Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Identifying Customer Needs Effectively

I recently came across a Customer Satisfaction Survey, which started off with:

“Contact Details: Full Name, Contact Number, ID Number

Dear Valued Customer

In order to maintain the high level of service you deserve, we would be grateful if you could take a moment to rate us by ticking the boxes below.

Please rate the following six factors in determining your satisfaction level of us.

1: Poor
2: Fair
3: Satisfactory
4: Good
5: Excellent

  1. Efficiency
  2. Product knowledge
  3. Range of Products and Services
  4. Service Attitude
  5. Staff Responsiveness 
  6. Environment

If any of the team has provided you with a truly exceptional service, we would appreciate your commendation, please let us know about the “extra mile” taken by the staff who made your experience with us a special one.  Thank you!

Please detail the service offered and by whom.  Please feel free to add your further suggestions/comments/feedback/ so that we can serve you better.”

This business is serious about its Customer Service Experience” and is looking to see how it can do better.  However, I wonder whether the above will generate any really useful information about the total customer experience or any part of it.

First, asking respondents to provide full identification details may deter them from responding.  There’s debate on whether people prefer to remain anonymous or to be acknowledged for taking the time to communicate.  The data they provide (whether the supplier is identified or not) is still useful.  Better to give them the choice at the end as to whether they wish to be contacted about any of their comments.

Second: the use of the words ”Dear Valued Customer” don’t suggest (in my opinion) that the respondent is “valued”.  If you really value someone, use their name.  In this case, where the organisation is reaching out to a potentially large audience, better start without the “Dear Valued Customer”.

Third: the organisation assumes that the respondent is already receiving a “high level of service” without bothering to find out what the respondent considers “high” (they may not consider service levels “high” at the moment).

Next: the survey assumes that it and the respondent share common definitions of “efficiency”, “product knowledge”, “range of products and services”, “service attitude”, “staff responsiveness”, and “environment”.  Without definitions, the responses are likely to be inconsistent or based on purely subjective views, which differ wildly amongst customers.

The same applies to the respondent’s definitions of “Poor”, “Fair”, etc.  What may be “Fair” for me is “Good” for others.

Among the questions I would be asking the organisation are:
  • How many responses do you receive (per week/month/quarter, etc)?  
  • How useful are the answers?  
  • At which rating do you take action, and what?
  • When was the last time you took action?
  • How do you measure if you have improved?

A positive Customer Experience requires that the product/service meets three basic criteria:
  • Meets customers’ needs
  • Easy to use
  • Enjoyable

Step 1 is to find out what customers need.  Many organisations think that they know because they try to put themselves in customers’ shoes or to apply “common sense” to come up with answers such as “this is what I would want”.  This is risky as people tend to be blinded by their own product or service knowledge.

The only way to find out what customers need is to ask. Finding out their needs is a long drawn-out (and therefore expensive) process, which is probably why many organisations try to “put themselves in the customers’ shoes” or “use common sense”.

To really get the information you need, you need to clarify, clarify, clarify.  Ask questions such as:
  • What do you mean by that?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • May I check that I’ve understood?
  • So what you’re saying is…?

In terms of being “easy to use”, this involves a number of aspects including (but not limited to):

  • Availability of branches/stores;
  • Website design;
  • Opening hours;
  • Contacting the organisation (some don’t even have Customer Service numbers!);
  • Availability of knowledgeable and friendly staff;
  • Ability to make a decision without having to send something “up the ladder”;
  • Minimal/no documentation/onerous clauses or “fine print”;
  • Number of times you need to contact the organisation to get things done;
  • Availability of suitable furniture and stationery; 
  • Décor;
  • Sufficient space and privacy;
  • Complaints process.

Being “Easy to Use” can be gleaned from the exploration of customer needs.  What seems a simple process to someone who knows the industry may not be to someone who doesn’t.  Age may make a difference; what a younger person finds easy may not be the same as an elderly person.

When it comes to being “enjoyable”, much will spring from the information you obtain from finding out customers’ needs.  Many organisations design products or services, premises, product, packaging, delivery, contact etc around what works for them, rather than for the customer).  This makes sense in that businesses are there to make a profit and they can’t do that if they incur extra costs in “unnecessary frills”.  This doesn’t mean that you have to spend vast amounts on expensive décor - Walmart doesn’t.

It all boils down to:

  • What business are you in?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What do they want?
  • How much are you prepared to invest to see that they keep coming back?

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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