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State of the Nation: UKCSI Jan 2016 results. New Year New Start?

The latest results are out and make in the main for encouraging reading.

This month, the UKCSI, the national measure of customer satisfaction on the high street has seen an index 2 year high, reversing, for the second consecutive period the previous two year decline we saw between January ‘13 and ‘15.

39,000 customer responses were collated covering 296 organisations, which gave an overall index of 77.0 (out of 100) this month, up 0.8 points compared to July 2015 (76.2) and up one point compared to January 2015 (76.0).

However this is still below the all-time high of 78.2 seen in January 2013 so whilst it’s a positive sign, we’re not there yet in terms of customer recovery.

However of those 296 organisation, 96 saw an increase, whilst only 44 saw a decrease in results.

Other key highlights include;

  • Amazon topping the charts with a score of 86.6, albeit down marginally (0.1) in the Jan16 UKCSI top 19 last 12 months. They displace First Direct who have held the top spot for a while now to 3rd place behind Utility Warehouse
  • Retail (food) and Retail (non-food) still top the sectors
  • Utilities as a sector shows the biggest increase with 1.9 points, albeit 12th from 13 sectors overall. Encouraging gains but not out of the woods just yet as 1 of 5 sectors below the average.
  • Utility Warehouse (top of their Utility sector and straight in at 2nd place), Trailfinders (top of their Tourism sector)and RIAS (over 50’s insurance) all appear in the Top 50 for the first time
  • T-Mobile sees the biggest increase at 9 points over the last twelve month which is a significant shift, a similar performance last seen by Lovefilm in July 2015 with an 8.2 point increase.
  • Banks and Building Societies is the only sector down by over 1 point in the last twelve month
  • Telecomms and Media still languish at the bottom with a sector average of 72.6
  • The 25 and over 65 age groups remain the most satisfied
  • As do the Welsh amongst areas in the UK, compared to the Southwest who saw a decline in satisfaction
  • As are Women who are more satisfied in general than men (apart from in the Automotive sector)
  • For the naysayers who still don’t believe that great experiences and high levels of satisfaction drive (financial) results, Food retailers with a UKCSI at least one point higher than the sector average achieved average sales growth of 7.6% compared to a drop in sales of 0.4% for those with a UKCSI at least a point below the sector average.

Customer preference by channel and method of interaction;

  • In person (46.9%)
  • Website (22.6%)
  • Over the phone (20.2%)

However, when you look at the new channels of contact including apps and social media the results are not as I expected them to be;

Jan16 UKCSI channel preference

  • Out of all 13 sectors, apps only provide the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the Bank and Building Societies sectors although it’s unclear how widespread apps are deployed across the other sectors.
  • Public sector local and national websites provide the least satisfying experiences (think HMRC – ok so maybe that’s not a surprise)
  • Webchat only features in the Telecomms and Media sector and not for the right reasons being below average satisfaction

Channel Hopping

Nothing new here on this but goes to reinforce previous research and patterns of customer behaviour;

  • Most customers (58%) use one channel of communication when they interact with organisations.
  • A sizeable minority say that they use two (34.1%), but then there’s a marked drop off in usage (both overall and across sectors) to three (5.6%) or more than three (2.3%) channels.
  • Customers who used three or more channels were much more likely to say that they had experienced a problem (27.7%) with the organisation in the previous three months and give them a lower customer satisfaction rating. This is 3x higher than those that use 1 channel.

I can personally testify to doing this with a company when I didn’t get the results I wanted by email and phone, before taking to twitter to complain. This is all about customer effort. More effort = less satisfaction.

Customer Priorities

Also at the end of 2015, the UKCSI reviewed the importance of customer priorities which was last reviewed in 2010 and there’s some noticeable changes across the – wait for it, 47 customer priorities.

The top 4 most important all relate to staff attitude with the 5th being complaint handling. In order they are;

  1. Staff competence (in person)
  2. Staff doing what they say they will do
  3. Staff competence (over the phone)
  4. Helpfulness of staff (in person)
  5. Handling of the complaint

Interestingly, value for money only features at 13th with price/cost at 20th.

