In the insights field there are few sins more heinous than misrepresenting data. Our role as insights and CX professionals is to provide a objective perspective and advocate for truth. So often less scrupulous individuals attempt to use facts and figures to distort the truth to suit their own agenda. Ryan McCready presents some really good illustrations in infographic form on how graphs are used to warp the truth to the point of breaking….read more here.
“Don’t act like a child,” used to be an admonishment.
I always liked acting like a child. Being childish means being fun, spontaneous, and energetic. It is striving to look at things like a child unclouded by the anchors of experience. But most of all, being childish means remaining curious about even the most minute details of life. New multi-discipline research now is revealing that quiet possibly the Eldorado of youth can be found in just staying inquisitive…
Stay curious my friends.
Read more here.
This article is third in a three-part series on the past and future of CX with a focus on role of technology in customer experience. Read the first and second pieces on ama.org. The series is a partnership between Dave Fish, Michigan State University visiting professor and founder of CuriosityCX, and Brian Keehner, a candidate in the master of science in market research program at Michigan State University.
The term customer experience (CX) has taken on a much broader meaning than it once did. Initially relegated to post-purchase engagements and viewed as a cost of doing business, CX is now regularly interpreted to encompass the entire consumer journey. It has emerged from the backrooms of customer support to the forefront. The world of customer experience has progressed from a collection of unrelated disciplines that vary by department and company to a coordinated effort with resources and authority.
Origins of Customer Experience
We did not arrive here overnight or even in the past few decades. CX originates from sources as disparate as call center technology and marketing analytics. Clearly, CX will continue to adapt, grow and change in the future. But its origins can help us understand where it is going.
Market research emerged in the 1920s as a way of testing and improving advertising. Psychologists such as Dan Starch and George Gallup advanced the fledgling field of market research through the application of scientific principles. Following the post-WWII consumerism boom, market research began to truly emerge as a field of its own. Rooted in advertising and marketing, demand for market research expanded to almost every sector by the 1970s.
Total quality management (TQM) and other customer-focused initiatives rose to prominence by the mid-1980s, and the concept of customer satisfaction subsequently took off. Since customer satisfaction looked like the typical “frame-measure-report-action framework” found in traditional market research, many agencies jumped into customer satisfaction.
One early adopter was Rogers Research, which was acquired by Maritz in the mid-70s. Maritz, a company founded on incentivizing employees to improve performance, used customer satisfaction scores as performance indicators, marking the start of a long and tumultuous marriage between scores and performance. The firm soon started conducting large-scale customer satisfaction studies in Detroit and still does today as MaritzCX. At around the same time, as legend has it, JD “Dave” Power knocked on the doors of Toyota Motor Industrial Equipment and soon started what was to become the quality syndicated business JD Power and Associates. While JD Power initially focused on product quality, it made the jump into the service side of the business in the 1980s.
Process reengineering and quality initiatives increased during the mid-1990s, abetted by a considerable amount of academic squabbling, and created what is often hailed as the “golden age” for traditional market research firms conducting customer satisfaction-focused work. Bradley Gale, author of Managing Customer Value, and others were shifting the discussion from customer satisfaction to customer value. Their theory was that merely ensuring customer satisfaction is not enough, but rather value had to be better demonstrated. Customer value management (CVM) expanded the world from just examining post-purchase aspects to looking at quality, pricing, communication and other aspects of the experience that drive customer value.
Maritz and JD Power became key players in the customer experience arena and were joined by other firms including Gallup, Burke, iSky and Walker Research. At the same time, titans of market research such as Synovate (later acquired by Ipsos), TNS and GfK began gobbling up smaller firms around the world.
In the early days, customer experience research was largely conducted via phone or direct mail. Paper reports were initially used to present findings. With the advent of the internet in the mid-1990s, research companies began transitioning to outbound e-mail and built tailor-made reporting portals. These portals were largely customized for individual client needs and moved paper reports to tabular, web-based reports, which proved to be an easier and more cost-effective way to disseminate data.
Clients quickly became interested in customizing their web reporting sites, and research companies, who were used to accommodating ad hoc requests, happily obliged. This practice resulted in each client essentially having its own highly customized personal reporting website; but these sites were expensive to build, initially plagued with quality issues and required perpetual care and development as new technology and security concerns emerged. It also effectively locked out smaller client organizations that could not afford the hefty price tag associated with these large custom enterprise systems.
It was around the late-1990s when new competitors began appearing from other ad agencies and applied a new approach to the problem of capturing the voice of the customer. The industry leaders were initially dismissive of these new upstarts, as is all too common in industries facing change. Little did they know how this emergence would foreshadow disruption.
The Tech Startups and EFM
In 2001, Esteban Kolsky, then a Gartner analyst, began writing about customer feedback systems, which soon became known as enterprise feedback management (EFM). In the mid-2000s, several tech startups began appearing in Silicon Valley, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Toronto and parts of Europe.
