The Customer Service Survey

Possibly the Best Management Podcast You Will Listen To This Year Peter Leppik Wed, 2016-11-30 15:05

Dan Ariely recently spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California on "The Hidden Logic that Shapes Our Motivations." He covers a lot of ground in psychology and behavioral economics, but what really makes it worth listening to is the discussion of what motivates employees to work hard and do a good job.

There's probably as much practical management wisdom packed into this one hour podcast as in an entire shelf of management books. It's worth listening to the whole thing just to hear why you probably shouldn't pay bonuses to your best employees. Along the way you'll also learn that pizza is sometimes better than cash, and that incentives can cause productivity to decrease.

Humility After the Election

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-11-18 15:34

After the results of the 2016 presidential election came in, the first reaction of many people was that the polls were wrong. A more detailed analysis seems to show that the polls in 2016 were about as accurate (or inaccurate) as they usually are, but many people treated them as more precise than they really are.

I think the surprise (to many) election of Donald Trump serves as an important reminder of the limitations of survey research. Surveys aren't a precision instrument. That's partly because of inaccuracies and biases in sampling, but it's also because surveys are trying to measure opinions, and opinions are inherently fuzzy, malleable, and context-dependent.

In fact, given the limitations of surveys, it's remarkable that political polls are as accurate as they are. Predicting the outcome of an election is easily the most challenging application for a survey, given that you are trying to predict the future behavior of the general population, races are often decided by margins smaller than the margin of error, and you don't get credit for being close if you predicted the wrong winner.

This year's campaign should serve as an important reminder to be humble when interpreting survey results. A solid voice-of-the-customer program isn't as challenging as election forecasting, but customer surveys can still have important biases and inaccuracies. Keep in mind that:

  • Low response rates mean that you are more likely to hear from customers with strong opinions.
  • The survey process may be excluding some customer segments that have different experiences than the customers who can take the survey.
  • If you're giving employees bonuses for hitting survey targets, they may be trying to manipulate the survey.
  • Customers may be interpreting the survey questions differently than you intended.

Keep this in mind, and you will be less likely to make the mistake of being too confident when trying to understand what your customers are trying to tell you.

Let Me Put my Customer Hat On

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-11-16 13:51

To create a good customer experience you need to be able to put yourself in the customer's shoes.

But you also need to be grounded in what actual customers expect and experience.

When You Assume...

When you put your "customer hat" on, are you trying to come to a genuine understanding of specific customer issues and feedback, or are you imagining what a customer might think based on your own assumptions?

As the old saying goes, when you "assume" you make an "ass of U and me."

It's tempting to try to think about the customer's perspective, but customers have a very different experience than employees. Crossing the chasm between an insider's perspective and a customer's perspective is almost impossible without customer feedback. For example:

  • Employees understand how the company works, and customers don't.
  • Employees understand industry jargon, and customers don't.
  • Employees know why certain policies exist, and customers don't.
  • Employees have experience navigating their company's bureaucracy, and customers don't.

These differences in perspective can create blind spots when you try to understand the customer's viewpoint.

Understanding the Customer's Experience

To really put yourself in the customer's shoes, you should:

  • Begin with customer feedback, not you or your team's ideas of what customers are thinking.
  • Take the view that each customer's perspective is reasonable, and trust what they're telling you.
  • Expect that different customers have different experiences. When customers have conflicting opinions, both are equally valid.
  • Work to understand why some customers might feel differently about your customer experience than you do.
  • Understand what parts of your customer experience may be painful to customers even though they make sense to people inside your organization.

This puts the voice of the customer front and center where it belongs. Too often, companies will take the opposite approach: beginning with their own preconceived ideas, they imagine what they think customers want and then collect customer feedback to validate their opinions.

And while customers and employees may agree about many customer experience problems--things that are painful to customers are often also painful to employees--the insider perspective is usually incomplete.

So when you put that customer hat on, make sure you're not putting it on backwards.

The Hundredth Newsletter

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-11-11 15:19

This week we published the 100th issue of Quality Times, Vocalabs' newsletter about customer feedback and customer experience.

A hundred newsletters is a lot, and it seemed appropriate to take a few steps back and consider what customer surveys are really for and how to make them more effective. We know what it takes to make customer feedback effective in improving the customer experience, the problem is that most surveys simply aren't designed to be effective.

As always I hope you find our newsletter interesting and informative, and if you enjoy it please subscribe to get the latest edition hot off the presses via email.

