectations to our current climate? Maybe, but those that are thriving have become experts in what I’m about to tell you. These best-in-class companies understand there are six key ways to generate revenue:

  1. More Leads (Pipeline): Did you know that it typically takes between 7-12 “touches” to convert a suspect into a qualified prospect? Best-in-class organizations are experts at driving more leads to the front door. They may have been good at sales, but they are great at marketing to new and existing customers to increase overall opportunity.
  2. Higher Conversion (Relevant Messaging): What are you doing to ensure messaging is truly relevant to your audience? Being on target with your prospects and current customers is one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, right after generating more leads.
  3. Raise Prices (Increased Value): At first, this seems like an absolute “NO”, but by raising prices you don’t have to convert as many leads and also get to spend more time with the customers you love. You’ll generally expend the same effort in the sales process, so consider how you like to present yourself.
  4. Higher Frequency of Sales per Lead: This really goes well with the “blue ocean” strategy. The more lines of business you have, the more opportunities you have to generate additional revenues with the same customer.
  5. Increased Frequency of Sales: This method is the one most of us gravitates towards. But we are often faced with the real world issues surrounding the actual execution. Finding a way to shorten your sales cycle or increase actual sales is generally accomplished in one of two ways: Increasing the number of sales staff or dramatically improving your ability to touch customers’ pain point. My experience has taught me either method can be rather expensive.
  6. Selling Partner Products: One key area most of us miss is the ability to gain affiliate fees from partners. You may not have a core expertise yourself, but if you hold a trusted advisors role with your customers they’ll look to you to refer key goods and services. A great partnering strategy is often a great reinforcement to overall loyalty.

What’s critical to understand is that world-class companies have installed processes to effectively target each one of these key six drivers. They are relentless in their pursuit of customers, but also in their ability to generate additional revenues across their entire portfolio.

Your customers have problems just like you and I do, but we can become so focused on our own day-to-day issues that we may actually miss helping them solve them. Increased loyalty really comes at the cost of listening well, and delivering what solves our customers’ problems. In other words, if you show your customers how to put money back in their own pockets they’ll be forever grateful. This tends to translate into the best revenue generator of all, and results in extremely loyal customers.

The Money Back Guarantee

When’s the last time you heard a pitchman offering a money back guarantee, a simple promise to refund you your money if you were not satisfied? Chances are, you’ve heard it a dozen times, or more, in the last week – so much so it may now be associated with low quality. But think about the fact that, regardless of what you call it, you are standing behind the product or service you sell. Are you this confident in your customer promise?

Heavily tied to early, U.S. mail order campaigns of entrepreneurs such as Richard Sears and Powel Crosley, Jr., the money back guarantee aided in removing the risk patrons perceived in transactions which were traditionally conducted face-to-face. Perhaps most notable of guarantees in recent years is that of Hyundai and their Hyundai Assurance program. Self proclaimed as “America’s Best Warranty”, Hyundai very intentionally has built their campaign around removing the risk from your purchase, and thereby ensuring you believe them focused on quality and value. Take this excerpt as an example,

For more than a decade, America’s Best Warranty hasn’t just changed how our customers feel about their cars, it’s changed how we build vehicles. To make sure we deliver automobiles worthy of a 10-year warranty, Hyundai initiated the Drive Defects to Zero plan. This program has a dedicated team of Hyundai engineers that are charged with catching, learning about and fixing any issue, no matter how small, before it gets to the customer.

America’s Best Warranty does more than give you peace of mind, it’s a commitment from Hyundai to maintain a high degree of quality, dependability and reliability.

Words like “quality”, “dependability” and “reliability” strongly resonates with the customer, communicating Hyundai is confident in their offering. With what equates to a large transaction for most automobile-buyers, removing more risk by offering this type of guarantee would only make sense to a company interested in longer term relationships – and customers can see this in writing. But is this simply effective marketing? What do you think?

What is your customer’s perception of your promise?

Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions, and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships.

As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, Ken Stewart comes from, and works directly with, channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation. You can receive the latest industry news by following ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook, as well as his weekly column on MPS Insights, every Tuesday.

Your Good is not Good Enough.

Customer satisfaction is often thrown around like the word “good”. Good might be meant in the best of intentions, “I had a good day!” Or it might not, “How are you?” someone asks. “Eh, — I’m good I guess,” is the response.

But customer satisfaction is a number easily measured but not necessarily easily converted. It is certainly not a thing that will keep your customers coming back for more if your offering is not solid too. But what of things like customer retention and innovating as a means to thrive – not just holding steady in order to survive?

When a company culture begins caring less about constant and fanatical innovation to acquire and retain customers than it does simply surviving, perhaps it’s time to step away. The tough question to ask is whether you are culpable of being asleep at the wheel too.

What do you think?

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA), an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting with you.

You lost me at hello!

Finding the missing puzzle piece to buidling a relationship to your customerLet’s say you got into work. It’s a normal day. You have a few things on your plate today, and have some time slotted off to handle a few fires that you know will pop-up. You’ve made your rounds to say high to a few people, and have your coffee cup in hand. You ease into your desk and begin ticking through the list of things you need to tackle first. You are slipping into your daily groove!

Then, without warning, Judith walks into your office and lays into you about the fact that she has to get some bills paid today and the STUPID computer is acting up again. She goes on to comment on how this problem just keeps getting worse and worse and wished that someone cared about what she had to do around this place!

How are you feeling at this point?

What just happened is happening all across the corporate world - on phone conversations and in e-mails -a glaring lack of approach.  Judith demonstrated a complete disregard for your space, your workload, and how you were feeling. In other words, she doesn’t care about you or your issues; she is not part of your team because she is not interested in whether you succeed or not.

In my article, “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?” we looked at why stereotypes developed for “the computer guy”. When you hear problem after problem, wouldn’t you tend to begin discounting the customer as well?

You might. However, the key to building bridges to your customers is simply building relationships with them. So here are few keys to building rapport with your end-users.

  1. Before you begin every conversation, say “hello”, “hi”, or even “howdy”
  2. Spend at least 3-5 minutes “catching-up”
  3. Offer empathy; do not be condescending
  4. Clarify and repeat your understanding of the issue
  5. Communicate expectations
  6. Offer solutions, not excuses or blame
  7. Follow-up next time you see them

This list is not exhaustive, but if followed, will greatly aid you in gaining brownie points with your end-users.

So this still doesn’t help you with Judith, does it? She was the one that came barging in…  What’s interesting in this case is you can still be the hero. Apply these steps, maybe with a little more insistency, and you may be greeted at first with a sheepish grin of embarrassment, but eventually you will see that warm smile come back out.

As the saying goes, “fix the customer, not the problem”. In focusing on how Judith is doing as a person, you may be surprised to find you are aligning to the needs of any business’s first priority – customer satisfaction. True customer satisfaction can only come when you understand the motivations and needs of your customer.