Early players included Service Management Group (1991), Confirmit (1996), Mindshare (1997), Empathica (2001) (now part of InMoment), Medallia (2001), Qualtrics (2002) and Allegiance (2005) (now part of MaritzCX). While their approaches all varied slightly, the common value proposition was this: We can deliver 80% of your needed functionality in near real-time for a fraction of the cost of bespoke solutions, and we are able to integrate multiple data sets.
Most were able to deliver on the promise of a fast, basic approach to customer feedback gathering and dissemination, but the boom of customization came at a cost. Early players set the stage by creating the demand for ad hoc programs. Firms found the high price of building customized platforms less fiscally prudent than repurposing existing programs that could produce a similar end result.
For a while, large traditional research players were selling high-end custom solutions tailored to large enterprise clients. The new EFM upstarts, in contrast, were selling standard solutions out of the box to small and medium-sized businesses. These differing approaches allowed both to occupy their own respective niche.
Each player seemed to follow the practice of picking their own area of specialty and largely preoccupied themselves with pursuing dominance of that respective vertical. Beyond tradition industries like travel, hospitality and business services, EFM systems have been applied to human resources (e.g., Namely, Workday and ADP), health care (e.g., Access and Perigen) and the nonprofit sector (e.g., Vovici and Ruffalo Noel Levitz).
This started to change dramatically in the mid-2000s. The EFM firms now became mortal threats to the entrenched research firms. But it wasn’t just the EFM players who sensed opportunity and wanted a slice of the action.
Call centers were logical places for customer satisfaction feedback systems to take root and flourish. With large transactional volumes, typically younger and/or less experienced agents, and a strong emphasis on performance metrics and coaching, call centers were aching for the insight voice that the customer could provide. Companies like ResponseTek and others sensed this desire and offered a platform that could handle the complexities of systems with many agents and organizational hierarchies that changed almost daily. It was only a matter of time until call center software companies would design their own EFM platforms.
Sensing opportunity, call center software providers added value to their existing technology. Verint is a very large call center, customer engagement and surveillance technology provider. With sales surpassing $1 billion in 2017, it has also created customer feedback software systems that many of its customers use in addition to their own EFM software application.
Born out of the Israeli intelligence community in 1986, NICE systems now has revenues more than $1 billion as well. With a pedigree for security, surveillance and call center software, NICE built its own EFM software initially for post-call center satisfaction. NICE recently acquired Satmetrix to further establish itself in the CX technology space. Another player of note is Convergys, who also operates in the EFM space and has a call center technology heritage.
The NPS Effect
The seminal work of Fred Reichheld, Bain, and Satmetrix appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 2003. Called the Net Promoter Scores (NPS), it was a simple way to take on two major problems in the CX world at the time: complexity and ROI.
First, many of the voice-of-the-customer systems at the time had complicated weighting systems and indices which were difficult for users to understand. In contrast, NPS was understandable for executives and front-line employees alike. It is a simple, 11-point scale that subtracts brand “detractors” from brand “promoters.” As is the case with many popular ideas, the simplicity of the idea made it appealing and aided in adoption.
Second, client companies were investing millions in CX, often seeing little in return for their efforts. While others have demonstrated the link between customer experience and business outcomes, none did so as eloquently as NPS.
While there is still much controversy around the NPS concept, no one can debate the impact it has had on the industry. When asked whether it helped or harmed the industry, Customerthink editor Bob Thompson said, “I have to edge to ‘helped’…NPS is a key reason that people are interested in CX and why it’s become a boardroom issue.”
Not long after, in 2011, the CX discipline was further advanced with the founding of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) by Bruce Temkin and Jeanne Bliss. This created an intellectual home for people from many different disciplines and reinforced the legitimacy of the field of CX.
Where We Are Today
Despite repeated claims of EFM’s death, both the term and the application are very healthy and growing, albeit under alternative acronyms, such as CFM. Likewise, CXPA appears to be healthy and growing with close to 14,000 followers on LinkedIn.
Today, the definition and purview of customer experience continues to grow, with many looking at the “C” in CX and wondering if it does not capture an end-to-end experience. After all, the CVM work of the 1990s was looking at aspects of the experience outside of post-purchase (to a limited degree), but never really established a beachhead into acquisition, the traditional province of marketing. Today, with a call to “bring down the silos” inside organizations, CX is finally starting to break the bonds of post-purchase experience to be more inclusive of the entire journey, from catalyst to disposal.
While there are many different types of organizations in the CX space, the EFM firms who have infused technology into domain expertise form the basis of the industry. Their increasingly large footprint in the CX space has them poised to continue to redefine the industry. These firms vary considerably in the size of their business and the scope of their CX management solutions, but they have a wide global reach. This global presence is supported with myriad office locations, predominantly throughout North America and Europe, which support customers in more than 50 countries across the world. Who will be on top in five, 10, or 20 years is anyone’s guess, but here are today’s key players (listed in alphabetical order).
