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Is ‘easy’ the new driver of customer loyalty?

Customers that get ‘easy to do business with’ types of experiences are significantly more likely to return than those that don’t. Sounds common sense doesn’t it and yet some businesses seems to go out of their way to do the opposite.

EinsteinLooking back at the July results of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, the 3 most popular adjectives used by customers to describe their experiences overall were “easy”, “friendly” and “helpful”. Businesses that deliver on this have, overall, higher levels of customer satisfaction, loyalty and recommendation which lead to higher sales and profitability.

This approach to ‘easy’ is being further developed by BT of all organsiations and championed by Dr Nicola Millard who has the very funky job title of ‘futurologist’. She was interviewed in August by Adrian Swinscoe for his RARE business podcast which I’d recommend a listen if you get a chance.

The irony isn’t lost on BT though who, by their own admission are the first to admit that they’re not the easiest company to do business with!

Shouting down phone

In the interview, Nicola talks about having developed a concept called ‘customer easy’ which uses a ‘net easy score’ as a means of understanding how easy it is for customers to deal with BT in their consumer business.

This isn’t a new concept though, as the understanding that ease and (lack of) effort are important components of great customer experiences and both the thinking and research on this has been around for at least the last 4-5 years or so.

Whilst concepts are great, organisations need a pragmatic way to understand how well they’re applying the customer easy concept on a day to day basis. Hence the customer easy metric was born.

By her own claims, Nicola says they ‘highjacked’ the net promoter score to come up with the net easy metric but that’s not all they’ve done.

metrics

Rather than using the traditional ten point scale of 1-10, or 0-10 with net promoter, Nicola uses a simple 3 point scale of +1, 0 or -1.

This simplified scale could be viewed as heresy by some research or net promoter purists but it’s an interesting approach and creates very bi-polar results. Arguably though, it’s definitely simple to complete from the customer’s perspective.

Customers score +1 for easy, -1 for difficult and 0 for neither, or for having no real opinion.

BT’s initial findings from their own data, correlate with the data from the UKCSI. Easy drives net promoter and customer loyalty scores and therefore recommendation, and customers who find it difficult to do business are more likely to defect.

BT look at ease by channel, so post versus phone versus web chat, with web chat coming out top.

They can also look at the impact of service design changes and see the result on customers by simplifying IVR routing for example. Something that BT have always seemed to have over complicated in the past so that’s welcome news to BT customers I would imagine.

Whether you like the net easy metric or not, or agree with the scale it uses, anything that businesses use to better understand and improve the customer experience is a positive things and if that results in shorter IVRs then I’m all for that.

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Cut cognitive load to improve customer experience

One of the more recent books I’ve read this year is the excellent ‘Scaling up Excellence’ with the very apt subtitle of ‘Getting to more without settling for less.’

As a very brief overview, the book details the work and research of Professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao of Stanford University in trying to understand the basic principles that allow organisations to scale successfully. Or, as in some of the real world case studies they document, how not to scale successfully with some painful and expensive lessons learnt along the way.

There’s a lot in the book that’s relevant to the world of customer experience and some useful lessons and principles that can and should be applied by many businesses and organisations, not only to scale but to improve customer experience.

Brain slide

One such scaling principle is ‘cut cognitive load’. The phrase sounds complex, but the principle as demonstrated repeatedly through research, is simply based on the ability of conscious memory to deal with mental load or work under increasingly complex environments.

Take memorising a series of random numbers. The ‘magic’ number for most people’s memory is 7 based on previous memory research. Try and memorise 10 or 12 digits and you’ll feel cognitive load at work!

It’s the same with multi tasking, as much as we think we’re good at it, research has again proven that the more tasks we take on, the worse we perform. In essence, multi tasking undermines everyone’s competence.

The underlying mantra then is to recognise when cognitive overload occurs in both employees and customers when business or organisational complexity increases. Alternatively overload occurs when product choices or options increase or when the customer decision making process becomes overly complicated or cumbersome.

 

It’s at this point of increased load for employees, that efficiency start to decline, mistakes are made and attention and focus shifts elsewhere. In the customer’s world, increased cognitive load makes purchasing and buying decisions harder, more frustrating and can and will lead customers to abandon purchases altogether and defect to competitors.

Websites are a great example of this with abandonment stats on purchases online as high as three quarters (75%) in 2013, alarmingly up from the 2012 figures.

