Reeling in the years – how refreshing field service is

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Passing through the doors and entering Service Management Europe two weeks ago for the 21st consecutive year I was struck by how different it was.

The major conference has gone (the event was called SMECON when I first went to it as Service Management magazine’s editor in Wembley in 1989) but more importantly I reckon none of the current exhibiting companies were the same as those at my first event.

Now, you could look at that as a negative thing but I take the view that it is to the credit of the field service industry that it has such a track record of innovation and change. In 1989 SME was dominated by service management systems – clunky green screen software; fourth party companies – specialist parts suppliers and repairers particularly of disk drives; tool kits and cases, while pagers were the mobile communications medium of choice. Service was about mending things and doing it as cheaply as possible.

Now the buzz is about optimisation with tools like tracking, scheduling and workforce management, with mobility tools like wireless data and internet, and handheld computers so powerful they could fly the space shuttle and with sophisticated logistics solutions running delivery, collection and repair networks more complex than the D-Day landings on a daily basis.

So what’s changed to drive the industry like this? Two conceptual things – making a profit and providing customer service. The “revolutionary” idea that service can in itself make money has provided a massive shift in thinking, work practices, investment and so on. But also the understanding that providing a better service could generate better customer retention, enhance brand values, better customer recommendation and, of course, more equipment sales has put the service department up the business agenda if not always in the board room – yet.

Still, that’s not bad for an industry that 21 years ago was regarded as a “necessary evil”. Here’s to the next 21 years.

As an additional thought, having been at the relatively young eCommerce Expo this week,  I wondered how many other B2B high tech trade shows there are that have survived 24 years.  Certainly none that I go to so another reason for SME to celebrate and feel proud of itself.

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Don’t bother with customer satisfaction surveys – ask about the customer experience

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Measurement is always a keen issue for management not least in deciding what to measure and what weight to put on the findings. The key to good practice is often thought to be having a clear idea of what you will do with the information once you’ve got it – but that will almost certainly lead to the wrong approach when it comes to measuring customer experience.

Asking the question to deliver a longed-for answer is using measurement to justify a predetermined action.   Proper customer experience research is not just about quantifying things like satisfaction.  Customer experience research should be about delivering answers to the questions you didn’t know to ask,  bringing insight and understanding about how your customers feel and think and how this drives what they do.  With that sort of research you can start to define a new strategy.  But if you don’t delve into the unknown then you can’t learn anything.

When dealing with customers this is vitally important. You can’t control them; they do seemingly random and illogical things and they get emotional.  This is even more pertinent to online retailers who may not have any human contact with their customer. So a survey set up just to prove you satisfied your customers is pointless. Maybe you do the survey every couple of months and can see if you’re getting better or worse.   But that is only useful if you know the root causes so you can address them. Far better is to find out what makes them satisfied, what makes them want to come back and what makes them recommend you and then you can do more of it.

Customers don’t care how you organise your business, how much effort went into your creative or the latest software you put in your call centre but most company based research programmes are there to test and measure these sorts of things – to test what you deliver. What is far better is to test what the customer takes away from your site – to measure customer experience across the full range of emotions and not just the very happy and unhappy customers who fill in CSat surveys.

This needs to be done independently of your in-house departments to escape intentional and unintentional prejudice and to be independent of vested interests so it can tell the story from the customer’s perspective.

Sure it is a little harder to do than putting up an online customer satisfaction survey but there are some different research methods out there and ultimately it will be more rewarding for you and for your customers.

Breaking free from the data silos that shackle customer experience

In the business of delivering better customer service it is well known that a silo-driven approach to the main touch points of sales, marketing and service is counterproductive.  Over the last few months, having spoken to many online retailers for a new project,   I have seen a parallel in the world of delivering a better customer experience – or more precisely understanding the experience you have delivered so you can make it better. 

Most online retailers collect their customer data in silos.  They have reams of data off the web site, they get feedback from their third party delivery companies on fulfilment and they get customer satisfaction data off their post-event forms or emails.  All useful in their own ways but they don’t give a picture of the individual customer’s journey or experience. If you don’t measure it you can’t understand it and so you are going to struggle to improve it. 