Clarabridge is an experience management and text analytics software provider.
Confirmit is a provider of voice-of-customer and market research software.
Customerville is a customer experience-focused survey software provider.
South Jordan, Utah
InMoment is a customer experience-based management company.
Market Force Information
Market Force Information specializes in CX management solutions that are designed to deliver location-level customer feedback.
MaritzCX is a customer experience-focused company.
San Mateo, California
Medallia is a provider of SaaS customer experience management solutions.
Questback is a provider of online survey and feedback management solutions.
San Mateo, California
Satmetrix specializes in customer experience management software.
Qualtrics is an experience management software company.
ResponseTek is a provider of enterprise customer experience management solutions.
Service Management Group
Kansas City, Missouri
SMG (Service Management Group) is a CX technology and insights company.
A short story:
As the car snaked through another winding northern Arizona canyon, my trusty pack swelled with the necessities of the camping getaway ahead, and my mind wandered to dreams of fire-roasted s’mores at camp. The campsite was just coming into view, nestled in a cove of juniper and sandstone against a blue and babbling brook. The sign just ahead read…wait, what? “Fire Ban. No Campfires.” (Can you say buzz kill)? Fast forward a few hours. After driving what seemed like 100 miles to the nearest town while pining for a campfire, I was finally back at the campsite with a new propane stove, hungry and tired.
Enter the Coleman camping stove, some chicken sausages and boxed mac & cheese (the fuel station’s finest). The non-campfire meal was reluctantly cooked, and then (surprisingly) thoroughly enjoyed. The delicious meal was cooked in less than 15 minutes and cleanup was minimal. While it wasn’t a campfire s’more, it filled a need and did it well. What at first was a huge frustration, became the weekend’s MVP. Many others in this camping area had similar experiences, as propane was the only option for cooking a hot meal and getting a hot caffeine fix the next morning (enter influx of artsy stove photos on Instagram).
That micro experience at my campsite compounded into a sizeable social media spike for Coleman, presenting a golden opportunity for the brand to harness campers’ conversations online, and to identify a relatively captive audience segment – weekend warrior car campers with no traditional fire option for hot meals, specifically those in this year’s widespread “fire ban” geographies. Alas, no evidence of an understanding of this audience on social media. Instead of a CX fail – this Coleman scenario highlights the opposite problem – while it provided a great product experience, it failed to understand (or acknowledge an understanding) of publicly available online chatter from customers. The point is this: Across all industries, opportunities to learn from unsolicited conversations abound, but companies too often leave untapped terabytes hanging out there in the social sphere, heavy with the weight of missed opportunity.
Why social matters:
As part of the broader CX ecosystem, harvesting and understanding unsolicited, publicly available social data can help us get smarter about customers, better serve their needs, and drive our businesses forward by:
- Casting a wider net: Integrating social data into our CX ecosystems broadens audiences and extends our reach into true customer understanding
- Enriching insights: Social adds a qualitative component to quantitative CX data, bringing insights to life and adding texture to CX programs. Imagine the power of unsolicited, customer-generated insight alongside survey data, augmented by inferred data like location
- Informing intelligent conversations with customers: Social channels give customers an ability to share pain and joy, at any time, with very limited restrictions. Companies can leverage this unsolicited insight to inform survey design, marketing campaigns, and deeper market research projects, without guessing where to aim (e.g. in my Coleman stove example, imagine a flash sale of accessories for the propane stove in the fire ban region, or a donation and nod to local first-responders for the wildfires…)
The big idea is this: by leveraging online sources like Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Yelp and others, in harmony with broader CX efforts, companies can tap into the conversations of millions without conducting long, expensive, and laborious formal research. Integrating social data is low-hanging fruit for brands dedicated to further understanding the hopes, pain and dreams of customers (A.K.A: every leading brand in the world). Alas, for many, effectively harnessing unstructured social data as part of a broader CX plan is today’s elephant in the room. Generally speaking, alignment around the issue has yet to be reached and is a common struggle in board rooms everywhere.
The fundamental challenge:
Considering the vast expanse of internet data, even the most sophisticated brands often lose their grip on unsolicited online feedback. With tens of billions of data points floating around, it is understandable that some insights float on, untamed. The tricky part is not in merely data collection but turning those hordes of data into something intelligible and actionable (key word: actionable) and integrating seamlessly into the broader CX landscape.
In many cases, brands are hamstrung by traditional research methods that need to be turned out to pasture. Many brands have spent so much time peppering customers with long surveys and laborious research initiatives that they’ve have lost sight of the fact that these same customers are likely providing rich unsolicited feedback online. While there is a widespread nod to the general importance of harvesting unsolicited social data, the challenge comes in effectively harnessing those billions of data points and translating them into intelligence to inform and ignite CX insights.
While there is undoubtedly a time and place for deep (and sometimes even traditional) research, a CX ecosystem can work harder by leveraging the low hanging fruit that social channels have to offer, to convert the conversations of millions into actionable insights, and to inform research to make brands better. Read on for a few quick tips about integrating social into your CX vision.
