Saturday, June 21, 2014

Customer Feedback System - Satisfaction and Importance

Before proceeding to discuss the satisfaction and importance metrics, let’s spend some time summarizing where we’ve been to date in your new job as the customer experience manager at Widget Inc.  You’ve been onboard for about 3 months now, and you knew when you took the job that this company’s recent customer satisfaction and retention performance left a lot to be desired.  Your mandate from senior management is to right the ship by establishing a first-class customer experience initiative.  So, here’s a summary of our progress over the first 3 months...

We started with an initial assessment of the customer landscape guided by the question... “what is the state of key CX performance?”.  In this case, some basic assessment items include any recent customer research, with a particular eye on satisfaction and loyalty metrics that might be available.  Coming across a recent industry satisfaction report, we learned that our company trailed most competitors on a variety of service and product metrics, and that the underperformance was especially apparent in specific sales territories as well as in some key service channels.  As a result, we now had a reasonably good high-level understanding of some customer (and company) pain-points. 

We then determined whether the company as whole, or any individual department or business unit maintained some type of issue resolution method focused on identifying and responding to sources of dissatisfaction at the individual customer level.  As suspected, this key CX component, “the foundation”  as we call it, is not in place.  Barring a more urgent finding, we had a pretty good idea at this point that developing the company’s CX foundation would be our first major undertaking.

Our next step in the assessment was to arrange personal discussions with a few selected staff.  Our interviews included customer-facing employees, as well as back-office staff who have a supporting connection with the front-line.  We also talked to a few vendors who are involved in some way with contributing to the company’s customer offerings. 

Finally, we synthesized our initial findings using a one page summary capturing the most salient customer facing issues.  From this, we used Forrester’s Customer Experience Maturity Assessment (1) to determine where our company stands on the customer centricity continuum. 

As we initially thought, the design and implementation of a robust customer feedback system would serve as our starting point.  Indeed, customer feedback, and the objective interpretation of this information is the lifeblood of a strong customer experience undertaking.  
Together with the introduction of a transaction survey, we also implemented the problem solving process...these two items serve as the foundation of our CX initiative.  We’ll dive into the problem solving process in more detail in an upcoming post.

Now, a few words about the Importance and Satisfaction report developed from our transaction questionnaire.  A previous post presented a summary of an MIT Sloan Quarterly article on some of the shortcomings of associated with the measurement of customer satisfaction.  Indeed, as with any metric or metrics that purport to reveal what customers “really” think about a product or service, one should be judicious in interpreting the results.  In almost every business context, any number, in and of itself, is rarely insightful.  Only when that number is evaluated in the context of other similar metrics, as well as over some period of time (trends), can we be more confident in what “it’s really like out there.”  So, whether it’s the Net Promoter Score, CSI, the Customer Experience Index, or any other metric, your approach should...

  • Look at multiple metric types (e.g. NPS and satisfaction)
  • Analyze these metrics over a given time frame...look for trends
  • Very importantly, look at any satisfaction, loyalty or advocate data in the context of your customer’s not uncommon for a segments purchasing the same product to have often very different views about how pleased they are with the experience.

All of this said, from a customer experience perspective, I like the satisfaction and importance survey because, if executed correctly, it provides an acceptable representation of what your customers value, and how you’re delivering on that expectation.  A report such as the hypothetical version produced for this post serves as a good starting point for further investigation (usually using a qualitative research approach) into why particular aspects of your product or service are relatively more or less important to your customers.

(1) From Outside In by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Customer Feedback System - Transaction Survey - Part 4

Right below this post, you’ll see two potential report types from our online transaction survey.  The second report is derived by aggregating all of the responses from a group of customers who responded to the survey during a specific timeframe.  This report, which plots satisfaction on the vertical axis against satisfaction on the horizontal axis, is intended to provide a high-level depiction of areas where the online experience is performing well (the upper right quadrant) and areas in need of attention...the lower right quadrant.  We’re going to devote the next post to a closer look at this report and its potential implications for the customer experience.

For today, let’s focus on the first report...the respondent level data that will serve as the foundation for our closed-loop find and fix system.  As mentioned in previous posts, establishing a closed-loop system to facilitate prompt response to customer issues is a basic staple of any customer experience undertaking.  Your organization must ensure that it’s not making things difficult for your customers as this is the primary reason for defection.  Addressing customer concerns in a timely manner goes a long way towards making things easier.

Before proceeding, a word about obtaining respondent level survey information.  For any survey, you must provide your customer with the option of whether he or she would like their responses to be associated with their name, or would prefer to remain anonymous and simply have their replies tallied together with that of all other respondents.  A customer’s willingness to be identified varies by industry and the type of transaction, as well as whether you are in a B2C or B2B environment.  The ideal, particularly in a B2C context, is to encourage your customers to identify themselves so that the company can more easily follow-up with them personally on any issues they’ve raised.  An organization can help its cause by providing customers with a detailed overview of the company’s data security policies, as well as explaining the reasons for collecting personal information.

