Customer Experience Management is Uncommon Sense

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This article is 4th in a series describing 10 unique characteristics of customer experience relative to more well-known concepts such as customer satisfaction and retention. The characteristic defined in this article is: Preventive — customer experience gravitates toward the easiest and nicest methods to get and use solutions that address customers’ needs.

“Just talk to your customers” was the resounding answer to: “What’s the best way to learn best practices for customer experience management?” — a question I posted on several business-focused social media sites. Yet less than 60% of companies have a formal voice of the customer program.1 Why? Because we often assume we already know what customers think, or what they “should” think. Somehow it seems straightforward to cater to whoever is enabling our paycheck — everyone knows it’s foolish to do otherwise. In reality, though, this catering may be uncommon sense: have we forgotten that it’s actually customers — not supervisors or the stock market — that enable our paychecks? Maybe you’re thinking “Of course we remember it’s all about the customer!” But how can that be true when only 31% of companies say they have a high commitment to customer listening?2 As a result, typically one-fifth as many customers will say you’re customer-centric, compared to the number you may expect.3

Motives Determine Customer-Centricity:
Motives are at the heart of  our listening habits. Think of your personal friendships. When a friend doesn’t listen, you can bet they’re preoccupied with their own agenda. They may believe they’ve heard it all before, and perhaps they believe your thinking is inferior. Maybe they’re too rushed, or deep-down, they fear what they may hear, or maybe they can’t wait to tell you what they think. Contrast this situation to an instance when a friend listens intently, then strives to gain a deeper understanding and then adapts to accommodate your preferences. The former scenario is a recipe for relationship disaster, and the latter exemplifies real customer experience management.

A pure motive in any relationship is “to make it easier and nicer for the other party to get and use the solutions they seek”. When this motive takes first priority over your own agenda, you’re customer-centric. It takes a bit of faith to believe that your own needs will be met as a natural consequence of this pure motive. Yet you’ve probably observed this advice to be true in nearly any setting. Acknowledging this fact and demonstrating faith in it are indeed uncommon sense.

Easy & Nice to Get?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to get the solution they seek. For example, a software program I’ve used daily for years suddenly announced in a popup box on my screen that a complimentary download of a new version was highly recommended. There was no supplementary information about what changes would be made, how the changes might affect the look-and-feel I’m accustomed to, or how I might invoke the changes at a more convenient time. In the absence of this desirable information, I was left to assume “no action” on my part could result in security or operability issues. What was intended by the software company to be an easy and nice download was certainly not, from my perspective: the program I’ve been loyal to for so long suddenly re-arranged content and controls at a time when I was under significant pressure to complete urgent tasks using the software.

Uncommon sense: don’t just assume what is easy and nice to get; ask first, and avoid the temptation to assume that what works for one customer will work for all of them. Segmenting voice of the customer data by customers’ circumstances (rather than demographics or psychographics) is a better way to make it easy and nice for them to get the solution they seek.

Easy & Nice to Use?
Far too often, customers find it’s neither easy nor nice to use the solution they seek. For example, the upgrade to another software program I’ve used for 15 years included extremely significant changes in the menu’s look-and-feel. The situation was akin to the New Coke snafu: in the pursuit to adopt features prominent in the major competitor’s product, loyal customers were taken by surprise, and an unpleasant surprise at that. Over the years, I’ve contributed time and again to this software company’s revenue stream. To add insult to injury, I paid for this upgrade not only financially, but also with significant time and stress in transferring files and re-learning how to use the product that I’ve already been using for 15 years. When I looked for answers to some of the challenges I encountered I had to obtain a password to search through a mountain of frequently-asked-questions. Why weren’t these surprises anticipated, with simple, stress-free guidance before and after my purchase?

Uncommon sense: know each customer segment deeply, double-check your assumptions, communicate clearly before their purchase, make it easy for customers to absorb and welcome the changes you make, and reward — don’t punish — your loyal customers.

“Just talk to your customers” certainly is a key to customer experience best practices. It means more than meets the eye: strive first to understand before seeking to be understood, recognize customer circumstances that drive different expectations, adapt to your customers rather than asking them to adapt to you, and keep a two-way dialogue going all the time. You’ll likely find that your company’s paycheck (i.e. revenue), overall, will benefit more from uncommon sense in customer experience management than from anything else.