What about those silos?  I have seen web site managers flicking through reams (yes, it was usually printed off) of paper.  But one of the big problems with this very detailed web data is it tells you what visitors have done but you have to infer information about why they’ve done it.  With post-event satisfaction surveys you tend to get data from either end of the happiness spectrum. Whereas the majority of customers are usually either slightly happy or slightly unhappy and tend not to respond. But unless you understand this single biggest group you are never going to move them up the happiness scale. 

Also ask yourself why you are collecting information and what are you going to do with it.  Satisfaction ratings are a top level measurement of past performance but they don’t tell you what is driving performance – it’s  a bit like trying to reorganise the defensive line of a football team at half time in a game based on their final league position last season.  

Because this customer data is collected and stored in solos it is coming from three different groups of customers so it is inconsistent.  This means it is impossible to link together to get a picture of the customer experience or journey across multichannel interactions. (There is another point here about measuring and so treating customers as individuals and not as socio-demographic groups but that’s for another blog.)

The best way to break down these silos is to follow individual customers as they experience the different channels.  As you do you’ll find many will have largely good journeys and you can identify what they qualify as a good experience and so you can deliver it more often and a few will highlight where problems occurred so you can address them. 

And don’t forget to ask the three key questions that will allow you to understand the outcomes of the customer experience: how satisfied were you?  Would you repurchase from this site? Would you recommend this site to friends or colleagues?  Armed with intelligence you can target your improvement programmes.

It will also give you an idea of the weighting of how serious an issue it is for a customer i.e. is a call centre issue more significant than a web site navigation one in driving poor recommendation levels.    You will gain insight into the “why” customers do things as well as what they have done. 

Use this actionable intelligence to feedback into development and you will improve your performance for the silent majority.

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

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.

Personalising the faceless transaction is key to winning online business

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

There was an interesting statistic last week from the Office for National Statistics that said for the first time more than half of the UK population has bought something online.  Frankly I was a little surprised that by now  it was still only half but then that is probably my fault for living in a tech bubble and forgetting that so many have yet to be touched by the eCommerce revolution. 

However what it also suggests to me is that there is still a huge amount of growth still to be had for eRetailers – above the 15% pa they are currently experiencing – as existing buyers get more confident and more and more people join the party.  So there is a great opportunity but also a great challenge as the honey pot attracts more and more competitors. 

The big question is how do you make yourself stand out on the web – or why will the consumer choose you, keep coming back to you and recommend you to their friends?  The days of technical innovation on a site while not behind us yet are unlikely to make a huge difference so it has to be something else.

No, obviously the answer is around the service you provide and the experience that the customer takes away – pretty much like in store retailing really (and don’t forget price IS a part of the experience).  But unlike store retailing, online the transaction is faceless and impersonal.   Your best customer could be online and you may well have no idea who they are, what drives them, what repels them.  If they stay, great; if they go why? How can you possibly win them back?  In a flash they are gone and you have no understanding why.   Interestingly you also have no idea why those other customers are staying but if you did know why then you could do those right things more often. 

I discussed recently why personalisation is important  over routine “hygiene factors” in making the positive difference to customers but there lies the rub – how can one personalise a service to a customer when you don’t know who they are.    Your analytics and other clever software systems will tell you what they do on your site, not why they do it?  Nor will they tell you what their reaction is to that experience and how that will affect their propensity to repurchase or recommend.  Nor will they tell if the delivery agent was surly, the packaging damaged or any number of things that could go wrong with the fulfilment.  Nor will they tell you when the customer phoned to ask for explanation that the agent in the call centre was considered surly and inattentive.  But now the customer may well have gone for ever even after a successful online experience.  

Will pure play online retailers have to have a high street, bricks and mortar presence as a way of establishing customer relationships and securing brand values?  Possibly not if they can find a way of personalising (and always improving) the online experience.  Will all retailers doing business online need to align their channels so they present a consistent brand and customer experience across all touch points – absolutely certainly they will.