Market research firms must measure complete experiences to help clients differentiate products and services.
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I recently reviewed the results of a market research survey conducted to identify loyalty factors and map the customer experience at the behest of one of my clients. The company that conducted the survey identified specific loyalty factors that my client "should" focus on to build greater relationships with its customers. To provide more accuracy, the results were divided into eight geographic regions, each with its own loyalty factors. I was surprised to discover that in five of the regions the number one loyalty factor was invoicing. The message to my client was simple: Excel in invoicing and customers will be loyal. This message made me furious.
Unless the research firm was suggesting that my client stop invoicing and charging customers as a way of delighting them, it was an absurd thing to recommend. No company can excel and create loyalty though invoicing. Great experiences create emotional engagement with customers who fight commoditization of a company's products and services. Invoicing should be accurate and clear, but it is not a source of differentiation and loyalty.
I see, more and more, ridiculous recommendations such as the one made to my client based on flawed research coming from reputable research sources. What causes the problem? Two things: using the wrong tools to measure customer experience, and not measuring the complete experience.
When customer experience hit the radar screen of corporations worldwide, many market research companies jumped on the bandwagon to offer their services. But in surveys these researchers apply old satisfaction-measurement methods to customer experience, and by doing so measure processes, not experiences. The results fail to capture the complete experience, with its emotional engagement or the lack thereof.
Delightful experiences create differentiation. Market research firms and client companies fail to recognize that the customer experience is not a process to be fixed--experience is not a new term for the old process. By fixing an invoicing system companies might reach parity with their competitors, but will not gain loyalty. Not a single customer will pay you more for accurate invoices. Accurate invoicing is the company's job. Every company should be engaged in the continuous improvement of processes. It is part of creating great experiences--but on its own it will not lead to differentiated experiences.
Before claiming a commitment to customer experience, companies must study first what that commitment really means. Targeting process problems to fix is important, but it is not the end game, and will not create differentiation. The goal of customer experience is not simply to stop upsetting people, it is to delight them and maximize revenues and loyalty. It is essential that market research surveys--and the client companies they purport to help--target and measure true experiences that help competitive differentiation.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group and the author of several books. His latest book is Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right! (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
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