According to research by consultancy firm Morar, 100% of the 844 executives surveyed for a recent report indicated that customer experience (CX) is a key focus area for their business. The fact that only 58% mentioned sales and revenue in the same light indicates that there’s widespread awareness that delivering great CX naturally leads to stronger financial results.
However, a separate report found that 80% of businesses consider the customer experience they deliver to be “superior”, while only 8% of their customers felt the same way.
Taking these two stats together suggests there is a disconnect between what executives are trying to achieve with CX initiatives and what is being implemented on the frontline. There is clearly a breakdown in the communication of the importance of CX (maybe even what it is?) and how best to improve it from the boardroom to shop floor. That is particularly challenging in distributed businesses like retail chains and restaurant groups.
This post is intended to help leaders in such businesses to more effectively improve the customer experience culture in their stores and restaurants.
The Most Common CX Program Mistake?
One of the most common mistake senior executives make when it comes to driving CX change is placing too much emphasis on metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) and CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) etc.
Of course, it’s important to monitor performance over time and you need a way of making comparisons between the customer’s experience of different activities and/or locations. Measuring CX performance is what these metrics are intended to be used for. But they are only as good as the data used to compute them.
Using these numbers to drive behaviour is where the problems start. These are non-descript statistics that mean little or nothing to most front-line workers. Focusing solely on them can create a dynamic where staff will do whatever it takes to achieve the required score, rather than focusing on improving the experience of the people they are actually serving. This is what leads to staff members asking for 10 out of 10 after serving a table or making a sale. In extreme cases, it might lead to staff completing the survey themselves to bump up the numbers. Creating an environment where this kind of culture takes hold it to be avoided at all costs, as it delivers little value and frequently causes the customer’s experience to deteriorate.
So what can you do to move the focus away from the numbers and onto the customer? How can you get staff to learn from customer complaints so that they don’t happen again rather than asking for favorable scores? How can you get them to focus on naturally generating positive customer feedback by providing great customer service?
1. Drive Personal CX Accountability
The aim of a good CX program is to change the culture of the organisation. You want to create a culture where each individual strives to contribute to the delivery of the best possible customer experience within the constraints that the business operates (e.g. financial). This should apply to all employees from the warehouse to the accounts department and onto the shop floor. But naturally, the shop floor is the most impactful area in a retail or food service context.
A very effective tactic here is to demonstrate how important CX is to the CEO.
Mentioning it in a quarterly email or telling regional managers to focus on it will likely work on some level but they are low effort and low impact activities.
We suggest a more hands-on approach that should be applied slightly differently to positive and negative feedback.
What can be really powerful is directly contacting or explicitly mentioning a few of the staff who receive positive comments from customers in feedback surveys etc. This can be done by actually picking up the phone and discussing the feedback with a handful of staff members each week. Although it’s probably to email the individuals, it will be less effective as there is no guarantee that it came from the boss. I know of one retail CEO in the UK who mentions individual staff members by name in the videos he shares on the company’s Facebook Workplace newsfeed each week, which I believe has been very effective and guarantees the word gets out to all frontline staff.
What you’re trying to achieve is to get frontline employees talking about CX in the staff room or the kitchen. You want the staff who haven’t been mentioned to be thinking “I want a bit of that attention”. Basically, you’re trying to create an element of CX competition and a sense of pride in a job well done that permeates across all employees.
It would be counterproductive to do the same thing with negative feedback. In those cases, regional and/or store managers should be contacted in a private medium or at least within the confines of a meeting. These are senior people and it is up to them to manage their own teams and resolve issues that arise. But again, the word will filter down that the CEO is interested in individual CX failures. This is going to motivate local leaders to pay attention to customer comments and proactively address them with their teams to ensure they don’t arise again.
With both of these tactics, it is important to spread your attention around so that no one feels picked on and all stores feel a little special every now and then.
