How to Close The Outer Loop and Create a Culture of Customer Centricity

To many customer experience (CX) practitioners, closing the loop refers solely to solving individual customer problems and making it clear that those concerns have not only been heard, but also addressed. The truth is that, while this process is obviously vital to the success of any organization, it is only the first step into a wider world of continuous improvement.

There are actually two loops that organizations need to close. The first, the inner loop (which you can read more about here), is what we just mentioned—interacting with customers one-on-one to listen to and act upon their feedback. Closing the outer loop, by contrast, refers to making customer centricity and continuous improvement the beating heart of any organization. The outer loop is a macro-level process that seeks to make systemic change. This change is based on a wide data set that includes, but is not limited to, the inner loop. Let’s talk about how to close the outer loop and why a CX program will never be world-class without outer loop successes.

Taking The Loop Company-Wide

Companies can’t have an outer loop process if they keep customer centricity confined to experience and service teams. Rather, organizations need to make enthusiasm for that centricity (and the continuous learning opportunities therein) a company-wide value. When every employee and department catches that enthusiasm, it creates organizational strength the likes of which can carry any brand to the top of its vertical. Employees who are engaged in an outer loop process will feel more connected and will strive for excellence.

This approach makes sense when you consider that customer feedback can be about almost any department or employee. An organization that channels learning opportunities toward a few teams instead of at a cross-company level risks failing to identify or address deep-seated problems. That’s precisely what closing the outer loop is about: identifying improvement opportunities for every facet of an organization and addressing a company’s most foundational issues.

Finally, organizations should close the outer loop for one of the same reasons that they should close the inner loop: the customers who drive a brand’s success deserve —and expect—to be heard if they have feedback. Indeed, a strong outer loop is built on multiple, successful inner-loop interactions.

How Can Organizations Close The Outer Loop?

Now that we’ve gone over a few key reasons for closing the outer loop, let’s talk about some ways that brands can actually pull it off. How can companies design and implement an outer loop process that is inclusive, sustainable, and transparent?  All three of these elements can be tied to employees.

If brands want to see continuous improvement (and foster an appetite for it) across their organization, they need to get their employees involved as major participants in  the outer loop program. Companies need to make it as simple as possible for employees—especially customer-facing ones—to share customer feedback with a centralized CX team. This team can then synthesize data, create priorities, and lobby for resources to make the macro-level changes that are the essence of the outer loop.

If you’re just starting your outer loop program, creating an incentive structure to get the process rolling is a practical step. Resist the urge to make this structure purely financial. Rather, make recognition unique and exclusive to gamify the program. 

If all else fails, feed the team! Lunch roundtables are a great way  to leverage inner loop learnings, introduce the outer loop process, and drive employee engagement.   Additionally, do not limit employee input to customer facing teams. No matter how far away an employee may be from the front lines, everyone’s work influences how companies relate to customers.

Finally, one of the key elements of the outer loop is transparency and communication. While the goal of an outer loop process is to implement systemic and sustained continuous improvement,  companies need to ensure they close the outer loop with employees and customers when a change is implemented as part of such a program. Every company will have a different approach to this vital step, but organizations can at least begin to tackle it by quickly transferring feedback to the appropriate stakeholders, enabling them to communicate effectively to their teams, and to communicate back to customers (if appropriate). 

Continuous Improvement

As any CX practitioner knows, there is no such thing as the “perfect” customer experience. There is always room to improve and become more efficient. True success in all customer experience endeavors, especially closing the loop, stems from not just continuously reacting to feedback, but also being on the lookout for new channels to glean it from.

To that end, successfully closing the outer loop means not only encouraging enthusiasm for continuous improvement, but also encouraging the proactivity that makes it possible to begin with. It also means remembering to reach back out to the employees and customers involved in the process to let them know that their effort and feedback, respectively, weren’t for nought. Companies that embrace this principle, and closing the outer loop as a whole, will be able to achieve meaningful improvement, outpace their competitors, and attain transformational success.

Building the outer loop is a critical piece of responding to customers and creating meaningful, transformative success, but there are other elements to that puzzle, too. Click here to learn more about the outer loop, its counterpart, the inner loop, and other principles of listening to and addressing feedback.

Luxury & Lifelines: COVID-19’s Impact on Customer Income

The Coronavirus has drastically altered retail life in seemingly no time at all, leaving both brands and customers around the world scrambling to adjust to a new or ‘next normal’. Though the challenges facing retail customers are many, perhaps none are more formidable than the impact COVID-19 has had, and will continue to have, on their income. 

Today, we’re going to talk about two areas in which this impact will be especially relevant to retail brands and their bottom lines: firstly, luxury goods and the concept of revenge spending. Then we’ll then take a look at what retailers can do to find success in a post-COVID world.

Purchasing Luxury Goods

As COVID-19 has forced countless businesses to shutter, perhaps indefinitely, the number of customers who’ve ended up furloughed or unemployed has similarly skyrocketed. For example, according to The Wall Street Journal, COVID-19 has sent as many as 20% of all workers in some American states scrambling for unemployment benefits. 

Because so many personal incomes have been so severely impacted by this pandemic, demand for consumer goods has dropped considerably as well. Unfortunately, this is particularly true for luxury and fashion retailers, which have already seen their bottom lines affected by the ongoing crisis. A new, expensive handbag does not feel essential during a lockdown.

Though online orders can provide a lifeline for some fashion and luxury retailers, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that these companies can likely expect their earnings to remain subpar for anywhere from the next 5-6 months to until sometime in 2021. These retailers should hope for the former, of course, but should also continue to prepare for the latter.

The Notion of “Revenge” Spending

There’s been some talk in customer experience (CX) media about the concept of “revenge” spending. Revenge spending is the notion that, whenever retailers and restaurants are allowed to reopen, customers will emerge to spend high sums of money as both a means of releasing pent-up demand and to demonstrate (to themselves and others) that the coronavirus hasn’t “beaten” them.

Though this phenomenon may occur to some extent when and if storefronts reopen, retailers shouldn’t count on it to provide a post-pandemic sales boom. Some individuals may spend more, but the aforementioned economic difficulties mean that most consumers will still play it safe even after stores resume normal operations.

How Can Retailers Succeed?