And finally a word about the most important features of delivering a great customer experience; employees.

Employees’ friendliness, helpfulness and competence have become relatively more important in the eyes of customers over the last 5 years, as well as speed of service, especially when dealing with employees in person. Ease of doing business has also increased in importance along the theme of reduced customer effort we’ve discussed over the last 12 months.

All in all interesting times and a continuingly changing customer and business landscape where the agile, fleet of foot excel and the legacy industrial monoliths creak and groan. Here’s to a continued improvement and let’s see what the next 6 months brings.

You can download the report in full here

Source: UKCSI Executive Summary Results January 2016.

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Lush tops Which? customer service survey

The annual customer service survey from Which? is out and the usual suspects feature at both the top and bottom of the list of the 100 big brands rated. You can read the full results here but we’ve summarised the highlights below.

Lush_Logo_640x350The top rated brands were;

1. Lush – 89%

2. First Direct – 86%

3. Lakeland – 84%

=4. Body Shop – 83%

=4. John Lewis – 83%

=4. Waitrose – 83%

Floundering around at the bottom of the list, providing little in the way of surprises came these brands;

=95. Ryanair – 66%

=95. Vodafone – 66%        Which best buy

97. Talk Talk – 64%

98. BT – 63%

99. npower – 61%

100. Scottish Power – 59%

Each brand was rated across 5 areas of service with a possible 5 star maximum in each. The areas scored were;

  • making their customers feel valued
  • knowledge of products and services
  • helpfulness of staff
  • resolving complaints or problems
  • access to customer support.

The 3,501 general public respondents were also asked to give brands an overall rating for customer service, which is where the customer service score comes from. Amazon, M&S, Pets at Home, Waterstones, Dunelm, Clarks and the RAC all made the top 10.

Despite being voted Which? supermarket of the year in 2014, Aldi only managed joint 73rd with 14 other brands including Virgin, British Gas and JD Sports all scoring 71%.

Utilities and telecoms continue to struggle to get to grips with customer service with Scottish Power who were 99th last year swapping places with npower who have been bottom for at least the last two years. Scottish Power, attributed their woes to the often blamed scapegoat of IT. “Last year all our customer accounts were migrated on to a new IT system, which resulted in a very busy period as disappointingly we experienced more problems with the new system than we would have liked.”

IT aside, these two sectors have done little to visibly improve, with big players losing significant ground and customers to the disruptive likes of Ovo Energy and Ecotricity.

If this continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if the respective regulators for these two industries ‘impose’ a change on behalf of customers. Interesting times!

 

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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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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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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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Can you value and recommend a product you never use?

Not many people I know like having to pay car insurance. It’s perceived as a necessary evil and an additional expense and cost. I understand why we need it, but it always feels like an additional tax. And it’s not even a remotely glamorous or exciting purchase now is it? No insurance is.  Car crash

Like many insurance products, it sits in the background and you only get to know if it actually works, when you have to make a claim. Until this situation arises, you don’t actually know if the product you bought up to 12 months ago, will do what you need it to, when you need it,  in an easy and effortless way.

Assuming it does all work, the resulting perception of it’s inherent value is probably high. If the claim was problematic and protracted though or didn’t go to plan, then the resulting perception of value will likely be low.

Given, I’ve not had to make a claim (touch wood!) since renewing my policy in January this year, I was surprised to receive an email yesterday asking me ‘rate my car insurance’ and asking me whether I’d ‘recommend them’.

Always the ‘geek’ when I get stuff like this through, I couldn’t help but click on the link for the short questionnaire, powered by reevo the review site.

True to their word, it was indeed short. 3 sections on ‘rate your product’, ‘rate the provider’ and a final section to add personal details on me, if I so wanted.

However, within the product section, there were 3 questions;

  1. Ease of applicationInsurance claim form
  2. Value for money
  3. Overall rating

I could answer number 1 no problem, but I couldn’t answer 2 or 3 which is where this very well intended attempt to gather customer feedback stalled and then crashed in flames. If I answer question 1, it’s based on my actual experience. If I answer 2 and 3, given I’ve never made a claim it would be opinion, rather than based on my experience and whilst I could do that, how do I know whether my policy is actually good value for money, never having used it? I know how much it cost but that’s not the same thing. And if I never use it, will I ever appreciate the potential value in it?

