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Customer feedback forms never hold the answers

October 14, 2011 2 comments

Asking for customer feedback is by and large a waste of everybody’s time.  Sometimes the customer may feel valued and special if their opinion is asked for but that’s probably about the only thing of value (albeit transitory) you’ll get from it.

Why?  Because customers don’t always know what they want; because customers don’t always tell the truth and because customer feedback is always historical.  Also there are a few other factors that come into play that further reduce the usefulness of feedback: customers are often irrational, customers who respond to feedback forms are usually either very happy or very unhappy and therefore are not a true reflection of most customers and customer response depends on their mood when they fill in a form – not when they are next thinking of using your service.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my customers, I thank them heartily for paying my mortgage, but I have never sent any of them a feedback form.  And that is my real bone of contention, not the seeking of feedback as such but the lazy delivery of endless feedback forms that serve no useful purpose.  Such forms are not intended to collect data to help drive service improvements but are more likely to be used for some internal, self or department serving purpose.

The use of feedback forms is marketing dressing and the main reason for that is as above: we all know they don’t work but we feel obliged to send them out anyway.

The key to serving customers is get inside their business, their heads, understand how you can help them achieve more.   That old quote from Henry Ford – and much loved by the late Steve Jobs – about his customers just asking for faster horses is a truth.  In fact I was reminded on Twitter how Jobs took that thought further: “Start with the customer experience and work your way back to the technology” he was quoted as saying. (No idea if it’s genuine but it suits my purpose.)  Ignore ‘the technology’ bit and replace it with “how you run your business” and you’re just about there.

Customer feedback does not tell you about the customer experience and their emotional reaction to it.  You should not use data from feedback forms to inform you to how you run your business.   Understand what you could give them and understand how they would react to it and use it and what value it brings.   But don’t ask them to tell you what it is.

Customer satisfaction is history – experience is the future

Most customer satisfaction data should be put in a folder, tucked away on a shelf and forgotten about. It is a fairly unreliable measure of how some customers responded to what you did some time ago.

In fact most senior managers already know this and find the real use for this data is in internal politics and self justification. It is used to show what a good/poor job someone is doing, it is used to justify investment/disinvestment and it is used to convince judges you should win awards.

But as an operational measure it is fairly useless. It gives no indication of how the customer will respond to their experience, satisfactory or otherwise: there is no guarantee that a satisfied customer will come back, spend more or recommend your business. Frequently there is little information as to what caused that satisfaction so as a means of feedback to update processes it is unreliable. And again that history issue comes in – you are making decisions now for the future about things they may have happened in the distant past.

Much better to make planning decisions on what you think the customer will do. And that needs contemporaneous research and outcome assessment. Net Promoter Score (NPS) makes a start on this but doesn’t go far enough.

The best use for satisfaction surveys is to respond to poor feedback quickly and directly to the customer. You can always read the good ones when you’re retired and want to relive the glory days

I wrote this as part of a great discussion in a LinkedIn Group. You can read it here: What do you do with your Customer Satisfaction results?

Customer service leadership lessons from TV’s frontline

February 8, 2011 1 comment

Although not known as a ready source of thought on customer service leadership issues, the Radio Times’s letter section recently impressed (sadly there is no online link directly to it).  It was from an employee (albeit nameless) of Michel Roux Jr who is currently hosting a reality programme aimed at improving customer service standards and status in the restaurant trade.   The author’s message is basically get your own house in order first by creating a good working environment, paying a decent wage and, importantly,  rewarding for performance.  

All sorts of customer service pointers here.  To me its leadership that is the important one and an essential credential for true leadership is integrity.   Another aspect that niggles is that Roux and his ilk seem to put the responsibility for service in a restaurant solely on the waiting staff when in reality it requires management to create the processes, working conditions and training behind the scenes for the staff to work the frontline effectively.

Clearly the show is not really aimed at improving service standards.  Like the Mary Portas Secret Shopper farrago, it is aimed at creating a cult around its presenter and being entertainment and they do little for the customer service community.