For many retailers, this discussion may seem pretty grim. These are indeed uncertain times, but retailers can increase their chances of post-COVID success by focusing on two areas: employee well-being, and customer relationships.

Brands can drive employee retention and passion by listening intently to their concerns and implementing their feedback whenever possible. Employees will feel reassured that their organisation is listening to them, and thus feel more impassioned about their work. Both elements will be crucial to finding success during and after the pandemic, and ensuring that retailers hold onto the best talent.

Finally, retailers need to continue listening to their customers and let those individuals know that they haven’t been forgotten. Investing in long-term relationships will help convince those individuals to return once some semblance of normalcy is restored.

All told, retailers can confront COVID’s impact on customer income by listening. Brands should not jettison their experience programmes during this time, but rather continue utilising them and continue staying in touch with the individuals whose business and hard work sustains their success. No matter whether they provide clothing, luxury goods, or something else altogether, retailers that dedicate themselves to this idea will find a better tomorrow in a post-Coronavirus world.

COVID-19 presents a formidable challenge to retailers of all stripes, but they needn’t’ navigate it alone. To learn more about how to succeed in the era of Coronavirus, read our article on the subject here.

Why Closing The Inner Loop is Essential to Brand Success

What exactly does the term “closing the loop” mean to you? Is it the part of an experience strategy that is only executed by the most mature customer experience (CX) organizations?  Does it refer to encouraging employees to personalize closing the loop with customers? Since any closed-loop process starts with handling the customer, it’s well worth discussing the inner loop and the importance of resolving individual feedback.

What is The Inner Loop?

The term “inner loop” refers to closing the loop at its most granular level: addressing and resolving feedback submitted by individual customers. The inner loop stands distinct from the outer loop, which denotes instilling a company-wide system of customer service excellence and a commitment to addressing criticism.

The outer loop is important, of course, but it’s built upon dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of one-on-one interactions between customer-facing employees and the individuals whose business sustains that brand. Organizations can’t execute a culture of great customer service if the interactions sustaining that culture are subpar. Because of this, it pays to commit to  closing the inner loop.

Why Close The Inner Loop?

Any company that hopes to maintain continued success (let alone transformational success), will take closing the inner loop seriously. Customers that take the time to voice a concern deserve and expect to be heard. No one enjoys listening to upset customers, but brands that take the time to hear their concerns and formulate solutions will see a surge in both loyalty and retention.

Closing the inner loop can also alert companies to problems and pain points that they were unaware of, giving them the chance to both retain a customer and create a  meaningful, permanent fix. Not every customer who encounters a problem will actually let a brand know, which is why it’s all the more important for organizations to listen to the individuals who do speak up.

Finally, addressing criticism and solving problems allows companies to build one-on-one relationships with individual customers who are questioning their relationship with that business. Like we mentioned earlier, customers will stick with a brand that they feel hears them out, which is perhaps the most crucial reason that firms should dedicate themselves to this process. In short, closing the inner loop boosts customer retention, lowers customer unhappiness, reveals potential problem areas, and provides continuous improvement opportunities.

How Can Companies Close The Inner Loop?

Companies that want to truly close the inner loop need to include their employees in the process. The inner loop consists entirely of employee-customer interactions, so encouraging workers to own their part of this process can vastly improve it. The more personalized an employee makes this experience (and the more passionate they are about it), the better a brand will be at closing the inner loop.

Lending an ear means a lot to customers, but companies need to act on their feedback to close the inner loop. Thus, brands need to create a system that allows them to meaningfully act on feedback. Nothing drives  customers away more than not being heard, so it’s key for organizations to create initiatives that address customer concerns. This is the natural progression from the inner to the outer loop.

Circling Back Around

Closing the inner loop doesn’t end with fixing whatever problem a customer complains about. Rather, companies only truly close the loop by circling back and letting their customers know what their feedback resulted in. Brands should always reach back out to customers, let them know that they were heard, and share how the problem they reached out about was addressed. This will tremendously boost both a customer’s opinion of that brand and their sense of connection to it.

It’s equally important that brands let the employees involved in feedback collection know about these developments. Customer-facing employees who are made aware of the changes that transpired as a result of their diligence will take more pride in their work, ultimately enriching that crucial personalization we talked about earlier. Companies can also incentivize employees who go above and beyond at closing the inner loop, but it doesn’t need to be financial. Creative recognition builds a more sustained cultural impact than a simple spot award.

Building The Outer Loop

Brands that take closing the inner loop seriously will have an easier time creating an effective outer loop process.  A successful outer loop drives a company-wide culture dedicated to solving problems and listening to customers. Both loop-closing processes also enable companies to become aware of pain points, fix them, and reap continued success. Thus, closing the inner loop is not only a vital function in and of itself, but also the foundational building block of organizational achievement.

Want to read the next chapter about how you can close the outer loop? Check out the full article, “The Value of Closing the Loophere!

Employees Are Feeling Uncertain. Here’s How to Engage With Them.

There’s been a lot of discussion about how to interact with customers during this uncertain time, but another topic calls for some serious conversation: how do brands engage with their employees?

Just like customers, employees are facing a lot of uncertainty right now, and that uncertainty can translate into feeling stressed or, worse, feeling ignored. Because employees are so essential to organizations’ success—especially during these unprecedented times—brands need to be sure that considering their employees is not simply an afterthought, but an intentional, empathetic effort. Here are four key ways that brands can help their employees feel cared for and engaged during this pandemic:

Key #1: Listen To Them

This is a foundational principle for the best of times, but it’s especially vital right now. Whether it’s a fear of getting sick or wondering if they’ll still have a job next month, many employees are experiencing existential stress over the pandemic and its resulting policies. Brands may not be able to resolve all of the issues causing this anxiety, but they can make employees feel cared for and listened to.

Listening to employees’ ideas and being sensitive to their concerns makes a world of difference for those employees’ sense of connection to their brands. Organizations should thus stress open-door policies now more than ever. Encourage employees to ask questions, chat with managers, and to share their ideas about how to navigate these uncharted waters.

Making employees feel cared for helps a brand’s customer experience (CX) as well. The more a brand cares about its employees, the more passionate they’ll be about their work. The more passionate they are, the better brand advocates they’ll be, which makes an organization better off when interacting with customers.