1Assessing the Maturity of Voice of the Customer Programs, Temkin Group, September 2010.
2Turning Customer Pain into Competitive Gain, CMO Council, January 2009.
3Customer Affinity, CMO Council, July 2007.

7 COMMENTS

  1. This is definitely a conversation many of our customers are having, but as you point out, consumers still feel that companies are falling short with providing a satisfactory user experience. While I agree that listening to your customers can be instrumental in providing a better customer experience, I would also add that elements of the user context can speak volumes and give brands direct cues on how to customize the online experience for its customers. For example, how they are accessing your content, be it a smart phone, a kiosk, or a PC, can lend insight into their intent- smartphone users frequently look for answers to specific questions – they may want to find a particular news item or locate the nearest gas station. By contrast, a person using a PC expects a more immersive Web experience which allows them to browse as well as search. An individual’s browsing history, or likes and ratings on social networks, can indicate user preferences. Is this an element that you are planning on exploring in your customer experience series?

  2. One strong way of making sense out of what customers really need is data. And this is not through surveys. Consumer response to surveys are well known and are not reflective of what consumers actually need. But the data that lies in unstructured consumer conversations provides enough insights that can lead to consumer driven product development or marketing. Call centers, social media provide a great opportunity to mine and make sense out of this.

    Check

    http://www.forbes.com/2010/11/09/twitter-24-7-technology-data.html

  3. Thanks for your observations, Christian. Yes, the context of the experience does speak volumes on how to customize your product or service, and even your policies and processes for specific segments. Customer segmentation by experience circumstances is a fairly new concept, and I describe it in the “sensitive to circumstances” paragraph in Fall in Love With Your Customers for Best Customer Experience.

    And yes, stay tuned for further detail in some future posts in this series, particularly in describing the multi-faceted characteristic of customer experience management.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

  4. Good point, Bharathwaj. Many customer sentiment surveys are more company-centric in their design than customer-centric. Text mining and audio mining are essential for keeping a pulse on the ways customers prefer to talk about their needs and expectations. In my “Fall in Love” post referenced above, I explained that customer-centric listening is insatiable curiosity fed by research that is more vivid and colloquial, and broader and more action-oriented than traditional surveys. For both B2B and B2C sectors (as well as government-to-public and non-profit-to-causes), observation research is indispensible in setting a customer-centric foundation for data mining or any other customer research.

    Another key to uncommon sense for higher ROI from customer surveys is to organize and phrase them according to the ways customers naturally talk about their solutions relative to your offering. I describe this technique in Customer-Centricity by Discerning Customer Satisfaction Outcomes vs. Enablers.

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

  5. Thanks Lynn,

    This is helpful- I will take a look at that article. This approach is definitely something that we see as being a big priority for brands. At CoreMedia, we call it contextualization; Gartner is calling it context-aware computing: http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1190313, and just wrote an article about it well: http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=200500&ref=g_rss.

    Look forward to the next article in the series!

    Christian

  6. I couldn’t agree more with listening and understanding customers and adapting your service to fit in with their needs where possible, as well as managing their expectations.

    Too many businesses these days assume they know what their customers are thinking, which can be a big mistake.

    Online businesses in particular need to work hard to show a more human side to their systems and processes and to help ensure customers feel valued.

  7. Thanks for your comment, Adrian. I’m still a little concerned by the words “where possible”. Perhaps it may be a reference to supposedly unreasonable needs.

    This article is emphasizing that companies exist ultimately because customers pay for products and services that meet their needs. Therefore, every effort should be made to adapt to customer needs, and to deliver to their expectations.

    Cases where customers’ expectations are higher than what can reasonably be delivered seem to stem from over-promising by marketing, sales, and executives.

    So-called unreasonable needs are simply unmet needs. We can’t tell customers what they do or do not need. We can only strive to understand what their ultimate application is, and then use creativity and efficiency to create solutions for those unmet needs.

    I’d love to discuss these concepts and methods further — customers universally would be much better off if we all adopt a deeper understanding of this uncommon sense!

    Lynn Hunsaker helps companies improve customer data ROI, customer-centricity and customer experience innovation. She is author of 3 handbooks. See ClearAction.biz, Twitter.com/ClearAction, Facebook.dj/customerexperience.

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