The Customer Service Survey

Vocalabs Newsletter #95

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-02-24 13:34

We just sent out the latest issue of Quality Times, our mostly-monthly newsletter about customer feedback and the customer experience. Featured in this month's newsletter are the National Customer Service Survey (NCSS) results for the banking industry in 2015. Next month we plan to publish the results for Communications, so stay tuned for those.

As always, I hope you find the newsletter useful and informative. You can subscribe to receive future issues via email.

NCSS Results: Chase on top, Bank of America Improves

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-02-10 11:16

We just published the results for the National Customer Service Survey (NCSS) on Banking for 2015. This is our ongoing syndicated research program comparing the customer service at four major consumer banks: Bank of America, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo.

For the NCSS we interview customers within a few minutes of a customer service call to one of the companies we track. This is very different from other published research, where participants are asked to recall a customer service experience which may have happened months ago. As a result, we are able to get very reliable, detailed survey data about what's actually happening when a customer picks up the phone.

In 2015 we saw Bank of America make significant improvements in our survey. In one year, BofA's score for Call Resolution went up 13 points, its score for Ease of Reaching and Agent went up 11 points, and overall satisfaction with the customer service call was up 13 points over the past two years.

Chase took the honors for best scores overall, even though it didn't have as dramatic an improvement as Bank of America. Chase had the highest scores in seven of the nine key metrics we track in our report, and generally continued the upward trajectory it has been on since we started our survey in 2011.

Meanwhile Citi took a beating, losing 13 points in overall satisfaction with the company, 12 points in satisfaction with the customer service call, and claiming the bottom slot in eight of the nine metrics.

The 2015 results represent a reversal for both Bank of America and Citi. When we started the survey in 2011, Chase and Citi were posting lower survey scores than Wells Fargo and Bank of America. But Chase and Citi made several years of improvement, while Bank of America's scores were generally flat. This year, though, Bank of America is back in the middle of the pack with its gains, and Citi's scores are behind its competitors.

It's hard to speculate on what might be driving these major changes this year. Improving the customer experience is a process, not a project, and it's possible that Citi has been distracted with other priorities.

You can get a copy of the Executive Summary sent to you through our website:

National Customer Service Survey on Banking, 2015 Executive Summary

Sharing Feedback, Constructively

by Peter Leppik on Tue, 2016-02-02 11:32

Back when I was is college I took a creative writing class, and part of this class was to critique each other's work: read what the other students wrote, and offer constructive criticism and feedback. It turned out that was one of the hardest things to do effectively, because most people instinctively get defensive about any negative feedback. They're just too emotionally invested in their work to accept even mild criticism dispassionately.

The same thing can happen when you share negative customer feedback. Often, an employee's intense and emotional reaction is that someone is trying to tell them that they're bad at their job, and they react defensively. At the company level, most people take a lot of pride in the organization they work for (even when it's not justified) and have a hard time hearing that something might be broken. Breaking through this takes a lot of finesse and you have to be careful about how you present and frame the feedback.

I did eventually get pretty good at giving and receiving constructive criticism, and that's turned out to be really helpful professionally. Here's my suggestions for making negative feedback a positive experience:

  1. Most important, always have the attitude of constructive criticism. This is about problem solving, not assigning blame. A customer had a bad experience, that does not mean the company is bad at CX (even if you think they actually are, don't let that be part of the message). Everyone makes mistakes, and the goal is to identify the mistakes so they are less likely in the future.
  2. Present positive feedback along with negative, and lead with the positive. This helps set the tone of, "We're generally doing a good job and we'd like to find ways to do even better."
  3. Focus on the customer's perceptions. For example, if a customer complains about a late shipment, this should be framed as "A customer felt his delivery expectations were not met. Let's try to figure out why the customer felt this way," rather than, "We're really dropping the ball on deliveries!" There can be a lot of reasons for a negative perception, not all of them related to what actually happened.
  4. Select the feedback you choose to present carefully. Not all negative feedback is credible, but you should reinforce the customer feedback with other data that supports that this is a problem worth paying attention to (for example, "We're seeing more complaints about late deliveries this quarter. This customer's experience is similar to a lot of other complaints"). Share feedback that's articulate, believable, and relatable. Don't share the crazies, as entertaining as they may be.

Sharing customer feedback, both with individual employees and the organization as a whole, is a powerful way to motivate action but needs to be done carefully to inspire the right action and avoid negativity.

Newsletter #94 Is Published

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-01-27 15:12

We've published issue #94 of Quality Times, our newsletter about customer experience and customer feedback programs. 

This month, rather than doing the usual thing of writing about the industry trends for the new year, I wrote about the Non-Trends. These are the basic truths of Customer Experience work which were true last year, will be true this year, and will still be true in 2017. Most of these are much more important than the hot trends for 2016.

This newsletter is one of the ways we get to know prospective clients. So if you find this useful and informative, please help us out by forwarding this to other people who might also enjoy it, and encourage them to subscribe. You can subscribe to this newsletter on our website.

Goodhart's Law

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2016-01-15 15:35

In the field of macroeconomics, Goodhart's Law states that "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

As an economic theory this is the rough equivalent of Murphy's Law, though with a kernel of deep truth at the core. Macroeconomic measurements distil an enormously complex system down into a handful of simple numbers that require considerable effort to measure. For example, in the mid-20th century in the United States, we had a problem with inflation. Low inflation is desirable because it tends to correlate with economic stability and predictability and encourages the middle class to save and invest for the future. But when policymakers initially tried to slow inflation through wage and price controls rather than addressing the underlying problems in the economy, the result was an unbalanced economy and (eventually) the stagflation of the 1970's. Of course this is a grossly oversimplified summary of 20th century economic history, but the point is that by trying to force inflation to hit a target, the inflation rate stopped being a good proxy for economic stability and predictability.

Goodhart's Law in Customer Experience

Goodhart's Law applies in the world of Customer Experience, too.

Most of the core metrics in any CX effort (for example, survey scores like Net Promoter or Customer Satisfaction; or internal metrics like Delivery Time) are used because they are strongly correlated with customers' future behavior, positive word-of-mouth, and long-term growth of the company.

But if you try to turn a CX metric into a target, it may no longer be useful as a measure of the customer experience. That's because the things you really want to change (customers' future purchases, positive word-of-mouth, long-term growth, etc.) are the result of many complex interactions inside the company and between the company and its customers. And its often easier to hit a goal by gaming the system than it is to fix the underlying problems.

For example, in the case of ABRA Auto Body I blogged about a couple days ago, the company almost certainly did not set out to create a survey which would yield inflated, meaningless scores. Instead, they most likely determined that high survey scores were often strongly correlated to repeat business and new customers through recommendations.

But rather than explore the root causes of high (or low) customer satisfaction and address those, the company probably decided to simply give managers an incentive to hit a certain survey score and let them figure out how to do it.

The result is that it's much easier for a manager to print off a bunch of fliers instructing customers on how to answer the survey, than it is for them to think about how the customer journey might be improved. (It's possible that ABRA doesn't even give managers the authority or budget to change the things that might matter, in which case the manager may have no choice but to try to game the survey.)

The lesson should be obvious: If you want your CX metrics to be useful measurements of your customer experience, then you need to be very wary of how incentives invite manipulation.

ABRA Is Not Subtle About Survey Manipulation

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-01-13 15:57

Fellow CX professional Jason Kapel told me about a recent experience at ABRA Auto Body. He had his car repaired, and while the experience itself was fine, he found the flier to the right attached to his receipt.

If there was a Hall of Fame for the Hall of Shame, this would have a good chance of winning Most Blatant Example of Survey Manipulation. Not only does it tell the customer exactly how they want each question answered, at the bottom of the flier it instructs the customer not to take the survey if there was some problem with the repair.

Needless to say, this survey is not likely to get much honest and unbiased feedback from customers, nor is it going to identify ways to improve the customer experience. Pretty much the only thing this survey will do is allow the manager to boast about his great survey scores and claim whatever reward (or avoid whatever punishment) results from hitting his numbers.

All of which begs the question, what's the point of doing this survey?

I have to assume that either ABRA is unaware that their survey is being blatantly manipulated, or they don't care. Neither possibility speaks well to the level of commitment and attention the company is paying to improve their customer experience.

Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2016

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2016-01-06 17:07

It's the beginning of a new year, which means it's time for pundits and prognosticators to pull out their crystal balls and make predictions about the twelve months to come.

Bruce Temkin, for example, has published his 11 Customer Experience Trends for 2016 (why 11? Presumably because it's one better than ten). He has identified such things as Journey Designing, Empathy Training, and Predictive Analytics as areas to watch, and declared that 2016 will be The Year of Emotion.

Who am I to disagree?

But in my view, such trend articles miss the bigger picture, which is that the important facts of the Customer Experience profession will be pretty much the same in 2016 as they were in 2015 and earlier years. These are the non-trends, the things that don't change, and most of them are more important than the trends.

So here I present my Customer Experience Non-Trends for 2016. Not only are most of these non-trends more important to the average CX professional than the Trends, you can read these safe in the knowledge that in January 2017 I can just republish the same article with a different date.

Non-Trend 1: Engaged Leadership Is The Single Most Important Element in CX

The companies delivering a great customer experience almost always have leadership actively engaged in continuously trying to deliver a better experience. Conversely, companies where leadership views CX as a one-time project, or something to delegate, generally don't succeed in delivering a superior experience.

The lesson here is simple: if you want to improve the customer experience in your organization, the most important thing you can do is get the senior leadership to care and make it a personal priority.

Non-Trend 2: Great CX Is About Getting a Thousand Things Right

Sweat the details. A grand strategy or a new piece of technology will not, by themselves, move the needle on your customer experience (though the right strategy and tools definitely make the job easier).

Unfortunately, "sweat the details" is not a sexy message and it doesn't help sell software and services. Many vendors make the empty promise that their solution will, by itself, transform your CX effort. Don't believe it. There is no magic bullet.

Non-Trend 3: Customer Experience Professionals Often Have a Tough Job

The field of Customer Experience has made great strides over the last decade or so, but it's still not easy. We've finally gotten to the point where most companies will at least say that the Customer Experience is a priority, but many of them have yet to internalize it. The leadership doesn't yet care enough to dedicate the needed resources, or they think that because they have a CX team the problem is solved and they can mostly ignore it.

So in a lot of places, the role of the CX professional will continue to revolve around getting leadership attention, finding the easy wins, and internal evangelism. This, unfortunately, is not likely to change any time soon.

Non-Trend 4: Great CX Drives Customer and Employee Passion, Which Creates Better CX

The sweet spot of customer experience is when your whole organization is focused on creating a better experience for customers, which makes customers want to do more business with you, and that makes employees want to help customers even more. Customer Experience becomes a positive feedback loop.

The unacknowledged truth is that most employees genuinely want to do a good job and have a positive impact on their customers. It's one of the most satisfying things we can do in our careers. A strong focus on CX creates not just more satisfied customers but also more satisfied employees.

Here's hoping for a terrific 2016!

What Are Your Goals?

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2015-12-09 14:57

Before you get into the nuts and bolts of designing a survey program, spend some time sharpening up what you hope to accomplish. A good understanding of the business goals of the survey will really help figure out the right sampling, questions, channel, and reporting. A lot of the time when I hear companies say they want to do a survey for the purpose of collecting customer feedback, it really means that they haven't thought a lot about what they plan to do with the feedback once it's collected. It's like saying you want to do a survey for the purpose of conducting a survey.

The basic ingredients are straightforward. Most surveys have as their goals some combination of:

  • Tracking metrics: Requires using a very consistent set of survey questions with a random sample selected to give an acceptable margin of error for calculating metrics. 
  • Improving the performance of individual employees: Requires targeting the survey sample to collect adequate feedback on each individual employee, asking open-ended questions about the experience, and delivering the feedback to front-line supervisors in real time. Recorded customer interviews are particularly valuable.
  • Identifying customer pain points: Requires a lot of open-ended questions and potentially additional follow-ups. Customers should be invited to tell their stories.
  • Testing or validating changes to the customer experience: Requires careful attention to test and control group samples, and a consistent set of metrics for the different test cases (see A/B Testing for Customer Experience).
  • Persuading the organization/leadership to make a change to the customer experience: Requires collecting a valid statistical sample that supports the proposed change, as well as persuasive customer stories which will carry emotional weight with others in the organization. Recorded customer interviews are particularly valuable.
  • Providing individual customers a chance to be heard: Requires offering the survey very broadly, even if that means a low response rate or far more completed surveys than would otherwise be needed. A robust closed-loop process is not optional

So for example, if you've never done any transactional feedback before, your goal is probably going to be mostly about identifying customer pain points (i.e. trying to find out what you don't know) with a dash of tracking metrics thrown in. That probably means asking a couple of tracking questions and a lot of open-ended questions, and a random sample in the range of 400 completed surveys per reporting segment (enough to get a 5-point margin of error).

But if your goal is more directed to improving employee performance, things will be different. You will want to bias the survey sample to ensure each employee gets enough feedback to be useful (which also means un-biasing the sample to calculate metrics). You will probably also want to use customer interviews rather than automated surveys, since a recorded interview with the customer is much more effective at changing behavior than written comments and statistics.

Whatever your goals are, the most important thing is to have them. Surveys done for the sake of doing surveys tend to not be very useful.

Customer Survey Mistakes Almost All Companies Make

by Peter Leppik on Wed, 2015-12-09 14:37

It's easy to do a survey, but it's hard to run an effective customer feedback program that leads to changes in a company's actions and improved customer experience. There are a number of common mistakes: so common that nearly all companies make at least one of these mistakes, and a lot of companies manage to hit the entire list:

Not Understanding the Purpose of the Customer Survey

If you don't know what you expect to accomplish through a customer feedback program, it's hard to structure it in a way that will meet your goals. For example, a survey designed to help improve the performance of customer-facing employees will be very different than one merely intended to track metrics. When I ask companies why they are running a survey, often I hear answers like, "To collect customer feedback," or "Because it's a best practice." Answers like that tell me that they don't have a clear sense of why they need a survey, other than for the sake of having a survey.

Asking Too Many Questions

Long surveys generally have a poorer response rate than shorter surveys, can leave the customer with a bad feeling about the survey, and often don't produce any more useful feedback than shorter surveys. In many cases, there is no good reason to ask a lot of questions, other than a need to appease a large group of internal stakeholders each of whom is overly attached to his or her favorite question or metric. It's easy to find the questions you don't need on your survey: go through all the questions and ask yourself, "Have we ever actually taken any action based on this question?" If the answer is no, the question should go.

Focusing on Metrics, Not Customers

Metrics are easy to fit into a numbers-driven business culture, but metrics are not customers. At best, metrics are grossly oversimplified measurements of your aggregate performance across thousands (or millions) of customer interactions. But behind those numbers are thousands (or millions) of actual human beings, each of whom had their own experience. Many companies focus solely on the metrics and forget the customers behind them. Metrics make sense as a progress marker, but the goal is not to improve metrics but to improve customer experiences.

Not Pushing Useful Data to the Front Lines Fast Enough

In many cases, creating a great customer experience isn't about installing the right platform or systems, it's making sure that thousands of little decisions all across the company are made the right way. Those people making those decisions need to know how their individual performance is helping contribute to the overall customer experience, and the best way to do that is give them access to immediate, impactful feedback from customers. Too often, though, customer feedback gets filtered through a centralized reporting team, or boiled down to dry statistics, or delivered in a way that masks the individual employee's contribution to the whole.

Not Closing the Loop

Closed-loop feedback is one of the most powerful tools for making sure a customer survey inspires action in the company, yet even today most companies do not have a formal system in place to close the loop with customers. There are actually three loops that need to be closed: you need to close the loop with the customer, with the business, and with the survey. If you're not closing all three loops, then your survey is not providing the value you should be expecting.

Always Using the Same Survey

Companies change and evolve. Markets shift. Customer's expectations are not static. Entire industries transform themselves in just a few years. So why do so many customer surveys remain unchanged for years (or decades)? Surveys should be structured to respond to changing business needs and evolve over time, otherwise you're not collecting feedback that's relevant to current business problems. Surveys that never change quickly become irrelevant.

Not Appreciating Customers' For Their Feedback

Finally, a lot of companies forget that when they do a survey they are asking a customer--a human being--to take time out of their day to help out. And they're asking for hundreds or thousands of these favors on an ongoing basis. But when the reports come out and the statistics are compiled, all those individual bits of human helpfulness are lost in the data machine. I know it's not practical to individually and personally thank thousands of customers for doing a survey, but it's not that hard to let customers know that you're listening to them and taking their feedback seriously. All too often the customer experience of completing a survey involves taking several minutes to answer a lot of questions and provide thoughtful feedback, and then it disappears into a black hole. You don't need to pay customers for taking a survey (in fact, that's often a bad idea), but you should at least stop and think about how helpful your customers are being and appreciate their efforts.

Issue #93 of Quality Times is Published

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2015-11-20 14:37

We just published the 93rd issue of Quality Times, our newsletter about measuring the customer experience. Email subscribers should be receiving their copies shortly, and you can read it on our website.
This month's theme is making sure you're putting your customer service efforts in the right places. Our first article is about how collecting more data isn't always a useful activity if it isn't the right data. Then we have an article about which customer experience efforts actually make a difference and why so many companies seem to focus on the low-value ones.
As always, I hope you find this useful and informative.

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