In January, I was surprised and disappointed that research from Nunwood and Forrester, two significant firms in the Customer Experience movement, showed that Customer Experience was flatlining. Unfortunately, the recent UK Customer Satisfaction survey echoes those findings, indicating that it has fallen over the past couple of years, from 78.2 to 77.1.
Joanna Causon, CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, joined me on our podcast about this downward trend in Customer Satisfaction. Today’s business world is increasingly focused on automation and AI. Causon believes that in these times, human interaction and service takes on a renewed value for your Customer Experience.
Causon also spoke to us about their recent research published in their UK Customer Satisfaction Index Report. The Institute of Customer Service in the UK is an independent membership body that helps increase business performance through customer service. One of the most extensive surveys in the UK, the Institute have been running the index twice a year for ten years. It is a barometer of customer satisfaction because it covers 13 different industry sectors and has over 45,000 responses.
While it is not a massive decline, it is disappointing to see this trend given the significance of Customer Experience in business. The UK CSI measures what’s relevant to consumers and customers in five different areas:
- Professionalism: How helpful and knowledgeable are the people or websites I visit?
- User Experience: Is an organization easy to do business with?
- Product/Service Experience: Does it do what I expected it to do for me?
- Problem Resolution: How well does the company recover from problems, and does the resolution satisfy customers?
- Timeliness: Is the response rate reasonable?
In addition to these five areas, the Institute added another dimension relating to emotional connection ethics earlier this year. Do I think that this organization is doing the right thing?
Causon says that overall satisfaction is falling. She believes this decline has to do with many aspects:
- Consumers are more challenging and more demanding because of fewer resources and higher expectations.
- Organizations do not invest what they should to understand the customer
- Customer Experience design is often through the lens of the organization rather than from a customer’s point of view.
- Companies do not train or develop their people sufficiently.
I have been consulting on Customer Experience since 2002. When you consider the resources devoted to the cause over the past two decades in customer service teams, and all the CRM and customer feedback software you can buy now, it is disappointing that it isn’t showing results.
It also causes me to believe that people are focusing on the wrong things. Organizations do not concentrate their efforts on areas that create value for the customer.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Causon says that despite the overall trend, many organizations score exceptionally well in Customer Satisfaction. The UK CSI has companies routinely appearing in the top 10, like Amazon, John Lewis (which is like Nordstrom), Next (a retailer), the bank First Direct and Nationwide. She recommends examining what they do, which includes:
- They focus on the development of their people
- They ensure that Customer Satisfaction with an exemplary Customer Experience is a “boardroom issue.”
- They measure what is important to the customer instead of what the organization’s systems and processes can do.
- They successfully blend virtual and personal experiences and knowing when to deploy which in certain situations.
Furthermore, Causon says that the last area highlights a vital issue about Customer Experience. It isn’t about technology versus people. Success comes from the blending of the two. There are times when you don’t need a personal experience, e.g., booking tickets late at night or buying staples for delivery from the market. Other times, you do, e.g., making an insurance claim or troubleshooting a hardware issue.
Causon says she recognizes as a consumer she has times when she needs to have that human interaction and that degree of empathy and understanding. She says organizations get it right when they understand these nuances and design for them in their Customer Experience.
It’s a Cultural Thing.
Taking care of the customer and putting the customer first must be a part of the DNA of the organization. That’s why these top ten companies are always listed there.
However, today’s business has a focus on short-term goals and results. However, Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience are not small projects.
Causon agrees and says that past Institute research shows that organizations that focus on both of these areas drive this from the very top. In other words, it is not just lip service. It’s a value they care about and work on over a long time. Moreover, Causon says they obsess about getting the basics right and ensuring their experience is a pleasant experience. They also reduce problems instead of only focusing on recovering from them well.
Another area that Causon noted from the latest research was that the top performers understand customer objectives and the personal context, or, in simpler terms, what is really important to the individual consumer. Causon says when you get those moments right, that is where the Institute sees the most significant improvements in Customer Satisfaction.
The Fly in the Ointment Regarding Personal Context
The irony of personal context is it can be challenging to get right because sometimes people don’t know what is really important to them. They say things that they think are right, but when you provide them, it turns out it wasn’t important at all. You have to dig underneath what your customers tell you is crucial to discover what their real motivations are.