Key #2: Provide Tools & Resources

In addition to extending empathy, organizations can further engage with employees by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs during this pandemic. This goes beyond providing remote access to G Suite—companies need to do their best to help employees cope with the new realities brought about by the coronavirus. 

Specifically, organizations should strive to offer flexible hours and whatever anti-Covid measures (be that more versatile procedures or updated health policies) they can. This is no small task, but let’s face it: the reality of work has changed. If brands want their employees to feel cared for, they need to accept and work with that reality however they can.

Key #3: Provide Flexibility

What does it mean for an organization to be more flexible right now? Well, in addition to striving to provide more versatile scheduling, organizations should be mindful of the challenges working remotely can bring. Suddenly, many employees’ new coworkers are pets, spouses, and children, and this simple fact brings up a few challenges that brands should be prepared to face.

For starters, companies need to remember that some employees may have to switch up childcare now that everyone’s kids are home from school. This means that some employees may have to occasionally divert time and attention to their children, which is another unavoidable reality of the current crisis.

Organizations also need to think about how remote work impacts communication and connectivity. Many employees feel disconnected when they have to work from home for extended periods of time, so it pays to be flexible with communication, too. To address this, think about sponsoring virtual happy hours or simply starting out any calls by making sure to ask how employees’ personal lives are going. Fostering inter-organizational communication between remote workers can help all employees feel connected to each other and to their company, which, as we already mentioned, makes them feel more impassioned about their work. 

Key #4: Keep Things “Normal” Wherever Possible

The coronavirus outbreak has made workplace change inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that brands should throw all of their conventions out the window. Yes, the pandemic is forcing a lot of changes onto brands, but organizations should still keep to the norm when they can.

The reason why it’s important to keep things “business as usual” wherever possible is because it provides a sense of normalcy, which in turn can be comforting and reassuring to employees. Workers are facing enough uncertainty from changing home, consumer, and work life—finding ways to keep some things the way they were pre-pandemic can give employees some reassurance and help them stay focused on their work.

What Comes After

How brands treat their employees during this pandemic will also determine those relationships after it passes. When the dust settles, employees will remember how their organizations treated them, which means that they’ll come back to the workplace as either brand advocates… or detractors. 

Brands need to therefore connect to their employees, approach this pandemic in a meaningful way, and make everyone’s value apparent by assessing their needs and well-being.

Knowing how to engage employees during this difficult time can be a challenge, so we distilled our employee experience expertise into a new webinar, “Revealing the Power of Experience Programs in a Time of Crisis,” that you can access for free here!

How to Ensure Effective Survey Design During a Pandemic

Like everything else having to do with customer experience (CX), listening to customers has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, brands need to consider how to survey their clientele amid the largest public health crisis in recent years—this means thinking about how the pandemic has affected customer life and how to effectively listen to those individuals despite significant disruption.

Though the challenges this pandemic has conjured are many, brands needn’t panic. In fact, companies can take some solace in the fact that, though the disease is certainly disrupting customer life and communication, that doesn’t mean that brands need to throw their survey playbooks out the window. Instead, they need to consider four factors that can allow organizations to still listen to customers in spite of everything going on.

Factor #1: Geography

Geography has been a crucial part of survey design even before the pandemic. There are the obvious considerations, like language localization, but also climate, cultural norms, economic conditions, and other geographic elements that factor into building surveys.

Now, of course, companies need to add another element to this mix: how the country or region they’re targeting is faring against the coronavirus. For example, are there local quarantine or social distancing laws that might impact a customer’s interactions with a survey? What about supply shortages or especially severe rates of infection?

Brands should take some time to consider factors like these before dispatching surveys to a target audience. Doing so increases the likelihood that customers can and will respond. Additionally, companies that clarify that they understand or at least empathize with what a given audience might be enduring stand a greater chance of building stronger, long-term relationships with those customers.

Factor #2: Survey Type

This point doesn’t beg much explanation, but it’s worth mentioning that brands need to carefully consider the type of surveys they deploy within the context of how their targeted region or group is faring against the pandemic. For example, it doesn’t make much sense for organizations to deploy transactional surveys if customers within a given city have been ordered by a local government to stay home. 

Relational surveys, on the other hand, may still be a useful tool for ascertaining brand-customer relationships. They also give brands a means of staying in touch with customers and encouraging loyalty during and after the pandemic.

Factor #3: Communication Method

The pandemic may force some brands to reconsider how they distribute surveys to customers. Additionally, companies should remember that, should they opt to send more surveys via email, thousands of other organizations are deploying email surveys as well.

Because customers interact with so many brands throughout their daily lives, companies risk inundating them with too many announcements, updates, and survey requests. Thus, it pays for companies to keep their communications concise. Brands should limit the amount of messages they send wherever possible and remind customers that they want to hear those individuals’ voices.

Finally, brands should also sprinkle their surveys with empathy. Companies should ask how customers are doing because, as previously mentioned, lending an ear can help customers feel valued and keep relationships with them strong even when they can’t stop by a storefront.

Factor #4: Your Industry

Taking care of their customers should be a brand’s number one priority, but they also need to be aware of the novel challenges that the coronavirus may throw their way and incorporate that into survey design. For example, many restaurant chains will remain closed for some time, and that simple fact may alter the questions on a survey.

Being aware of the unique limitations the virus may impose upon certain brands can go far beyond better survey design. That business intelligence can enable companies to devise short- and-long term strategies for combating this pandemic, and then communicate those strategies to customers. It pays to keep everyone in the loop.

Keep Listening

These are strange times, but brands that alter their survey design and communication to suit customers’ unique geographies, challenges, and communications will help many of those relationships survive this pandemic. Being mindful of a brand’s own challenges can also go a long way toward effective, versatile survey design, not to mention communicating those surveys to customers. Above all, companies need to keep listening, and continue being aware of their audiences even when those audiences may not be buying.

In these trying times, we know that it’s more important than ever to focus on CX best practices. That’s why we hosted a new webinar with a panel of CX experts, “Managing the Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis.” You can access it for free here!

Proving Customer Experience’s Business Value: Customer Retention

A brand hasn’t won the battle once it’s acquired new customers. Far from it. Once a company has convinced a customer to buy with it, that brand needs to continually meet or exceed customer expectations (while striving to further develop that relationship) if it hopes for repeat business. 

