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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?

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.

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.

Serving the true purpose of a customer

April 26, 2010 1 comment

There’s quite a famous quote from business guru the late Peter Drucker that is often used by customer service people.  He said: “The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.”   And I don’t think there is much to argue with there.   In many businesses I have seen managers spending far too much time worrying about themselves, their meetings and their processes and as a result are often deflected from what they should be striving to achieve – the satisfied customer.  

Interestingly though I have often seen Drucker misquoted as the “purpose of a business is a satisfied customer.”   There is a lot of customer service chatter in which we compete with each other to state how committed we are to customers and how passionate we are about service and this misquotation is a product of that zealousness.   

There is a big difference between result and purpose: a result is a completed outcome while a purpose is an ongoing goal.   A business without satisfied customers is unlikely to succeed that’s true but just having satisfied customers is not going to pay the bills.

The purpose of a company is something quite different.  The purpose of a company is to deliver value to shareholders. 

So then the  first question is what kind of value are you to deliver:  is it going to be long term, short term, capital growth, dividend etc etc?  How the company then fulfills this purpose is its strategy.  No doubt service and customer experience management must be at the heart of that strategy.   But it should be recognised that satisfied shareholders are the true purpose of the business while the buyers of product and services are a means to that end.   

Obviously profitable buyers are crucial to a business, and the right culture is essential and so is the effective use of efficient processes, people and technology.    Experts have been telling CEOs for years that they have to adopt a service culture in their business and I agree with that whole heartedly.   

But the rest of the team – managers and workers – have to recognise that service is not some blind faith where the customer is always right.  Good service has a purpose and they need to adopt a business perspective what that is and so to understand the purpose of their organisation and why they are being asked to do what they do.   Call centre agents, front of house staff even the back office teams can get mushroomitis where they are kept in the dark and fed an unpleasant diet. 

As a result of such employee engagement, of them seeing the big picture, of treating staff like intelligent people,  performance will surely improve.

How do we calculate the result of poor customer service?

January 19, 2010 1 comment

Poor customer service is costing businesses £3.4bn each year concluded a recent study by Merlin Stone  for Oxford Brookes University. My first reaction was this is just stating the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ and why was money spent on it.

Of course, all I was seeing was the press release and so there is probably a lot more weight to this – especially if Merlin Stone is behind it. I have followed his thinking on service for over a decade and it could never be described as lightweight. And I am sure the sponsor wanted some facts particularly around the amount of money involved/lost to poor service to help them shift product. Interestingly there was another report at the back end of last that put the cost of poor service at £15bn to UK businesses  – anyway the fact remains that we all know instinctively that poor service costs businesses and the numbers are little more than guess work.

My more considered second thought was that the process of trying to simplify the ‘poor service equals lost business’ equation down to that single number means much of the detail is lost as to how one gets to that point.  Understanding that calculation is important in running a service business (is there any other kind?).  The difficult bit is knowing what aspects of poor service affect the customer’s buying habits and how big their direct and indirect effects are. There are plenty of supposedly “poor” service companies doing well (sorry to mention Ryanair again) and “good” service companies struggling eg British Airways.

As an aside here do we mean customer experience rather than customer service

There is a slight problem with supposedly instinctive understanding. How do we know God exists? Because the evidence is all around us. Faith works for believers but not for bean counters so the effect of good service needs to be calculated. Otherwise we could be spending millions on services the customer doesn’t care about or is going to leave us anyway or nothing at all because the manager can not justify it to the CFO.

Someone, somewhere, will have done a formula for the effects of service on sales and profit (what about share value or market share?). It will have a number of variables in it – the customer demographic, their spend, the market, your strategy/goals, the competitive landscape, the regulatory landscape, your brand and so on. Sadly it means the calculation is always going to be a very individual one for each business.

These sorts of research surveys are really only there to get people thinking about the impact of poor service and to get publicity for the participants, so don’t place too much faith in them.