Three tips for getting smart about social data in CX:
1. Align on the end goal of integrating social (back to CX basics)
- Social initiatives manifest in several different ways, all pointed to a different end game. Decide if focusing on social monitoring, engagement or intelligence is most important for your specific business needs.
- No single firm can meaningfully execute monitoring, engagement and intelligence concurrently, so choose the right partner that will help you move toward specific goals with social. A few leaders in this space include Infegy, Crimson Hexagon and Brandwatch, each with their own unique take on social.
- As a best practice in CX strategy, I encourage clients to focus on social intelligence as a best practice as opposed to simply monitoring the social sphere, with the goal of gleaning deeper understanding, not simply adding another dashboard to the CX arsenal.
Where to start: learn basic definitions within the social sphere before goal-setting; Here’s a succinct and helpful resource written by leading social intelligence company Infegy about important distinctions to be made when determining your goals with social.
2. Don’t stop with data collection
- It’s easy to harvest customer-generated data from companies like Gnip and Webhose, which provide high volumes of data in a commoditized form and are frankly useless without a means to understand the data. Simply collecting the data is table-stakes; the real value comes in the analysis and conversion of numbers on a screen into a meaningful action-plan.
- The sheer volume of social data is incredibly overwhelming. This is why it is critical to leverage sophisticated social analytics software to comb through the noisy landscape of jargon to ensure action (this can’t be stressed enough).
- Context matters, and social data is only as good as the NLP (Natural Language Processing) engine analyzing it on the back end to ensure contextual relevance, accuracy and recall.
- Still stuck on a tired NLP engine? Upgrade to ensure the engine driving your social analytics is sophisticated and built for high volumes of text. Be sure to ask your provider about their sentiment analysis score (ensure this score includes precision/accuracy and recall).
- Social data without a sophisticated text analytics capability is a nightmare and leads to confusion. Ensure you’ve employed a well-oiled text analytics machine before you invest in social as part of CX, otherwise you’ll end up with just more big data sitting on a screen, with no purpose but to cost you time and money.
Where to start: Back up. Breathe. Ask yourself why you’re collecting social data and how you plan to use it to reach your CX goals. If you don’t know the answer to either question, push pause on the social data drowning and recalibrate to ensure social is working for your customer understanding effort, not against it. Then, engage your trusted and independent advisor(s) to help you curate the right NLP engine to fit your specific business needs.
3. Leverage social to augment other research
- Leveraging social data, including imagery from sources like Instagram and Pinterest, companies can add a rich layer of insight to more traditional research.
- Using unsolicited feedback, video, and images from the social sphere, CX teams can create more engaging internal materials and garner deeper buy in from stakeholders across the business.
- Flip your annual analytics plan on its head and allow customer-generated data to guide your strategy, for a customer-centric approach to research.
Where to start: As an inexpensive test and quick win, collect a few publicly available customer videos or images from social channels and put together a simple highlight reel (you don’t need anything fancy, just your smart phone). Next time you host an internal CX planning meeting, share the reel with your colleagues and CX program stakeholders to drive engagement and buy-in for the broader initiative. This exercise is particularly useful for journey/experience mapping.
While social media will never completely replace market research or surveys, its ability to augment efforts to understand customers is undeniable. Its impact on the relationship between brands and customers is a dynamic any company that wants to succeed should take seriously. It is time to embrace the reality that customers are having loads of important and unsolicited conversations online; conversations that leading brands leverage, and lagging brands ignore. Harnessed and synthesized in a meaningful way, unstructured social data can fuel your next “ah-ha” CX moment. One such moment for Coleman, perhaps, could have started in that Arizona campsite.
CX leaders, I encourage you to reflect on your current efforts to pull social insight into the CX ecosystem and go to work architecting a smart framework for weaving social with surveys and other market research data. EFM platforms, keep driving toward CX solutions that provide a 360-degree view of customers, harmonizing the unsolicited with the solicited, for a holistic view and actionable path forward. Social can be the spark that lights your CX fire – now, go ignite it!
Exhausted and disappointed…and a bit baffled. That’s how I felt when I walked out of a trendy Indianapolis-area hotel last Sunday. I’d had maybe three hours of sleep and was facing a five hour drive home, which was plenty of time to reflect on my experience and how it could have gone better.
The hotel had lived up to its online image, looking very much like a Restoration Hardware catalog come to life, so we were pleased when we checked in just before Midnight. Long story short, by 4:00 a.m., I’d had multiple direct chats with rowdy hall-partiers, called the front desk twice, and not yet slept. When I checked out in the morning and recounted my experience to the guest services manager, he responded without averting his gaze from his computer screen, saying
“Well, I wasn’t here last night, so…”
What did I want him to do?