This, of course, is the science of customer retention, and it can be challenging during the best of times—not to mention times of crisis. Fortunately, customer experience (CX) programs can help. Here’s how brands can use customer experience to retain customers and prove the effectiveness at doing so:

Taking Care of Business

CX programs enable brands to listen for what customers want. Companies can use CX listening tools to identify and react to the trends that might entice new customers, but they can also utilize this same suite of functions to listen to what their current customers are saying.

Of course, customer retention isn’t about trend-chasing. It’s also about building long-term relationships, closing the loop, and harnessing the power of service recovery. 70 percent of customers for whom companies satisfactorily address a problem will stay with that brand, so it’s well worth organizations’ time to invest in retaining those individuals.

Retention in Action

The Coffee Club, Australia’s largest homegrown coffee chain, was able to leverage customer experience to both retain customers and improve the artisanal experience it provides across hundreds of locations.

TCC was able to identify several customer pain points using an experience intelligence platform. When customers were dissatisfied with the brand of eco-friendly paper straws the company was using, TCC was able to process that feedback and make corrections quickly.

Armed with richer data, the brand made insight-driven menu updates and identified more than 30 at-risk customers each month, resulting in greater customer retention.

Clean-Burning CX

There’s another piece to the CX-driven customer retention equation: creating more effective internal processes. After companies collect insights from current customers via these tools, it’s important to craft initiatives that can actually make something of all that feedback. 

The benefits here are many—internal processes can become more streamlined, weak points in customer journeys can be fixed, and customers will be left impressed by the brand’s dedication to resolving their problems. The number-one reason customers leave brands is because they feel unappreciated—taking action on their feedback is a great way to show that companies do, in fact, appreciate them.

The True Benefit of Retention

The number of stats out there about how much cheaper retaining customers is than acquiring new ones is staggering. Closing the loop and retaining customers is important, but it’s also much cheaper than focusing solely on attracting new business. 

Companies can take retention even further by both constantly addressing customer issues and working to improve what draws those brands back to begin with. Businesses that use CX tools to close the inner and outer loops (fixing individual customers’ issues while also redesigning a larger, customer-facing process, respectively), will retain far more customers than firms that can’t be bothered to tackle either challenge. CX practitioners can then point to improved retention, NPS, or a host of other factors to prove their customer retention effort’s ROI.

Want to learn about other economic pillars that can support a successful CX program (and business)? Check out our new infographic “The Four Pillars of CX ROI,” or read more from Eric in his article on business value here!

Why Market Research is Vital to Your CX Program in Times of Crisis (and Beyond!)

Let’s start off with a question that people around the world have been asking throughout the past few weeks:

Why is toilet paper such a demand-buy in the current COVID-19 climate?

Customers are heading to grocery stores, chain pharmacies, and even home supply stores looking for just one roll only to find completely empty shelves. In the case of pandemic, such supply shortages are to be expected—but toilet paper? I think it’s safe to say we are all a little shocked.

In order to get to the root of this TP panic, our Strategic Insights Team decided to run a few questions on this topic by our global access panels. Safe to say, the results were incredibly interesting.

  • From the 15,000 global respondents that completed the panel pulses: 70% of the population were concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. The other 30% were more likely to note that the media had ‘over exaggerated’ the situation.
  • Only 8% of the sample noted that they had purchased more toilet paper this past weekend, in comparison to their regular shopping times. This was mainly to do with the lack of stock offered at the grocery stores.
  • Approximately 35% of the comments discussed the importance of purchasing bulk toilet paper as it was considered to be a “last-minute” purchase (not something they actively purchase on a normal grocery cycle).

So how does this relate back to customer experience (aside from the obvious observation that toilet paper is very important to customers at the moment)? Well, it displays the power and absolute necessity of market research and its ability to anticipate new trends based on customer and non-customer behaviors. 

In this example, the lack of toilet paper in stock could definitely have been anticipated by simply understanding an individual’s monthly journey in a grocery store.

In our research, we found that while canned foods, fruits and vegetables, and similar food products tend to be an ongoing grocery purchase, items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and paper towels tend not to be. This “normal” customer approach to their weekly shopping trip causes many stores to invest less in stocking these products on a monthly basis. 

This is a crucial understanding that explains why these particular items flew off shelves in a matter of minutes when the crisis began: lower existing stock in stores plus an irregular amount of demand (due to the understanding that we may not be able to grocery shop as usual for the next few months) equals empty aisles where paper products once were.

How Should You Utilize Market Research Capabilities?

It’s evident from this example that market research is key for companies seeking to understand customer trends and behaviors in a time of crisis. But how should brands utilize this research normally? Here are a few good rules to follow when planning out any type of industry-based research:

Rule #1: Define Desired Outcomes

What are you trying to achieve? How will you utilize this data? What actions will you drive with the outcomes?

With every client that we work with, understanding their financial goals is crucial to success. If driving customer acquisition is important, then you should focus on targeting non-buyers to understand their behavior is crucial to getting a proper battle plan in place.

Example: In a recent market study run for a specialty pharmacy brand, we were able to find more ways to convert non-buyers by extending their cash wrap sections with influential products that could drive revenue. (This approach was tested at certain locations to gauge the level of success as well.) 

Rule #2: Think Outside The Box

Has this research been conducted before? Why was it conducted? What were the outcomes?

Market research is an absolute gold mine when used correctly. However, before beginning any program with our clients, we tend to take a few days to understand what other research was conducted by other companies and organizations to make sure we don’t simply ‘recreate the wheel.’

Example: One of the largest global toy manufacturers currently runs multiple research studies through our global access panel. For each project launch, our Strategic Insights Team spends a good 1-2 weeks brainstorming, researching the industry, and building unique insights that have never been run before.

Rule #3: Set Core Actionable KPIs

What actions will be taken with the outcomes? How can I confirm that this approach was successful overall?

Informative research is exceptionally helpful, but the challenge for all organizations is how to act on this research. How can they set organizational KPIs that can be traced back to some form of financial outcome and help confirm the success of this program?

Example: A recent market study helped our client, a global specialty footwear brand, understand the importance of tackling a more interactive e-commerce experience. Live chat and touch-point KPIs around resolution were set in place to help continuously measure and track success via executive dashboards to help the client gauge the success of new strategies in the upcoming quarter.

