Recommend? Tweet? Do customers really do it?

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Have you ever been asked the Net Promoter Score (NPS) question? Do you even know what Net Promoter Score is? Despite the fact that the NPS method has been around for ten years, there are many who have no idea what it is. This is an extract from the ‘font of all knowledge’ – Wikipedia explaining it:

Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures the loyalty that exists between a Provider and a consumer. The provider can be a Company, employer or any other entity. The provider is the entity that is asking the questions on the NPS survey. The Consumer is the customer, employee, or respondent to an NPS survey.

NPS is based on a direct question: How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to your friends and colleagues? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale. Companies are encouraged to follow this question with an open-ended request for elaboration, soliciting the reasons for a customer’s rating of that company or product. These reasons can then be provided to front-line employees and management teams for follow-up action.

At some stage we have all been asked the question – mostly via a survey or questionnaire, although sometimes in person. I will never forget the time I opened a bank account for my business, only for the business manager to ask me if I would give them a ‘9 or a 10’ on their NPS survey. I kid you not! The purpose of this post is not to discuss the pros and cons of NPS – that has been done many times in the last ten years already! The purpose of this post is to clarify whether or not we, as consumers, actually do recommend organisations we have dealt with to others.

In my recent ‘what do customers want’ research, I asked the question – ‘do you ever recommend organisations you have transacted with to friends, family or acquaintances?’. The question was different to the NPS question itself. NPS looks at ‘likelihood’ – it does not know if the respondent ever actually does. I wanted to know if we actually do. Here is the result:

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82% of respondents in my research have at some stage recommended an organisation to someone else. Not intended – but actually have. A further 17.5% sometimes recommend – but not always. This is perhaps no a surprise to you – and not a surprise to me. Word of mouth has always been a significant part of business development – and will always continue to be. This research does confirm that NPS is a very useful business metric. Only a tiny minority of respondents do not recommend – less than half of one %. So if your organisation does not know if customers are prepared to recommend you – maybe you should find out.

Another question I was intrigued to know the answer to in my research focussed on social media. Those that know me, know that I am a little obsessed with being seen and heard across a variety of social platforms. I use Twitter regularly to communicate with organisations I transact with, and I wanted to know if others do to. I asked the question – ‘Have you ever used social media (Twitter or Facebook) to interact with an organisation (when requiring customer service or help)?’ – I wanted to know if social channels have genuinely become a serious consideration for us as customers to contact companies. Here are the results:

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Almost a 50:50 split. 52% of respondents have contacted organisations using Twitter or Facebook – whilst 48% have not. As this is the first and only time I have done research on this subject, I do not know what that split would have looked like 1 year ago – or 5 years ago. I can only speculate that this number is increasing steadily over time.

The result does show that half of our likely customer base is not yet using social media channels to communicate with us. Those suggesting that traditional channels (telephone and email) are dying had better take heed of this. If 50% of consumers are not using social media to communicate – they are as a result still using traditional methods. Yet the fact that 50% of consumers are, is equally important.

How many times have you ‘tweeted’ an organisation only to be met with complete and utter silence? How often is your voice ignored when using Twitter or Facebook as your chosen method of contact? I could (although I will not) name a dozen organisations I have tweeted in the last twelve months only to receive no response. If 50% of consumers are using social media channels already as a communication tool, these organisations need to sit up and take notice – and quickly!!

The title of this blog post was ‘Recommend? Tweet? Do customers really do it?’ – my independent research confirms that they really do! If you have not yet read previous posts about the rest of the research, you can do so via the following links:

Let me leave you with a lovely quote from Walt Disney:

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What irritates customers most? The top five irritations revealed!

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A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct some independent research. I wanted to know what was really important to us as customers of organisations, and was very excited to produce a blog post revealing the ‘top five’ things we want earlier this month –

The research asked 4 further questions:

  1. What irritates you most as a customer (based on recent experiences)?
  2. Which organisations do you, or have you transacted with who deliver excellent customer experiences (in your opinion)?
  3. Do you ever recommend organisations you have transacted with to friends, family or acquaintances?
  4. Have you ever used social media (Twitter or Facebook) to interact with an organisation (when requiring customer service or help)?

In this second blog post, I am delighted to reveal the findings to the question ‘what irritates us most’. A question that potentially leads to the ‘opening of floodgates’, I experienced mixed emotions reading the 240 responses. I found myself switching from laughter, to sadness, to anger, to empathy as I immersed myself into the pain and frustration of others – pain that I myself have experienced all too often. So in order to avoid running the risk of irritating you, the reader, by rambling on, let me reveal the results:

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You will notice that I have used a scale of ‘irritation’ to depict the most irritating things. The most irritating thing gets 5 irritant symbols, the fifth one gets 1 irritant symbol. They all have one thing in common – they are very irritating to us as customers!!

