It’s a perennial question on LinkedIn and in webinars, I attend and host: “How can we improve CX?” Sure, sometimes it’s asked in a presumably quantified way (as if the asker is being somehow scientific): “How can we improve our CX metrics?”
Set aside whether your chosen KPIs are really demonstrative, or whether or not your customers are feeling good about you and if you’re meeting your customer needs—a topic, as we say in Colorado, for a whole ’nother time. The bottom line is that brands want to do better.
So from a purely snark-centric perspective, I say, well there are really only two steps you need to take to improve your customer experience:
Find out what you’re doing poorly, and
I know… that’s the solution to most of life’s problems. But you’d be surprised how hard that is for organizations to internalize this and turn it into action.
So let’s break it down into these two steps.
How to improve the customer experience step one: adopt the right mindset
I get these questions all the time: “How do you ‘handle’ negative feedback?”, “What’s the best method for dealing with bad survey responses?”, “How do you keep your customer service team motivated when they receive criticism from your customers?”
Negative feedback is treated as some cataclysmic, soul-crushing event that we somehow need to avoid at all costs. If one bit sneaks through our defences, man the ramparts and call up the guards. But…
This isn’t a hollow motivational screed. I’m not trying to tell you that it’s through adversity that we gain strength; that it’ll make you a tougher, more resilient person to learn how to absorb criticism; to embrace these destructive emotional connections; that negative feedback is the only way you’ll ever improve.
It’s just that, well, negative feedback is the only way you’ll ever improve your customer’s journey. Or, at least, it’s the only way to find out where you need to improve, which surely is the first step to driving better customer satisfaction.
So, buck up. And change your attitude.
Questions like, “How should I deal with negative feedback?” indicate that someone isn’t going about VoC in the right manner, or at least for the right reasons.
Yes, I’m aware that business leaders demand metrics. They love their charts and they want to see movement in them. By all means, collect and plot those precious graphs. But that’s not why you should be engaging with your customers and asking them for their feedback.
Having something that comes out of your VoC program to show the CEO and Board of Directors is simply a happy (nor not so happy?) side effect of your efforts.
The real goal of your VoC program should be those insights, explicitly the negative ones.
Those insights can be a mixed bag for sure. Everybody loves receiving accolades, and it’s nice to hear that your customers love you or are at least satisfied with a recent interaction with your brand—whether it be from a sale or a customer support call, or from any other customer interaction or touchpoint along the journey.
But you’re wasting their time and yours if the purpose of bothering them for their thoughts isn’t to identify things you could be doing better.
If the reason you’re asking them for their feedback is in hopes that you’re doing things well and they’ll provide affirmation, you’re holding your customers out as a low-rent motivational speaker: “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, there’s a 9-out-of-10 likelihood that I’ll recommend you to my friends, family, and co-workers!”
No wonder you’re scrambling for protocols when you actually get something other than a matronly pat-on-the-head.
So, as Mom herself might give you advice, here’s mine: get over yourself. Go into your VoC program with the right perspective and the right goal. You’re explicitly looking for negative feedback.
The whole reason you have a VoC program is to identify areas for improvement.
Use the right tools
If you can get into the right mindset about your VoC program, you can then start on the mechanics of it. Lots of my clients start out simply by sending surveys.
Sometimes they’re for explicit interactions, sometimes they’re more relationship-oriented… “How’d we do?”, vs. “How are we doing?”
Both can offer great insights, and I’m a fan of surveys if they’re strategically designed. (That strategic design of surveys is another topic for another time, but let’s stick to basics here.)
While surveys can offer the great benefit of quantifying what is basically a collection of qualitative impressions, they’re not the only—or even sometimes the best—approach to learning from your customers.
I never discourage brands from carrying out surveys unless there’s some dramatically compelling reason to avoid them, and that’s incredibly rare.
But all too often, that’s the extent of it. And that’s missing a great opportunity to be creative and curious about your customers’ experiences. Brands that do only surveying are leaving a lot of insights on the table.
Consider interviewing your customers as well. Depending on your business model, it may be a very small portion of your customers that you interview.
Sometimes it’s a good follow-up to a survey (I recommend asking those with, ahem, the most to say, based on their responses), and sometimes randomly picking a few and asking who’d be willing to speak with you in real-time.
Present it as not just an opportunity for your customers to vent or gripe (which they will anyway), but also that they’re doing you a favor. Approach the interaction not only with humility and curiosity but also with gratitude. These interactions will yield incredible insights.
Go online and see what your customers are saying about you on social media (sentiment analysis tools can help with this). Don’t feel obligated to wade in as the brand, but it can actually be a great opportunity to address concerns in the moment and rescue experiences where customers are highlighting incidental issues they are going through with, say, your chatbots or other systems.
While you’re there, check out what your customers are saying about your competition as well. As with any feedback vehicle, this shouldn’t be just for your own self-congratulation (“Hey, at least we’re doing better than our peers!”) or mortification.
Keep in mind, you’re looking for insights into what your customers want and where you’re falling short of your customer expectations. Seeing what others are doing well or poorly, and how that’s coming off to the buying public, is valuable. And, those insights are just sitting out there waiting for you to go get them.