After working in the market research field for over 10 years, I’ve found that the most successful programs are those that go above and beyond. My team and I spend days brainstorming a project with a client before actually beginning to design a survey, sample methodology, and plan the project overall.

If you take the time and do the work, you too will be  able to anticipate trends, take action, and grow your organization. Even if it simply means investing into certain seemingly random products, like toilet paper.

In these trying times, we know that it’s more important than ever to focus on CX best practices. That’s why we hosted a new webinar with a panel of CX experts, “Managing the Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis.” You can access it for free here!

4 Keys to Successful Customer Communication in the Coronavirus Era

The coronavirus pandemic has done more than upended how brands communicate with customers—it has completely changed the lives of customers across the globe.

The sudden influx of physical distancing, the (hopefully temporary) shuttering of businesses, and general unease about the virus have all reshaped how customers interact with brands virtually overnight. On top of all of that, it’ll be at least a few months before any sort of normalcy is restored.

Because of all of this rapid change, it is absolutely crucial for brands to re-assess how they communicate with customers and how to conduct business in the age of a global pandemic.

The question isn’t an easy one, but in a recent webinar, our experts shared how companies can communicate with their audiences and build strong relationships with them (even in times like these).

Key #1: Acknowledge That Your Brand is Taking The Coronavirus Seriously

There are several means by which brands can communicate their commitment to squashing the coronavirus to customers. The first, and most obvious, is to release an email (or message via social media—whichever is more your speed) acknowledging the pandemic and what your brand plans to do about it. Whether it’s reassuring customers that a given service will continue or announcing a temporary closure plan, customers will appreciate the update.

There is, however, one caveat to this message notion: every brand is transmitting messages just like these to customers, putting themselves at risk of being just another email. To help avoid this problem, brands should keep their messages as concise as possible. This can help a given company’s message stand out in an all-but-literal sea COVID-19 musings.

Brands that maintain physical storefronts (and can responsibly keep them open during this pandemic) can consider more in-person reassurances that they take customer health seriously. 

For example, in several Costco locations around the country, the brand employs workers who not only sanitize tables, but take pains to ensure that their work is very visible to customers. Gestures like these can go a long way toward helping customers feel safe and healthy in an in-person shopping environment, and thus help ensure that they have a quality experience.

Key #2: Emphasize That Customer Feedback Matters Now More Than Ever

In times like these, brands need to reiterate to customers just how important their feedback is. Thus, companies should use messaging to communicate both their dedication to fighting the pandemic and how much they value their customers’ views and opinions on a provided experience.

More specifically, brands should ask customers open-ended questions about their views on the pandemic and, perhaps more pertinently, those customers’ opinions on what an ideal experience looks like in an age of quarantine and temporary shuttering. This strategy yields two results—it gives organizations a glimpse at pandemic-era customer thinking, and it reassures those customers that their opinions still matter.

Key #3: Do Not Try to Sell to Customers Right Now

It may be tempting for some brands to capitalize on the coronavirus, but the simple truth is that now is not the time to try to sell to customers. Rather, brands need to emphasize the importance of customer relationships over profits.

As previously discussed, the pandemic presents an opportunity for companies to demonstrate that they care about their connections to customers, and that endeavor will yield big long-term dividends.

Think about it—the brands that go most out of their way to build lifetime value with customer relationships are the ones that stand out in those individuals’ minds even during “normal” times. This factor is multiplied a hundred fold in times of crisis, as customers are even more impressed with brands who still prioritize customers despite hardships. As has long been established, customers will pay more for brands that they feel care about them.

Key #4: Thank Customers for Their Support

This point overlaps somewhat with our previous bullet, but it’s worth reiterating the importance of building long-term relationships with customers, especially in adverse times. This point also hearkens back to one of the fundamental principles of CX—if the customers who sustain a brand submit feedback, that brand owes it to those individuals to respond.

With that in mind, don’t hesitate to thank customers for their support during trying times. Be generous with letting them know how much their business meant before the pandemic and how much it means during the fact. That sense of connection matters, and customers will remember it when the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Looking To The Future

The coronavirus has conjured a lot of uncertainty in today’s experience landscape, but that doesn’t mean that brands shouldn’t look to the future. Even if this disease causes upheaval for a few months, companies can still invest in a better tomorrow by strengthening relationships with their customers through concern instead of just commerce. Customers, in turn, will remember the effort that these organizations put forth during a challenging time, and make good on that memory when daily life returns to normal.

In these trying times, we know that it’s more important than ever to focus on CX best practices. That’s why we hosted a new webinar with a panel of CX experts, “Managing the Customer Experience in a Time of Crisis.” You can access it for free here!

Satisfaction Visualized: The Power of Multimedia Customer Feedback

Surveys are at an interesting crossroads in the modern experience landscape. On one hand, brands have traditionally relied on written questions to solicit feedback and suggestions from customers. However, as technology and social media continue to evolve, the idea of a long survey that’s packed with nothing but questions seems a bit antiquated. Some might even call that type of survey a sore thumb amid all the visual media swarming the internet.

Fortunately, brands don’t have to stick with sending out tomes of questions ad nauseum and hoping for a response. Survey design, like everything else having to do with customer experience (CX) has to stay as limber and ever-changing as the customers it aims to attract. There are many design elements to consider here, but multimedia feedback is arguably the most important.

Worth (60) Thousand Words

There’s a strong case for allowing customers to submit visual feedback instead of just written answers, and it’s that people process images about 60,000 times faster than text. Quite an order of magnitude. While brands shouldn’t necessarily do away with written questions altogether, customers’ propensity for pictures means that image and video upload options must be included in surveys.

Additionally, customers don’t just process images faster than text—they tend to attach more meaning to them, too. This means that if they have a chance to enclose the images and videos they care about in feedback, they’re more likely to find the entire experience more rewarding. Brands benefit from this cycle as well, because a piece of authentic visual media is much more powerful than a written response.

Uploading Meaning

There’s something to be said for the emotional power derived from an image, especially within the context of customer experience. Customers don’t “just” record themselves unboxing a product or take a selfie with one—they’re conveying their wider experience using a meaningful medium. This is the root of visual media’s feedback effectiveness.

