“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” – Steve Jobs
Customers, customer satisfaction, customer expectations, customer loyalty – the list seems endless and it all boils down to the experience a customer has when interacting with your company and brand. In the realm of customer experience, customers speak about a brand way more than they would talk to you as the brand representatives. It therefore, becomes imperative for not just the customer experience personnel but for everyone associated with the brand to know what customers think about it. Companies have been devising and trying to perfect the most appropriate means and measures to do this and are constantly debating on how to consistently achieve customer service excellence.
Companies use a number of metrics to benchmark and assess their own performance. Metrics like the Customer Satisfaction Index, Customer Effort Score and Voice of Customer are all popular and do help to some extent in measuring the satisfaction levels of customers. But these are not fool-proof or even workable in all situations. For example – if someone is visiting another town and happens to eat in a restaurant, the feedback this person provides would be irrelevant since it is a one off and the person may never eat there again. So how helpful would that prove to be? Or if a company that sold cleaning products asked if the user would recommend them on to others, seems rather silly.
With metrics that have a scoring system, the scores could be misleading. The company would not really know the context in which a customer provided the score. Only when customers can actually elucidate and talk about their experiences, can a company actually predict the future of their brand and the future interactions and business that can be expected from a particular customer. It must be understood that these metrics are only pointers and must be used as such. They are not absolutes and should be customized according to the customer or at least different customer segments based on industry or business size. So what does work and how can companies know what customers think before it is too late for them to make amends?
– Connect with your customers. Put emotions in to the interactions and make them FEEL important. Customers are human and any experience that would make a person feel happy and special is bound to create a bond and feelings of trust. Trust drives loyalty. Conversely, if a customer feels neglected or ridiculed and feels like they are not being understood, such customers will probably never come back since their trust would be broken. Customer service staff must be trained on how to build an effective rapport with each customer right the start of the interaction. Customers hardly ever leave a company because of price or the quality of the product – these are easily negotiated. They leave if they are made to FEEL unimportant or that the company did not have time to listen attentively to them. Basically – poor customer experience.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
When customers connect with a company it is the best opportunity to learn what they actually think about your company’s service, brand and the overall impression they have. You won’t need to guess but will know what your customers think straight from them. A happy customer can be made loyal, slightly frustrated and angry customers can be brought back through effective service recovery plans. By responding to each set of customers, not only can you retain them but will also please them enough to become strong advocates of the company and brand.
– Use the realm of social media judiciously. Although social media is an exciting and very vast platform for companies to know what customers think, there is a chance that customers cross the line and become unwelcome guests in an on-line customer discussion. Customers are very vocal over social media and companies must reign and channel these opinions towards themselves rather than as an open discussion. Surely companies have the right to know what is being said about them. Engage with customers directly and pro-actively allowing them to provide you with feedback directly. This way the negative feedback can be worked upon before it spreads and customers can be requested to share the good feedback wherever they please!
– Today’s business world is always on and always on the go. Companies just have to anticipate customer needs in order to be able to manage experiences and respond to customers well ahead of them. It is rather difficult to change opinions, especially negative ones and hence critical that companies know what customers think before the customers actually vocalize their thoughts. Working smarter instead of harder will ensure that companies pro-actively talk to the customers and give them an opportunity to communicate with the company rather than voicing their opinion elsewhere. It is always safest to ask rather than assume and this also lets customers know that your company places a lot of importance and respects their views and would rather they spoke with you rather than about you – to start with. Companies must think of ways to innovatively use technology and the metrics of customer feedback (mentioned above) to know what customers think before it is too late. Too late either to know that customers have appreciated some of their processes or know that some processes were a constant source of annoyance.
There is no escaping from the fact that irrespective of what customers are saying they are talking about your company and you are not part of that conversation. It gets even more frustrating when you come across a not so flattering review and discover that it really was a very minute issue that could have been easily resolved by a minor effort. Now you know that whether you like it or not customers will talk and unfortunately are more vocal about the service lapses rather than what you did right. The effectiveness, of reaching out to customers to know what they think and are experiencing with regard to your company, cannot be emphasized enough. Companies have to step up their feedback system to a point where customers are nudged in to providing feedback to the company rather than airing those views elsewhere. If social media and internet have proved to be boons they can also overwhelm if not managed and used properly. As an example a friend went to a restaurant that she had never eaten at before. The overall ambience seemed pleasing and the staff seemed courteous. Still apprehensive as she sat at her table, she noticed a small feedback card. The message on the card asked for feedback upfront – cannot quite remember the exact words but it meant to tell its customers that before you tell others, tell us. They wanted to know directly from the customer what they ’felt’ about the overall service of the restaurant. This feedback strategy on its own was pleasing to this friend and as she observed a number of other customers as well – who seemed delighted that their opinion counted and they were responsible to raise the standards of the restaurant and make it an even better place to dine.
Simple yet effective – recognizing how customers typically behave and want – they were placing control in the customer’s hands and gaining valuable feedback. When customers leave the restaurant they were most likely to talk about this feedback card and have more complimentary things to spread which they probably would not have done if their opinion was not solicited. I know my friend did!
Customer service excellence can only happen when a company knows and understands the customer’s needs and is the fulcrum around which the business revolves. This information is vital and will allow you to fulfil your customers said and unsaid desires and also attract more customers hoping to receive the same level of service. Know what your customers think and leave your competition frustrated, since customers will in turn know that doing business with you works in their interest.
“A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.” – Michael LeBoeuf