I could go on all day listing other VoC tools, but I’ll end this bit with the most powerful: walking in the customers’ shoes.
There’s no greater educator, the philosophers say than experience. You can slice and dice survey information, parse and interpret interview and verbatim text, even get customers to describe in excruciating detail what’s wrong with you and why.
But until you’ve actually lived it yourself, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful (and inexpensive, really!) sources of experiential information: doing it yourself.
You can use this tactic as a supplement to other sources of customer insights (validate what they’re telling you by seeing it for yourself). Or you can go into it cold simply looking for gaps yourself. Either way, though, this is an incredibly powerful source of information and will help advance your customer experience strategy.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to execute it:
Order something from your online (or offline) store and mobile app.
Call your helpline or support team. Note the response time in your contact center.
Sign up for your services, especially those you consider “personalized experiences”
Deal with one of your partners (shipping, retail, franchisee, etc.) as a customer
Ask your spouse/partner/parent/child to navigate your workflows from the outside.
Whichever of these or other methods (and you really should use several) you use, keep in mind that you’re explicitly looking for negative brand experiences; opportunities for you to do what you do differently and better. Keep track and analyze the results. Identify root causes and common sources of failure.
You’ll need all that for the next step:
How to improve the customer experience step two: do something!
Without a doubt, the most common error brands make when “doing CX” is thinking that VoC (or, more broadly, customer insights) is the end of the customer experience work.
Far from it: it’s the beginning. There has to be “management” in your customer experience management systems if you’re expecting it to drive positive customer experiences.
I’ve met with leadership teams at some companies who found themselves in a CX rut wondering how to get out and refresh their customer relationships.
“We started ‘doing CX’ a few quarters ago,” they’ll say “But we don’t seem to be getting any traction from our CX initiatives. Our CX KPIs are regularly reported and tracked but, month after month, they don’t improve. After all, we’ve put into our CX strategy, we’re still struggling with customer loyalty.”
“Hm.” I’ll ask, “So, what have you been trying?”
“Well, NPS, C-SAT, and more recently, Customer Effort Score.”
“No, I mean, what have you been doing with those findings?”
There seems to be an awful lot of deckchair rearrangement going on, but not that much in the way of impactful action. And that’s all too common.
Similar to the mindset of “doing VoC” simply to collect numbers in hopes of getting an attaboy from your customers, if “doing CX” comes down just to gathering customer feedback, you’re not even halfway there if your goal is to truly become customer-centric.
Oftentimes, taking the more deliberate approach to VoC that I outlined above will set organizations back on the right track. If the whole purpose of your VoC program is to gather negative feedback, it’s pretty clear to see that’s a motivational tool to improve things. But I’ll also line it out here:
If all you’re doing is collecting VoC inputs so you can report or otherwise track it, it’s a complete waste of your time. Save yourself the money and save your customers their precious time and just abandon the whole enterprise, because you’re not serious enough about it to bother.
Besides, nothing will come of it anyway… you won’t improve your customer engagement or retention, won’t optimize or be a differentiator in attracting new customers, and won’t lead to a great customer experience nor create loyal customers.
The reason you collect VoC feedback is not to see where you are, but rather to find where you need to act in order to improve.
Once you’ve identified these inadequacies, get to work fixing them. Leverage things like Six Sigma, Lean, Agile Project Management, Kaizen, Design Thinking, and of course, Change Management and set to prioritizing your Process Improvement efforts based on what’s most bugging your customers.
Prioritization is strategy
Notice what I did there? When most business leaders look at that list of tools and disciplines I just noted, they’re thinking of efficiency and resource use. They want to use such techniques to drive down waste and errors in processes and systems in order to lean out their operations.
The result is that the whole company will run smoother and with fewer failures, thus saving —internally—money and time. With that as the goal, these projects are ‘racked-and-stacked’ in order of the biggest bang for the buck. Where can we expend the least effort but drive the largest efficiencies?
But, when we’re using those efforts for customer experience purposes, the projects are the same but their order may differ. That’s because our ultimate goal is to improve the experiences of our customers by removing their pain points. The goal’s not simply saving money, but rather a better customer experience.
And here’s the great news: even if you prioritize your improvement projects based on your VoC rather than internal monetary goals, you’ll still save resources and time, and money.
That’s because, due to the nature of these tools and techniques, it’s nearly impossible to improve your CX processes and not save money simultaneously. Think about it, the universe of aggravations for your customers (long hold times, low product quality, excessive logistical waits, etc.) are bad not only for their experiences but also cost you money as well.
So it’s not an either/or question. Prioritizing your improvement projects based on your VoC may not yield quite as much in savings for you as the traditional method, but it won’t cost you anything, that’s for sure.
What’s more, when you improve your customers’ experiences, they’ll like you more. It’ll lead to less churn, better customer retention, and more happy customers.
That means more repeat visits, better word of mouth, more sales, and more profit. You’re saving money and making money.
CX is a vibrant and incredibly active function within your company if you’re getting it right.
But you’ve got to come at it from the right perspective, you’re looking to improve what you do. That takes insights into where your customers are dissatisfied with your performance as well as a dedication to taking action based on what you learn. Those are two big rocks to move… but it can be done.