By Lynn Hunsaka
“Just talk to your customers” was the resounding answer to: “What’s the best way to learn best practices for customer experience management?” a question I posted on several business-focused social media sites. Yet less than 60% of companies have a formal voice of the customer program.1 Why? Because we often assume we already know what customers think, or what they “should” think. Somehow it seems straightforward to cater to whoever is enabling our pay everyone knows it’s foolish to do otherwise. In reality, though, this catering may be uncommon sense: have we forgotten that it’s actually customers not managers or the stock market that enable our pay? Maybe you’re thinking “Of course we remember it’s all about the customer!” But how can that be true when only 31% of companies say they have a high commitment to customer listening?2 As a result, typically one-fifth as many customers will say you’re customer-centric, compared to the number you may expect.3
Motives Determine Customer-Centricity:
Motives are at the heart of our listening habits. Think of your personal friendships. When a friend doesn’t listen, you can bet they’re preoccupied with their own agenda. They may believe they’ve heard it all before, and perhaps they believe your thinking is inferior. Maybe they’re too rushed, or deep-down, they fear what they may hear, or maybe they can’t wait to tell you what they think. Contrast this situation to an instance when a friend listens intently, then strives to gain a deeper understanding and then adapts to accommodate your preferences. The former scenario is a recipe for relationship disaster, and the latter exemplifies real customer experience management.
A pure motive in any relationship is “to make it easier and nicer for the other party to get and use the solutions they seek”. When this motive takes first priority over your own agenda, you’re customer-centric. It takes a bit of faith to believe that your own needs will be met as a natural consequence of this pure motive. Yet you’ve probably observed this advice to be true in nearly any setting. Acknowledging this fact and demonstrating faith in it are indeed uncommon sense.
Easy & Nice to Get?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to get the solution they seek. For example, a software program I’ve used daily for years suddenly announced in a popup box on my screen that a complimentary download of a new version was highly recommended. There was no supplementary information about what changes would be made, how the changes might affect the look-and-feel I’m accustomed to, or how I might invoke the changes at a more convenient time. In the absence of this desirable information, I was left to assume “no action” on my part could result in security or operability issues. What was intended by the software company to be an easy and nice download was certainly not, from my perspective: the program I’ve been loyal to for so long suddenly re-arranged content and controls at a time when I was under significant pressure to complete urgent tasks using the software.
Uncommon sense: don’t just assume what is easy and nice to get; ask first, and avoid the temptation to assume that what works for one customer will work for all of them. Segmenting voice of the customer data by customers’ circumstances (rather than demographics or psychographics) is a better way to make it easy and nice for them to get the solution they seek.
Easy & Nice to Use?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to use the solution they seek. For example, the upgrade to another software program I’ve used for 15 years included extremely significant changes in the menu’s look-and-feel. The situation was akin to the New Coke snafu: in the pursuit to adopt features prominent in the major competitor’s product, loyal customers were taken by surprise, and an unpleasant surprise at that. Over the years, I’ve contributed time and again to this software company’s revenue stream. To add insult to injury, I paid for this upgrade not only financially, but also with significant time and stress in transferring files and re-learning how to use the product that I’ve already been using for 15 years. When I looked for answers to some of the challenges I encountered I had to obtain a password to search through a mountain of frequently-asked-questions. Why weren’t these surprises anticipated, with simple, stress-free guidance before and after my purchase?
Uncommon sense: know each customer segment deeply, double-check your assumptions, communicate clearly before their purchase, make it easy for customers to absorb and welcome the changes you make, and reward don’t punish your loyal customers.
“Just talking to your customers” certainly is a key to customer experience best practices. It means more than meets the eye: strive first to understand before seeking to be understood, recognize customer circumstances that drive different expectations, adapt to your customers rather than asking them to adapt to you, and keep a two-way dialogue going all the time. You’ll likely find that your company (i.e. revenue & profit), overall, will benefit more from uncommon sense in customer experience management than from anything else.
1Assessing the Maturity of Voice of the Customer Programs, Temkin Group, September 2010.
2Turning Customer Pain into Competitive Gain, CMO Council, January 2009.
3Customer Affinity, CMO Council, July 2007.