Biting computer

However by both understanding and applying the principles of scaling overall, but especially cutting cognitive load customer experience can be significantly improved to the benefit of both customers, the organisation and the bottom line.

Other key lessons to reduce cognitive load within a business include using smaller work teams (less than double digits in size), applying the ‘less is best’ approach, and understanding that process and hierarchy are good (and essential) but only to a point, before the bureaucracy becomes self sustaining.

The appeal of understanding cognitive load on customers within the customer experience is a valuable one and adds another approach for businesses looking to take their customer experience to the next level. However, there’s no point using it the most obvious and painful sources of customer irritation are removed or reduced first. Unless of course, it’s cognitive load that the issue!

Pulling hair

Next time you’re at work or you’re being a customer, in a complex environment or processing a complex task, see if you experience cognitive load and reflect on what if any impact it has on your behaviour and how it makes you feel. Now you can’t beat a good experiment can you?

If you want to read more on the topic, try Scaling up Excellence itself, or this article on cognitive load theory and how it relates to learning.

 

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Indifference or inertia isn’t customer loyalty

After sending an unrecognised 0808 telephone number to voicemail recently I foolishly answered the phone after the third or fourth call.

As I suspected, it was my mobile phone network provider who initially claimed they were calling to ‘thank me for my loyalty!’

mobile globe

They then went on to review my account with them, tariff and data usage etc which I monitor myself anyway. After concluding that there wasn’t an opportunity to sell me additional services (well that’s what the cynic in me thought), they then thanked me again for my loyalty which got me thinking. Am I really loyal in the true context of the word?

First stop was google then the dictionary.

Loyalty: Allegiance, fealty, fidelity, faithfulness, constancy.

Well I’ve certainly been constant. I’ve been with the same provider for the last 3 years which in the mobile telecoms industry might seem like a life time!

Do I have an allegiance to them? Not really. Faithfull? Not really a word I’d use to describe my relationship with a mobile phone carrier to be honest.

iphone

The last 3 years have, in fairness, been trouble free. My handset works but that’s down to Apple, not the carrier. I’ve never had a problem on my account or with my billing. They bill on time and accurately but that’s what I would expect them to be able to do.

But in customer experience loyalty terms, would I recommend them? I’m not sure I would to be honest. Not because any aspect of their service has been poor because it hasn’t, but they’ve just done what I expected them to do from the outset. Nothing more, nothing less and that’s not enough to generate loyalty between customers and businesses. In this respect, you could say I’m transactionally attached, but there’s no emotional attachment.

The reasons I haven’t swapped provider are two fold. Firstly there’s the fact that it all works as it should do, which again is what I expected it to do so they’ve met my expectation but not exceeded it. So I’m satisfied yes, but not highly satisfied. Out of 10, I’d say I’d score them a 7 or 8 in customer satisfaction terms.

Secondly they’ve never given me a reason to change. I’ve never been dissatisfied with them.

However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m loyal. If another carrier approached me with a better deal I’d definitely consider it so I’m not loyal in that respect. I’m not actively looking though because I don’t currently need to. For me to be loyal, I’d need to score them at least a 9, or even 10 out of 10.

But I don’t think it’s fair to claim that I’m a loyal customer and this is where both businesses and brands can become complacent because I’m really a customer waiting to defect and it’s probably only a matter of time. Whilst, some businesses would kill to get customer satisfaction scores of 8 out of 10, it’s not enough to build loyalty.

Apple tattoo

What businesses should be looking to do is to build customer loyalty by providing over and above their core offering, building engagement through interaction with customers and looking for opportunities to go above and beyond by anticipating customer needs and aiming for those 9 and 10 out of 10 scores.

Only then can businesses build on highly satisfied customers rather than those that are ‘just satisfied’ which is the category I’d put myself in with my provider.

This in part is why building customer loyalty is so difficult if your customer service, your product or offering doesn’t standout. If it’s just ok, or even good it’s probably not enough.

 

 

 

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Honesty, expectations and reality

Amongst Richard Branson’s many quotes that have been published over the years, my most favourite has always been this one; “Customer service is about attention to detail and communication. Neither of which are difficult so naturally they’re the first things we forget!”

It’s my favourite because he’s right.    usain-bolt-richard-branson-944438633

I worked with a bank a while ago who measured customer satisfaction every year with their business customers who were mainly small and medium size enterprises. The previous year’s survey had highlighted a very painful customer issue which the bank was already aware of. It was their online customer banking portal that business customers used to transact on their accounts.