All too often, customers complain in an attempt at recompense, hoping for some form of compensation for their pain and suffering, so it stands to reason many employees would assume that is the end-game of any disgruntled customer. When an employee is not able or empowered to provide relief, he or she might feel powerless to offer anything other than an apology. But who walks away satisfied after receiving a tepid apology (or worse, a lethargic blame-dodge)?
Think of it from the perspective of a personal relationship; someone you know does you wrong and you decide to talk to them about it directly. Do you expect that person to pull out his wallet and offer you $50 for your suffering? Or did you hope that person would make a sincere commitment to avoid repeating the behavior, and then hold true to that promise? If an apology is the end of the interaction, with no commitment to improvement, why would I risk interacting with you again? Fool me twice, shame on me.
Translating that to business, customers with no emotional engagement with your brand have even less motivation to return. If they see your house is on fire, why would they run in? If you are not providing multiple channels by which employees can share customer feedback with appropriate leadership, if you aren’t taking that customer feedback and using it to improve operations and related processes, if you are not creating a culture of active improvement over apologies, your house is on fire and you’re letting it burn while you keep busy doing other things. If you are constantly offering refunds, price adjustments, or other forms of compensation to angry customers, your house is on fire and you just threw your wallet in for good measure.
Here are some steps that can help you move from house-fire to hero.
- Man the sirens. Establish communication channels for employees to relay customer feedback. Make it easy for your employees to capture feedback through sound files or quick transcription so they can relay it appropriately. Make it easy for your employees to do that. Email, a central listening post, an application made available at point of sale; find a solution that works for your business and your employees.
- Train your firefighters. Establish triage processes. Empower employees to resolve the immediate issue with the customer. Emphasize that customer feedback should be shared through the established communication channels. Enable employees to make a commitment to action, rather than an apology statement.
- Conduct the arson investigation. You’re receiving customer and employee feedback. Read it. Listen to it. Think about it. Make it a discipline to review customer feedback as frequently as possible.
- Identify the source of the fire. Think systems, not isolated interactions. The fire has already been put out. Now it’s time to think about the underlying systems, resources, and processes at play in creating that fire in the first place.
- Make your customer experiences fire-proof. Once you ascertain the root cause and impacted elements, follow through. Address what is broken, improve what can be improved, practice the discipline of keeping the commitment made to the customer.
If your brand promise does not involve repeatedly burning your customers, maybe give this approach a try. Reflecting on my own experience, had the guest services manager looked me in the eye, thanked me for voicing my experience, and expressed his commitment to sharing that feedback with his leadership so they could find better solutions going forward, I would have walked away smiling.
I was prepared for the worst.
It was a short domestic flight in France so I thought I would gamble on EasyJet.
I had some experience with “ultra low cost” airlines in the states so I assumed that EasyJet would be the same. I braced for the worse: an old rickety airplane, upcharge for every small amenity with sparse and sub-par customer service.
I was pleasantly surprised. While they did charge for baggage and amenities they were very upfront about everything from booking forward. The plane was older, but clean and freshly painted. The customer service was helpful, knowledgeable, friendly, and polite. We even got “speedy” boarding because I was traveling with my family. All in all our EasyJet experience was much better than the majority of domestic carriers I experience regularly in the United States.
Does EasyJet do well in NPS? According to npsbenchmarks.com EasyJet ranks at a -16. Not good. This is far below the mainline carriers such as British Airways, Lufthansa, or other carriers In Europe. But when your point of comparison is US domestic providers they kick it out of the football arena (or at least through that net thing at the end of the field). Did they have a good day? Maybe. But based on my experience traveling both in the US and Europe, air travel in Europe is a dream compared to the United States.
According to the same site, all US providers are in the positive side of NPS with Southwest at 62, Jet Blue at 59, Delta at 41, United at 10, and American Airlines at 3. Would it be fair to conclude EasyJet has worse service than all the mainstream US providers? Based on NPS alone you might be tempted to say yes.
I would argue it is an unfair and unwise comparison. In fact, this is one of three fundamental reasons why cross-cultural comparisons of many attitudinal metrics (including NPS) are fraught with problems that make their comparison problematic.
Reason 1: Your Experience Sets the Baseline
First, as illustrated in my EasyJet example, your past experience will strongly influence the baseline for your future comparisons. If you have always had nearly flawless experience with shipping in the United States and Europe and then you move to a developing country, of course you are going to be disappointed. Reverse the situation and you will be ecstatic.
This baseline effect is one of the reasons why older car buyers are generally more pleased with the experience of purchasing a vehicle than younger buyers. I remember the youth-oriented Scion brand getting trounced in JD Power rankings when they launched. Their scores were much worse than even the Toyota parent brand. What was really strange was Toyota invested heavily in training and new customer friendly processes for a brand which was housed within Toyota dealerships. Was the Scion customer experience bad? Nope, they just focused on younger buyers who had different (higher) expectations.
This “experience” gap has been usefully exploited by startups such as Lemonade, Uber, Airbnb, and others to disrupt whole industries. Your baseline experience will influence your metrics. Are they real differences? They are to your customers. Can you compare them? You should do so with great care.
