In business today, the customer matters more than anything. Novel concept, right? While this has always been true, it has become more true in the last few years. The rise of what we call the "super-empowered customer" has had a positive effect on how businesses view their customer retention efforts.
Take a look at these trends and how they have helped create today's super-empowered customer:
People have become more selective about how they spend their money. The economy has not only tightened wallets; it has also created more savvy and demanding customers, who are always seeking a better ROI for their purchases.
People have more channels than ever to tell about their experiences. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs, email—and that's just on the Internet. Whether it's word of mouth, texting, or any of the above, it is easier than ever for customers to broadcast their opinions to a wide audience.
People have more channels than ever to find information about companies. Customers no longer have to depend on friends' and family's opinions or reviews in newspapers and magazines. They have an unlimited amount of resources to consult to identify whether or not your business is worth their time (and money).
Because customer opinions form suddenly, change abruptly, and spread instantly, companies have to be ready to make changes on the fly. They have to be able to hit the proverbial moving target. It's no longer an option to rely solely on indirect informational sources with delayed results, such as mystery shopping and market research. To understand up-to-the-minute customer perceptions, companies must tap straight into the minds of customers as they experience company operations firsthand. They need to take advantage of what Mindshare Technologies calls the Sample Size of One.
Think about it this way: When a customer has a bad experience with a business, does it matter to the customer that his or her feedback will only be addressed if the issue happens to others as well? No. Only two things really matter to customers who give feedback:
1. Their feedback is heard and acted upon. Customers want to know that their opinion is valued and that your business has taken steps in response, whether that means training an employee, improving a product, or adjusting operations.
2. They receive a timely response. Customers want a personal response, an apology, and a solution to their problem.
That's it. Unfortunately, these two simple wishes are rarely granted, because individual voices are drowned out in a homogeneous survey sample. Disappearing behind graphs and numbers was not what they had in mind when they offered their feedback. Why do businesses not treat our customers the way we would like to be treated?
Customer loyalty is up for grabs. So how can companies capitalize? Treat every customer like they matter. This means listening to them, valuing their feedback, making them feel heard, and implementing new technologies to solve their problems in real time.
By following these three steps, you can evolve your voice of the customer program to keep up with the super-empowered customer:
1. Add convenience. Give feedback options in the mode customers want. A recent IDC report revealed that smartphones are now outselling computers, highlighting the necessity of building a strong mobile feedback strategy to keep up with customer feedback trends. Interactive voice response, SMS messaging, and mobile-optimized Web are channels businesses need to use to capture information about the guest experience.
2. Keep it short. Consumers are continuously bombarded by requests to provide feedback through surveys, and shorter surveys limit survey fatigue. Consumers want to give feedback quickly, which usually means your company should offer unstructured/open-ended surveys instead of longer, more structured ones.
With shorter surveys and open-ended responses, you need better analytics to extract insights. Modern text analytics technology ensures that every word, phrase, and theme within every customer comment is correlated with existing intelligence for root-cause analysis and can be tailored to specific company initiatives. These tools are a necessity for understanding customer responses while avoiding the big data problem.
3. Empower the front line. The reality is that if you care about your customers, you need somebody on the front line who can respond in real time to their issues and concerns. Feedback doesn't belong solely in an executive corner office, where months-old data is dissected and analyzed only to find out that it's no longer relevant to your current challenges.
Businesses need to deliver feedback, insights, and action plans to succeed in today's environment, and they need to start where the information will have the most immediate impact. Local managers and front-line representatives must receive the real-time intelligence they need to make vital adjustments daily. These strategic changes will help identify the root causes of satisfaction and dissatisfaction and, in turn, increase loyalty and retention.
Jon Sanderson is the vice president of marketing at Mindshare Technologies, a Utah-based company which has helped large multilocation brands deliver a better customer experience using customer feedback solutions for more than a decade.