The Intersection of 65,000 and 115,000 Is Not "&"

by Peter Leppik on Tue, 2016-11-08 10:30

Bad Data VisualizationGood data visualization is a balancing act. Communicating facts and statistics in a way that's both pleasing to the eye and conveys meaning intuitively requires skills that are not always easy to find.

It's not surprising when charts and graphs sometimes misfire, especially when the designer tries too hard to be clever and just winds up being confusing.

Just as shipwrecks are sometimes useful ways to spot where the rocks are, really bad data visualizations can help us avoid the mistakes of others.

WTF Visualizations is like a roadmap of how not to communicate data. I highly recommend you spend some time browsing their examples of really terrible data visualization.

First you will laugh. Then you will think. And then, I hope, you will resolve never to venture into those same waters.

Proven Success

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-09-21 15:21

I was going through some of our old client data and discovered something very interesting. In every single case where a client has adopted the broad outlines of the kind of survey process we advocate in Agile Customer Feedback, the client has seen substantial long-term gains. For example:

  • Client A: +10 to NPS
  • Client B: +12 to CSAT with the support incident
  • Client C: +14 to Call Sat in the contact center
  • Client D: +13 to Call Sat

These improvements are changes in full-year survey scores from the first year we started working with each client up to the most recent year we have comparable survey data.

I didn't include all our clients on this list, but we have seen statistically significant (and often remarkable) improvements in survey scores at every single client where we:

  1. Conduct real-time phone interviews of their customers after a customer experience,
  2. Deliver the feedback to the front lines of the organization in real time, and
  3. Have at least two years of survey data.

It's not often in the business world where you can honestly say you have a solution that works every time. But in our case it's true. Every single time we've implemented an Agile Customer Feedback process for a client, it's delivered significant and sustained improvements over the long term.

If Your Employees Will Defraud Customers, They'll Also Cheat on the Survey

by vocalabs on Fri, 2016-09-09 14:40

In the news today, we learned that Wells Fargo had a small issue with employees defrauding customers by creating phony accounts in order to run up fees and hit sales targets. And by "small" I mean "mind-bogglingly massive."

Over the past several years, 5,300 Wells Fargo employees have been terminated because of these fake accounts. That's roughly 2% of the company's workforce, one in 50 employees.

When you consider that not all Wells Fargo employees have the ability or incentive to set up fake customer accounts in this way, and that probably not everyone who did it got caught, it would appear that this behavior was extremely widespread within Wells Fargo.

It's not hard to speculate on why this probably happened. Like many organizations, Wells Fargo probably set aggressive performance targets for employees with serious consequences for missing a goal. Over time, employees learned that they could bend the rules a little to hit their targets, and then bend them a little more. And over time, the goals probably ratcheted up and got harder and harder to meet without cheating. After a while, committing a little light fraud to meet your numbers seems perfectly normal. After all, everyone else is doing it.

Wells Fargo leadership will probably insist that they did not condone any of this, but widespread employee misconduct does not happen in a vacuum. If the consequence for missing your sales targets is the same as the consequence for creating a fake customer account (you lose your job in both cases), the incentive is clearly there to commit fraud and hope you get away with it.

All of this is a little far afield from my usual topic of writing about customer surveys. But a lot of companies have the same sort of high-stakes incentive systems around their customer surveys as they do for hitting sales targets.

Most people have a fairly strong moral compass, but they can be gradually led astray if they're in an environment where misconduct seems normal and carries few consequences. Cheating on a survey is certainly not as bad as creating fake bank accounts to generate fees from customers.

Your goal in any customer feedback program should be to improve your performance, not just generate high survey scores. But if you treat your survey as a high-stakes performance metric for employees, you are almost guaranteed to get cheating. When that happens, the survey is no longer giving you meaningful information.

Rexthor, the Dog-Bearer

by vocalabs on Fri, 2016-08-26 14:42

Statistical analysis is a powerful tool, and like any other power tool, it can cause a lot of damage if not used properly.

So without further comment, here is today's XKCD comic:

"Smart" Products vs. Services

by vocalabs on Fri, 2016-08-19 14:43

It used to be that when you opened up your wallet, you knew whether you were buying a product or a service. New pair of shoes? Product. Haircut? Service. Trip to Disney World? Service. Mickey Mouse T-Shirt? Product.

Knowing what you're getting is important for setting your expectations as a customer. If you're buying a product you don't expect the seller to do much other than deliver it and fix it if it breaks, and you get to continue enjoying the product until it's either used up or worn out.

