Sarah Westwood talks to CEO Today about knowing what customers really think

Five Ways To Find Out What Your Cus­tomers Real­ly Think

1.4 mil­lion peo­ple left the big six util­i­ties between June 2017 and June 2018. For the most part, they left for small­er chal­lenger firms. The rea­son? Switch­ing to bet­ter tar­iffs cer­tain­ly, but not sole­ly. For many peo­ple, it’s the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence – in fact in the Jan­u­ary 2018 Which? cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion sur­vey, the Big Six ener­gy com­pa­nies all ranked in the bot­tom ten of all companies.

Yet, think of your expe­ri­ences with util­i­ty firms. Chances are you’ll be able to recall being asked to rate your expe­ri­ence. These are firms that on one lev­el seem almost obsessed with mea­sur­ing, track­ing, and pre­sum­ably improv­ing our expe­ri­ence of ser­vice. But does this approach take into account the whole cus­tomer experience?

Util­i­ties are not alone it hap­pens in all sec­tors from finance to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions – these are all sec­tors where com­pa­nies talk about their pas­sion for cus­tomer ser­vice and yet still repeat­ed­ly turn up in sur­veys as dis­ap­point­ing their customers.

We recent­ly sur­veyed UK mar­keters and a third of them admit­ted they don’t have a clear and con­stant focus on their cus­tomers. It’s not that they’re not try­ing; it’s just that the tech­niques they’re using aren’t work­ing. They ask ques­tions, but they’re not find­ing out what cus­tomers real­ly think until it’s too late. So, why does it hap­pen, and cru­cial­ly, what can we do about it?

Heads in the sand

There are many rea­sons why com­pa­nies become dis­con­nect­ed from their cus­tomers. Some might place the empha­sis on dri­ving oper­a­tional effi­cien­cies rather than cre­at­ing val­ue from cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and innovation.

Oth­er times, a myopic focus on cur­rent cat­e­go­ry and what the com­pe­ti­tion is doing can hin­der gen­uine con­sumer insight. This is the bud­get hotel chain reas­sur­ing itself that cus­tomers pre­fer it to all the oth­er bud­get hotels, and not see­ing a busi­ness like AirBnB com­ing. Or it’s the beau­ty prod­ucts firm believ­ing their cus­tomers get every­thing they need from its hair­care range until a more envi­ron­men­tal­ly sus­tain­able com­peti­tor launch­es – to be sat­is­fied with today’s real­i­ty is not the same as aspir­ing to better.

The cur­rent research method­ol­o­gy can also be inef­fec­tive and make assump­tions based on demo­graph­ics ignor­ing actu­al atti­tudes and behav­iour. Or the insight is held in silos, each func­tion doing its own research, and nev­er bring­ing them togeth­er as an accu­rate view of the cus­tomer experience.

It’s also dif­fi­cult for com­pa­ny exec­u­tives to dis­tance them­selves from the real expe­ri­ence of their aver­age con­sumer. Air­line exec­u­tives who gen­uine­ly believe they deliv­er a great expe­ri­ence, often don’t expe­ri­ence the brand in the same way as a cus­tomer wait­ing in a cramped lounge, because they only ever trav­el first class.

From churn to loyalty

What­ev­er the rea­son for the dis­con­nect, it always caus­es prob­lems. What’s felt to be excit­ing inter­nal­ly can trans­late as cus­tomer iner­tia. Think of the start-up whose team is full of excite­ment at the rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­o­gy it’s bring­ing to mar­ket, who are so caught up in the fea­tures that they for­get the ben­e­fits and role it plays in cus­tomers’ lives, and so end up thrown by lack of sales.

Where organ­i­sa­tions lack a true view of the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence the rela­tion­ship tends to become over­ly trans­ac­tion­al. A deep­er, more accu­rate under­stand­ing of how cus­tomers think and feel enables you to design an expe­ri­ence they will enjoy and want to repeat. It turns cus­tomer churn into cus­tomer loyalty.

