Best Customer Experience? Fall in Love with Your Customers

Updated: October 24, 2010

Insatiable Curiosity: Customer-Centric Listening

  • More vivid than traditional surveys:
    The last time you asked a new friend what they thought of something you did, you probably were intent on their body language as well as their words. Everyone knows that most of communication is nonverbal — upwards of 80%. Additionally, up to 95% of thought, emotion and learning occur in the unconscious mind. Yet most techniques for capturing the voice of the customer tend to focus on verbal mechanisms. We typically measure conscious, verbal aspects of specific product and service elements. As Gerald Zaltman explains in his book How Customers Think, metaphor-based research — along with techniques like paired item response latency, stories, and consensus mapping — have paid dividends for savvy companies like BofA, DuPont, Glaxo Wellcome, Hallmark, HP, Immunex, Mercedes, Motorola, P&G and Samsung, among many others. The only glitch is that this type of research is usually limited to applications in marketing promotion strategy and innovation of products and services — why not take these extremely valuable insights and apply them to your customer sentiment monitoring (e.g. satisfaction surveys, customer experience measurement)? A picture's worth a thousand words, and for gaining a true understanding of the customer's world, it's worth its weight in gold.
  • More broad than traditional surveys:
    When you zero-in on a choice (i.e. make a purchase), you may go through a lot of steps that are less visible to others. And your expectations are often influenced by transactions and impressions from completely different products and services you use in all aspects of your life. Avoid the temptation to design your surveys based on your own brainstorming, or using leading-questions for customer confirmation of your survey design. A more holistic understanding of your customers' world can lead to highly rewarding customer experience innovations, such as home delivery of groceries, store credit for returning printer ink cartridges, and Apple's revolutionary iTunes along with the initial launch of its iPod. Social media usage is recommended by two-thirds of U.S. consumers to identify service and support issues, according to the CustomerThink June 2009 survey. Customer complaints, ethnography (observation research), and unsolicited comments to sales and service personnel are also extremely valuable in gaining a uniquely valuable understanding of the customers' world for sustainable differentiation.
  • More colloquial than traditional surveys:
    When you give feedback to your friends, you use your own words. Let customers use their own words, too. If you're afraid that customers are unable to articulate their needs, or that they lack sufficient sophistication to speak meaningfully about things that will help you innovate and improve your processes, read the preface in the book What Customers Think; you'll find out how to reframe your approach to access truly valuable insights. Make a point of conducting periodic thorough research with the techniques described above, and then adapt your quantitative monitoring surveys to items and phrasing identified in the customers' world, rather than making customers adapt to yours. Then you can either train your organization to adopt customer phrasing, or you can translate customer phrasing into your industry jargon for internal use.

Uncanny Adaptability: Customer-Focused Decisions

  • Action-oriented:
    You expect your feedback to be acted upon. Nothing is more disillusioning than to feel ignored. Yet two-thirds of voice of the customer (VoC) programs are limited to pure data collection, reports the Temkin Group's Assessing the Maturity of Voice of the Customer Programs (study of 199 companies in September 2010). Their handy two-page self-assessment tool is a great guide toward VoC maturity across 4 stages: collecting data, analyzing data, collaborating cross-functionally for continuous improvement, and transforming business-as-usual to truly customer-centric operations. Although many companies have diligently monitored VoC since their launch of total quality management in the 1980s, the Temkin Group survey revealed that only 57% of large North American firms have a formalized VoC program. And only 5% are in the highest maturity Transforming stage! Action-oriented customer listening is the only way to make great strides in improving customer experience, differentiating it as a competitive advantage, and reaping ROI for your VoC efforts — ROI both from your perspective, and your customers'.
  • Sensitive to circumstances:
    To stay in a relationship, you want your expectations to be respected and anticipated. Market segmentation strives to customize the marketing mix to homogeneous customer groups. Yet typical demographic, psychographic or behavioristic segmentation approaches do not always reflect customers' experience viewpoint. Expectations management is the key to long-lasting relationships of any kind, and expectations differ more by the circumstances that trigger a customer experience journey. For the past decade, the innovation community has advocated this approach, citing excellent results. Start with the customers' world research described above, customer personae can be developed based on customer experience circumstances that yield varying expectations. GE Healthcare presented an excellent example of customer experience segmentation in a recent webinar. Share your customer experience personae far and wide throughout your organization. Circumstance-based segmentation yields customer experience personae that aid organization-wide understanding and decisions in more accurately and profitably catering to customers' expectations.
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