Reason 2: Lack of Language Equivalency
Another major issue is the concept of language equivalency. The word “good “ or “would recommend” in English does not always hedonically translate equivalently into other languages. Take for example the word “malo” in Spanish. I am not an expert in Spanish, but my understanding it is that is not good, but probably not as bad as “terrible” but probably not as good as “poor”. I am sure there are better examples, but you get the idea.
Even the most careful screening and testing of Likert based anchor points may not work out, as there may not be exact hedonic equivalents in other languages. There are also other subtle language differences that may introduce bias.
The NPS scale canon holds it should go from 0 (Definitely not recommend) to 10 (Definitely recommend) from low (on the left) to high (on the right). This is very good for Western participants, but what about other cultures? Many Middle Eastern languages go from top to bottom or even right to left. Some Asian languages also go from top to bottom. Does this influence how they may respond to a Western-based left to right approach? Probably. But there is still one even larger issue.
Reason 3: Cultural Response Bias
Different cultures tend to respond differently to Likert scale questions in general. For example, some cultures tend to be more generous in their grading, while others are harsher graders. In the research, I have conducted in the US (and from others globally) Hispanic responders tend to be much more lenient, (give higher scores), while Asian responders are much harsher graders. Is this due to the actual service provided? Nope. These are simply cultural differences in response style. This is further exasperated when we expand to look across different countries for some kind of global comparison. Can this be corrected statistically? Perhaps, but I have encountered no practitioners who has taken the trouble to do so (be happy to hear from you if you have!)
Another unhappy psychometric issue is this customer experience ratings are also impacted by where you live. Without fail, those who live in more densely populated areas are much harsher graders on nearly everything. This means that customers in Hong Kong will always score lower than those in Cheyenne, Wyoming even if the experience was identical.
What To Do Instead
So should you just give up hope comparing different regions of the world? While I would not recommend direct comparisons on NPS or other “NPS”-like measures there are many other practical options. After all, large multi-national organizations must have a way to understand the health of their customer experience globally and where to invest. The good news is there are many other ways by which you can judge where to allocate your time and effort rather than by simple (and misleading) direct comparisons between geographies.
Idea 1: Link Attitudes to Outcomes
A good way of doing this is by conducting Linkage Analysis within each geography. In linkage analysis you connect the exogenous attitudinal variables (perceptions of price, service, product, etc.) to business outcome variables. Since many times this is done at an aggregate level, it is useful to have mediator variables such as NPS used in the analysis. In this way you know what “score” is good by geography by connecting to actual business outcomes. What is important in Turkey may not be in Brazil. Knowing what drives outcomes is much more important than a simple index for comparison. While statistically sound, some front line operators might not trust the perceived voodoo of statistical analysis the underlies this approach. If this is an issue simpler approaches can also be applied.
Idea 2: Look at Improvement vs. Raw Scores
One very simple approach is to look at the amount of improvement a geographic unit has over a period of time. In this way you are not necessarily looking that the score by itself, but the improvement in the score over time. While not perfect (ceiling effects tend to put a damper on the party over time), it is a simple one to apply that everyone can understand.
Idea 3: Focus on Antecedent Behaviors
A third approach is to not focus on attitudinal measures at all, but focus on behaviors. How many cases were closed? How many action plans were implemented? How many complaints were registered? These are all antecedents to an attitudinal construct and usually are influential on business outcome variables (e.g., retention, share of wallet, etc.). While not perfect either, these behavioral measures are not plagued (as much) by the cultural issues.
Idea 4: Get to Language Sentiment
Probably the best approach if cross-cultural comparisons are needed is to start with the true voice of the customer: the verbatim. Build up native text taxonomies of positive and negative feedback in the native language. You can then build indices of the ratio to positive to negative relative the culture and language in which the experience is embedded. Many text analytics providers offer great solutions for this today. It will take a while for your stakeholder to get comfortable with this approach, but it has the added benefit of also being a bit more difficult to be the victim of the “coaching” customers to provide a specific answer. If you want to get really sophisticated hook this in with the linkage approach (Idea #1) and you have a very robust approach.
Country and global managers need to make comparisons. This is a business reality. If you really need to do these comparisons, I would strongly advocate a transition to one of four ideas above. At the very least, you should educate your management about the perils of cross-cultural NPS comparisons. Just like what is considered spicy in Calcutta is very different than what is considered spicy in Cincinnati, so too is your Customer Experience and how it is measured.
I came so close to dropping the ball on my husband’s birthday.
Let me tell you, he’s a guy who absolutely deserves to be celebrated on his day. However, it’s unfailingly difficult to think of a gift for my husband, who claims he already has everything he wants. With only two days to go and no ideas, I turned to my sister. She is one of those people with the gift of gifting. Not a Christmas nor birthday passes that she doesn’t make half of us cry with her thoughtful, insightful, personal presents. She was to be my savior in this birthday debacle; after five minutes on the phone lamenting my dilemma, she casually tossed out the most perfect idea and I ran with it. Some people were just born to delight others; they know how people want to be treated.
