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Customer loyalty, trust and the limbic brain

I recently re watched the inspiring Ted Talk from Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire.

Simon talks about the notion of a golden circle or 3 concentric circles. At the centre, is ‘why’ – the emotion or purpose of why you do what you do (or why a business does what it does). Next out is ‘how’ and the outer circle is ‘what’. Customers buy from the inside out based on the why first, then how and what. Businesses however, sell and communicate from the outside in which is why they often fail in their approach.

limbic brains

They’re very good at telling you what they do and how they do it, but not very articulate (if at all) about why they do what they do. The really important bit that customers really buy and that makes a significant difference between businesses in terms of their success.

Therein lies an often over looked paradox in relation to customers and customer experience.

Businesses want customers to be loyal. Loyalty, as is commonly known drives recommendation, referral and repeat business (Harvard’s 3Rs model). Businesses also want the beholden golden goose of customer trust. The unquestioning kind where customers stay loyal despite challenges and issues because they believe in a brand or business.

These appear to be at first glance rational needs (the what and the how) and requirements from a business perspective but they are not.

Decisions around loyalty and trust come from emotion (the why). Emotion comes from the very oldest and fastest part our brains (as opposed to the more recent neocortex). It’s a part called the limbic system where arguably our intuition and gut feel also stems from. It’s the part of the brain that drives us towards pleasure and away from pain and pretty much kept us alive in prehistoric times.

3 Brain system

Customers act loyal (or trust) based on how they feel first then how they think second by rationalising their decisions. Few people realise this as it contradicts the classic economic theory as first mentioned by Adam Smith in his publication The Wealth of Nations. His idea (now largely debunked yet not widely believed) was that we are all rational decision makers most of the time and that we act only in our own self interest, balancing up costs and benefits before making a decision. In fact, the very reverse is true.

Most, if not all of the time we are emotional decision makers who then rationalise our decisions to avoid believing we made a bad or poor decision in the first place. We also look for supporting evidence to back up our decisions, so we further believe we made the right choice (see the brilliant book ‘Predictably Irrational by the equally brilliant Dan Ariely).

Business (in the main) acts and communicates in the opposing direction to how customers act, by delivering and expecting rational acts (customers buying on features and benefits as an example) to evoke emotion in customers (hopefully positive but often negative!) in order that they’ll buy a product or service.

Emotion is always evoked so that’s definitely a successful outcome delivered. However, in the majority of cases it’s apathy from the customer’s perspective (think financial services and products like pensions), or unless you’re Apple, Disney or Zappos who excel at creating positive emotion. Alternatively it’s frustration or anger that’s generated especially if you’re Ryan Air or npower.

So there’s a lot to be gained by starting at the ‘why’ in business before moving to the ‘how’ and ‘what’ given that’s how customers function but it’s either not done often enough or it’s not done very well. Starting at the ‘why’ in relation to anything customer related is going to be a more positive experience for everyone involved.

‘Why’ moves people to act. ‘Why’ can be a powerful, purposeful story that evokes unstoppable emotion and that lasts. It also builds trust and loyalty and that’s what customers really want; not features and benefits.

So what’s your why?

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UKCSI – State Of The Nation Update

Customer satisfaction on the high street seems to be pulling out of the destructive nose dive we’ve seen in the last 4 waves.

The July 2015 results from the UKCSI are out now and as in earlier posts, I’ve trawled the results and here is a summary for you. Uk map UKCSI

The previous two years of decline seems to have now plateaued with the index rising by a meagre 0.2 from this survey wave to 76.2 overall (out of 100). Way down from the heady heights of 78.2 in January 2013.

194 companies received a score with 56 companies improving by 1 point or higher, with 86 companies registering a fall of 1 point or more.

Interestingly, the historically lowest performing sectors like public sector and utilities are up by at least 1 point in the last 12 months, whereas the higher performing sectors like retail food (-1.2), automotive (-1.4), leisure (-1.4) and services (-1) are down by at least 1 point in the last 6 months.

In terms of sectors, retail food is still top overall with Amazon the highest ranked company at 86.3. Retail food is second with Waitrose ( 84.5) and Tourism is third with Centre Parcs (82.1) taking pole.

UKCSI sector table

Variation within sector though is still vast, with public sector and travel showing a 21 point difference between highest and lowest performers.

