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Archive for March, 2010

Measuring the customer experience – not easy but worth it

March 25, 2010 3 comments

Measurement is at the heart of management. But what are the vital statistics of a modern service orientated business and how should they be measured? Customer satisfaction is an obvious one and the equally obvious way of doing it is to ask the customers.

Much time and effort is spent on measuring satisfaction but it’s not always particularly profitable and Randy White’s excellent recent discussion on the Silliness of Most Customer Surveys highlights why. The difficulty with measurement is the temptation to go for either the metrics that are the easiest to measure or to measure things that prove your original hypothesis.

Call centres for years have tracked performance on Time to Answer or Average Handling Time because the stats could come straight off the system. Now the wise manager understands it is the quality of the call not its length that’s important. It is important because if you get it right you produce positive emotions.

Things like Time to Answer are what researchers call hygiene factors – do it better but it won’t improve your score, do it badly and watch the score plummet. So why not spend more time measuring the customer experience – the things that make customers go “Wow” – find out what it is you did to deliver that experience and do it again time after time.

I don’t imagine Michelin inspectors go to quality restaurants and score them on the presence of cutlery or chairs and tables (although, of course, they probably would register their absence). It’s the imagination of the menu, the quality of the ingredients and the love that goes into the creation that makes the positive difference – the better customer experience.

So it is the customer’s experience and their emotional, subjective, human response to it that they are effectively measuring. Much more difficult for a customer-orientated business to achieve but ultimately much more rewarding.

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How automation can ruin the customer experience

In my local newspaper this week a columnist was telling of his experiences with a hole in the wall cash machine. He described the technology as “arrogant” and having an “offhand manner” when it swallowed his card and asked the next customer to please insert their card.  In doing so he assigned human traits to a machine and reacted emotionally.

Emotional responses to automated routines like this present a real difficulty for service providers. The key reason for this is that most automation goes in to save money and/or increase efficiency not to improve the customer experience (and if it does it is usually an unplanned for by-product). This means the customer is not top of mind when it is being designed and so the experience will usually be less than perfect.

But as we all know the customer experience is vital. We may think it is something to do with inter personal skills face to face, on the phone or even perhaps in an email. But because we humans, particularly men, are very good at assigning emotions and personalities to machines (have you given your car a name?) the customer experience of dealing with a machine must not be overlooked.

Customers have a relationship with a cash machine and any other automation their service providers throw at them. It is one of the reasons we hate the IVR “push button 9” machines in call centres – toneless, cold, impersonal, aloof, abrupt are all emotions I have heard users express about the experience. But it is the web site that I believe presents one of the big challenges to modern business.

How can we personalise the web site or actually to personalityise (sorry for the Bushism) this increasingly major, and in some cases near exclusive, contact point with our customers. If we can it make more like dealing with a human in a shop or on the phone then we have the chance to win them over and make them feel very positive, willing to come again and willing to recommend that site to friends. In essence to gain a competitive edge.

In the short term customers won’t desert if you don’t change but their use will increasingly become begrudging and they will leave to an attractive smiley, friendly web site when one crosses their path. There was some interesting research into web stress  recently that showed people will turn away if sites are too difficult to deal with – just as we would a recalcitrant call centre agent or an uninterested hotel receptionist. I see that as a human emotional reaction to the situation and we should never lose site of the fact that just because we are automating the interface the customer, generally speaking, remains a human being with all their emotional foibles. And those that recognise that and work to generate a positive personality in their web site will produce the better customer experiences.