Reputation Is an Effect, Not a Cause
In This Issue
One of the reasons to invest in improved Customer Experience is the positive effects it will have on your company's reputation and word-of-mouth.
That's great and well-deserved for companies that truly internalize CX. But I've seen a few companies where they treat their Customer Experience as a marketing campaign, and it never ends well.
This has been on my mind lately because Comcast, everyone's favorite CX bad boy, has been making noise lately about how they're mending their ways. They even had their EVP of Customer Service in the cable division, Tom Karinshak, do an interview for a customer experience podcast.
But I wonder if this is a true conversion, because while they're saying all the right things it isn't clear to me that any of the root causes of Comcast's reputation have changed. For example, Comcast is still an effective monopoly in most of its markets and doesn't seem to have much of an incentive to care.
I'm not the only one to have this reaction. Jim Tincher noticed some recent fine-print changes on Comcast's website, and his take is that Comcast still cares more about maximally monetizing its subscribers than building relationships with them.
I saw a similar dynamic play out at Sprint almost a decade ago. Sprint then, like Comcast today, was known for bottom of the barrel customer service. Sprint invested heavily in improving its customer service, and heavily promoted research (including Vocalabs' research) showing a positive effect. And then Sprint's attention turned elsewhere and the service went right back to where it had been.
This nicely encapsulates the difference between internalizing Customer Experience and treating it like a marketing campaign. When you do CX right, it becomes part of the core fiber of the company. It's hard, and it requires ongoing effort, but the positive benefits are long-lasting and build over time. But if it's just a PR initiative, once the campaign is over things will go right back to the way they were. There might not even be time for the company's reputation to improve in any meaningful way before the old bad habits settle in again. Worse, management may conclude that Customer Experience doesn't pay off because they didn't see any sustained benefit. That will make it a harder sell the next time around.
Companies which are CX leaders understand that Customer Experience isn't something you do, it's something you are. Companies which invest in CX looking for good PR and short-term financial gain are likely to fail on all counts.
There's a lot of things you can do with your customer feedback program to help improve Customer Experience. There's also a lot of things you can do that don't generally improve CX at all.
But there's one piece of the feedback program that stands far above everything else in effectiveness.
If you want to use your customer feedback to improve CX, the first thing you should do is deliver customers' comments and suggestions to front line employees as fast as possible.
It's the customer's qualitative feedback that actually helps your employees understand what customers expect and how to deliver it. Other deliverables from a feedback program don't provide this:
- Scores, metrics, and report cards don't tell the employee how to improve, only whether they're doing well or poorly.
- Feedback that's delayed, even by a few days, quickly becomes "old news" and less relevant.
- Department or enterprise-level data is hard for individual employees to connect to their own day-to-day actions.
- Strategic initiatives, while important, have less immediate impact on the Customer Experience than how individual employees behave.
The unfortunate and ironic truth is that there are a lot of survey programs where delivering comments and suggestions directly to the front lines is an afterthought, or not even part of the program. This typically happens in large organizations with highly structured and formalized surveys, usually designed around leaderships' desire to measure performance.
Of course, getting verbatim feedback into the hands of employees is not the only thing you can or should do to build an effective survey. You should also have a robust closed-loop process, coach employees on how to use the customer feedback, regularly update the survey program to meet evolving business goals, and so forth.
But if you want to gauge whether a feedback program will actually move the needle, the first question to ask is, "How long does it take for a customer's comment to get to the front lines?" In many cases, the answer to that question will tell you all you need to know.