The second section on the supplier was similar.

  1. Would I buy from them again?
  2. If I contacted customer services, was my query handled effectively?
  3. How likely would I be to recommend them to a friend?

If I was honest, my answers would be;    Recommend image

  1. It depends (based on price if I never make a claim, or how well my claim was handled if I have one which to date I haven’t)
  2. No
  3. It depends (again, if I never make a claim, what am I recommending apart from price in the main?)

Whilst I’m all for businesses and organisations seeking proactive feedback on customer experience with a view to improving it, this could be done in a much more valuable way.

Rather than the Insurer seeking blanket feedback from all customers, whether they’ve had a claim or not, they should separate customers to get feedback on different parts of the insurance life cycle; i.e. purchase, in life, claims handling, repurchase

  • For customers who have never claimed, they should seek feedback on the initial upfront processes (like ease of application) and any communication in life since the product was purchased.
  • For customers who have had to make a claim, focus on the claims handling experience and their likelihood to recommend and repurchase as a result of the way the claim was handled.

It’s a subtle difference and slight change of approach, but one which would generate more feedback and insight from customers which the insurer could then use to improve the whole insurance life cycle.

They might even go some way to making it a more glamorous purchase experience in the future!

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UKCSI results – Consumer satisfaction is on the decline

January 2014 saw the releases of the most recent wave of the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as commissioned by The Institute of Customer Services. The full summary can be found here.

Some of the highlights include;  Companion_member_logo_-_full_colour

  • Customer satisfaction has fallen for the second consecutive period (12 months in total) down by 0.8 to 77.1 out of 100 – a significant change
  • Customer satisfaction declined in 12 out of 13 sectors. Banking ironically was the only sector to buck the trend!
  • The top 5 organisations continue to perform consistently with Amazon ranking highest at 88.6 from 100
  • There’s large diversity in performance over the 120 organisations included with 81 of those seeing performance drop.
  • A 10 point increase in customer satisfaction sees a 13% increase in customer trust
  • A 1 point increase in customer satisfaction (out of 10), generates a 10% increase in customer loyalty and recommendation.
  • When faced with the choice, 60% of customers favour a balance of price and service and will not accept low service levels in exchange for a cheap deal.
  • A substantial minority of consumers – 25% – seek excellent service and are prepared to pay for it, while 15% are highly motivated to find the cheapest deals.

Some great insight from these results and a reminder that organisations can’t afford to ‘ease off the gas’ when it comes to delivering consistently great customer experiences in a backdrop of rising customer expectation.

It’s going to make for an interesting year!

 

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Finding the missing million

I recently met Guy Letts, Founder and Managing Director of CustomerSure which is an all in one customer feedback system.

Apart from what I learnt about the product itself, I also learnt about  Guy’s journey, his experience and his ‘battle scars’ of being tasked with finding a missing million in revenue that took him ultimately to start the Customer Sure business after turning round the operations centre he managed.

Before founding CustomerSure, Guy was Head of Customer Services at Sage, the market leading business software company based in Newcastle and Guy was responsible for running a medium sized services operation with 120 staff, which was a business unit within the larger Sage organisation.

His customers were small and medium sized companies and, together with his experience prior to Sage, he’s been fortunate to learn by working with people at both ends of the corporate spectrum.

When he first took on the role there was a challenging revenue target in a less than favourable business environment.  He was tasked with growing a £20m ($30m) revenue line by 10%. This was before he discovered the customer attrition problem, which was running at 9% which made tackling the growth target even harder.

Guy set about the challenge by starting to improve customer satisfaction to both stem the attrition rate and to try and make headway into the challenging financial growth target he was tasked with.