Whilst the sectors included are still the same overall there’s some noticeable new entrants signalling a change to established players who need to be wary and double their efforts if they want to keep their ground and not loose further gains.

Ovo energy tops the utilities sector, with Giff Gaff leading Telecomms and Media whilst LOVEfilm top the leisure sector. No surprise on the really latter given its acquisition by Amazon in 2011.

ovo-energy

The usual suspects are still top of the table; first direct, Amazon and John Lewis, despite the latter two showing a decline in performance over the last 12 months down 1.3 and 1.5 respectively.

Again LOVEfilm have had a storming 12 months with the single biggest increase out of the top 50 companies, up a whopping 8.2 points year on year to take them up to fourth place overall.

Skoda is the only automotive company in the top 20 at 11th place (83.0 up 0.3), and Premier Inn is the only hotel chain in the top 50 (80.8 down 1.2).

Most improved, in addition to LOVEfilm are Ryanair (up 8.6 to 68.8) and Southeastern Trains (up 8.4 to 66.9).

Ease of doing business is a key driver to high levels of customer satisfaction and a differentiator between high and low performers. Most of the top 20 performers also rated highly on ease of doing business and low customer effort should be included by organisations looking to improve their overall customer experience.

So why does all this matter?

Well, the UKCSI has tracked the relationship for the last 3 years between customer satisfaction, sales growth and market share for food retailers, a very pressurised market for consumer spend and behaviour, where customer preferences quickly affect business performance.

The research show a strong correlation between customer satisfaction, growth and market share with organisations seeing a 5.5% increases in growth with a score of 1 point higher than the average, compared to a 1% reduction in growth with a mere 1 point performance below the UKCSI average.

Retail Sales Growth

According to the Kantar World panel, Aldi (7th in the UKCSI) lead the way with 15% annual growth follow by Lidl at 10% (outside the top 50) and below the sector average despite performing lower on satisfaction than Waitrose, Iceland and Asda.

The July results further demonstrate and reinforce the view that we have firmly entered the relationship economy.

Customers giving an organisation a 9 or 10 out of 10 are much more likely to trust, recommend and stay with an organisation over those that score 8 showing that companies need to be both aiming and performing at the highest levels in order to keep customers in an era of rapid technology advances and disruptive new entrants to markets.

Organisations achieving scores of 9 or 10 achieve 96% loyalty compared to only 65% of companies getting scores of 8. In addition they achieve 55% of customer recommendation compared to only 39% of those that get an 8.

TrustWordCloud

The biggest gap is around trust with 83% of customers trusting an organisation which they score 9 or 10 out of 10, compared to only 39% of customers who score an 8.

That’s a massive difference that pushes the performance (and expectation) bar only higher.

Companies also need to address how they serve the millennial generation (born 1981-2004) who are the least satisfied generation and the only age group to have fallen year on year, even behind 18-24 year olds. Interestingly however, younger people appear to be more tolerant (and satisfied) when it comes to complaint handling.

The Welsh are most satisfied at 78, compared to the South East who are the least satisfied at 75.2. From a gender perspective, women are on average more satisfied than men, although this varies at sector level where for example in automotive, men are more satisfied, compared to utilities where it’s women.

The volume of complaints expressed by customers are broadly the same year on year at 13.2% with some sector like utilities with lower satisfaction levels, experiencing a higher percentage of complaints at 14.9% compared to retail non food at 9.8% with telecoms at 22.2%.  However nearly a third of customers (26.9%) are ‘silent suffers’  with the view that making a complaint won’t make a difference.

Shouting down phone

The top 3 problems experienced by customers are;

  1. Quality or reliability of good or services (30%)
  2. Staff competence (25.9%)
  3. Late delivery or slow service (25.1%)

A more alarming trend seems to be around escalation and compensation.  41.3% of customers who made a complaint needed to escalate it, up 3% year on year with 31.7% of customers asking for compensation up from 28.1% 12 months ago.

Complaint handling is both a hygiene factor and a differentiator and staff should be empowered and empathetic to meet the needs of customers to avoid damaging relationships and trust, which is difficult to recover.