What follows is a suggested 5-step process for executing your closed-loop system. 

Step 1 - Identify Dissatisfied Customers
  • You’ll want to establish a business rule for defining dissatisfaction.  This could be, for example, a customer who rates any question with a 3 or lower.  Another possible definition is a customer who rates more than, say, one-quarter of all responses with a 3 or less.  You may also want to focus on any negative comments or suggestions as also fitting within your dissatisfied definition. 
Step 2 - Customer Follow-Up
  • Personally contact each of your dissatisfied customers.  Ideally, this should be done using the customer’s preferred contact method - telephone, e-mail, text.  The volume of your company’s transactions will dictate the optimal method for this follow-up.  If, for example, your organization completes hundreds of transactions each month, you’ll likely want to outsource your follow-up to a third-party specializing in these types of contacts.  If, however, your company has relatively fewer transactions, and you have the resources available, it’s likely a better experience for the customer to deal directly with a company representative.
  • Whatever method you choose, you’ll want to develop a contact script to ensure a consistent and professional exchange with your customer.  Additionally, if you’re following up by phone, you’ll also want to provide the callers with a brief primer on how to probe customers in order to assure that you’re capturing the “real” reason for their dissatisfaction.
  • Conclude the follow-up by offering a proposed solution for the customer.  While it’s possible an individual may not be satisfied with any reasonable solution you offer, generally most customers respond positively to: 1) your proactive contact; and 2) your offering a potential solution to their dissatisfaction.
Step 3 - Identify Dissatisfaction Trends
  • Using both your aggregate Satisfaction / Importance report, and your respondent level feedback, isolate those questions or aspects of your transaction where the dissatisfaction can be traced back several weeks or months.  These are areas of systematic underperformance that likely require your immediate attention.  

Step 4 - Address the Most Important Underperforming Trends
  • Focusing on these trends is important because resolving the underlying root cause problem may require considerable staff time and collaboration.  While the outcome of such an exercise may include the redesign of a process or product, the payoff in terms of customer satisfaction and operational efficiency is well worth the effort.
  • In almost any organization, regardless of size, you’ll find that most customer facing transactions involve numerous stakeholders from throughout the company.  Some of these staff are in direct customer-facing roles, while others are behind the scenes but still play a critical role in delivering the transaction or product.
  • You’ll want to convene these stakeholders and, likely over the course of several meetings, closely examine your process or product with an eye towards isolating those items that are the contributing to, or are the direct source of, your customers’ dissatisfaction.
  • When your team is satisfied that they’ve arrived at a potential solution, proceed with the design and implementation.  Depending on the complexity of the solution, this may take several weeks or months, so in the meantime, continue monitoring your survey results to confirm that this item continues to be a source of customer dissatisfaction.
Step 5 - Implement the Proposed Solution and Monitor the Survey Results

  • After putting the proposed solution in place, check the appropriate survey question over the course of the next few weeks and ask...are the ratings / comments improving, staying the same, or continuing on a negative trend?
  • Sustained improvements in your survey metrics indicate that you’ve likely addressed the root cause of your customers‘ dissatisfaction.  You should now continue to see an upward positive trend in your survey as well as potential improvements in the relevant part of your company’s operations.
  • Survey results that do not improve, or deteriorate, indicate that the changes you implemented to your process or product have not addressed source of customer dissatisfaction.  When this happens, resist the temptation to continue tinkering with the design of the process or product.  Instead, consider expanding your customer feedback beyond your transaction survey.  You may, for example, want to talk with customers individually or in small groups and pose more probing questions that you may not be able to do in a conventional survey.  It’s likely that these personal discussions will uncover the root cause of what’s upsetting your customers.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Customer Feedback System - Transaction Survey - Part 3

Continuing with the discussion from the previous post, let’s now turn our attention to the selection of questions used in our hypothetical survey.  As a CX practitioner, you may not necessarily have deep expertise in designing consumer research tools.  If that’s the case, you’re strongly encouraged to collaborate with a market research vendor and/or your organization’s market research staff for support.  Additionally, you may also want to consult Strategic Market Research by Anne Beall.  This is a quick read and handy primer focusing on consumer research for the non-practitioner.  As such, the discussions around the design of consumer research on this blog focus on the basics and assume a CX manager who may not have a background in developing quantitative or qualitative research methods.  

