Three Simple Messages Can Dramatically Enhance the Customer Experience. Why Are Companies Afraid to Say Them?

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What’s the payoff of aggressively communicating about problems?

Becoming easy to do business with is very highly correlated with loyalty, Net Promoter Score, and enthusiastic positive word of mouth. The 2021 Delight Study showed transparency and honesty are the two biggest causes of customer delight and increased willingness to pay more for a product or service. On the flip side, the 2023 National Rage Study found that surprise charges and barriers to getting to a human cause rage and often, bad consumer behavior like yelling at the CSR or taunting and making threats. Sadly, a third of consumers now think yelling is a socially acceptable behavior and 21% think that threats of physical violence are at least sometimes acceptable in customer service situations.

What can companies do to both shield their staff from such behavior AND prevent most such problems?

Three simple messages can dramatically enhance the customer experience, but companies are reticent to publish them. I discuss the messages, why companies are afraid to say them, and the payoff when they do.

1. “We can only solve problems we know about. Here is how to tell us!”

Fear: Customer will complain more which will consume resources.

Approach: Highly visible message of “we can only solve problems we know about!” Provide multiple, low-effort channels for complaining and escalation. If you don’t want to talk about problems, mention questions and frustrations that seem less threatening for both customers and sensitive company executives.

Complaint channels should include:

  • Eye contact when in person and ideally via video chat
  • Website home page – at the top, not at the bottom in fine print. Ideally, list complaints separate from support. Scary but much more effective.
  • Visible whenever customers may have questions or problems, e.g. label on product or banner on website or invoice.
  • Mobile apps should highlight both support and search functions
  • Advisory boards and communities are your most loyal customers and, when given evidence of feedback impact, will spread the news to others

Payoff: You hear about and can fix problems that are doing damage and creating negative word of mouth. You almost always retain much more revenue than the cost to handle the complaint. In most markets, 50-90% of unhappy customers do not complain and the ROI of surfacing a complaint vs. leaving unarticulated is at least 100%.[1]

Examples:

  • Dyson has an 800 number and website on its product in a highly visible location

  • Aeroflow’s CPAP Sleep Machine has an 800 number next to the start button

  • TELUS highlights executive complaint channel on website

  • AARP Help Page offers type ahead to facilitate complaint articulation followed by every available channel

2. “How to avoid the three most prevalent problems with our product or service!”

Fear: Marketing fears that the education implies customers will have problems.

Approach: Explicit message compelling the customer to read. Avis says, “We know you don’t like unpleasant surprises!”, followed by three bullet points in bold print. That message gets read! Other approaches include videos, quick-start cards and banners at the top of online forms – “the three most common mistakes made on this form.”

These messages should be communicated at the time of customer onboarding as well as just in time (JIT) when a critical Moment of Truth is arrived at, e.g. a claim is being filed after an accident. Short videos (45-60 seconds) should include the challenges and also explain customer responsibilities.

Payoff: Education prevents problems from occurring and transparency builds trust. In most cases the customer was already aware of or worrying about those issues and the fact that you mention them shows you’re honest and care. For instance, the chart below shows the payoff of an aggressive onboarding process for an Internet Service Provider comparing the satisfaction with value for price paid and speed of download among customers who were effectively educated vs. those who were not. Those who were happy with the education gave 40% higher ratings and had dramatically lower attrition.

Examples

  • A major benefits insurance company identified several hundred mid-sized clients who continuously made mistakes in adding and subtracting employees, causing dissatisfaction and fire drills. 200 companies were educated via tip sheets and a phone conference call. A control group of 200 other companies were not educated. Phone calls and fire drills dropped by 30% from the educated companies and they gave the insurance company much higher ratings at the next satisfaction survey. The clients reported the company’s service had improved when all that was done was to help clients avoid making mistakes.
  • PetSmart and FedEx both aggressively educate customers on potential problems and how to avoid them. PetSmart counsels dog owners that grooming may result in a look different than expected, depending on how the dog’s fur is matted, and that obedience training requires serious effort over a long time from the owner if it is to be successful. FedEx highlights to customers that products can get damaged in the belly of an airplane and it is the customer’s responsibility to package and protect the product. In both company situations, if a problem does occur, the customer takes at least partial responsibility and is much less upset with the company.
  • Finally, an insurance company’s welcome letter for its homeowner’s insurance highlights three exclusions. Customers (who rarely read the policy) read the exclusions and often then buy riders at extra cost, OR become aware of the exclusion so that if it occurs, they accept the loss without blaming the company.

3. “This is what we’ve done with recent feedback from our customers and employees”

Fear: We have not fixed everything and discussion implies customers have problems. Customers are excited if you fix even a few things that have irked them. They realize many issues are difficult to address. Showing you’re listening by fixing even a few things can result in higher satisfaction due to feeling valued as well as a doubling of future input and survey response rates.

Approach: Communicate on survey invitations – significantly increases response rate. Post on the website and in online communities. Co-create with customers.

Payoff: The fact that you are listening makes both customers and employees feel much better about the company. Both groups want assurance that the problem will not be repeated. Feedback encourages them to give you more valuable input and higher survey response rates. In many cases, such listening allows justification of higher margins as well as increases product innovation.

Examples:

  • A classic best practice feedback system was MyStarbucksIdea.com which ran for ten years, soliciting suggestions and communicating exactly where the idea was in the review and implementation process. It also provided incentives to submitters via gamification.
  • Amway has an avidly read section of its website for its distributors highlighting improvements made recently based on distributor input.
  • Colgate changed a detergent scent based on feedback from over 2,000 consumers. Every consumer was sent a coupon and a letter saying: “Thanks for the input, we changed it, try the new scent.” Redemption was over 75% and they received letters marveling that a big company listened and reacted.
  • Both FedEx and Navigant Credit Union would send letters from the CEO noting what had been heard in the most recent survey. Reaction from the marketplace was extremely positive. Navigant’s CEO received 54 emails congratulating him on “having the guts” to ask.
  • Chick-fil-A notes in its survey invitations what has been done recently with feedback. For instance, one noted, “Based on your feedback, we brought back BBQ sauce.”

Actions you can take tomorrow

  1. Highlight complaint channels with a welcoming message on home page and service pages. Enhance access to a human, at least via virtual queues.
  2. Assure that your customer onboarding process highlights the top three reasons for customer contact and how to handle or prevent each issue. When you add this message, you’ll see a significant drop in those types of contacts. Product instructions should highlight the five most prevalent mistakes customers make with the product or service.
  3. Tell what you’ve done with feedback everywhere you solicit feedback, starting with your website help page and all satisfaction survey invitations. If you’ve not done much, pick one or two things and mention them but understand that in two months, you’ll need to have two new actions.

Summary

Companies often hold the foolish belief that if they do not mention problems and complaints, they will not occur. This head-in-the-sand approach is painfully obvious to customers. Acknowledging and inviting complaints, proactively communicating about avoiding problems, and explaining how feedback is used are powerful differentiators that marketing should want to embrace.

Notes

[1] Beware of Customers Who Don’t Complain, Salesforce.com, http://bit.ly/40zu3m1, July 2015

John Goodman

Mr. Goodman is Vice Chairman of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting (CCMC). The universal adages, “It costs five times as much to win a new customer as to keep an existing one.” and “Twice as many people hear about a bad experience as a good one.” are both based on his research. Harper Collins published his book, “Strategic Customer Service”, in March, 2019. He has also published, “Customer Experience 3.0”, with the American Management Association in July, 2014. He has assisted over 1,000 companies, non-profit and government organizations including 45 of the Fortune 100.

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