So what is your initial reaction? The consensus feedback from the first blog post was that the top five were not a surprise. I am guessing that this list will receive a similar reaction. Whether they are a surprise or not, once again it is fantastic to get independent fact based validation of the things that we like least as customers. So let us look into a little more depth at each of the top five.

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It is no surprise to me to see ‘poor’ customer service top of the pile. 46% of respondents cited customer service not meeting their expectation as irritating. Comments to bring this to life range from ‘being passed from pillar to post’; to ineffective issue resolution; to ‘unanswered correspondence’; to just plain lack of service altogether. It is clear that if we do not feel that the organisation we are interacting with looks after us from a service perspective, it is significant enough for us to be irritated. Irritated customers are not happy customers. Unhappy customers are not likely to remain customers for long.

What is important about this ‘finding’ is that it confirms and validates why organisations MUST continually invest in improving and evolving customer service – NOT just see service as a cost centre that can continually be squeezed – does that sound like a rant? Maybe it is!!

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Pedants may argue that number two in the list of most irritating things is really just another element of customer service. Employee attitude and knowledge – or poor attitude and lack of knowledge is a fundamental part of the service experience, but I have separated it out as so many respondents clearly cited employee behaviour as their major irritation (often as well as the overall service offered). 37% of respondents in fact used words such as rude, ignorant, unprofessional, apathetic, un-knowledgeable, flippant, surly – I could go on. This category of feedback received the most vociferous comments of all.

The way employees behave and act has an enormous effect on our perception of the organisation we interact with. This research clearly shows that the wrong behaviours are evident far too often. I can sum up the responses to employee attitude in a single image:

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Third on the list of ‘things we want’ was for organisation to ‘keep their promises’ – so perhaps it is no surprise at all to find ‘not keeping promises’ third in the list of most irritating things according to 30% of respondents. We just want companies to do what they say they will – if you do, you will not irritate us – it is that simple. I often wonder why organisations focus on glitz and glamour – trying to wow us, when they fail to do the most basic things right. How often has a business promised to call you back and then not. How often have you had a commitment for something to be done within a certain timeframe only for that timeframe to be missed. It is not good enough and it irritates us!!!

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Making fourth spot is a general lack of customer focus. 18% of respondents are irritated by companies who care more about themselves than the customer. Not valuing customers or relationships; too internally focused; not knowing or caring who I am; were among words used to describe this. What interests me is that companies think we, the customer, do not know that they are only interested in the numbers on their spread sheets rather than the smile on our faces. Profitable organisations are those who focus on meeting and exceeding customer expectation – and consistently do so. I am always reminded by the amazingly appropriate ‘quality vision’ used by GE Capital at the end of the nineties and early noughties:

continuously satisfying customer needs profitably

Never has a mission made more sense to me – I hope they still use it. It is possible to focus on the customer and make money – and lots of it. In fact it is the best and most sustainable way to grow  a business. I wish more would try it.

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13% of respondents cited poor design as an irritation – concluding our top five. Correlating with number five in the list of things we want, ease of doing business, we are annoyed when the systems, processes and journeys are too complicated, clunky, or just do not work. Poorly designed websites were raised most, especially those with links that do not go anywhere. Additionally, contact processes with unclear direction and hand offs raise many an eyebrow. Basically we crave ease and simplicity. If your systems and processes are neither, you will irritate us – most likely to the point where we will not use them or you again.

Dis-honourable Mentions!

Although not making the top five, I thought I would highlight one or two other irritations that I know you will be interested in (although all were cited by less than 10% of respondents):

  • Waiting – we do not like it – delays; queuing – very irritating
  • Miss selling – up selling, cross selling = no selling!
  • Automated phone systems – I can hear the groans from here – despite radical improvements over the years, we still seem to not like them very much!!

So we now know the top five things we want, and the top five things to irritate us. In theory if you are good at doing the things we want, and good at not doing the things that irritate us, you should have an incredibly successful company!! If anyone is willing to do an open and honest self assessment, I would be delighted to share the results with readers of this blog.

Once again, let me thank the lovely people who shared their thoughts to make this research possible. Without them, I would not be able to share this with you. This is also not the end! One more post is to come – sharing the results of the ‘best’ companies to deal with, and answers to the questions regarding use of social media and recommendation.

I hope you are finding this research useful – I certainly am!!

Customer Promises – a great thing…if you really mean it!

