Love it or hate it, when December hits there’s one thing as sure as mince-pie overload – it’s also the time of year we all get our crystal balls out and start predicting what’s on the horizon for the coming year.
The last ten years have seen a rate of change in customer service faster than the last 100 years combined. Salesforce have dubbed it the ‘fourth generation’, where boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds have started to blur. It’s fundamentally changed what consumers have come to expect from brands. No wonder that 80 percent of customers consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products.
The upshot here is that businesses are still clearly missing a trick in how to differentiate their brand and delight their customers base – but will next year be any better? Well there’s huge scope for improvements, but ironically the ones that may fair best are the ones that focus on the basics over buzzwords.
And we all know the buzzword of the moment – artificial intelligence (AI).
It’s had by far the lion’s share of the word of mouth this year but there is still confusion as to the role it can play, especially in complex environments, as well as the consumer acceptance of it.
There’s also lessons to be sought given the changes taken place in the cyber security market. Even the least savvy of Internet user has seen the furore over election manipulation, foreign state hacking and increasingly credible phishing and social engineering attacks. This has influenced strategy because providers operating online channels have had to enhance the protection of data with pin numbers, confirmation codes, captcha boxes and two factor authorisation. The problem is that these things make for a terrible customer experience.
I can also see huge scope for improvement when it comes to receiving customer feedback, which is instrumental for CX programmes to succeed.
According to Microsofts’s 2018 State of Global Customer Service Report, nearly all customers (90 percent) have a more favourable view of brands that give them the opportunity to provide feedback. However, less than a quarter (24 percent) of customers are given the opportunity to provide feedback regularly.
In 2020, I think that the traditional ‘long format’ survey will become largely obsolete. I was speaking to a major retailer last week who said they had sent out 3,000 surveys and had just two responses.
Social media listening is useful, but they are a very self-selecting audience in terms of response. Forward-thinking brands will need to embrace the concept of “react with a gif”, “react with an emoji” and seek out more seamless ways of embedding feedback options into their day to day customer interactions.
Lastly, I believe the concept of gratitude from providers towards their purchasers and audiences will be really important. The “got to have this” type out outbound and social marketing we see has led to a purchase frenzy especially amongst beauty and fashion and lifestyle brands, but I often wonder if many consumers do not feel that their loyalty is rewarded.
Forrester’s report explains this well: “Consumers will evolve from recipients of a brand experience to participants in it.”
As we look ahead, deeper relationships between brands and consumers, with genuine rewards for staying loyal, feel like they will become important. It’s the modern equivalent of the corner shop throwing an extra item in with your shop because they know you – personal service, to delight and reward each customer.
Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.
When an action yields a poor result, it stands to reason that the action should be modified, not endlessly repeated. This is especially pertinent in business when every action requires resource and we need to see increasing returns if we are to achieve business growth. Why then, are so many businesses still investing in sending long customer and employee satisfaction surveys, when response rates are so low and falling year on year?
When email surveys first started they were revolutionary. They were an innovative and refreshing alternative to the manual process of going person-to-person with a clip-board and pen or calling people individually on the phone. However time has moved on – the vast majority of us now consider a long email survey to be spam. Most of us don’t even open them and with actual response rates now dipping below five percent, it’s fair to say that the insight they glean is limited to say the least. The fact is, unfortunately, any representative customer survey that receives a low response rate suffers from statistical bias.
Obviously the need for timely customer insight has never been greater – especially in the era of digitisation when unhappy customers have a much greater choice of platforms to vocalise any issue that they have with your brand. However, that doesn’t mean that the poorly performing long survey should be put on a rinse and repeat cycle until we eventually hit a point where no one responds.
Instead, it’s time we looked at the institutionalised notion of long surveys with a fresh pair of eyes and debunk the myths that keep us clinging onto old habits, so we can start to look at fresh alternatives.
Myth 1: Surveys should be long because we’ve always done it this way
The traditional 10-question customer satisfaction survey has a lot in common with the multiple-choice market research questionnaires originally developed in the 1940s.
This is no coincidence. Such was the astute brilliance of customer questionnaires and their impact on the development of market intelligence in the post-war era, that when some bright spark adopted the entire methodology and applied it to the quest for customer satisfaction, nobody challenged it.
Myth 2: A survey designed by committee brings benefits to all
Stripped down to its bare bones, a purposeful and focused customer satisfaction survey appears conspicuously short – too short to be an efficient use of corporate resources. What’s more, if the people in charge of understanding customer satisfaction are the only ones allowed to design its questions, this could cast a disempowering and wholly undemocratic shadow on the rest of the organisation.
Such misguided thinking inevitably gives rise to the ‘Frankensurvey’ – a monstrous, oversized collaboration of disparate parts unwittingly borne out of a quest for perfection.
Myth 3: Don’t worry about the poor response rate, we’ll just ask another million customers
Ignoring the impact of bias and focusing purely on the response rate is a pragmatic – albeit slightly delusional – way of making the survey participation challenge into a pure numbers game. If upping the response rate is too difficult because the survey itself can’t be compromised, then attention turns to increasing the number of actual responses to a level deemed ‘representative’. Tactics for achieving this objective typically involve repeatedly issuing the survey to the same respondent, and/or extending the overall pool of respondents. The cost of doing so is negligible, so why not fill your boots?
Bear in mind that to achieve a sample of 1,000 customers on a one percent response rate means pestering 1m customers, 999,000 of whom will regard the invitation with indifference, despair, or somewhere inbetween.
Myth 4: All of these stats are going to be unbelievably useful when I present them to the board
The results of your Frankensurvey are in, and its extensive length and complexity has been thoroughly vindicated by the sheer volume of data amassed. Should anyone wish to explore it, there’s plenty of detailed justification for strategies adopted and processes implemented.
What’s missing is the clarity and accuracy of the objective: to improve customer satisfaction. As Seth Godin put it: “Don’t ask a question unless you truly care about the answer.”
Are you insulating yourself with data, or are you engendering happiness? It’s also worth bearing in mind that in the vast majority of cases, the information you glean is out of date by the time you receive and process it. For example, capturing data on an unhappy customer is most beneficial when you catch it quickly and can act to rectify it – thereby turning an unhappy customer into a potential advocate.
Myth 5: The customer journey is one thing and the customer satisfaction survey is something else
Organisations rightly pool their resources and intellect into the optimum ‘customer journey’ – everyone in the company prioritises and values it. You’re all about ‘injecting delight’ and ‘promoting effortlessness’. You get a tangible ROI from shaving nanoseconds off the time it takes for a payment to process via your website.
So why on earth are so many organisations failing to make customer satisfaction surveys a seamless part of the customer journey? Is it really good enough to put so much effort into positive Customer Experience, just to undermine it all by emailing a 10-question customer survey three days later?
Ultimately the era of the long customer survey is over – the key now is to capture and respond to feedback in the moment, whenever they engage with your brand. Technology is allowing businesses to get closer to customers in real time, as and when they interact with their products and services.
Leading brands like Amazon, Uber, Reed and Selfridges have spotted this trend. They need customer feedback to keep delivering the right service to their customers, but with the death of the long survey, they’ve had to change how they get that feedback. Instead they are opting for short feedback across interactions, which gives them fantastic insight across the customer journey.