Brands that allow customers to submit images or videos with their other survey feedback can tap into this emotional power as well. As previously mentioned, people process images much faster than text. Combine this heightened speed with the added meaning conveyed by an image, and the result is a piece of feedback that CX practitioners can process faster and act upon more meaningfully. Since more meaningful feedback is one of the hallmarks of any best-in-class CX program, it’s important to give customers the ability to express themselves through multimedia options.

Going Deeper

Once brands gather more meaningful feedback from multimedia surveys, they have an opportunity to enact truly meaningful change. These changes are also much more likely to reflect what customers are concerned about because images and videos are much more unequivocal than words.

Think about it—a written phrase like “the checkout process was muddled” is open to many interpretations. By contrast, a video of a customer interacting with an automated checkout machine is specific, impactful, and much more likely to let brands learn exactly what the problem is. 

Once brands learn precisely what customers love or what went wrong, they can take steps to enhance that offering or correct the process in question. In short, multimedia feedback enables everyone to win. Customers are more likely to provide feedback because they can communicate in ways they prefer, while companies glean much more specific and relevant feedback.

The Human Connection

Multimedia options enable brands to better experience a customer’s emotional connection to them. Reading written answers is one thing, but hearing stories through voice feedback, watching body language through video feedback, and seeing facial expressions in an image adds context that writing simply cannot convey. This type of feedback also shows the customer’s passion and emotional connection to the issues enabling CX leaders to help internal leaders connect with the customer.  Brands can turn that context into action, which adds another layer of meaning to customers’ images, videos, and recorded messages.

In short, multimedia feedback transforms feedback from mere questionnaires into human connections. It enables brands to better harness emotion, which in turn empowers them to enact far more meaningful change. That potential for meaningful change is the crux of multimedia feedback, which is why it’s key for any brand hoping to reap transformative success to include it.

Want to read more about how you can effectively listen to your customers, employees, and the greater market? Check out this InMoment Point of View, “How to Achieve Meaningful Listening Through Surveys” today!

What Does Customer Experience Look Like in the World of Coronavirus?

We’re getting lots of emails these days from airlines, restaurants, schools, and grocery stores—and they’re not survey invitations! Rather, these messages are about what these organizations are doing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (and how they can attempt to put their customers at ease during this pandemic).

As CX professionals, we help our clients leverage our technology to garner insights they can use to drive business outcomes. However, with this pandemic on the rise, the singular business outcome many companies are seeking (particularly small businesses) is simply survival. The same holds true for countless non-salaried workers. 

Between the NCAA announcing that no fans will be allowed to watch the upcoming March Madness games in person (if the tournaments are not already canceled by the time you read this), and the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons until further notice, it’s important to consider the stadium workers, parking lot attendants, and others who have been temporarily furloughed.  Additionally, with business travel shrinking daily, Uber and Lyft drivers are likely to see their income cut, too. This phenomenon is impacting nearly every sector of the economy.

So, how can companies leverage CX during this challenging time? We have a few ideas.

Tip #1: Keep Listening 

Customers are going to continue to consume products and services, so don’t turn off your listening programs. Pay special attention to unstructured feedback and use those themes to train customer-facing teams in empathy and flexibility. 

If you use text analytics technology, set up alerts on keywords associated with the coronavirus so you can recognize trends quickly and respond accordingly. 

Tip #2: Provide Reassurance 

While some companies are using this opportunity to confirm the steps they have always taken to protect their customers from diseases, other brands are leading with stating their own business travel policies. While these communications are nice to hear, we do not think they resonate with customers as effectively as specific plans for maintaining safe environments.

The best messaging we have seen during this pandemic comes from companies that acknowledge the coronavirus threat and simply tell their customers—candidly, not in vague corporate-speak—what they are doing to mitigate inevitable risks. 

A great example of corona-era customer experience comes from Starbucks in a letter from their CEO and President, Kevin Johnson. Starbucks specifically mentioned that the coffee chain has learned from its Chinese operations, and mentions concrete next steps that the brand may take. This strategy conveys a sense of security because the company has presented a solid plan that can be implemented immediately—versus developing a plan on the fly. TGI Fridays and Lyft are also doing a great job laying out concise, specific safety steps.

Tip #3: Be Flexible

Now is not the time for call centers to “play by the book” and enforce rigid corporate policies. We encourage our clients to empower their teams to over-index on consumers and their specific circumstances, and respond in a situation-appropriate manner.  

In times like these, it’s important for brands to be flexible rather than follow hard-and-fast procedures when it comes to service-level agreements and expectations. 

Tip #4: Put Customers First, Not Profits

Companies shouldn’t focus on Q1 profits or particularly fee-driven bad profits right now. Instead, they should focus on the medium-term, long-term, and lifetime value of their customers. How? By proving to customers that they care.

Brands should treat customers with empathy and recognize the struggles that business travelers, hourly and contingent workers, and spring break vacationers are experiencing right now by waiving change fees, late payment fees, overdrafts, and other charges that would prove a serious nuisance to those individuals.

Doing so will generate tremendous customer goodwill and foster long-term loyalty. Companies that engage their customers with acts of goodwill will recover faster from the inherent economic slowdown brought about by this pandemic. Even better, they will secure their long-term financial health by creating brand advocates in a time of need.

Tip #5: Don’t Forget Your Employees

We cannot underscore the need to keep an employee experience perspective during this time. Employees own another level of stress in situations like this. 

Beyond the real potential economic impact, we all have other issues to deal with. Who will watch our kids when schools close? How can consumer-facing employees keep themselves safe and healthy? 

Companies need to do more than just empathize—they need to execute programs that truly ensure safety, financial security, and confidence for their employees. The last thing we need right now is tone-deaf employers, so leverage your employee listening tools and step up support for your team members.

The Bottom Line

These are truly uncharted waters for us, but one thing is abundantly clear: the companies that provide excellent customer and employee experiences today will come out much stronger than their counterparts when this pandemic is over. 

While we recommend that firms continue to be proactive and leverage voice of customer and voice of employee tools, we also strongly encourage companies to treat both groups of individuals with empathy and understanding in this challenging time.

Looking for more CX tips and advice from our experts? Check out eBooks, case studies, and more on today!

