Asking the Right Questions, Taking the Right Actions
Trying to work out how to satisfy customers often relies more on hope rather than certainty.
Sheri Petras, CEO of CFI Group, argues that the best way of improving customer service and profitability can be summarized in four words: monitor, analyze, act and thrive.
I hope you’re satisfied. That’s been the credo of the merchant and service provider since the grand opening of the first pottery store in ancient Athens. Trying to determine how to satisfy customers has been an elusive goal, however, one which indeed often relies on “hope” instead of certainty.
Usually the effort begins with gathering data — lots and lots of data. The Digital Revolution has made data collection a snap (or maybe a click). We have CRM, point-of-sale technology, social media, e-mail — and, of course, surveys. Indeed, surveys are such a promising format for collecting information that many businesses have rolled them out with every sales receipt and every incoming phone call.
Now what? Here you are with a lapful of data, but is it useful to you? And if it is, what should you do with it? And if you figure out what actions might be helpful, how do you determine if those actions have made any difference in customer satisfaction?
Insights from the Right Questions
Survey design is the foundational component of a customer measurement programme and the most frequent area where things go astray. While anyone can write a survey, not everyone should. If the questions are poorly written, the survey experience itself can be negative. I recall a few years ago receiving a survey invitation from a restaurant chain (that shall remain nameless) where I had just eaten. Consider my shock when one of the questions on the survey asked me if the restaurant was “free from insects.” Ugh! I hadn’t really thought about insects until then, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the kitchen was crawling with bugs. Needless to say, I have not dined there since.
This instance, in which my attitude toward the survey questions impacted my opinion of the restaurant itself, demonstrates a crucial principal: the effort of gathering customer feedback begins and ends with the customer. It’s important to avoid taking an “ivory tower” attitude of simply developing questions in a vacuum and tossing them out to consumers. Validate your survey questions and take advantage of the multiple channels now available as customer touch-points.
Many organisations don’t take the time to understand which questions to ask, or which questions not to ask. The key to understanding the customer experience is to ask the right questions of the right customers in the right way. Involving experts in this step is critical to making sure the information coming into the process will yield insights at the back end of the process.
It is also important to understand how many customers need to be surveyed in order to make good business decisions. It’s easy for organizations to survey too many people, thinking more is better. While a larger sample certainly provides a greater degree of confidence in the results, it is important to understand the level of precision wanted or needed.
Involving the Right People
No organisation embarks on a Voice of the Customer (VOC) programme with the intention of doing nothing. However, if stakeholders are not in alignment, an impasse often results. If you are trying to grow revenue and profit, you need to talk to more than your marketing or market research department. It is vital to involve the sales and/or account management team, as well as product design/development, store managers, engineering, finance, operations, customer care, strategy and the team responsible for market research, along with anyone else who has a hand in product or service. Why? Because any one of these areas could be a customer pain point. If you involve a broader group, it may add a week to the project timeline, but the results are worth it. Those who are responsible for implementing change within the organization will have bought into the project.
Think about how you would feel if a complete stranger came into your office and demanded that you take certain actions. You would probably listen politely and then do nothing. Now, how would you react if you had a vested interest in the results of this project because you had input into it? This is why it is critical to involve the right people up front in any VOC project.
I recall running into a new client and being told by the project manager on the client side that “sales hates this project and will try to derail it.” The first meeting I scheduled was with the vice president of sales. He didn’t hate the project, but he was skeptical about the value that customer feedback would bring. He provided some critical customer insights that were incorporated into the survey. By the end of the project, the vice president was one of the biggest VOC advocates. He made significant changes to his organization structure based on customer feedback and drove incremental increase in revenue as a result.
Taking the Right Action
Once you have assembled the right people and process to ensure you are asking the right questions, it is important to apply the right analysis to determine what actions will be the most effective in improving customer satisfaction with your service or your products. It is not about maximising customer satisfaction; it is about optimizing it. If you gave your highest-quality products and services away for free, it would certainly maximize customer satisfaction, but you would quickly go out of business. It is about understanding what changes to your products and services would yield the greatest ROI.
Your analysis should enable you to pick out the places where changes can and should be made. It should use science, rather than intuition. With the right analysis, you should be able to use the feedback from your customers to predict their future behavior—what they will buy, when they will buy it, where and how they will make their purchase and other critical factors. For example, CFI Group’s technology platform capitalizes on the science of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), continually measuring the customer experience across multiple channels, benchmarking performance and prioritizing improvements for maximum impact.
Technology is critical in turning insights into effective action, because it provides customer feedback to the people who are closest to the customer. An unhappy customer often can be saved if the feedback makes it into the hands of the right person. Technology without insights, however, is like a high-stakes game of whack-a-mole; it simply points out places to hammer at problems without necessarily preventing new problems from arising. A company can resolve issues one customer at a time, but it is always better to understand and correct the underlying problem.
What difference can proven customer-feedback professionals with the right people, process and technology make in your business? Several years ago, a team headed by University of Michigan business professor Claes Fornell evaluated the effect of customer satisfaction on stock price for 200 companies. The study found that those companies with higher levels of customer satisfaction saw their stock portfolio collectively leap by more than 144 percent over five years, compared with a rise of less than 39 percent for the Standard & Poor’s index during the same period. Those who examined this study noted that, as customers become aware of consistent improvements in customer-service quality, they change their own behaviors and tell others. This phenomenon impacts sales results and share prices.
To get the best return from your customer feedback program, keep these three considerations in mind:
1. Be certain you involve all the stakeholders and decision-makers in your organisation. You need buy-in at the start of the project to ensure that actions are taken based on the results.
2. Garbage in yields garbage out. The technology you use in your survey must translate responses into customer behavior, and it requires feedback from the right questions, asked of the right people in the right way. Be sure the questions you ask are relevant to your own customers and that the actions recommended will yield real, positive returns.
3. Use insights from the data to make changes in the organization that will increase customer satisfaction, heighten your brand’s reputation and ultimately increase sales.
CFI Group has long understood that the best approach to improving customer service and profitability can be summarized in four words: monitor, analyze, act and thrive.