And when I mean painful, it was excruciatingly painful for customers. If they were able to log on, which at peak times during the day, they mostly couldn’t, the portal often crashed, was very slow to use and overall wasn’t a great customer experience. You could sense the frustration in the customer feedback that came with the survey.

I specifically remember one comment from a customer who used the portal to pay employee wages. The lady indicated how she had to wait until midnight each month to pay the wages, to ensure she could get onto the portal when very few others were trying to use it and to minimise the risk of it crashing and her having to start all over again!

Online banking

When we measured customer satisfaction the following year, the same issue came up again and not surprisingly. The IT project that was running behind the scenes to build a new online customer portal had yet to be delivered and had faced delays to the original deadline due to a change in provider. It was running about 12 months behind and was already over budget.

Apart from these obvious issues, it was clear from the customer feedback in the second year that the bank hadn’t kept them informed of the project progress (or lack of) or even attempted to manage customer expectation as to when the solution would be delivered.

Again a memorable comment from a customer went along the lines of “we told you about this last year and you’ve done nothing about it. So you are either just ignoring us or you just don’t care!” Either way a scathing observation.

However in reality, the bank was doing something about it based on customer feedback. What it wasn’t doing though, was managing customer expectation by communicating with them at all. Not even irregularly.

SONY DSC

Now arguably, it could be said that the bank didn’t want this embarrassing situation made public knowledge, but by not doing so, it wasn’t exactly putting customers first and setting the right expectation. The bank were dammed either way in reality and it was more about damage limitation. Say nothing – customers become frustrated and leave, which was already a real possibility. Say something, and be potentially ridiculed by competitors and customers may still also leave.

However, I personally think they missed a massive opportunity to engage with customers, in addition to failing to effectively manage customer expectation. Even the Bank staff were fed up with hearing the same complaints from customers, but instead the Bank simply said nothing.  A frustrating situation for all concerned, but an entirely preventable one if they’d just talked to their customers and explained.

Sound simple? It should be.

I bet they’d have got more ‘brownie points’ and goodwill back, if they had communicated with customers despite the project being delayed. Don’t you?

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Sledgehammer to crack a nut?

“Co-op looks to trolley mounted tablets to boost customer experience”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using technology to improve customer experience or even anything else in life come to that, but to me this seems like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut!

co op food

Despite this seeming to be an overly elaborate and unnecessary use of technology there are some obvious drawbacks to this plan in my view.

By their own description, the Co-operative is, amongst many other things about ‘local convenience’. Convenience which is about top up shopping rather than a weekly big shop which research has actually demonstrated. Top up shopping means baskets rather trolleys. Average spend per customer is probably less than £30, all of which can fit in a basket.

From personal experience, I’ve never used a trolley in a Co-op. Ever. Predominantly because they’re at least 10-20% more expensive that other food stores and so the thought of buying enough shopping to necessitate using a trolley just never happens.

So I would suggest that the people that do use a trolley in the larger stores, most of which are probably in more affluent areas as far as I’ve seen, are more affluent and so will provide only one perspective on customer experience.

Also, some of the smaller stores (which make up the majority of the Co-op’s estate) aren’t even big enough to accommodate trolleys so does that mean the experience of customers that shop there doesn’t count?

More to the point I would suggest that anyone who’s been in a Co-op can tell the business what they need to do to improve without the aid of a tablet.

  • Eliminate the queues. Convenience needs to be easy otherwise it’s not convenient.
  • Supermarket QueueFresh produce needs to be fresh
  • Popular product ranges need to be stocked where physical store space permits
  • Provide better value for money. I’m happy to pay a small premium for convenience if a) it’s actually convenient b) the premium is small. 20% isn’t small in my view.

So there you have it. No tablets required either to rent or buy. No lengthy data collection trial in store with customers. No resource required to process the data. No glorified report with graphs, charts, customer segmentation profiles and customer comments to tell those in charge how to improve customer experience.

Call me a cynic but sometimes, improving customer experience is just about delivering on the basics consistently. Nothing more, nothing less. Or as Stanford University Professors Sutton and Rao claim in their book ‘Scaling up excellence’ it’s about ‘fixing the plumbing first’.

Here is the link to the original article published in Business reporter.