3 Ways to Obtain Customer Requirements for Support. No Surveys Required!


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The foundational element to provide excellent customer service is to determine customer requirements for support. While many companies spend significant time and money to survey customers, we all know that survey fatigue and other priorities have reduced significantly response rates, calling into question their accuracy and value.

However, there are three ways to learn about customer requirements for support that are relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain:

  1. Assign personas
  2. Collect last contact benchmarking
  3. Score customer intents

Let’s take them one at a time to obtain customer requirements and begin to figure out how to address them.

1. Assign personas

Most marketing organizations today develop customer personas to align their products and services with the most appropriate customer audience. Examples of these personas might include “First Timers”, “Bargain Basements”, “Black Diamonds”, “ Nervous Nells”, and “Globetrotters”. While personas are meant to be unique, there may be some overlap to consider. For our purposes, let’s consider the first three personas to determine their requirements for support. 

“First Timers” represent your new customers who have just purchased, onboarded, or added a new product or service. Typically, they are excited, eager to enjoy the benefits, but also nervous. First Timers need a significant amount of support, often 3x to 4x compared with your more experienced customers. They need simple tutorials and “how to” advice; this can be done through community forums, targeted outbound welcome kits, and live support by your customer service team or go live squad. Unless trumped by another persona characteristic, these customers should probably not be offered too much self-service but rather quick access to an expert who can patiently walk them through implementation and first usage.

“Bargain basement” customers always seek the best deal even after recently purchasing a contract extension for receiving an online order. Typically, Bargain Basements contact your company very frequently to ask for a better deal, try to return the product, or complain when they think that there is a better offer that you’re making to other customers. We have seen some companies’ Bargain Basements call 50 times per year, and others routinely call every month to inquire about better deals. These customers should probably be offered self-service solutions, outbound alerts to reassure them that they are on the right plan, slower speeds of answer, offshore help, or in other ways deflect them from your core support operations. Ultimately you might decide to “fire your worst customer”1.

Next up, “Black Diamond” customers are both savvy and expert surrounding your products or services, often eclipsing the capabilities of your customer service agents and they are frequently impatient if confronted by FAQs or other temporizing steps. You often hear them say “I already know that” or “I did that!” Black Diamonds value speaking directly with your development engineers or perhaps tier 3 agents, and while doing so provide deep insights into your product design or positioning. Black Diamonds are therefore very important sources of new information and should be routed directly to your internal experts for any issues that they might have.

2. Collect “Last Contact Benchmarking”

Almost every company wants to know how they measure up against their industry peers, often relying on packaged surveys or expensive market research. However, as I have described in earlier CustomerThink columns2 and my 1st book3, a superior way to determine customer requirements for support is “Last Contact Benchmarking” (or LCB).

This approach resembles what is sometimes called “the Amazon effect” on customer expectations, expressed as “Why can’t you make it easy for me to buy from you, cancel my order, learn about order status, etc. the same way Amazon does?” For a long time companies dodged these questions saying “We’re not an online company” or “Our business is more complicated than Amazon’s” but do customers really care? We’re now finding that business customers, as well as consumers, are using last contacts with leading companies such as Chase Bank, USAA, Yamato Transport, and other leaders that we profiled in our 2nd book4.

How do you figure out what these last contacts were and what to do with them? Fortunately, many of your customers tell you! Sure, you can hold focus groups or survey them (see again my earlier comments about low and unreliable response rates), but during discussions with your sales team, retail clerks, and customer service reps, or posting their online comments, or providing open-ended responses to surveys, it is increasingly easy to create LCB profiles for each of your customers and thereby associate their requirements for support.

For example, if you have an active user who is also an Amazon Prime customer and uses the Chase Bank Sapphire Card, s/he might well require very careful and expert handling by some of your most experienced and empowered agents. These are not Bargain Basement customers but could well be Globetrotters with a much more sophisticated set of requirements.

3. Score customer intents

In many of my CustomerThink columns5 I have covered the importance to simplify customer contact reason codes as customer intents using their language that they often express in the first 30 seconds of the phone call, the subject or first sentence in an email message or chat thread, or responding to the prompt ”How can I help you?” in a chatbot. 

Classic examples for customer intents are “Why is my bill so high?” or “Where’s my stuff?” or “Tell me more about this new feature” or “How can I change my shipping address?”

Using the simple-looking 2×2 Value-Irritant matrix in a cross-functional workshop you can assign each customer intent to one of four actions.

Let’s try it out this way. 

  • If your customers are asking “Why is my bill so high?” it probably is irritating to them and it’s a contact that you don’t want to have to handle, hence the action is to Eliminate it through root cost analysis.
  • If your customers are asking “Where’s my stuff?” because their product hasn’t arrived as expected, this is probably very irritating to them and also one that you don’t want to handle, and therefore is another example of Eliminate. I
  • On the other hand, if they’re asking “Tell me more about this new feature” it is certainly valuable for you and them, and therefore should be Leveraged.
  • Finally, if customers are asking “How can I change my shipping address” this is typically valuable for them so they can continue to do business with you but irritating for your company since you really don’t want to use your expensive live resources to field that question and therefore it ought to be Automated or Digitized.

Scoring customer intents in conjunction with personas and Last Contact Benchmarking will provide a very rich framework to determine customer requirements for support and guide your operational programs.


1https://customerthink.com/is-the-customer-always-right-should-you-fire-some-of-your-customers-3-ways-cx-analytics-can-help/, accessed 3 November 2020

2 One recent column where I mentioned Last Contact Benchmarking is https://customerthink.com/should-you-serve-new-and-experienced-customers-the-same-no-and-yes/, accessed 3 November 2020

3 My co-author and I first introduced Last Contact Benchmarking in our 1st book The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers From Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs Bill Price & David Jaffe (Wiley 2008). Based partly on my years as Amazon’s 1st WW VP of Customer Service, but also on “Best Service” providers around the world who have made it easier for their customers to do business with them, we proposed 7 Principles that start with “Challenge demand for service”:

“Eliminate dumb contacts”

“Create engaging self-service”

“Be proactive”

“Make it really easy to contact your company”

“Own the actions across the company”

“Listen and act”

“Deliver great service experiences”

4Your Customer Rules! Delivering the Me2B Experiences That Today’s Customers Demand (Wiley/Jossey-Bass 2015). Here are the 7 Customer Needs that Lead to a Winning “Me2B” Culture; each Need breaks down into a total of 39 Sub-Needs.

“You know me, you remember me”

“You give me choices”

“You make it easy for me”

“You value me”

“You trust me”

“You surprise me with stuff that I can’t imagine”

“You help me better, you help me do more”

5 Recent examples where I show the Value-Irritant matrix and new approaches for customer contact optimization includes https://customerthink.com/the-best-service-is-no-service-turns-10-going-strong/ and https://customerthink.com/reducing-customer-churn-using-4-steps-of-customer-contact-analytics/, accessed 3 November 2020


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