This might take only 15 to 20 minutes a week, as you can easily get a third party to sift through the feedback to identify suitable customer stories. Depending on the scale of the company, it might also be a tactic that you encourage regional managers or large scale franchisees to adopt.
Whatever way you choose to implement it, done right and consistently, it should have an enormous impact on customer experience culture in your organisation.
2. Humanize Customer Feedback
Assuming you’ve hired the right people (i.e. people who enjoy helping others have a good time), humanizing customer feedback can be a very impactful way to improve customer experience. This goes back to my earlier point about moving the attention of your frontline staff away from soulless statistics and onto the people they are serving.
What you’re trying to do here is help frontline staff better understand the impact they are making on real people, be that bad or good.
There are two great ways to do this.
Sharing real customer stories helps staff relate to feedback much more effectively than telling them that their NPS has dropped by 3 points this month.
Creating an emotional connection between staff and customers using stories can really drive your team to go the extra mile. Having the CEO or regional leaders circulate customer stories with an explanation of what went right or wrong and how this impacted CX scores links staff behaviour directly to the number. At a very basic level, you’re trying to get your staff thinking “that could have been my mother, brother or child”. You’re trying to create empathy.
I’ve elaborated on the power of emotion and customer stories in driving customer experience culture improvements in a previous article if you want to learn more and see examples.
A relatively new development in the world of CX is the ability to capture customer feedback via video cost-effectively and at scale (full disclosure: my company ServiceDock is a provider).
There is an enormous difference between reading a comment about how a mother struggled to navigate a pram around a cluttered store and seeing that mother (potentially with her baby in her arms) saying it and being able to feel her frustration. Video brings customer feedback to life and conjures up images in your employee’s minds the next time they’re about to leave boxes somewhere they shouldn’t leave them in the store, for example. NPS simply cannot compete with that in terms of motivation to change behaviour.
The other key benefit of video in this context is that it does the same thing for senior executives. It transports them to the shop floor so that they don’t lose touch with customers. This will help them better understand the practical challenges staff on the shop floor face, which should improve their ability to create a more customer-centric environment.
3. Track Staff Engagement with CX Software
In my experience, senior executives prefer to have a CX report emailed to them rather than logging into the CX software they have purchased. What’s more, they’re normally looking for their store managers or area managers to receive a similar email once a week or month. This is understandable because everyone is busy and your typical retailer or restaurateur is likely to have multiple other systems to log into on a regular basis. However, receiving a CX report by email and receiving a financial or marketing report by email are two very different things.
It is relatively easy to condense CX metrics or financial data down into a table that works in email format, but making sense of hundreds or thousands of customer comments in an email is nigh on impossible. You can aggregate comments using keywords or trends and portray them in a word cloud or a table, but this will not give a true understanding of how your brand has made your customers feel and what has made them feel that way. This simply cannot be done effectively in an email.
We recommend two things in this regard:
1.Senior executives should log in to the CX software occasionally to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on in their stores and restaurants in terms of customer experience.
2. Location and area manager engagement with the CX software should be tracked to ensure they’re using it and actually hearing the voice of the customer. That way they can take corrective action where necessary. If this is not happening you’re unlikely to see meaningful improvement because staff will not be learning from their mistakes. This topic is covered in much more detail in another article.
Capturing customer feedback is only the starting point for a customer experience program. The key to success is what you do with the data that you collect.
It’s a lot easier for a mechanic to fix a car when you tell him where the rattle is coming from and describe how the car handles etc. rather than simply telling him that something’s not right. You can think of customer comments as those extra pieces of information that help you pinpoint the problems when your NPS tells you something is not right in your stores.
It’s up to senior leaders in the company to get staff to focus on the root cause of the problem rather than overreact to the fact there is a problem (e.g. a low NPS). Once you’ve got that process in place, your metrics should start improving without having to resort to financial incentives or penalties.
Thanks to Mark Gould of Cp2 Experience for inspiring this article.