Just two weeks to go before it is 2017–good riddance, 2016!–and that means it is time to start making your professional New Year’s resolutions. At the top of many marketers’ lists of goals is to improve their brands’ customer experience (CX), but just like my annual January commitment to exercise, that can fade under the intense pressure of daily demands and expectations.
Fear not, because there are simple (but not necessarily easy) actions you can take to ensure your customers will be more satisfied, more loyal and sing your praises next year. Here are three:
Listen to your customers
Listening to customers has not traditionally been a strength of the Marketing department. Marketers tested creative in small focus groups and tracked consumers’ clicks, but most of that “listening” was designed to recognize what got people to click and buy rather than what got them to love the brand and remain loyal to it. That is changing as more marketing leaders adopt customer experience management as a strategic imperative, and this means marketers are making greater use of Voice of the Customer (VOC) programs than ever before.
You cannot improve your CX if you don’t understand your brand’s experiences from the perspective of the customer, and you cannot know that unless you listen. Chances are your firm already has a VOC or feedback platform in place, so in 2017, make better use of it. Get to know the platform’s analytics capabilities or import data into business intelligence tools to get more insight from the data. Consider new listening posts to track consumer sentiment at different stages in their journeys with your brand. And expand your feedback mechanisms across the entire range of direct, indirect and inferred data to better understand drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. (Gartner subscribers interested in digging deeper will find our Market Guide for Voice of the Customer platforms helpful.)
Use customer call recordings and verbatims
It is easy to forget in our data-driven business world that the real voice of the customer still matters. Just as we know consumers don’t act to consider and purchase our brands purely for objective and quantifiable reasons, so too will employees and leaders pay more attention to customer experience issues when their emotions are engaged. A chart or table that conveys a customer experience issue is one thing, but listening to a one-minute call is quite another. (If you’ve never sat in a room of executives while they listen to a painful 60-second customer interaction, you will never know what eternity feels like.)
Just as a customer’s video about Comcast employees creating a dangerous situation could spark more urgent action (and an immediate and commendable response from the company) than could a spreadsheet, so too can your customers’ words drive impact. Use call recordings, survey verbatims, and social media posts to encourage greater attention, emotional commitment and response from your peers. (Gartner subscribers interested in social listening and using customer verbatims from social networks may wish to take note of our report, Should You Invest in a Social Command Center?)
Change team and individual performance plans to reward employees for creating happy customers
Employees don’t do what you tell them to do; they do what you reward them to do. Achieving strong financial results and strong customer outcomes requires a balanced set of metrics for teams and employees. If your brand only tasks and compensates employees to deliver new accounts, prevent subscribers from canceling or deliver other financial business outcomes, it should come as no surprise when short-term results improve while leading indicators of future success decline. These include metrics such as satisfaction, net promoter score, trust, and likelihood to repurchase, and when these start to decay, the brand not only risks future business results but also a reputation crisis in social media.
Brands known for great customer experience do a better job of identifying and hiring for critical empathy, communication and customer skills, but they also put the right financial incentives in place. They reward employees for delivering great experiences and making customers happy as much as for making a sale. (Gartner subscribers can read more about CX maturity and the role of employee compensation in culture change in our research note, How Marketing Can Lead Organizationwide Customer Experience Maturity.)
And two more difficult actions you should consider
Of course, getting your brand’s customer experience right is hard work; not every solution is as easy as making better use of your current customer feedback platform or copying and pasting customers’ authentic words into a PowerPoint deck for leaders. Two more challenging–and more important–actions you should consider this coming year include:
Develop and use data-driven personas to guide better decisions
Personas have been part of the marketing toolkit for years, but they continue to evolve. Today’s personas are more driven by quantitative data and not just qualitative insights, and they are never “complete.” Marketers that tell us they get the most from their personas customize them with different insights for different purposes. To support customer experience efforts, for example, personas often infuse customer journey mapping information, identifying goals and needs from one step to the next. (Subscribers may wish to read our new research note, How Marketing Leaders Make Personas Actionable.)
When customers purchase your product, they expect to be satisfied. This means that when you have satisfied customers, your brand is doing what is expected, and no brand creates strong, resilient customer relationships or encourages powerful and substantial word of mouth by doing what is expected. Companies that create the strongest bonds don’t settle for satisfaction but seek and earn love from their customers.
If you want the real benefits of customer experience–the sort of loyalty that cannot be shaken by competitors with new products or lower price and the kind of brand advocacy that increases awareness, consideration, and purchase–then you need to set your sights much higher. Map your customer journeys from beginning to end, where the end is not acquisition or use of the product but a circumstance where your brand understands and acts on customer needs and emotions to deliver love, deepen loyalty, and spark word of mouth. (Gartner subscribers interested in the role of “love” in the customer journey are invited to read our note, Use Gartner’s Buy/Own/Advocate Framework to Map Customer Journeys and Deliver Better Customer Experiences.)
If your brand wants a happy 2017 and beyond, make a commitment to foster more happy customers. Having satisfied customers are good but loyal, raving fans are better. Embrace the tools, platforms, and processes of customer experience this coming year and make it your brand’s most prosperous year ever.