It’s clear from this latest set of results that customer expectation continues to rise at pace with competition with the pace of change intensifying. The relationship economy continues to be built on quality relationship with customers, and those organisations that see beyond the product and commodity view of the world and both meet and deliver on customer’s psychological needs will continue to outperform and lead the way. However, this is a long term game and businesses should set their sights accordingly, whilst be flexible and adaptive to change. The ‘agile’ approach is the way forward for business and customers.

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Enterprise Rent-A-Car: simple service, great customer experience

You wouldn’t think that the simple act of hiring a car would be such a great customer experience would you? But it is, and it was. Not just once but consistently 3 times in a row. Now not many companies can boast of that.

It’s been a long time since I last needed to hire a car and on this occasion I certainly hadn’t planned to.

In short, my car broke down on the A1 just outside of Sunderland on the way to see a client. After being recovered from the roadside I was taken to a local garage in a small village called Sedgefield, who initially were optimistic about being able to repair my car the very same day. However, that turned out not to be the case and what was originally suspected to be a water leak was actually a head gasket failure! No quick (or cheap) fix here then.

Library Digital Photo by Paul Blount 2005 GAS

By the time this was diagnosed it was about 5pm, having been recovered about 11am and I need to get back home in order to get to work the next day and the fastest way I guessed was to hire a car which I could then use the day after.

The garage gave me several numbers and I settled on calling Enterprise and got through to the local depot.

“Can you deliver a hire car to me please?”

“No sorry we don’t deliver”

My heart sunk and I started to conjure up visions of being stuck in a small village for the night with little prospect of getting home at all.

“But we can come and pick you up?

Result! And true to their word they did. The Enterprise staff that arrived were friendly and chatty despite it being past 6pm. By 7pm I was in a hire car and on my way back home much to my relief.

elogo1Over the course of the next 4 weeks, I hired from Enterprise a further two times, based on how easy it was the first time and how good it had felt for them to help me out when I most needed it. Ok so that’s what they do as a business, but they really delivered and didn’t add to my stress and frustration on that long day when my car had failed.

On each occasion, the hire experience was as good as it was the first time. Friendly staff, an easy and efficient process and a first class pick up service that was consistent.

On each occasion, they asked me if they could have done anything better but they really couldn’t and it’s not often that I say that.

Simple service and a great customer experience. Would I recommend them? Absolutely. Now that’s how you build loyalty.

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The $30 trillion challenge

“My lesson for financial services brands, actually for all brands, is that delivering the best customer experience is something that technology can enable and make better. But it will always require people who are well trained, compassionate, and empowered to solve the toughest problems, money being key among them. Different customers want different levels of high tech versus high touch engagement. Technology will enhance the experience. The brands that win will be the brands that know how to use it to get closer to the customer.  With $30 trillion at stake, I’d figure out how to get really close.”

triljoenOneThis is the closing paragraph from a recent Forbes article by Allen Adamson and the full article is here for you to read.

He makes the case that brands, most noticeably in the financial services sector need to use technology as an enabler to deliver great customer experiences, as well as being able to make more tailored offerings to individual customer (and channel) preferences which I’d all agree with.

However, what’s more interesting is the $30 trillion he makes reference to. (Here’s a nice little graphic to show what $1 trillion dollars looks like in $1 bills..! as does the image above)

The $30 trillion as Adamson explains is what’s expected to be left in wills and handed down from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennials to invest and spend. The biggest wealth transfer ever!

That’s a significant amount of motivation for the financial services industry to up their game, should they choose to accept the challenge. Time will tell.

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Leading on Service

In a previous incarnation, I worked in the fleet and leasing industry. For the benefit of those people who are unfamiliar with it, as a company we provided fixed term finance to businesses who wanted to provide company cars to their employees (so lease rather than buy).

We then provided support services as required during the life of the contract, which could include maintenance, breakdown recovery, windscreen replacement, accident management and fuel cards as required. All the support services were provided by third party providers under agreement which was a common setup in the industry.

Cars

The industry itself is an interesting one in which, at the risk of generalisation, products and services are pretty much of a muchness. This in the main is due to the regulation around financial products and accounting principles for tax and how companies treat assets; on versus off balance sheet treatment, depreciation etc.

So contract hire (which is one of the most common products) is well, contract hire. Terms and conditions like up front deposits vary slightly between competitors but at its core, contract hire as supplied by most companies is exactly the same given the accounting and legislative rules.