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Thousands of customers of one of the UKs largest utility companies, SSE, received an interesting letter this week. If you are not a customer of SSE, you can read my copy of the letter shown above. I think the letter is interesting because it makes a rather bold statement. It makes a statement that instantly attracted my attention – ‘Aiming higher – because you matter to us’. The letter goes on to tell us, the valued customer, how talking about the importance of service is good, but not as good as taking action. SSE wants to prove to us how seriously they take customer service, and that they have even gone ‘above and beyond’ the regulator’s standards by implementing three service initiatives.

Sounds great….doesn’t it? You could argue that this is exactly what the consumer needs to see from a company in an industry that is experiencing huge levels of scrutiny, dissent and dissatisfaction from politicians, the media and customers. I think it can only be a positive thing for an organisation to openly and overtly make a promise or commitment to its customers. Honesty, openness, transparency – even decency – are all words that we find hard to associate with businesses today. So congratulations SSE, I applaud you for having the courage to promise to treat us as you would like to be treated yourselves.

BUT…..there is usually one of those in my blog posts – can we be certain that you will be true to your word? Call me cynical (and potentially many other things), but whilst hoping that they will be true to their word, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for the promises to become a reality. Many customers will not even give SSE the benefit of the doubt. A proportion of these letters (I would love to know exactly how many) will have been filed in the dustbin without even being opened. Others will have been dismissed as clever marketing by a company in a beleaguered industry. I wish this were not true, but can you blame the public for not necessarily believing something like this?

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Do you remember the Nat West and/or RBS Customer Charter? Launched in a nationwide marketing campaign, airports, train stations and billboards all over the UK were plastered with messages telling us how two of Britain’s biggest banking brands were going to become our most helpful bank. 14 customer commitments were as follows:

  1. To extend the opening hours at its busiest branches
  2. Aims to serve the majority of customers within five minutes in its branches
  3. To provide “friendly, helpful service”
  4. To help customers make the right choices
  5. To provide 24/7 telephone banking services
  6. To keep customers safe when banking online
  7. Helping customers whose debit cards have been lost or stolen
  8. Continuing to be a ‘responsible lender’
  9. To keep a branch open if it is the last remaining bank in that community
  10. To teach more than 25,000 financial education lessons in schools this year
  11. To “actively support the local community” through volunteer projects
  12. To resolve customer complaints “fairly, consistently, and promptly”
  13. To publish  its most frequent customer complaints biannually
  14. To actively seek customer suggestions on how to improve

When I ask people if they have any recollection of these ‘commitments’, I am met with vague and often confused expressions. I am no sure the ‘marketing campaign’ worked. Although the Nat West/RBS Charter was big on words, it seems as though the customers I have spoken to have not really noticed any difference. I myself am a Nat West customer, and have been since I went to university. I cannot recall receiving any information about their commitments in the last twelve months. I have not been asked what I think since the day I became a customer too long ago.

I had a look to see how they are getting on with their ‘mission’ to become our most helpful bank. It seems as though they have toned down, or ‘evolved’ their ambitions since 2010. Gone are the 14 commitments, replaced by something a bit simpler – here is the RBS Group report on their 2012 performance – you can come to your own conclusion –

If you are going to make promises to your customers – you need to really mean it. You cannot make promises as part of a marketing campaign to make you sound good. You need to make a promise and stick to it. My recent research into ‘what customers want’ revealed that ‘keeping promises’ is one of the top three most important things ( Failing to deliver on promises can have very serious consequences. If you CAN do what you say, the complete opposite can be the case. Take good old John Lewis for example. Perhaps one of the best examples of an organisation that has delivered against a customer promise for a very long time.

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We all know, recognise and potentially love John Lewis for its ‘never knowingly undersold’ slogan. The trust that this business has built up with the consumer over decades has made it one of the most successful and sustainable retailers in the UK. We can be pretty confident that John Lewis will keep to their promise – can SSE do the same and achieve a similar result?

John Lewis are not the only retailer with customer promises. Tesco have had made promises for years. Some of their promises have become so embedded in the way they work, customers do not even know they are promises any more – they are almost taken for granted. For example, ‘keeping the aisles clear’ is drummed into the psyche of all Tesco employees from day one. It seems a very simple promise – but it you do not have to ‘run the gauntlet’ down Tesco aisles in the same way you do in other supermarkets. Tesco also have a promise known as ‘one in front’ – if there is more than one customer queuing at a checkout, they will open another checkout. There are rarely long queues as a result.

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Like Nat West/RBS, Tesco have evolved their promises – the latest version can be seen here. Are Tesco true to them? This is their attempt to openly tell us how it should feel to be a customer of Tesco. By telling us this, we can hold them to account. Do we believe them? Well that is a different matter.