Why customer service engineers benefit from the human touch

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I have had two conflicting conversations recently about the installation of new mobility technology in field service applications.  On the one hand a vendor of tracking solutions said the age of the difficult engineer refusing to accept this sort of ‘spy in the cab’ technology was over.  On the other a service manager said things may be better than they once were but management certainly does not have carte blanche when it comes to putting technology in the hands of engineers. 

Obviously these two people have differing perspectives and I am sure many readers will have had their own interesting experiences here when driving change.  It does seem to be one of the ironies of life that is the human’s ability to adapt to its environment that has made it one of the planet’s most successful species but we can all still get uppity when we are given a new tool at work. 

So one of the big challenges on any new mobility programme (by which I mean communicating with field engineers or their vehicles either directly or indirectly) is to get the engineers on board. Issuing orders or diktats isn’t effective – you might get it installed but you won’t get it working to the best of its capability.  “Engineers have that passive aggressive thing which means equipment has a strange habit of malfunctioning if they don’t like it,” said my friend.

So how do you get them to not only accept but also embrace this change? Appeal to their self interest was the conclusion of my straw poll.  Here are some favoured ways I’ve heard.

  1. Tell them it’s for their own safety particularly when working alone.  This won’t necessarily win their hearts but for their minds it is difficult to argue against
  2. Sell them the more interesting, personal benefits such as how much easier it will make their working day by reducing paperwork, better diagnostic tools, access to colleagues to discuss tricky problems.  Perhaps it might even give them access to the internet while they are travelling or an app which can tell them the location of the nearest donut shop
  3. Get them flashy kit they’ll like to show off to their mates down the pub – engineers are gadget lovers so appeal to that one-upmanship
  4. Bribe them – give them cash at the installation and a reward once it starts producing savings
  5. Appoint a peer group leader – someone who has the team’s respect, will champion the cause and lessen the them and us attitude 
  6. Run a competition for the best engineers and the winners get the new system – make it a badge of honour and having it aspirational
  7. Engage with them on the kit or system you are buying.  Let them test it and feel they have had a hand in the purchase and that it’s not foisted on them

In summary, although it may be hard to believe for some managers, engineers are only human and so may have a better nature to appeal to.   If you have ever done that successfully some other way please share it with others at the Service Management LinkedIn Group

This article first appeared on Service Management 365.

To continue be a player in service you must continue to invest

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

A blog from an analyst at research group Gartner last week questioned whether the $75billion it reckoned had been invested in customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the last 10 years had been well spent.   The failure of that investment to perform was evidenced by an only small rise in the level of customer service over the same period.

My first thought was: ‘that’s rich coming from Gartner which pretty much makes its business out of hyping up software and suppliers to flog its reports until that opportunity is dead and buried or the next  bandwagon passes by’.    But, putting that prejudice to one side, I think there is a potentially dangerous sub-message in this hypothesis that needs correcting. 

Delivering good service demands that managers constantly push the almost Sisyphean rock up the steepening hill of customer experience and expectation.     A performance that stays, at best, constant will eventually and increasingly underwhelm customers.  Meanwhile, your competitors will be raising the bar of performance and your customer’s expectations with it – beyond the level at which you were performing. 

So what you did to achieve, say, 90% customer satisfaction in 2000 is not going to cut the mustard in 2010.   In fact you could now be performing at what you consider to be, say, 20% better but ‘only’ achieving 93% satisfaction.  But the truth is that is a great result that needs applauding not attacking a) because you are still in the game and b) you have out-performed customer expectations.

That $75bn of investment was made by organisations in order to carry on playing – and then to try and edge their noses in front.  That is not wasted cost, that is an investment required to be a player.  Yes, I am sure a lot of that money could have been spent more efficaciously but let’s kill the notion that investing to improve your service delivery is fruitless and wasted.  On the contrary it is paying dividends and vital.