The same goes for services. Breakdown cover is the same. It might be RAC or AA or Green Flag who actually turn up, but again at its core it’s the same service. It might be packaged slightly different, but nonetheless, it’s essentially the same

Differentiation was (and still is) difficult. Price was always a significant factor, followed by customer service, account management and in life support in addition to flexibility within customer contracts.

Reflecting back now with my customer experience perspective, there was no real equivalent in the fleet industry as, say, First Direct is to the financial services industry these days. No real standout leader that everyone aspired to be like, and who really delivered fantastic customer service.

We tried but were never really in the running. We were good at the basics, but we had inflexible IT and a company structure that promoted silo working practices which stood in the way of delivering a real stand out customer experience (sound familiar at all?).

We had competent people in customer services, of course, and across the business, but the business did first and foremost what was most important to itself, not the customer.

So it was refreshing to come across The Miles Consultancy, or TMC as they’re also known.

TMC logo on wall

They’re not a leasing company but they do stand toe to toe with others in the fleet industry as a service provider. As a relative ‘newbie’ into the industry, having only been launched in 2004 by its founder Paul Jackson, they are already punching above their weight both in terms of innovative products and an impressive customer line up but more interestingly (to me anyway) with their customer service delivery.

TMC by their own description are ‘Europe’s leading Fuel Card and Mileage Expense Management specialist’. Their products are already award winning having scooped Fleet World Magazine’s ‘Best Fleet Management Service 2014’ and I’m sure there will be more accolades to follow.

Their mileage capture solution for company car drivers is fully HMRC compliant in addition to providing customers with typical cost savings in the region of 25% which is big money for any fleet and especially if you’ve got hundreds or thousands of business drivers.

Petrol pump

They also have an app which drivers can use to capture mileage real time saving the need every week to fill in cumbersome and unwieldy (in my experience) mileage reimbursement forms.

The first thing you notice about TMC is that they’ve got a customer contact centre. ‘What’s different about that?’ I hear you say. Well nothing really until you look at most of TMC’s competitors. The norm is a web-based solution with no access to real people for help and support when it’s needed.

TMC’s customer service manager, Alison Hewis, says: “People want to call up and talk to a customer service advisor who knows their account and knows about their business. What we sell is not just a piece of software, it’s a whole service.”

And they do just that. However they’re not content with their service which they’re being as innovative towards developing that as they are towards their product offering.

Last year saw the launch of a new joint venture product, which is already leading to significant business growth, with both an expanding client list and employee roll call.

Barclaycard fuel card

However, TMC recognised themselves that this growth would bring challenges, including increased inbound and outbound contact. A challenge that if not handled well could seriously impact existing clients and the great levels of customer service they currently deliver. Many companies either fail to spot this impending challenge or act too slowly to avoid the inevitable drop in service levels which often arise when businesses grow or change.

This in turn gives rise to increased queries and complaints and in the worst case scenarios, customers defecting to competitors with the corresponding brand and reputational damage that accompanies it.

“Obviously, we are very protective of our high standard of service and we do not want anything to threaten it,” says Alison. “This led us to devise a Customer Experience Programme to ensure we are ready for the influx of new customers and drivers brought in by the new fuel and mileage service.”

The customer experience development programme has already seen a number of initiatives deployed around the business, with more planned for this year.

Activities focused on engaging employees through defining vision and values from the ground up, building knowledge and skills with customer agents through advanced training and engaging more proactively with customers and importantly ‘future proofing’ service levels and their customer experience through the ongoing growth period.

Vision and values

The fact that TMC acted before customers are adversely impacted, which would inevitably lead to customer dissatisfaction, speaks volumes about the high regard they have for their customers.

“The programme has been really valuable for us and for the experience of our customers. It builds on what we were already doing right and gives us a codified framework on which we can scale up our service in line with TMC’s growth,” explains Alison. “We’ve enhanced the effectiveness of our regular call-quality reviews, which look at the personal side of interactions as well as measuring how quickly we achieve the desired outcomes. We hold regular brainstorms and share knowledge so every colleague is able to handle any call efficiently.”

As if all this change and activity isn’t enough, they’ve just submitted their entry for the Fleet News 2015 Customer Service awards.