Look at how builders’ mer­chant Travis Perkins react­ed to the rev­e­la­tion that its cus­tomers val­ue time and con­ve­nience as much as they do price. It launched BUILT, a rad­i­cal new con­cept which allows cus­tomers to place orders online, dri­ve to the store to pick up the prod­ucts, and when they arrive, num­ber plate recog­ni­tion iden­ti­fies them and guides them to a col­lec­tion park­ing bay where the order is loaded into the vehi­cle immediately.

If the cus­tomer only val­ues price, they can eas­i­ly go to a com­peti­tor, but no one else offers this speed of ser­vice in such a dig­i­tal­ly famil­iar envi­ron­ment. The new breed of dig­i­tal­ly enabled builder used to the pace, con­ve­nience and aes­thet­ics of mobile-first expe­ri­ences – val­ues this way of work­ing and so they come back.

Final­ly, this dis­tance was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the key issue the mar­keters we spoke to iden­ti­fied: a loss of momen­tum. A star­tling one in four of them said they felt stuck. Get­ting this clear, accu­rate view of what your cus­tomers think is a cru­cial step towards regain­ing that all-impor­tant momentum.

5 Steps to Reconnecting

Here then are five ways you can start to get a more accu­rate view of what your cus­tomers think.

1. Get out of the office

When we meet a client for the first time to talk about how we can help make their brand expe­ri­ence more rel­e­vant to their cus­tomers, we always aim to hold that meet­ing in situ, whether that’s in a cof­fee shop, a builders mer­chant, or a care home. It gives us a far bet­ter view of the sit­u­a­tion than we would get by meet­ing in an office.

This is vital. Leave the com­fort of the desk and the insight reports, get out there and see what the actu­al expe­ri­ence is like. Engi­neer fruit­ful encounters.

2. Start lis­ten­ing – real­ly listening

It’s easy to make assump­tions about what peo­ple think. But often we’re wrong. Resolve to open your ears and mind to what you hear from cus­tomers. Try to put your­self in their shoes, expe­ri­ence your brand as they expe­ri­ence it, and feel how they feel. Very often it’s a rev­e­la­tion and ensures you’re fix­ing the right problems.

3. Get the view from the frontline

In most organ­i­sa­tions, the peo­ple with the clear­est view of what cus­tomers think are the ones who deal with them on the front­line. We’ve worked on the shop floor and sat with head­phones on lis­ten­ing to the cus­tomer care col­leagues take calls from cus­tomers. When we did this for our client BiG­DUG we soon realised a large num­ber of peo­ple rang the care­line to chat about a space prob­lem they had rather than dis­cuss a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct. This allowed them to recon­sid­er the infor­ma­tion on the web­site to help cus­tomers in their journey.

Reshap­ing their web­site in line with what cus­tomers actu­al­ly want has deliv­ered results for BiG­DUG, and many organ­i­sa­tions could ben­e­fit from lis­ten­ing to the peo­ple on the front­line. This is best done not as a one-off con­sul­ta­tion exer­cise, but by flat­ten­ing the organ­i­sa­tion so there is always a short­er and more direct link between the front­line col­leagues, cus­tomer and senior management.

4. Involve customers

Think of ways to shake up your process and involve the cus­tomer, even mak­ing it fun for them. They will reward you with far greater engage­ment in the process, and far more detailed and hon­est feedback.

5. Mobilise cus­tomer delight

It’s impor­tant to ensure that every­one through­out the organ­i­sa­tion is focused on the same goal of delight­ing your cus­tomers. Once that’s hap­pen­ing you can share research find­ings more gen­er­al­ly than just the mar­ket­ing teams and bring teams togeth­er in dynam­ic ways to share learn­ings. Invite oth­er teams along to hear from cus­tomers first hand.

Final­ly, make sure your cus­tomers can see that the opin­ions they share with you trans­late into change for the better.

The firms that do all of this will be the ones that show change. They will be the banks remov­ing fric­tion in their trans­ac­tions, the gyms cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the air­lines and rail­way oper­a­tors keep­ing delayed pas­sen­gers updat­ed, and so on.

There is a lot of work for them to do. Once an organ­i­sa­tion has become stuck in a cul­ture of dis­tance from cus­tomers it takes a lot to change. But by start­ing with small steps change can and does occur. Start today, and begin to regain momentum.

Check out the full arti­cle here

29 March, 2019 | Sarah Westwood