Recall from the May 26 post that our guiding principle in designing a transaction survey is to gather the customer’s impression of the end-to-end journey they completed…understanding the customer’s evaluation of each touchpoint in that journey is an important but secondary consideration.  Looking at the questionnaire below, let’s focus on each question and make a case for why it should be included in this particular online transaction.  Remember, this represents a first-cut hypothesis for your questionnaire; after some trial testing with customers, you may want to add, delete or modify some questions based on a review of the results.  At some point, however, you’ll want to finalize your questions and not make any further changes for at least another year.  This is done in order to identify long term trends for each question, and to account for the potential impact of seasonability on particular transactions.  

Writing a survey questionnaire is as much art as science.  So, for the initial draft, I suggest screening each potential question on the following three criteria: 1) the perceived importance of an individual touchpoint based on the journey mapping results; 2) the significance of the touchpoint within the context of the customer’s end-to-end journey; 3 ) perhaps most importantly, is this an ACTIONABLE question…can changes be made as a result of the customers’ feedback, or is this just “nice to know” information?  Let’s look at each question through the lens of these criteria. 

Q1 - Availability of information about our product on social media…
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - in our hypothetical journey map, respondents indicated that this was important to them.  This stands to reason given the entrenched popularity of user reviews available on numerous company and third-party websites.
The touchpoint’s importance in the overall journey - given the credibility associated with word-of-mouth, it’s intuitive that consulting social media sources at the start of a purchase process likely applies to a large proportion of customers, and is therefore an important component of the journey.
Actionable data - yes, because the company can adjust its presence on social media.

Q2 - Use of third party reviews…
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - with the increasing prevalence of online third-party reviews, we can assume this is important.
The touchpoint’s importance in the overall journey - this one is suspect because we’re indirectly addressing this topic through Question 1.
Actionable data - not really, because the company cannot directly influence what customers say. 
So, this question doesn’t effectively meet our criteria, may not be useful or necessary.  Nevertheless, let’s keep it for our initial test.  If the response type is similar to that of Question 1, we can likely be safe in eliminating this question.

Q3 - Availability of information about our company on our website
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - it’s reasonable to assume that whether your company is a start-up, or a long established brand, customers will want to learn about you.
The touchpoint’s importance in the overall journey - this is likely an important component of the journey particularly to prospects who are not as familiar with your company as are repeat customers.
Actionable data - yes, because the company directly controls the information it wants to convey about itself.

Q4 - Availability of warranty information online
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - at all but very low price items, we can assume that warranty information is very important to customers.
The touchpoint’s context in the overall journey - prospects in particular will want to know about warranty coverage before placing an order, so as per Question 3, this is also likely an important component of the journey.
Actionable data - yes, because the company directly controls its warranty coverage and policies.

Q5 - Availability of information on our mobile app
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - as of this writing, sales of mobile devices are outpacing those of desktop computers, so we can reasonably assume this is (increasingly) important touchpoint.
The touchpoint’s importance in the overall journey - in the context of researching and purchasing a product, and the popularity of mobile devices, it’s reasonable to conclude this is a key component of the end-to-end journey.
Actionable data - yes, because the company directly controls the look and content of the mobile app.

Q6 - Ease of placing an order online
The endgame of this particular journey is the placement of an online order, so let’s agree that this question clearly meets all three of our qualifying criteria.

Q7 - Clarity of assembly instructions for your product
Perceived importance of the touchpoint - for the most part, there’s a correlation between this question and the effort and dexterity needed to assemble the product.  The more complex the assembly, the more likely this is an important touchpoint.
The touchpoint’s importance in the overall journey - the response to this criteria is very similar to the reasons mentioned in the preceding criteria…complexity of assembly is key for this question.
Actionable data - yes, because the company directly controls writing and clarity of the instructions provided.
In the next post, we’ll look at a hypothetical report from this survey, and introduce the foundational problem solving method. 

Q8 - Post purchase support from the company’s service center

The qualifying criteria for this question parallel those for the product instructions in Question 7.  It’s reasonable to assume that for a product that requires time and patience to assemble will also require some level of personal support to assist customers.  So, this can be classified as an important touchpoint, and the survey results are actionable because the company can modify its service support based on the type of help customers need.

In the next post, we’ll look at a hypothetical report from this survey, and introduce the foundational problem solving method. 

Questions 9 to 11 are courtesy of Forrester's Customer Experience Index (1).  The intent of these questions is to gauge a customer's perception of three key components of any transaction with a company: 1) Did the transaction meet the customer's expectations;  2) The ease of completing the transaction; 3) Was the transaction a pleasant or enjoyable experience.  Customers are asked to evaluate each of these questions on a 5 or 10 point scale.  An overall score is then calculated adding the rating for each question and dividing by 3. 

(1) From Outside In by Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning; pp. 133-135