So what will come of SSE’s statement of intent? Will they become the ‘John Lewis’ of the utility industry, or have they just spent a huge amount of money on a clever marketing campaign? I genuinely hope the former. I am not going to put money on it just yet though.

What do customers really want? The top five most important things revealed

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A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct some independent research. I have always been intrigued to know exactly what is most important to us as consumers, and up until now have used my professional experience, personal experiences and gut feel to assess what I thought to be the most important things. Thanks to friends, contacts and acquaintances, I am delighted to be able to put a little more ‘flesh on the bones’ to determine what is important – based on fact!

Before I reveal the results, let me give you a little background. In September 2013, I distributed a short survey to people within my networks on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The survey contained five simple questions as follows:

  1. What are the three most important things to you as a customer (consumer) of an organisation?
  2. What irritates you most as a customer (based on recent experiences)?
  3. Which organisations do you, or have you transacted with who deliver excellent customer experiences (in your opinion)?
  4. Do you ever recommend organisations you have transacted with to friends, family or acquaintances?
  5. Have you ever used social media (Twitter or Facebook) to interact with an organisation (when requiring customer service or help)?

In the first of a series of blog posts investigating the results, I am today exploring question number 1 – ‘what are the three most important things to you as a customer of an organisation?’. The results represent a sample of 240 people – a group of anonymous consumers to whom I shall always be very grateful. Future blog posts will look at the results of other questions from the survey.

So let’s cut to the chase!! What are the most important things to us as consumers? Although I asked respondents to list their top three things, I am actually a fan of focussing on the ‘top 5’. As such, I am excited to reveal the top five things that are important to customers (the clever reader may already have guessed from the headline image!):

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Surprised? If you are surprised, I am hoping that these results may be of significance to you in some way. Whether it be to help you influence or change mind sets, or just set things straight in your own mind, having an independent source of research can be helpful. If you are not surprised, I hope you can use these results to validate what you have always thought, or add weight to what you have always said.

Analysing the results was challenging. The questions were intentionally open – leading to a wide array of responses which required interpretation. I am sure that research experts will be able to pick holes in my method – yet I am confident that the results are a very accurate reflection of the thoughts of the respondents who themselves are a representative sample of consumers. I therefore would like to walk you through the top five and provide a little more explanation.

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First place and winner of the gold medal goes to what can be best described as the ‘financial’ aspect of a customers relationship with an organisation. 48% of survey respondents  cited value for money, cost, price or competitiveness as one of their three most important things. I have intentionally grouped these elements together – yet it is important to understand that they are all actually different.

Many see ‘value for money’ as being something more significant than just cost or price. Consumers want to feel that the whole experience has been of value. Whether price is high or low is not as relevant as the consumer perception of value. For example, a two bedroom terrace house in London will be significantly more expensive than the same type of house in Rochdale. Despite the disparity in price or cost, they are both perceived to be value for money in their relative markets.

This does not mean price is not important. Research conducted by BT showed that 85% of consumers always shop around to get the best prices – my independent research appears to validate this. We are living in a society where disposable incomes are dropping, and price is a significant factor in purchase decision-making. The important takeaway from the findings of this research is to ensure that you consider pricing and competitiveness from a value perspective.

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The silver medal goes to customer service. There is still confusion around the difference between customer service and customer experience. This recent blog post helps to clarify the situation –

Customer service is vital to us as customers – from pre sale, to post sale. 47% of survey respondents stated that customer service was one of their three most important things. The ability of organisations to help consumers at every stage of the journey is critical here, including the ability and willingness to sort out issues as they arise.

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The bronze medal goes to something that I have increasingly seen become important over the last five years. As Group head of Customer Experience at Shop Direct Group, I consistently saw the inability to keep customer promises as a key driver of customer dissatisfaction. The research backs this up – 32% of respondents stated reliability (or keeping promises) as one of their top three things. We want and need to be able to trust organisations to do the things they say they will. Where promises are broken, it will have a fundamental effect on our relationships with companies.

This leads to an important question – do organisations know how reliable they are? Do they know how often they do break a promise, or not do what they say they will? Understanding your own internal capability and aligning it to customer perception can seriously aid your understanding of the elements of your customer journey that need to be improved.

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Just missing out on the medals are ‘quality’ and ‘ease of doing business’. 29% of respondents cited product and/or service quality as one of their three most important things. Essentially, we need the things we are buying to be of the quality we expect. The link to price and value is vital . We still expect quality, even in a world where we expect competitive prices.