Models, models everywhere…
A colleague recently asked me about the customer experience maturity model and its relevance in the modern CX space. I recalled the numerous maturity models I’d participated in creating over the past two decades and found myself feeling, well, tired; tired of talking about it, tired of iterations, tired of heralds proclaiming the best new model, and tired of witnessing those models lead nowhere far too often.
Ten or fifteen years ago, I was working on the front line of designing and building huge, global customer feedback programs and simultaneously building out the business processes to support them. In those days, customer experience maturity models seemed so clever. Something in me embraced the science of understanding the difference between my small-scale forklift-manufacturing client and my Big 3 auto client, and their distinct approaches to customer experience, and the concept of maturity kind of worked. Since then, though, I have fallen out of love with the maturity model. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hate it. I think the model can be useful in some cases. However, I think it’s long past time we got honest about something.
The model is academic; it’s rigid, linear, and theoretical. It implies that maturing is a sequential process that must be completed step-wise, mastering one level of maturity before passing through the gate to the next. Forrester’s model describes a “path to CX maturity.” Gartner’s model recommends that a company should “head for higher levels of customer experience maturity.” There is, inherent in this thinking, the notion of a system or set of processes, experiences, or decisions by which maturity can be acquired or achieved. If we do the right things, in the right order, and with the passage of time, we can bring about an organization’s CX enlightenment.
With all due respect to those who have authored models over the years, this is bullshit, and we all know it.
It seems many of us forgot or never knew that the model is a tool to help organizations understand how behaviors link to results at discrete points in time. Maturity isn’t what shifts organizations to a customer-centric culture; maturity isn’t what drives front-line employees to enjoy delighting customers; and maturity isn’t what attracts and retains customers who are loyal, life-long, promoters.
It’s not difficult to think of upstarts (Cards Against Humanity, Trader Joe’s, Tesla, 1-800-FLOWERS) who were born with a knack for customer experience and can delight customers without tensing a muscle. It’s also easy to recall decades-old brands that provided exceptional experiences in the past, but are lagging now (Carmax, Applebees). But if it’s not maturity, what is it?
The Right People Doing the Right Things
In my experience, great customer experience reflects the extent to which a company identifies, creates, and fulfills opportunities for extraordinary CX. The companies who practice this principle exceptionally well are those with access to at least one person who has a high degree of empathy, insight, and creativity.
Empathic, creative, inspired people:
- Reach into the customer journey, experience, and feedback to discern what matters;
- Listen to employees and work to understand their challenges in delivering on the brand promise;
- Stand back from the noise and ask what CX & EX opportunities are unmet;
- Scope up and down through this holistic insight to prioritize opportunities and a recommend a plan for action;
- Keep it simple.
If you’re not already working with a person or team who can drive your CX strategy based on these talents and insights, hire one. Stop reading this blog post and do it now. Find a human being who is particularly good at being human, who understands people and can analyze information, who is probably a fantastic gift-giver, and hire them.
Regardless of what a company is doing today, no matter the subjective maturity ranking, any company can see rapid benefit from the presence of an empathic, creative, inspired individual or team if it is willing to commit the necessary resources. Look at the influencers you follow on LinkedIn, look at the disruptors and those companies that raise the CX bar – what do they have in common? It isn’t maturity, it’s leaders who understand what customers want and how they want to be treated. Then they put customers first, trusting that shareholder value will follow.
It isn’t about maturity. It’s much more spiritual than that, you see. It’s about perspective and willingness, inspiration and resourcefulness, honest self-appraisal and actually putting customers first – not just saying you do. Most likely, most of what you need is already available to you. Perhaps someone has told you that you must pass through the next three levels of maturity and the Candy Cane forest before you reach the summit. Perhaps you’re drowning in articles about CX and wondering how buying another [trendy solution] will help you delight your customers. Chances are, you just need a fresh perspective and a high quality human being. I might even know some folks who can help.
From NPR’s KQED
Jamie Jirout was not the sort of student who simply took a textbook at its word. In her first semester of college, she asked her psychology professor if she could assist in the professor’s research. Jirout’s interest wasn’t fueled by the fact that she found the coursework convincing — quite the opposite.
“I’d read something in the textbook and then I’d think, that doesn’t really make sense with what I’ve seen, how do they know that?” she recalls. She wanted to reconcile that gap and so, threw herself into research.
Her quest for answers has propelled her career to the present day. Jirout is now an assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia, where one of her primary research interests is studying curiosity in the classroom.
That research is sorely needed. Despite the centrality of curiosity to all scientific endeavors, there’s a relative dearth of studies on the subject itself. Fortunately, scientists such as Jirout and others are actively unraveling this concept and, in the process, making a convincing case that we can and should teach young minds to embrace their inquisitive nature.