In the period of time that he was in the role, he tried what all the customer service books typically tell you to do;

  • Train frontline staff
  • Use mystery shopping to provide feedback
  • Standardise processes
  • Answer the phone quickly
  • Audit people and process
  • Benchmark
  • Introduce a VoC programme
  • Conduct an annual measure of customer satisfaction

However in reality he soon realised that all these aspect didn’t work for him and his team. His experience in implementing them, showed that whilst most of the practices were good things to do, for him and his department at the time, they were not effective in moving the needle on their customer satisfaction dial. They didn’t deliver a return on the effort they were investing because they weren’t the things that were most important to customers.

All they succeeded in doing was to make a bunch of committed people even busier and more exhausted than they already were. 

Training the ‘front line’

This is of course important but it’s nothing like the whole story. Of course it’s vital to make sure that people who are in frequent contact with customers know how to listen carefully, deal with people appropriately to all the circumstances and reach an outcome that leaves the customer completely satisfied. Training also helps people deal with the often stressful demands of their roles.

The mistaken belief that organisations often have is that the ‘front line’ are the only people who influence customer satisfaction, and that training them solves the problem.

In fact, people who do that job generally enjoy dealing with people and are often good at it. Where it falls down is how they themselves are treated, the policies they have to defend, the systems and data they have to work with and the support that’s available for solving customer problems that are not mainstream or that need attention from someone elsewhere in the business.

A bad environment can grind down even the most motivated and talented people, and no amount of training will counter that. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that everyone in every role in a company has an impact on customers in some way. The people who set the policies, who deal with recruitment, deal with suppliers, drive the vans…everyone influences customers and potential customers one way or another.

Mystery shopping

“We found it told us what we already knew or could have worked out for ourselves.”

Clearly there’s some value in having a fresh perspective, and it’s sometimes easier for a third party to share uncomfortable truths, but however skilled are the proxy customers, they’re not real customers.

Guy’s view is that “I’ve found that customers are won or lost one at a time, according to their own specific preferences, circumstances and experiences of dealing with the company. It’s impossible to second guess the critical factors for a particular real customer. So again, we found this method can produce interesting results, but it didn’t improve conversion, retention or average spend.”

Standard processes

One of the common tenets of customer experience is that customers like consistency and people do, in general. Some restaurant chains, for example, go to extraordinary lengths to make experience the same no matter which restaurant you visit. Menus laid at the right angle, chairs neatly aligned and a precise number of pepperoni slices on the pizza. It’s all designed to make us feel more comfortable and reduce anxiety. Even in offices all over the world, brand consistency rules: colours and margins must comply for the sake of a consistent customer experience.

“Consistency does not beat quality” Guy explained. “Consistent presentation does not overcome a sub-standard deliverable, or an unhelpful attitude, or a call that’s not returned, or a deadline that’s missed without warning or a promise that’s not kept. So while there are benefits in standards, we had to make sure that we didn’t risk hitting the standard but missing the point, and disappointing the customer.”

Fast phone pick-up

This point Guy confessed, was an initiative that they were supposed to comply with at the time but they kept their heads down on this.

“Customers want a fast response and that is the key to customer satisfaction. Three rings to answer a call was the maximum at the time, and one ring the gold standard.”

However speed of answering the phone became a crusade and they saw other areas decline as response times improved dramatically. The result was that customer satisfaction actually dropped rather than improved.

This highlighted to Guy the danger of setting the wrong targets. Of course as customers ourselves, we all want a fast response. But customers prized more highly a call in which they would receive a sympathetic hearing, a friendly approach and a competent and caring first-time resolution. This was the new target that Guy subsequently adopted for his team.

Auditing

Guy is a big fan of peer reviews in helping to improve customer satisfaction. Having a competent ‘second pair of eyes’ observe and make constructive suggestions to his team was one of the biggest contributors to quality that he says he’s come across and used, and it can be applied to most tasks.

On the other hand though, he hated prescriptive checklists which just rewarded people for going through the motions and distracted focus from the quality of the deliverable. Audit is good for maintaining quality and developing people, and he adds “I’d say there’s always a place for it, but by itself it’s not the answer – it can improve quality and consistency, but it doesn’t guarantee the customer will be happy.”

Benchmarking

Guy’s got an interesting view point on this subject which won’t sit comfortably with some people.