Why Customer Experience Is Now Job No. 1 for CEOs

Job No. 1 for CEOs today is ensuring the company delivers a compelling customer experience. This laser sharp focus on the total experience must span the entire demand and supply chain and incorporate every aspect of how products and services are designed, priced, marketed, sold, delivered and supported. However, delivering compelling experiences requires that leaders avoid common mistakes, notes this opinion piece by Mark Leiter. Leiter is chairman of Leiter & Company, a strategy consulting and investment firm, and a distinguished strategy fellow at The Conference Board. He is author of the book, Crafting Strategy in an Accelerating World.

In 1981, Ford started running an ad campaign that asserted “Quality is Job 1.” Automakers weren’t alone in prioritizing quality back when dead batteries, overheated engines, flat tires, and broken turn signals were all frequent car problems. This was also an era when television reception was fickle, food was quick to spoil, and banks miscounted money. Over the last 40 years, most major quality problems have vanished due to fanatical measurement coupled with advancements in design, business processes, science and technology.

Now customers expect even more. For example, my first car seat only moved forward or back using a manual lever. In contrast, today my car has 18-way power, massaging seats with lumbar support that can be heated or cooled. Unfortunately, my car seat doesn’t know how to sense my actual comfort and automatically reposition itself to make me happier while I’m on the open road. I now ask myself a question that would have been unimaginable in my youth: “Why isn’t my car seat getting smarter each time I drive my car?”

From ‘Full-service, Analog’ to ‘Self-service, Digital’ Experiences

With excellent quality now more or less a given, companies have shifted their energy to improving every aspect of the customer experience. To distinguish themselves in this environment, the best companies are on a quest to put intuitive, self-service, digital experiences at the center of their customer interactions.

The financial sector was an early adopter when it started replacing tellers with ATMs. Customers these days rarely need tellers, bankers, brokers or service agents to handle transactions or inquiries; most everything can be conveniently and accurately handled on some screen. Talking to a financial services employee might soon become a “once in a decade” occasion for an average customer.

It’s not just financial services. We see this front-line transformation happening everywhere. Cashiers are disappearing from grocery stores while pharmacies use apps to manage Rx refills. It has probably been years since you stopped to check out of your hotel.

However, the new world of customer experience also makes new demands on customers. If not managed skillfully, these demands can drive away large segments of your customer base. Long before customers arrive at the self-checkout aisle they have been overwhelmed with mind-boggling choice. Amazon offers more than 600 million products on their website. A typical Walmart has 150,000 products in a supercenter and 70 million more online. Typical smartphones now have several hundred features — and access to more than a million apps.

Without meaningful guidance, a world of abundance can lead to paralysis for customers forced to make their way alone through the thicket. Even worse, our self-service world assumes customers can independently follow instructions and complete tasks — despite huge variations in intellect, education, health and wealth. The future will demand even more customer self-sufficiency in an environment of greater complexity. A glitchy app, devices that turn out to not be so intuitive, or long queues for help can devastate your customer service strategy. Companies must work overtime to ensure no customer gets left behind.

Entangled Brands

Our global ecosystem requires leadership teams to constantly rethink how they can improve their experience in the context of every other experience that might impact their customers. Like it or not, you need to understand how adjacent products and services work with your offerings, or your customer will end up in the dreaded Catch 22 in which the hardware maker blames the software maker — and vice versa.

Consider Jessica, who is flying from NYC to San Francisco for a business trip. She takes an Uber from Brooklyn to JFK airport. Arriving at the Delta Air Lines terminal, Jessica zips through security using her TSA Precheck status and grabs a coffee at Starbucks.

She is thrilled to be upgraded to First Class, but that joy fades once Jessica can’t connect her Apple MacBook to the GoGo inflight WiFi using her T-Mobile account. Meanwhile, her fancy Bose noise-cancelling headphones can’t tune out a screaming baby.

Her plane lands, and she takes a Lyft to the Westin, but gets stuck in traffic. Her frustration escalates when the check-in kiosk doesn’t recognize her reservation. She often stays at Hilton hotels and has no Westin status, so she stands in the “non-elite” line to get her keycard.

While standing on that line, Delta pushes Jessica a survey asking for feedback about today’s trip. “What is her willingness to recommend Delta on a 1 to 10 scale?” Where should she begin her story? Her journey is the byproduct of entangled brands and external forces. This influences her mood, reviews, and rants at any moment — and she is just one of several million travelers that had their own unique expedition that day.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

During the peak of the quality movement, the big problems were obvious (e.g., several million cars with overheated engines each year), while solutions were universally applicable. In contrast, today’s enterprises aspire to align the individual experience to a customer’s exact needs. That’s a big ambition, one that requires continuous improvement in multiple dimensions. Success in this environment means swerving around several common mistakes and pitfalls.

Leaving average customers behind in favor of indulging the most loyal, profitable customers. Which customer is more likely to define your company’s brand image this year? Is it the highly profitable “platinum” customer who has no complaints because they get expedited concierge care — or is it the average customer, who remains on hold for 45 minutes to reach a call center agent who fails to resolve an urgent problem?

In today’s world, your company’s reputation is only as good as the experience delivered to your average customers — because they are your biggest population and hold the social media megaphone. When your average customers are unhappy, they post that news on Facebook, Twitter, and a host of specialty forums. Instead of leaving average customers behind, maybe it is time to reset the bar. The winning formula now is ensuring the average customer is completely satisfied while highly profitable customers are ecstatic. How do we make this happen? Let’s turn to the next topic: business model transformation.

Neglecting fundamental business model transformation to reinvent the customer experience. The famous pivot Netflix made from shipping DVDs to offering thousands of videos via streaming is a classic example of business model transformation dramatically improving the average customer experience. While this transformation involved capitalizing on new technology, the point of departure was rethinking the business model.

This line of inquiry may be more important than ever. Why? In a world with more than 300 million businesses that are seeking new sources of growth, industry lines inevitably keep blurring. At any given moment, a new array of non-traditional competitors is already casting an eye on your customers. The “payments experience” is a prime case extending across the global financial services, technology and telecommunications, and social media sectors (e.g., using Apple Pay or Venmo on your Apple iPhone powered by AT&T and linked to your American Express card to pay for a meal at a McDonald’s restaurant).