“Ok, then we can make a man-deal,” Peter said smiling broadly with his meaty hand outstretched to me.
I had closed a deal with an intimating large Russian man on my home in Southern California. Upon finding an issue with the water heater, I promised to replace it quickly after close without going through all the paperwork again.
“Sure Peter, no problem,” I said and shook his hand.
Every day large transactions are made on the basis of trust. Trust is the basis of any human relationship and it is fragile, especially in the infancy of the relationship.
Peter took a chance and trusted me.
I came through on my “man-deal” and to ensure a smooth finish on this short relationship, I decided to make a small investment.
After tending to the water heater, the last thing I left in the modest house in the middle of a hardwood floor was a single bottle of mid-range priced Champagne.
It was a small token of my gratitude and an expense that helped mitigate any further issues in the transaction. The effect was stunning. Peter seemed more excited by this double-digit investment, then the six-digit investment he made in my house.
It’s the Little Things
Small gestures go a long way in getting relationships off to a good start. Organizations good at customer experience recognize that the “dating” part of the journey is the most precarious and invest accordingly. You don’t want to squander your large investment in sales and marketing in on-boarding a customer just to lose them in the first cycle. Here are some ideas for your organization that are cheap and effective.
Cameron Smith, a very successful recruiter who counts as his client the top CPG and retailers in the world, prides himself on personally responding to every single email he receives from a job seeker. This seems trivial, but Cam has about a dozen or more folks working for him, so I have to believe his inbox must overflow daily. Cam is very established and, at this point in his career, has no downside to not responding to some college grad looking for his first gig. Nonetheless, he responds to every email consistently. This little token goes a long way in building empathy and trust and Cam’s enviable social network. We can learn from guy like Cam. Take a minute and get back to folks whether an applicant, a client, or prospect. It is a simple way to build trust and long term relationships.
How you respond also can have a very big impact. I recently received a hand written thank-you letter for a bit of pro bono work I did. It made my day and I told many of my friends and colleagues about it. This special touch costs less than fifty cents and a few minutes and goes a long way in building relationships. It says, “you are not a number, you are special and I appreciate it.”
If your penmanship is horrid (like mine) there are other ways to add the personal touch beyond a hand written ‘thank you’. Before moving to Arkansas we purchased all of our furniture from a modern boutique store close by. The elderly hipster proprietor had an ancient Smith-Corona typewriter which he used to crank out thank you notes on parchment paper. Amongst the cacophony of inauthentic direct mail and flyers infesting my mailbox, it was great to get something as unique as a type written thank-you note on old school Frank Lloyd Wright inspired letter head. It probably took him just a few minutes a day and the pay off is intangible. It is craft. It is unique.
Follow-up calls are great. Really good automotive dealerships know this and make it a personal one from the salesperson. The use of “videograms” delivered to your inbox also make a big impact. This too, takes no more than a few minutes to do, and can go a long way in creating a lasting relationship. It is also an opportunity to uncover any problems or questions a customer might have.
Here’s a challenge if you are a big organization; once a year have every one of your employees call and thank three or four customers. This connects your employees with your customers and demonstrates that you are serious as a brand about customer experience. Customer experience is not the job of a person or department. Everyone should be involved.
Ever buy a new gizmo and eagerly open it only to learn there are 23 steps to complete before you can use it? That feeling sucks. To get mitigate this feeling and get customers off to a good start, many companies put customers into tiers, not according to their value, but how long they have been a customer. They invert the usual value curve, putting newcomers at the front. Software providers are particularly adroit in this strategy, labeling customers ‘freshman’, ‘sophomore’, and so forth according to how long they have been a customer. The reasoning is this; if we onboard people really well, they won’t leave. They know from journey mapping that switching costs are low early on and if they can get people into a nominal decision-making re-purchase mode the investment pays off handsomely.
Payroll provider ADP is particularly adept at this strategy. They manage to accomplish this personalized service at scale. As a customer, a dedicated representative helps you through the first few payroll cycles. Once things seem to be running smoothly you then have access to shared help desk. I have had to call a few times, and each time I get through and get the help I need quickly.
A Small Gift
Making a big purchase can be very stressful. You want to be assured you might the right call. This is a big opportunity to make a small investment in assuring your customers they did the right thing. I chose a bottle of Champagne. Others chose items more consistent with their brand. A friend of mine related how motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson has a particularly good on-boarding package after his purchase. They sent him a scale model of the motorcycle he just bought along with a video, and official documentation about its origin and specifications. He quickly used these materials to create a small shrine to this new Harley in his garage. On-boarding packages, whether for new clients or employees, mitigates any cognitive dissonance reassuring the person that they made the right choice and reinforces the brand.
Keep it Simple
Like any relationship, early impressions matter. Make sure you are making a positive first impression by making some small investments in recognizing and helping your customers early on. These small acts have a disproportional impact that you will continue to pay off far into the future.