“Benchmarking customer satisfaction is a waste of time. There is no RoI because the activity does not benefit customers.”

“You might benchmark some other things, perhaps the specifications of your product or service – that could be helpful, especially in a competitive market. Certainly you should measure customer satisfaction. But the only thing you should compare against is the reasonable expectations of your customers. If you score highly on that, you’re good. If you don’t, you have work to do – and one by one they are the (only) people who can tell you what that work is. It really doesn’t matter how other companies are doing. At least not in my experience.

If you still want to try, then benchmark yourself against somebody impressive, not your competitors.

Voice of the Customer (VoC)

The challenge here is that most VoC projects are not done in a way that actually benefits individual customers. On the contrary, the problem is that they can often leave individual customers feeling that they have been ignored.

Here’s the issue as Guy sees it:

“If you ask customers for their views, you need to be prepared to respond immediately if they use that opportunity to report a problem.

A problem may not be the type of feedback you were looking for. But if you ignore the ‘wrong’ type of feedback, how do you think a customer will feel when that happens?

Of course it’s not the feedback you wanted. You were looking for feedback that helps you plan the future shape of your business. What are the deep insights that you can get from customers to make your company even more popular and so even more profitable? Well, you may well get some responses like that.

But because I’ve done this, and read all the responses, I’ve found that you’ll get far more reports about things that need fixing for customers now – not in a month or two when the feedback has wound its way round to every stakeholder in the business and then a team has decided what to prioritise.

In our experience, we realised that we needed to deal with issues and problem within 24 hours (although preferably within an hour). Once we started to deliver against that, we started to blow customers’ socks off!”

The foundation to put in place first and foremost then for a VoC program to be successful, is to prepare staff and systems to respond quickly to whatever comes back from customers.

Annual satisfaction surveys

Again, Guy’s view on this typical and often traditional approach that many organisation follow could be viewed as counter intuitive or even down right heretical!

“These provide great sentiment, but I’ve never seen these deliver good results for customers nor, therefore, for a business.”

In his role in which he first learnt all these lessons he inherited two annual surveys from prior years.

“The background was that I needed to deliver 10% growth, but I’d just learnt that we had 9% attrition – so in reality we needed nearly 20% growth because we first needed to replace the revenue we’d lost.  I was therefore very anxious to read what all these customers had said.”

He described the feeling as his heart sank though when he read line after line of cries for help in the customer feedback, all of which had not even been read, let alone actioned.

“I counted that we could have saved 6 in every 10 customers that we had lost…if only the surveys had been read and the customers’ issues resolved.”

The light bulb moment came for guy when he realised that these initiatives weren’t exactly wrong, they just weren’t enough. He recounts;

“I spent many months trying things like these, visiting other companies, reading the literature and listening to people who’d achieved some success.  It did feel like we were making progress, but we were only inching forward.”

His breakthrough came when he and his team set up a basic customer feedback system.  After the painstaking, incremental improvements in customer satisfaction he’d seen before, this one system started delivering remarkable results.

With hindsight it’s easy to see why but when you’re in the thick of it and under pressure it’s much more difficult. “Looking back it’s obvious why it worked” he says.

“When we did something for a customer, we just asked them simply and politely whether they were completely satisfied or not, rather than leaving it to chance.

If customers were happy, they appreciated that we were concerned to check.  We also got some positive feedback to encourage the teams or to display as a review.  If on the other hand there was a problem, we made it dead simple for customers to get it fixed.”

The customer feedback system delivered dramatic benefits from the outset and Guy and the team carried on working hard to get the process right for customers so that they could continue getting the maximum benefit for the business.

“The main thing we learnt was that customer satisfaction doesn’t depend on what you do, it depends on how the customer feels.” Something that’s easy to forget in a busy and fast past business focussed on delivering on its financial commitments.

Between doing the best and the final outcome for the customer all sorts of things can go wrong.  “You think you’ve done a great job, yet the customer can be fuming.  Unless you close the loop and check for satisfaction, you have no idea.  Meanwhile your marketing goes in the bin, your reputation suffers, and your competitors are being asked to quote.