Based on my work with CEOs and Chief Strategy Officers, every leadership team is exploring how best to shape the customer experience using insights drawn from massive amounts of data — leveraging analytics, algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence systems. All these capabilities will be part of the solution, but successful companies aren’t starting their strategic debates focused on new tools and techniques. Instead, they are challenging their most fundamental strategic assumptions, and are willing to consider business model transformation as often as necessary. Not being bound to what worked in the past is a prerequisite for unlocking new innovations that can make a step change improvement in the average customer experience.

Failing to predict how customers perceived an experience before intervening or requesting feedback. Imagine you are fast asleep at 1:30am in a hotel room. Your hotel “neighbor” blasts loud music that startles you awake. As a frequent traveler who is now half asleep, your first instinct is to wait a few minutes and hope they turn the music off. Eventually, you lose patience and call security. After another 20 minutes and a few loud knocks on their door, the music finally stops, and you go back to sleep.

The next day you receive a survey from the hotel asking you about your experience. You ask yourself, “Why don’t they already realize I had a horrible experience last night, and why isn’t this reflected in their outreach?” You take a few more steps, pause, and also then ask yourself, “Why don’t they have sensors and cameras in every hall to detect loud noises and dispatch security automatically to check out what’s happening, long before I have to complain?” More intelligent tools and technology will eventually address all this missed opportunity, but the winning companies will be those that get to this future faster. Much faster.

Under-valuing great horizontal leaders who rally colleagues to improve the total customer experience. Delivering the end-to-end customer experience requires precision cross-enterprise integration. Yet, too often organizations shine the brightest spotlight on vertical leadership success, which is all about a CXO leading a silo of executives, managers and associates to deliver measurable goals that are escalated each year. In parallel, these same organizations often fail to applaud the naturally gifted horizontal leaders who work across silos and engage peers to renovate the customer experience. This may be harder to measure in practice — although we all recognize the behavior when we see it. The strategic question is whether the organization is devoting enough time to teaching and rewarding horizontal leadership that strives to ensure no key component of the customer experience is dropped during handoffs between divisions and departments.

Failing to connect Boardroom conversations to your customer experience evolution. While many corporations aspire to be “customer-centric,” Boardroom discussions are frequently disconnected from the customer experience. They might include reviewing M&A deals, new government regulations, rising health care costs, succession planning, and other matters without a single mention of the word “customer.” This is a missed opportunity. Ideally, each board meeting should allocate some time to reviewing what steps are being taken to make customer experiences more compelling — because that is a clear path to prosperity and should leverage the board’s expertise. If you’re a board member and you notice that the agenda includes everything except customers, you might suggest a shift. Your fellow board members will appreciate the intervention.

Where are we on this grand voyage to radically improve customer experiences and rewire organizations to avoid common mistakes? If we step back and consider the complexity that leaders must navigate, we might be standing in a spot that is analogous to where we stood as a society with respect to the quality movement in 1985, the mobile phone in 1995, or cloud computing circa 2005. We are still in the early innings of proactively shaping the individual’s entire customer experience journey in tune with their changing needs. That means we can all look forward to decades of innovation. It’s a moment of tremendous opportunity for leaders who are willing to fundamentally reinvent how companies connect with their customers.

Shopping for Experiences, Not Products: A Primer on Retail CX in the Experience Economy

Retail customers’ primary objective used to be providing a great product, but as brand competition fiercens and consumer expectations rise, retailers need to find new, bolder ways to stand out from the crowd. Consumers are no longer satisfied with “just” a product, and are finding different, more fundamental means of identifying (and spending money) with brands.

Andrew Park, Vice President of Customer Experience Strategy in XI Strategy & Enablement at InMoment, sat down with The Retail Focus Podcast to break down where customers’ expectations have been, where they’re going, and what retailers can do to keep up with it all.

The Experience Economy

As previously mentioned, customers used to consider a great product the end-all-be-all of an experience, but as those expectations have grown, so too have brands’ need to rise to that challenge. These days, retail customers prefer to spend money with brands that deliver great experiences, and great experiences go far beyond what’s on a store shelf.

Conventional wisdom holds that an experience consists only of an in-store visit, but our research demonstrates that, from a customer’s perspective, it’s so much more than that. For a customer, an experience doesn’t begin at a storefront—it actually starts long before that with brand research, reading online reviews, and evaluating whether a retailer’s values match up with their own. Experiences don’t end at the store exit, either. Customers fold their post-purchase interactions with a product into their overall brand experience. 

All of this points toward a single truth: customers consider experiences to be journeys, not single stops, and brands that fail to parallel that expectation jeopardize their very competitiveness. For example, an airline may consider a passenger’s flight the extent of that individual’s experience, but this skewed view fails to account for buying a ticket, waiting in the airport, finding a hotel, and all the other elements comprising that passenger’s customer journey. 

It’s All About The Journey

Brands that focus only on in-store experiences, like that hypothetical airline, are missing a huge opportunity. The winning brands in the modern experience landscape are the ones that create seamless, end-to-end journeys that remain consistent from start to finish. That may sound like a lot of work (and it is), but we’ve found that customers will spend more money with a company that provides a great experience. Creating a journey is a worthwhile investment.

Creating a consistent journey means a lot more than, say, being constantly available to customers. It also means that the experiences a brand provides must not be disjointed. It’s extremely disruptive to a customer when, say, a product’s online and in-store price tags differ. Customers have come to expect seamless experiences—it’s key for brands to deliver on that expectation.

Constant Expectations

It’s become common in the last 5-10 years for retailers to be compared not just to each other, but to other experience providers that may fall well outside the retail scope. It probably comes as little surprise to most retailers that customers frequently compare them to Amazon, but what about a restaurant? Restaurants are not retail outlets, but if they provide a great experience, customers will come to expect similar commitment from retailers and vice-versa. The same is true of other venues and businesses.

The final word here is just that: expectation. As we mentioned up top, customers’ expectations are growing ever more complex as countless brands vie for their attention. This means that, no matter whether a brand sells shoes, cars, meals, or airline tickets, it’s no longer enough to focus solely on a product. 

Make no mistake, offering a quality product is obviously still important, but it’s no longer enough to capture and hold customers’ attention. Experience is the differentiator now, and brands that endeavor to deliver a great experience will come out on top in both their verticals and in customers’ eyes.

To hear more about retail customer experience in the experience economy, listen to the full podcast episode today!

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