23% of respondents said that the ease of doing business with an organisation is one of their three most important things. This is of no surprise to me, as it would make my personal top three. We want websites to be easy to navigate; products to be easy to access; for it to be easy to contact an organisation. In our increasingly automated and mobile enabled world, we crave simplicity – organisations who make it difficult to interact, will ultimately lose out – as this research suggests. If I repeat this research in a years time, I would not be surprised if ‘ease’ were to move up the rankings.

So there you have it. The top five most important things to us as consumers. If you want to know what other ‘things’ missed out on the top five, drop me a line and I will fill you in! Now you know the top five, how does your own organisation measure up? Are you good value for money? Do you deliver ‘great’ customer service? Are you reliable? Are you easy to do business with? Maybe you could conduct a self assessment and let me know! Whatever you choose to do, it would be great if you would consider sharing your thoughts on the research results.

Finally, another huge thank you to all those who contributed to the research. Your time is greatly appreciated in enabling me to produce such a valuable insight into what we want as customers. The next blog post on question 2 – what irritates us most – will follow soon.

‘Serve every customer as if they are members of your own family’. The story of the UK Customer Experience Awards 2013

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What do Lebara Mobile, Virgin Media, Clarks Shoes, Scottish Water, Cornish Mutual, NHS Blood & Transplant, Sky, Avios Group and Barclays Bank have in common? If you have not already guessed, they were all named as finalists at the 2013 UK Customer Experience Awards. On the 17th October 2013, 73 judges, 135 finalists, and over 700 guests attended the fourth annual ceremony to celebrate the amazing achievements of the UKs burgeoning Customer Experience community.

Like any gathering of customer experience professionals, it is intriguing, comforting and exciting to see such a diverse range of businesses and people who are working so hard across every industry imaginable to put customers at the heart of UK business. From huge corporations, to little known housing associations, it is clear that the Customer Experience is critical to many organisations up and down the land.

In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be involved in successfully winning a UK Customer Experience Award whilst driving significant change at Shop Direct Group. Winning the award gained recognition and credibility which proved to be one of a number of key catalysts that propelled our customer experience transformation forward.  In 2011, one of my team won an individual award – the effect on her, the rest of the team and the increasing strategic focus on the customer has resulted in one of the most established customer experience programmes in the UK today.

Fast forward to 2013, and I find myself having the honour of being a judge. I intentionally use the word ‘honour’, because it genuinely is humbling to be afforded the opportunity to hear the stories of people I consider to be my peers. I judged one of two groups of finalists hoping to become ‘Customer Experience Professional of the Year’. Arriving at the Grand Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, I was full of excitement and anticipation, hoping to be inspired and educated by six passionate customer experience professionals. I was not disappointed.

Although a small number of people walk away with a trophy, all six finalists I had the pleasure of listening to are worthy recipients of recognition and praise. From Paula (Liberata) – a driven customer service professional inspiring teams serving a tough public sector market – to Jonathan and Roxanne – the former very firmly putting customers first in Scotland for Barclays Bank; the latter a key contributor in the impressive customer focussed reputation that continues to grow at LV.

The title of this blog post has been shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from finalist number 4 – a chap called Simon Plant. Simon manages a number of bank branches for RBS. To say that customer experience exudes from his every pore would be an understatement. Simon’s enthusiasm to expect nothing but the best for his customers is infectious, and goes a long way to explaining why his customers are so happy with the service his teams deliver.

The family analogy continued with the remaining two finalists. Gareth Byrne from Pearson Edexcel demonstrated how it is possible to change the mind-set of a business.  Allowing his organisation to understand that teachers are customers, and establishing a community for everyone to learn from each other was inspiring. Fiona Templeton from Scottish Water was represented by three members of her team. Describing a story that started 11 years ago, it was difficult not to get goose bumps listening to how a publicly owned monopoly has been transformed into one of the most customer focussed businesses in the UK, let alone north of the border.

Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water
Fiona Templeton and members of her team at Scottish Water

The lavish, glitzy awards ceremony that followed the judging was the well-deserved reward for judges, finalists and guests. Reward for playing a part in establishing a more customer focussed society. The sheer volume of professionals involved this year is a clear indication of the growing wave of momentum behind ‘the customer’ in and across most industries. Congratulations to all finalists, all winners, and the Awards International team for pulling off a logistical miracle. The real winner will ultimately be all of us – as customers of this growing number of customer focussed organisations.

I would like to dedicate this article my friend John Barrett.  John epitomised what it means to be a business improvement and customer experience professional. Only able to do what was right, his ability to expertly lead change left him with many admirers. I can only aspire to attain his levels of expertise, humility and commitment. You were a credit to your profession John – we will miss you. Rest in peace.

This post was originally produced for Customer Experience Magazine –