“We’ve got a good story to tell the judges, with excellent retention figures and testimonials to back it up. The great thing is that we are empowered and trusted by TMC, which makes a difference that customers obviously notice when they deal with us,” concludes Alison. Love customers

Sights are also set to compete out of industry in the UK Customer Experience Awards in the near future. A move which is both bold as it is brave as they’d be up against the best of the best. However, that’s where the ‘world class’ bar is set and TMC certainly aren’t ones for aiming low.

Article originally written for CXM – Customer Experience Magazine

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Sack all the cleaners

Before we start let me just clarify that I’m not about to call for the wholesales removal of cleaners from their current employment. Nothing of the sort. But I do want to talk about empowerment and ownership in relation to the customer experience. However, let me explain the cleaners reference though.

Solidarity with cleaners

At Disney, they obviously have cleaners which probably comes as no surprise, and they’re as integral as playing a part in the customer experience as all the other ‘cast members’ are. However it doesn’t end there. The customer experience, as taught thoroughly to cast members through the Disney Institute is everyone’s responsibility and everyone plays a role in the systems and processes that support consistently exceptional customer experiences.

To this end, everyone is expected to pick rubbish up the moment they see it, rather than wait for the cleaners to do it. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Litter doesn’t feature in fairy stories and nor does it feature at Disney Land. It’s immediately taken out of the equation restoring the immediate environment back to the fairy tale landscape it was to start with.

Disney castle

To me this, says as much about culture as it does about systems and processes and who’s ultimately responsible for picking the litter up. The answer of course is that everyone is. But the culture also says, “we’re all responsible for the customer experience, and we’re all empowered to act in a way that ensures the customer’s experience stays great each and every time”

There’s no aspect of the culture that supports the ” it’s not my job to pick up the litter, that’s the cleaners job” type mentality. Rather it’s the culture that says “we can all have a positive impact on the customer through the way we act and behave”. That’s a seriously strong set of value to operate by.

Compare that to many businesses, both large and small, where it’s self evident that they have’t got anything near the Disney approach to culture. Where instead, the culture supports and reinforces (deliberately or otherwise) the opposite to Disney. I’ve heard this first hand “I’m not calling the customer because that’s not my job. The customer cervices team should do it” or “I’m not in customer services.”

Let me say this. Firstly we’re all in customer services, (like we’re all in sales as Dan Pink writes) whether we like it or not.

Disney institute

Secondly, it doesn’t matter who makes the call (or picks the litter up) as long as it’s done as quickly and efficiently as possible to benefit the customer.

But often, business culture doesn’t support this for many reasons; a silo culture, lack of suitably strong values that people don’t take ownership of, a lack of responsibility and leadership to name but a few.

But it can be done and Disney continue to prove it and the template is there to be copied and adapted to fit; leadership, culture and values delivered through systems and process that enable and empower people, rather than restrict or constrict them.

You don’t need to be the scale or have the budgets of Disney to delivery a Disney- esque experience though. With the right framework in place, with the right people (your own team of ‘incredibles’, passion and energy to deliver a superior operation, and a few ‘believers’ to drive the customer experience vision you could create your own version of the Disney experience. incredibles

How about putting that at the top of your ‘to do’ list for Monday? (and please don’t sack any cleaners!)

 

 

 

 

Ownership, empowerment, responsibility of the customer experience by everyone not just customer facing teams.

Litter at Disney

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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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UK economy grows, customer satisfaction declines

With signs that the UK economy is now starting to recover after the worst slump since World War 2, customer satisfaction however is on the decline.

Companion_member_logo_-_full_colour

July saw the most recent update of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index, which showed the third consecutive drop in customer satisfaction recorded over the last 18 months.

12 of the 13 industry sectors declined with the Retail (non food) sector remaining top of the league whilst the Utilities sector continues to flounder at the bottom of the list despite a small increase in satisfaction over the last six months.

Of the 197 organisations featured, only 28 increased their satisfaction scores, with a massive 96 seeing their scores decline.

The usual suspects remain at the top of the table namely John Lewis, Amazon and First Direct being consistent over the last 12 months. The only noticeable absence is Waitrose, who have dropped to 6th place, down from 3rd in 2013.

John Lewis logo

Within the top fifty organisations, Centre Parcs has shown the biggest improvement rising to 13th place, up from 89th in 2013 with Welsh Water showing the largest improvement out of all the organisations.

So what’s going on then?

Well as we’ve seen since the UKCSI started in January 2008, customer expectation has continued to rise and organisations certainly over the last 18 months have failed to keep pace. In addition to that, customer needs and preferences are evolving. The use of mobile technology is a good example and generally speaking, organisations have been slow to responded to the changing landscape of the customer and digital experience.

The trust issue, or the lack of, has remained front and centre with customers and the continued exposure of poor practice and treatment of customers in addition to some high profile cases of deliberate malpractice has done nothing but undermine customer confidence. There is a very marked and direct correlation between customer  TrustWordCloudsatisfaction and trust, and the trust will need to be rebuilt in order for the direction of the index to reverse.

Finally both public and private sector cost cutting and stalled investment is likely to have had an adverse impact on customer satisfaction, which when combined with the other variables above is painting a less than positive picture of the state of customer satisfaction in the UK.

However, within this environment, there are also opportunities for organisations that can be lean, agile, and innovative with both products and services and who can deliver consistent, simple and effortless customer experiences. In fact now, more than ever in recent years, is a good opportunity to steal a march on the competition for those bold enough to lead the way.

Organisations are going to need to redouble their efforts over the next 12 months and beyond if they’re going to want to see results improve as further decline will start to adversely impact the bottom line.

For further details, visit UKCSI

 

 

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Brevado – “Creating Products Synonymous with Better Customer Experience”

Like all great products or services, they solve a fundamental problem that meets a customer need, making lives simpler and easier in the process and in doing so creating better customer experiences. The Brevado team has done just that.

Brevado is a relatively new and small tech start-up company born in the New York area in the Eastern United States. It was the brain child of three long-time friends, Nick Zafiropoulos, Steve Garofalo and Mike Perna. Prior to joining forces in business, Nick loved ‘fixing computers’ with his own IT services company, and Steve and Mike worked for a web design company. By their own admission, none were really aware of customer experience practice and design until they had an epiphany moment.

logo-trans-bg

Steve and Mike’s employer was all about the numbers and volume, an approach that didn’t really sit comfortably with either of them. The focus was on looking for and converting qualified leads into customers, ‘shovelling’ new clients in at the front end. Churning out websites with little focus on the customer experience and communication which resulted in a lot of customer confusion.

Conversely, Nick didn’t have the budget to go out looking for new business in volume. He focused heavily on delivering a great customer service to his existing clients; Nick provided on time delivery and sharing project milestones regularly. He would come to find later that sharing progress was a key component to his clients’ satisfaction. In this way, Nick successfully got his existing clients to refer him to others. New clients started actively seeking him out from the positive word of mouth he was getting. His clients loved his approach and more than anything, being kept in the loop on projects was a refreshing way to do business for them.

The 3 friends shared a life-business conversation, as they did from time to time, realizing that the web design company model created problems. Customers weren’t being kept updated and as a result of the poor experience, customers weren’t referring or even returning for repeat business. This compounded the conveyor belt approach where more and more customers were needed at the front end to compensate for losing customers after just one sale.  screenshot brevado timeline

The guys quickly identified that this was a problem that needed a solution and one that would work for creative professionals (like web designers), small businesses and freelancers. It needed to be simple for people who didn’t have huge time to invest, and work in a way that would complement existing work flows so as to not overly disrupt how people currently operated.

The first idea was to create a customer portal for businesses to collaborate and share progress, but this didn’t completely solve the problem yet. It was with the addition of the timeline that they knew they were on to something. This ‘thing’ was the future way for creative professionals to share progress with their customers and create a better customer experience. They were so convinced that they quit their jobs to work on development full time.

Their lean approach had them reaching out to all creative professionals they had ever met, even those they had not known before. Early feedback was positive along with a stream of new ideas and functions that people felt they would like to see. From this, a prototype was born. The prototype enabled the team to get accepted into a growth accelerator program in North Carolina for both funding and business mentoring. Within 3 short weeks, the guys packed their belongings and headed south.

During this time, they released their public beta version for testing where anyone in the world could sign up. A well timed simultaneous press release was picked up by a series of blogs and over the course of a weekend, 700 people came on board. This further confirmed that they were onto something good and that this was addressing a significant problem that people had.

Moreover, people had stopped requesting new features and were now requesting refinements to existing elements which pointed to the fact that the beta feature set was on track. In fact users were already starting to switch from a competitor product which they used for collaboration on their own projects. Brevado’s competitors are good for internal team use, but overly complex and opaque when using with external clients; this was the problem the guys had originally identified and set out to solve. Customers wanted transparency and shared progress on projects, whether they would last one month or a year and this is what Mike, Steve and Nick had built. Brevado was born.

For anyone who’s ever managed a project, whether for internal or external customers, you know how important it is to keep customers updated and engaged to ensure the project actually gets completed. You also know there are always tasks for the clients which often don’t get completed on time despite the best intentions.

As part of the project management functionality, Brevado allows you to assign tasks directly to clients and automatically suggests updated timescales if they miss a deadline. You can also assign team members in order to collaborate on multiple timelines. Customers can see what you’re currently working on, when it’s due to be complete and what’s coming up afterwards. With a future Google integration, you will also be able to sync deadline dates with Google Calendar with a link to Google Drive documents.

Brevado customers range from artists and video producers to legal and consultant service providers who all have a need to share their iterative work and progress with clients. Curiously, Brevado has had more impact from outside the U.S with interest in the UK, Spain, Jordan, Italy, South and Central America, Columbia, Brazil, Australia and Canada. One Brevado client based in Denmark has customers in the U.S and so use of the tool gets around awkward scheduling conflicts with different time zones. This adds value for both the client and the end customer.

Brevado seeks continuous feedback from clients on their experience and usage and the theme they continue to hear is not only do clients really like it but their clients like it as well, so everyone wins. In addition to progress and updates, it also creates an inclusive client experience that adds to higher levels of engagement and advocacy through usage. Simply logging in and checking progress has solved the panic of ‘oh my god, where’s my project up to?’

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When Mike, Steve and Nick set out on their journey, they didn’t realize the importance of the customer experience in business. It was mostly about the bottom line. Once they discovered the problem and did some research they discovered that customer experience is the most important aspect of business and this is what Brevado is focussed on.

This article was originally written for The Customer Experience Magazine, July 2014.

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Slides, friction and customer experience

I remember a couple of instances when I was young, when my Mum polished the slide in our local park. She actually took a duster and a can of polish in her bag along to the park when we played. Slide

The slide itself was really high to start with, probably because in part I was quite small at the time being about 6 or 7 years of age. But it certainly seemed high enough at the time. An all metal thing it was with wrought iron steps and a shiny and literally ‘polished’ slide surface. Just standing on the top step was enough to give you butterflies, let alone the sliding experience that was to follow especially after my Mum had been busy with the Mr Sheen!

It was a great experience. Fast, thrilling and without friction to slow me or my friends down and one we could repeat again and again until tea time.

It’s the same with customer experience. The more ‘friction’ in a business process, and the more resistance that a customer encounters, then the less satisfying the customer experience will be overall. The greater the number of steps the customer has to go through or the more forms they have to fill out or boxes to fill in on a web page, then the higher the perceived level of effort will be from the customer’s perspective, irrespective of what the actual level of effort is in reality. MrSheen

This raises the probability that the customer experience will be less than desirable, if indeed they actually complete the process in the first place. If they do actually get through the process, will they think that is was too difficult and so be unlikely to return and buy again?

Recent figures suggest online shopping cart abandonments now reach into the billions of pounds each year and is rising steadily, in part due to the fact that checkout processes create way too much friction for customers. That’s a significant loss to business given the amount of time, effort and money invested in getting customers to a website in the first place. Even instore, abandoned purchase rates are high because customers feel they have to queue for too long before being able to pay.

So in order to reduce friction and improve the customer experience, there’s a number of options available;

1. Gather feedback around customer effort directly from customers. Get an understanding of how much effort customers have to go to in order to buy your products or use your services and at each steps of their journey.

2. Where customers spend a large amount of effort, look at ways to simplify the process by reducing the number of steps customers have to go to or by speeding up the overall time the process takes to complete. Always try and see and experience how processes work from the customer’s perspective.

3. Map the customer journey. Ensure that business processes are aligned to the customer journey and that it’s as effortless and frictionless as is realistically and commercial viable for you.

Simple? It should be. Reduce friction, improve the customer experience. Happy sliding!