Average was once good enough. Average service produced satisfied customers and satisfied customers would spend and companies would experience moderate growth.
Welcome to the new normal.
Blame it on the recession, an increasing number of options or a shift in consumer values – but whatever the reason, average has become a disease that kills growth.
The Most Engaged Customers Study (MEC) is an annual study that ranks industries and individual companies on the strength of their customers’ engagement with the brand. It identifies:
- The companies whose customers would happily leave them if they could
- Those whose customers are ambivalent about them
- The special companies who deliver an exceptional customer experience each and every time – in essence those who have cured their organizations of being average.
The study also quantifies the impact exceptional levels of customer engagement have on a company’s financial growth and identifies the six steps to creating exceptional customer experiences and legions of engaged customers.
Customer Engagement and Profits are Down. Coincidence, or Not?
The latest MEC Study revealed two customer engagement trends:
- Along with the economy, Customer Engagement levels have also been reset.
Between 2008 and 2009 customer engagement, right along with consumer spending, dropped 10 percentage points down to 51%. That means that on average just half of consumers are engaged with the brands they do business with. In 2010, we saw that neither company performance nor customer engagement is on a quick upswing. Customers simply expect more.
- Above average engagement leads to above average company performance.
The companies who have delivered on higher expectations, however, have outperformed industry financial benchmarks by close to 30 percentage points. These companies have focused on engaging their customers, getting them to love them, and talk about it. Those who settled for merely satisfying their customers performed 8 points below those same benchmarks.
High levels of Customer Engagement and love clearly translate into the behaviors that support achievement of financial goals.
By looking at companies who have used engagement to drive business growth the MEC Study was able to identify six elements of engagement. When all six are present a company can be absolutely confident that they have created both a life-time customer and a living, breathing advertisement for their brand. Extreme? Not really, when customer’s love their brands they tend to not shut up about them.
The question then becomes, is it possible to manufacture Customer Love? Can companies control customers’ emotional reactions? Can we make them love us?
A Treatment Plan for Curing Average Experiences – Six Simple Steps
The answer is yes if all of the right ingredients are present. The first two are as follows:
- The Offer: products, services and/or experiences that a customer really wants or needs
- Care: A Company culture that cares for and values customers
With just these two a company can create satisfaction. But satisfied customers have a tendency to forget about you the moment something else satisfies them. Satisfaction has proven to be an unreliable measure of customer (and therefore) revenue security.
To gain loyalty, companies also need to deliver:
- Consistency: excellent service at every touch point
- Trust: If something goes wrong, the customer has faith it will be put right
These two are the domain of senior leadership as well as managers and supervisors. Demonstrating a commitment to customer-centricity has to come from the top and enforcing that is often the job of those on the front-line. Setting and maintaining consistent service standards and correcting problems that arise are the ‘how tos’ behind these two elements. When customers trust companies, loyalty starts to emerge. With it a company can begin to feel confident that their customers are sticking around.
The final two elements in the plan are entirely people based and include:
- Effort: Employees who go above and beyond for customers; going out of their way to make the experience exceptional
- Genuine: Authentic service from real people
When employees go above and beyond, when they are free to put away the procedure guidelines and be real people with customers, a company can be confident that growth will follow. Their core base of customers will be out there telling the world great things about them.
A genuine service experience and a sense that the person you are dealing with would do anything to make it enjoyable can only be delivered by your employees – your internal heroes, your Brand Ambassadors. You can’t say it with a slogan or an engaging advertisement – your customers have to experience it to believe it. Of course, it takes an engaged workforce to create an engaged customer base and winning brands recognize that a dedication to an exceptional employee experience is the route to delivering an exceptional customer experience.
Out of the nearly 70 companies included in our study, across all industries, the ten who can boldly boast the highest number of raving fans, the biggest fleet of personal promoters, and the Most Engaged Customers are as follows:
- The Ritz-Carlton
- Build-a-Bear Workshop
- Trader Joe’s
- Four Seasons
- Ruth’s Chris Steak House
- Amazon.com (tied for 10th place)
- Whole Foods Market (tied for 10th place)
If you’re like us, you probably looked at the list and thought, “So what else is new? That’s not surprising at all.” Think about it. Could it be because their smitten customers never stop telling others stories of the exceptional experiences they’ve had? We’d posit that it’s a whole lot harder for you to guess the brands that fell in the middle – most people don’t find ordinary experiences worth repeating.
At PeopleMetrics we love hearing stories about customers who experienced above average service and companies who have cured themselves of average. Share yours with us to receive your free copy of the 2010 MEC Study, including the industry snapshot of your choice (Apparel, Accessories & Footwear; Cable & Satellite Providers; Department Stores; Discount Retailers; Electronics; eRetailers; Grocery Stores; Insurance; Luxury; Restaurants; Specialty & Household Furnishing; Wireless Service Providers; B2B Telco; B2B Accounting)
Janessa Lantz contributed to this article.