Article first appeared on Service Management 365.

The five big questions for all online retailers and how to answer them.

Those questions are:

  • How satisfied are my customers with their total web site, delivery and after sales service experience?
  • What is our customers’ reaction to their experience and how will it affect future sales?
  • Do I know where our processes let us down with our customers?
  • How much better or worse is our competitors’ customer experience?
  • Who is the best in class and what makes them so?

These questions were defined during the research phase of a major new initiative for the UK’s eRetailers I have been working on and which has just been announced called the Index of Customer Experience.

This new annual programme is aimed at helping online retailers increase sales and reduce costs while boosting consumer confidence.  ICE tests, measures and quantifies the customer experience right through the purchase cycle: from log on through delivery and on to after sales service.

As all our research subjects acknowledged one of the key differentiators  in the online retailing world now is customer experience.  Positive experiences engender loyalty and recommendation; poor ones can ruin a brand’s reputation and lose you some market share at the speed of light in the world of social media. But the experience is governed by more than just the web site, it is also affected by the delivery process and any subsequent service inquiries the customer may have.

As an independent customer intelligence and opinion based research programme, ICE 2010 will produce actionable feedback to help eRetailers improve sales and competitive differentiation while also reducing cost.  It will help them understand how that experience affects the customers’ likelihood to repurchase and/or recommend your brand to friends.  It will allow them to benchmark themselves consistently and fairly against their sector. 

And, through an extensive award and promotion campaign, the ICE and its badge of honour will also heighten staff engagement and, I believe, will increase consumer confidence in online retailing.

I am particularly pleased that this initiative is being fully endorsed and backed by the online retail industry’s association, the IMRG.  Managing director, David Smith said: “This bold and original initiative supports our aims of helping individual performers raise their game and also boosting consumer confidence in online retailing. In future the customer experience will be the key factor in winning and keeping customers. ICE provides a unique and consistent measure to help businesses manage and develop their own customers’ experience.”

The programme is also endorsed by the Institute of Customer Service.  Its chief executive Jo Causon said: ‘The Institute of Customer Service is pleased to support this initiative which alongside our own UK Customer Satisfaction Index brings a further customer-centred focus on how organisations are performing in customer service delivery and importantly helps identify which parts of their delivery needs to improve.”

eRetailers are going to have to substantially raise their game and to do that they need to understand what the customer experiences not just what they offer to the customer.  And I believe ICE can help them do that and I’m looking forward to making it happen.

Be careful what you ask your customers for

June 10, 2010 2 comments

The new Tory Liberal govt is asking us to share in a consultation exercise on where the public spending cuts should be. In this there are two assumptions – the first assumption is, of course, that there must be cuts while the second is that our views will be listened to and they will make a difference.

I see two takes on this move. As I said it assumes there will be cuts and now we know they will be deep ones. So it could be a PR exercise to warm us up to the severity of cuts and mitigate the public ire because we are sharing the Govt’s pain in having to make these tough decisions. Or it could be a genuine extension of the democratic process engaging us on a micro level as well as the macro level of election time?

But this citizen consultation idea did remind me of those customer service/satisfaction surveys where we ask our customers how we, their supplier, should put things right not just personally but almost how we should run as a business.  

 So I offer a few thoughts and guidelines that should apply equally when consulting with customers and/or citizens  – whether the request for information is an online or offline form, through a call centre or in person.

  • Don’t ask for information unless you intend to do something with it
  • Only ask for information you can do something with
  • Don’t use surveys to abdicate responsibility for decision-making
  • Don’t expect surveys or research to give you all, if indeed any, of the answers
  • Don’t believe your customer can run your company better than you can
  • Don’t believe the customer is always right
  • Ask questions that get you inside the head of the customer about how they felt/feel not what they did
  • Understand the customer experience and how its outcomes affect your business drivers eg propensity to recommend
  • And, finally, whether you do or don’t take any action always give feedback to the customers