When you buy a service you expect the seller to do something for you. This could be one time or an ongoing basis, but you generally expect to keep paying as long as the seller is providing the service. Once you stop buying the service (or the seller has fulfilled their obligation) you aren't entitled to keep getting the service.

One of the joys of living in the 21st century is that we now have consumer products that are both products and services, thanks to the Internet and smart devices. That lightbulb you just bought from Home Depot might actually be a "smart" lightbulb which requires ongoing services provided by the manufacturer in order to deliver all the features listed on the box. And if the manufacturer decides to stop providing the services, the lightbulb stops working.

That may sound like a made-up example, but it literally happened this summer. "Connected by TCP" brand lightbulbs, sold by Home Depot among other places, needed to connect to an online service provided by the manufacturer in order to do all the cool things the box said they would do. TCP decided it was no longer worth providing the service, so they shut it down on June 1st, and all those expensive "smart" lightbulbs (as of today, still for sale for $137/pair) instantly became a whole lot dumber.

This is a customer experience nightmare. The company has done a terrible job of setting expectations about what exactly customers are buying. It sits on the shelf at Home Depot just like any other lightbulb, looking and acting like a consumer product, but what customers are actually getting is a product plus an embedded service, and neither the product nor the service is fully functional without the other.

This is also not the first time a "smart" product was crippled or completely disabled when the manufacturer decided to stop providing the hidden service that made it work. Nor will it be the last. As these incidents keep happening, I expect the negative customer experiences to taint the whole market for adding smarts to ordinary consumer products. Most consumers will not be willing to buy "smart" lightbulbs, thermostats, refrigerators, and other devices when they know the manufacturer might not be willing to keep supporting the product for its entire expected lifespan.

To get past this, manufacturers of "smart" products need to make sure that customers are guaranteed a good customer experience even if the company isn't around to provide it. That probably means a combination of setting customer expectations ("Comes with five years of service included!" makes it clear that the service is part of the product), and making better choices about how to deliver the embedded services.

Because the only thing more disappointing than buying a product that breaks, is buying a product that breaks because the manufacturer broke it.

The Tool is No Better Than the Hand That Wields It

by vocalabs on Wed, 2016-08-10 14:46

Customer experience failures have many causes. Poor employee training and morale, rigid adherence to policy, broken processes, understaffing, bad design, a culture of indifference, and occasionally--very occasionally--lack of some critical piece of IT infrastructure.

But even when lack of technology isn't the problem, often the first solution a company will reach for is technology.

I think this is just human nature. Internal problems are hard for organizations to solve. Root causes can be buried deep under years of corporate politics and history that nobody wants to unearth. It's much easier to leave the skeletons in the ground and look for the technological quick-fix.

And so the company reaches for the latest state-of-the-art buzzwords and implements Big Data, EFM, Analytics, or (in an earlier era) CRM, ERP, WFM, or some other technology to solve what is fundamentally a problem with execution.

There's no doubt that these technologies bring value and have an important role in any company's infrastructure. But the technology can't solve a problem where the root cause is people and process. Technology is just a tool, and like any tool can be used well or poorly.

For example, if you are delivering poor customer experience because your employees are not empowered to solve customers' problems, implementing Enterprise Feedback Management will not solve that problem. At best, it might make it more obvious that there's an issue with corporate policies but you're still going to have to drain that swamp to fix things.

On the other hand, EFM can be a valuable tool when your organization is ready and able to make better use of customer feedback from top to bottom.

The mistake is in thinking that the tool will, by itself, drive the needed organizational changes. Instead, implementing the technology is something companies often do because it's easier than addressing the real problems.

Technology vendors are happy to encourage this thinking: it's easier to sell a product that the customer thinks will solve all their problems. But the net result is disappointment when the big technology projects fail to deliver the hoped-for results.

We saw this a generation ago, when CRM was the hot new thing. Failed CRM implementations were so common that some pundits went so far as to predict that CRM itself would prove to be just a fad. Of course CRM wasn't a fad: eventually we figured out what CRM is useful for (keeping track of customers), and what CRM couldn't do all by itself (increase sales, make your customers happier and more loyal). Today nobody questions the value of CRM, but we also have much more realistic expectations and nobody begins a CRM project thinking it will fix deep-seated organizational problems.

In the Customer Experience world, we need to keep in mind that our problems are often not solvable by technology. Technology can help, but the root causes are usually leadership, culture, people, and processes.

The good news is that it may be difficult and slow, but the problems are solvable with the right commitment.

And you might need to dig up a few skeletons along the way.

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