Do some customers deserve better service?

illustration by http://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/
illustration by http://www.flickr.com/photos/davegray/

Which customer would you rather deal with: the one who tells you what’s wrong or the one who buys faithfully and then leaves without prior warning? While you might not see the warning signs of the customer who’s unhappy immediately, it’s important to identify when your customers give you extremely positive or negative signals. Some of these customers (especially at the beginning) warrant and deserve extra service from your team, even if maintaining that service for the long term doesn’t scale.

Some customers do deserve better service. They are the customers who need you to explain the process to them. They are the customers who wonder why your product or service works the way it does. And they are the customers who make sure that when something happens that doesn’t work for them that you know about it. They are your best customers because they are giving you the feedback that you need to hear. One way that you’ll know these customers is when they give you high NPS (promoter) and low NPS scores (detractors.) Another way you’ll know them is to read every response you get from customers and respond.

When you think about your customers, you might (and should) evaluate them in different ways. Who is easy to engage? Who challenges you to think differently? Who is a high value customer by dollar amount? And who is a high value customer by virtue of the questions that they ask and the way they use your product? You won’t know this at the beginning of your business, and you can use your past experience to help guide the way.

Getting to a Customer Success process that works

In my experience, there are a few things you can do right now to make sure that your best customers (and the ones you don’t know are your best customers yet) can get the help they need.

When you define customer segments and identify the most likely people to need help, you take a giant step towards solving the same problem for the all of the people who don’t ask for help. For example, if your product requires a small business owner to understand how email servers work for the purpose of connecting your product to their email, you’re likely to be disappointed by the email knowledge of many small business owners. ¬†On the other hand, if you identify that many small business owners use Google Apps and you create an integration to Google Apps Mail, you’ve removed a barrier to adoption for that customer.

When you take that customer segment and make it part of your service process, you can then make sure that the persona (Small Business Owners, in this case) has a consistent experience during the time you handle their issue. You can then create a clear escalation path that this customer segment understands and know how many of your cases are in a state of escalation.

Future You will Thank You for Identifying Challenging Customers

Designating an individual customer as part of a segment may not be good enough, so one additional thing you can do is either to dedicate an individual Customer Success Agent or Team to that customer or to add a flag or field to your customer relationship management system that indicates whether a person needs “white glove service.” What white glove means to your organization is up to you – it usually indicates that the person requires extra reassurance and politeness when they call.

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

A Modest Proposal to Measure the Voice of the Customer

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/miuenski/
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/miuenski/

When talking to people about customer service, I often hear them discuss the idea of the “Voice of the Customer.” Ideally, this might mean “knowing exactly what this customer wants and needs and can tell us about their service experience.” Because you can either know the exact wants and needs of a single customer or the aggregated wants and needs of a group or cohort, the idea of the Voice of the Customer is a bit fluffy without specific measurements that you and your organization agree are good metrics to show a happy (or dreadful) customer experience. Many people in the industry agree that the Net Promoter Score is a good customer satisfaction metric (percentage of people who would promote your brand minus the percentage of people who would not recommend your brand) and I believe that the Net Promoter Score doesn’t measure the real service delivery that influences these promoters or detractors.

How do you measure Service Delivery?

If you’ve read How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard, you’ll also know that simply saying “Service Delivery Experience or The Voice of the Customer cannot be measured beyond ‘verbatims'” is downright silly. Hubbard states that to measure intangibles in an organization, you have to name the business drivers that matter to the company and attach some relationship to that business driver for the quantity or quality you are measuring. Will you have great measurements? Probably not at first. But you will be measuring something.

A Modest Proposal

I have a modest proposal for measuring and sharing the “Voice of the Customer” in the real Customer Experience of an organization by looking at three metrics. The first of these metrics should quantify how fast a case moves from stage to stage in the customer lifecycle, and how many times it must repeat this cycle. The second metric is the number of positive and negative custom comments accumulated in a stage per case. And the third idea involves empowerment and ownership – the organization should measure the percentage of cases that the original case owner resolves (along with the average number of transfers per case and per agent.)

Hubbard might think these are just starting points for measurement, and I agree that I don’t have 90% confidence in what the ranges are for these values. I do know that to carry out this plan, I’ll start by making my best guess at a 90% confidence interval for each of these metrics, show some tactics to improve (or measure) the items, and then track the changes over time to see if the overall customer experience is improving. How will I know whether the experience is improving? My hypothesis is that a good customer experience overall – across multiple touch points, devices, and methods of communication – will improve overall business drivers. If I can do a better job of tracking the customer experience inputs I will be better able to create a customer experience funnel that ends with a great review, a buying experience, or a positive comment that’s not related to a product.

Using the Delivery Experience as a Measure of Customer Happiness

The first item in this list is to name the stages of the customer lifecycle and show (by cohort if possible) how long it takes for the customer to move from one stage to the next. You might start with a simple list like “searching,” “ready to buy,” “purchased,” “implemented,” “post-installation” and see if there are easy ways to find this data. You can usually find information like this from your sales team – it’s a clever hack to use it for customer service as well and see if the experience can aid or hinder a customer’s movement from stage to stage.

Do you know all the stages in the customer lifecycle? Probably not. And you know them better than anyone who comes from outside your company and doesn’t deal with the same issues you do and handle your customers. So your guess is better than most.

Takeaway: name the stages of the customer lifecycle (or borrow them from sales) and apply them to the customer cases you handle.

How many people contact this hypothetical customer in your company? If it’s more than one contact from Sales and one contact from Customer Service, you might have a problem. It’s true – there are lots of contact centers and small teams that happily disperse customer contacts to an account team or to whomever picks up the phone or answers the email – and as a customer, you know how that feels. It’s really frustrating when you find someone who understands your problem and then not be able to contact that resource directly the next time you need help. Why not follow the lead of CDW, who has a large organization yet lets you know the direct dial number of your contact team. With phone routing, this is not a hard problem – the bigger problem involves the scripting and handling of the situation when that agent is not available. So maybe there’s a compromise.

Takeaway: have a goal that one Agent owns the customer’s case throughout the lifetime of that case.

So if you try this modest proposal and find some customer lifecycle stages and help the customer by limiting their contacts to a person or an account team, how do you tell the rest of your company about what you learned? You’ll need to create a report that’s shared widely within the company at an interval that makes sense to you. Weekly is a great cadence to hit if you can manage it, and if you can automate at least some of the data collection from customers at different stages of the lifecycle their comments will make even more sense. A new customer who can’t finish a basic task in your software is a different kind of risk than a long-term customer who can’t do the same basic task. They both might need hand-holding but you might use different resources to help them.

Share your insights in Bite-Sized Pieces

When you share this information with the rest of the company, you’ll need to keep your message executive style. Other people want to know how the customer experience is improving, holding steady, or getting worse. They also may want to know about specific interesting comments people make and whether these eye openers lead to bugs that your development team can fix. And once you hear about a bug more than a few times, well then you have a stack-ranked priority.

Takeaway: share what you learn, and please, keep it to a single-page presentation.

The “voice of the customer” is really more than just a single statistic – it’s a holistic process to bring customer input into your company, quantify it, and to take this measured data as an input into the way you do business. By better understanding your customers and where they are in the process.

You can find 47 other ways to improve the customer experience here.

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