Even when someone has smiled and shaken you warmly by the hand, that’s no guarantee of success.  Nobody likes initiating an awkward conversation…sometimes they just decide to vote with their feet.”

What the team came to realise is that by checking for satisfaction, in a way that’s fast and convenient, for customers and making it clear that honest comments were welcomed, they started to guarantee and realise increased satisfaction, retention and more repeat business with the confidence that there was a firm grasp of all the issues that were important to customers.

“By improving customer satisfaction we met our revenue budgets and then grew it for 3 successive years before I left to set up Customer Sure based on the principles and my experience of what really works.”

This approach can be succinctly summarised by the 3 key principles for a successful customer feedback system which not only made Guy’s operation a success, they also form the basis of the CustomerSure approach;

1. Focus on business benefits

2. Make it easy for customers to have their say

3. Act on customer feedback.  Immediately.  Every time.

Simple. And so it should be because that’s exactly what customers want.

(Article originally written for the January 2014 edition of Customer Experience Magazine)

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Case Study: Findel Education – Transforming Customer Experience.

Getting shortlisted for the UK Customer Experience awards is an achievement in itself. Winning an award is a huge success. Findel Education fought off strong competition from the likes of LV, Virgin Media and Capita to win Best Business Change or Transformation at this year’s event.

However not content with winning one award, in the same day Findel Education won The Best Customer Experience Programme at the North West Contact Centre Awards. In addition, they’ve recently won an award for Best Improvement Strategy at the European Call Centre and Customer Service Awards. As with success in many areas, the origin of their customer experience journey started a few years ago amidst a climate that was the opposite of where Findel Education are today. Findel logo_v3

If you’re not familiar with Findel Education, a trip to any school will soon reveal who they are. Part of Findel plc, they are Europe’s leading educational resources supplier, employing over 400 employees with an annual turnover of £104 million.

A little over 2 years ago they were a very different company and the word ‘customer’ was seen as a negative word to everyone internally. Findel Education had grown dramatically over the last 15 years through a series of acquisitions bringing together a multitude of different brands, people, systems and processes.

Not surprisingly, a full business review identified that there was a significant need to change as a business, and to focus on the customer experience delivery. The findings didn’t make for easy reading. They discovered that;

  • They had lost a significant number of customers throughout 2010/11, resulting in £7m in lost sales.
  • The business was not focused on the customers’ needs; removing cost was the main business driver for decisions.
  • The marketplace was changing; there was more choice, less school funding and nothing to differentiate them from their competitors.
  • Employees were not motivated.
  • There was no clear company strategy or vision.
  • Customer Service was a contact centre responsibility.
  • They had a poor reputation for service in the market.

With this troubling environment and under a new leadership team there was the go ahead to launch a project aimed at turning the business around with 4 clear objectives;

  1. Understand what customers want.  Business and customer signpost
  2. Become easy to do business with.
  3. Engage employees (to engage customers).
  4. Focus on continuous improvement.

 

Their new vision was to become the first choice for educational resources in the marketplace, and to achieve that they had to truly put the customer at the heart of everything they did and not just talk about it. Something that is a challenge for a lot of organisations looking to improve the customer experience but an important point of congruence between what an organisation says and what it actually does.

To kick this off, a ‘Best in Class’ service culture quickly became one of their new 8 strategic goals alongside people development and process excellence.

Part of the change in culture came early on by the introduction of 3 simple questions to get employees to think ‘customer first’.

 Customer first questions

 This simple ‘Ask yourself’ campaign meant that every decision, every meeting, every discussion was focused on the customer. This became Findel Education’s customer mantra and meant that they could start to shape their customer experience change strategy.

In late 2010 the company launched their ‘Employee Voice’ and the ‘Customer Voice’ campaigns. This was a simple yet structured feedback programme that would help benchmark ongoing progress and also help them remain focused on taking the right actions.

Employees provided feedback around how customer and employee focused the business was. This gave people a voice about how Findel Education should do business and the experience provided to customers.

Once a quarter customers are asked three simple questions;

  1. Are you happy with the recent shopping experience?
  2. Would you shop with Findel Education again?
  3. Would you recommend Findel Education?