My regular readers know that people are not always the best at telling organizations what is essential to them. For example, Disney asked its park attendees what kinds of food options they would like to see added to the park. The customers said they wanted salads. Disney scratched their head and thought, “Really?” The fact is people don’t eat salads at theme parks. They eat hot dogs and hamburgers, and Disney knows this.
It is because of this inability to express what they want that we developed our product called the Emotional Signature®. The Emotional Signature is research where we determine what emotions your current Customer Experience evokes and also what emotions drive the most value for your organization. This research is effective at finding out what customers really want.
So, for example, if we did the Emotional Signature research for Disney, we would figure out that it isn’t a salad that park-goers want. It’s better hot dogs and hamburgers—and don’t forget the fries.
So, What Can You Do?
Improving customer satisfaction is not rocket science. Much of what you need to do is be trustworthy, reliable, and consistent. It is not an exciting answer, but it is the way to improve your overall Customer Experience and customer satisfaction scores.
Use Big Data wisely. One of the things Causon advises is for companies to consider how they use big data. If you use it to enhance the moments of the experience, e.g., knowing that the customer only likes to be called after work hours or likes to be addressed by their first name, then excellent. If you only use it to try to sell more services, then think again. Many people see that type of activity as not having their best interest at heart. Most people like that you remember how they like to interact with you, but many don’t like sales pitches all the time. You increase your customer satisfaction when you honor these preferences.
Keep your promises. An alarming statistic from the report was that not keeping promises was up by ten percent in the latest research. Doing what you say you are going to do is basic. Causon says a short-term focus might be the culprit here. She recommends increasing communication with customers who can be reasonable. If you can’t deliver when they wanted, say so. If there is a delay, then inform the customer. If you tell them what they want to hear but don’t deliver on it, the fallout is dire. Communicate more, and it will not have long-term effects on the customer relationship.
Establish trust. Not only should you do what you say you are going to do, but you should also be consistent and reliable. That means that no matter what channel, time of day, or employee a customer talks to, they get the same excellent customer service and Customer Experience. Amazon, which has consistently made the top ten for several years, does this well. Most of us interact with them online, but they always keep their promises and deliver when they say they will and keep you informed. Moreover, it’s easy to keep track of because your interactions are all in one place. The central concept here is that you must present an experience that makes customers feel you have their best interest at heart.
Causon echoes these sentiments stating that the number one thing as an organization is you must be able to deliver on your promises. Even a well-loved brand will fail if you can’t get business out the door when you’re saying that you’re getting out the door. The combination of being brilliant at the experience will build up the emotional relationship, too.
Building long term customer experience strategies and embedding them in the culture of our organizations is crucial. Also, training and developing your people with the appropriate thinking about that brilliant blend between transactional and relationship is absolutely the future.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize Perhaps most importantly, remember that this work isn’t charity. All of this effort of delivering better customer experience pays you a return. Causon says every organization that’s above average in this area over a five to eight-year period sees nearly a ten percent increase over those that are below average.
Research also shows that organizations who consistently outperform their peers in the area of customer satisfaction enjoy improved financial returns. Causon says that other research from her institute shows a ten percent higher earnings before interest tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Also, these firms have higher levels of productivity, more repeat purchases, and customer loyalty than organizations that don’t have high Customer Satisfaction numbers.
In other words, Causon says, customer satisfaction matters to our economies. Businesses that get customer satisfaction right by delivering excellent Customer Experiences consistently make more money—and that is a prize worth winning.
What do you think contributes to the flatlining Customer Experience and declining customer satisfaction in the UK? We’d all be interested to hear what you think in the comments below.
What customers say they want and what they really want are often different things. It is vital to know what drives value for your organization. Our Emotional Signature research can tell you where you are compared to other organizations and what to focus on to drive value for your customers. To learn more, please click here.
To hear more about why Customer Satisfaction Continues Declining in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
Hear the rest of the conversation on why Customer Satisfaction Continues Declining on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here https://beyondphilosophy.com/customer-satisfaction-continues-declining/.
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX