Can you measure customer happiness?

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A recent post from the folks at the Buffer team got me thinking about the idea of customer happiness, and the ability to quantify it and measure it. In my experience, when you ask service providers if their customers are happy, they generally have two ways to tell you: an average of overall satisfaction, and customer comments (those in the industry often call these “verbatims”) that stand out and let you know something great happened.

Yet both the ability to measure an overall average of satisfaction and the fact that super-positive customer comments exist fails to take large-scale customer happiness into account. The overall average is great for ensuring general consistency (and data geeks out there would probably tell me that the median customer service score coupled with a tight standard deviation is an even better metric of consistency), but it doesn’t account for any one person having a service experience that just didn’t compute. And the super-positive “verbatims” tell you about single great experiences but can be “halo” comments or anchor your expectations to a level of service that doesn’t exist.

Given your perception of great service is different from mine, and given it’s challenging to engineer true “customer success,” here’s a modest proposal to measure customer happiness and to get an exact and consistent measurement of that metric:

  • decide what the “happy path” is – the way that if customers have the best possible experience, they should act and the system should behave in a way that delivers the product or service in the expected way – and instrument your service to capture some of the data points you need to know to confirm that they’ve gotten there.
  • ask the customer how they feel at the beginning of the process about the service experience – a simple click to answer “How ya doin’ today?” or a smiley face on a Likert scale. Your goal is to get a baseline idea for how customers feel when they begin a service process.
  • then, ask the customer two or three “smiley face” questions at the end of the process: “how did we do?”, “how do you feel about it?”, and “would you recommend this to others?”. If the response is negative (bottom two boxes on the scale, present a free text area that asks them to tell you one thing you should change about the experience.

We can’t know what’s going on in the customer’s mind before, during, and after a service process. We can only get a snapshot of the things that they tell us when a process goes right or when it goes wrong. And if we agree that using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guide for service, the goal is to create a service process that does more than just simply give safety and comfort. True “Customer Happiness” will also show signs of self-actualization – or the realization that using the service meets an unstated or unmet need and gives the customer the tools to become a better person – and will create a “virtuous loop” that makes the customer want to come back.

The table stakes for delivering customer happiness are to do the job right and be polite, whether you’re running an in-person service process or delivering that service remotely through another service or application. Combining the ability to get Big Metrics (service level, customer satisfaction, net promoter score), little metrics (testimonials and unaided praise), and placing that in a baseline of customer expectations is what’s required truly to deliver customer happiness. After all, if you are the best provider in an industry that historically has produced awful service experiences (yes, telecom and cable companies, I’m looking at you), you will be at best a necessary evil. Going beyond the customer expectation and delivering Customer Wow requires investment. And it delivers dividends far beyond that first cost.

How to hire Customer Service Superheroes

Say you’re going to start a company, and the first thing you want to do is provide amazing customer service. Are you going to hire the brilliant person who alienates customers? Or are you going to hire the friendly person who can’t solve a problem?

You probably want both qualities:

    1. The knowledge and skill required to identify and resolve a problem quickly to the customer’s satisfaction.
    2. The empathy and attitude to help the customer feel great about the whole process, even when the situation isn’t ideal.

So how should you go about hiring great customer service reps who are going to thrill customers?

You know them when you see them, because to get through your door they need to do a few things. They need to be punctual, friendly, and affable. They need to offer what’s next for the customer (like a great salesperson) and do more than just ask, “How can I help you?” Great customer service reps will do an excellent job placing themselves in the customer’s shoes and actively making a difference for the customer, whether that customer is a brand new trial customer or one of your most valued and valuable customers.

The first thing you should do when finding a great customer advocate is to ask them to tell you a story about something they know well.

This could be anything from making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the process of learning how to surf — the key indicator is to understand whether they follow a standard and understandable way to explain a situation. A great mantra for your team should be “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” A great advocate will be able to share the technical steps of the thing they know well and also sound passionate or excited.

The second thing you should do is call them on a mobile phone (preferably from another room) and ask them about something you know well and that they might not know at all.

Experiencing the sound of how someone deals with the pressure of needing to answer a customer when they don’t know the answer is an excellent indicator of the agent’s ability to respond to new things under pressure. Successful customer advocates will keep their cool, understand the details of the problem at hand, detail to the customer what they’re going to do, and set a date and time for follow-up (even if they don’t know anything about how to solve the problem yet).

And finally, you can hire customer advocates who will thrill the customer by finding and hiring lifelong learners.

The kind of people who ask “why” and “what’s next” and can also explain these ideas to the customer (who is either a complete newbie or a demanding person on a deadline) will prove to be excellent agents.

You should hire for attitude — it’s something that’s very difficult to teach — and find the kind of person who will teach themself the process or the technology as they go. If you can’t find both of those qualities, you should wait until you find that person wherever they are. Because the kind of attributes shared by the customer service agent who can thrill customers also overlap with someone who can deliver stellar results with less supervision overall.

If you’re wondering why this is important, consider that as Shep Hyken points out, 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of poor customer service.

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