Despite the positive start, the company soon realised that they didn’t have a full view of what their customer experience looked like, where they were winning and where they were failing. They needed insight from an inside-out and an outside-in view of their existing customer experience. It was at this point they engaged performance improvement company Blue Sky.

This gave additional credibility to the programme and gained the support of employees. Hundreds of customers were involved and over 150 employees provided insight. The vast amount of information gained unfortunately presented an overwhelming picture of how much there was to fix.

However, as a priority, customers wanted Findel to focus on 4 key areas:

  1. Allow them to find the products they needed easily.
  2. To meet their service expectations, before, during and after they’ve shopped.
  3. For Findel to listen to them.
  4. To be ‘easy to do business with’.

In order to effectively manage the Customer Experience to deliver on what customers wanted, Findel Education built the foundations from the bottom up including restructuring their contact centre. Curiously, it was only at this point that Findel Education appointed a Head of Customer Service and a Learning and Development Manager. However prior to this, there had been little investment and little training but they soon realised that they couldn’t deliver the improvement programme without employee engagement and this ‘eureka’ moment formed a critical foundation to their success.

Quarterly review meetings focussed on what the business needed to do better in terms of performance and what needed to change, which resulted in improvement actions. This also ensured a process of both continuous improvement and continuous engagement with employees.

Employee engagement was a priority as all Customer Service Advisors needed to take on board the new policies and  the company’s ‘Every Customer Counts’ training embedded this.

Advisors were also restricted by historical processes that had become barriers to customers doing business with Findel Education. If an item had to be returned for example due to a processing error by the company, the customer had to pay the return costs and Advisors had no ability to waive this fee. This gave birth to the ‘no hassle returns’ policy which delivered perfectly for customers on their fourth requirement of Findel Education’s being ‘easy to do business with’ which has subsequently gone on to become their mission statement.

Through various activities like Customer-focused training for all employees, regular “Buzz” sessions for Customer Service Advisors  and a Management Training Programme to help managers support the culture change , the wider company and the contact centre culture has been effectively transformed. Employees now feel empowered to do the right thing for the customer and go that extra mile to deliver ‘Best in Class’ service.

Findel mission

 Findel Education’s new approach to delivering a holistic customer experience was summed up by the introduction of their customer charter, focussing on the three key areas of success with customers.

  1. Customer focussed attitude
  2. Market leading proposition
  3. Best in class service

This charter was designed by employees based on customer feedback and has been communicated and is visible to everyone in the business and includes Findel Education’s service promise of which their ‘no hassle returns’ and ‘free next day delivery’ form a key part.

However, this new approach to business hasn’t come cheap. Findel Education have made a considerable investment in offering free next day delivery, and packaging and courier improvements. Furthermore they have clocked up 1,324 days of customer experience training in 2012 alone. First contact resolution is now the norm and the query to order process has significantly improved.

All this investment and effort though is already starting to pay dividends. Employee perception of Findel Education as a customer focussed business is up significantly year on year with 97% of employees believing that they give customers what they want, compared to only 58% in 2011.

This improvement in results is echoed from customers too. The customer voice feedback showed that 96% of customer were happy in September 2013. The highest score since the customer experience programme began. In the same month, repeat business scores hit 100%. Customer NPS is now at 80% up from only 50% in 2011.

For anyone still not convinced on the financial return on investing in the customer experience, the numbers for this business  are healthy; sales this year are already ahead, average order frequency per customer is up from 3.7 to 5 and extra brand demand in 2012/13 equated to almost £3 million. Findel people_v3

Findel Education acknowledge they still have a way to go on their journey despite the significant achievements they’ve already realised. They’ve already identified their next steps which include customer self-service, multi-channel integration and next generation training to name but a few initiatives.

However, for all their progress they’ve made they have certainly been worthy of their three awards and they have a great story to tell about what’s possible in delivering a great customer experience once the right foundations are in place. If they keep tracking as they are, they might need a much bigger awards cabinet next year.

This article was originally written for the December issue of The Customer Experience Magazine.