How Facial Recognition Tech Will Lead to More In-Store Intelligence

Companies say converting more leads to customers will be their top priority over the next year, according to recent research. This is certainly a worthy goal, but it begs a natural next question — how do you keep customers once you have them?

This conundrum is one retailers have been trying to solve for decades. Thanks to new technologies, that’s becoming easier to do in 2017. Recently, Walmart announced a plan to bring Minority Report-style facial recognition technology from the big screen to retail stores to identify and intervene with unhappy customers at scale.

Where Facial Recognition Technology Provides the Most Value

Walmart may not have been top-of-mind when it comes to innovation in the past, but a number of significant tech innovation pushes this past year demonstrate that this legacy brick-and-mortar behemoth is committed to evolving with, and perhaps leading significant change.

Walmart’s stated goal in implementing facial recognition is to understand customer sentiment in real time so staff can provide support to alleviate situations that could damage a customer’s experience around a single transaction, as well as their longer-term loyalty.

But the potential benefits are much broader than simple triage. Here are three scenarios where facial recognition technology can earn retailers greater customer feedback in-store, as well as what retailers can do to productively implement that information.

Understanding the Journey

With facial recognition technology, retailers can examine touch points and flow on the journey purchase and determine how each is impacting the customer experience, including spend, whether positive or negative.

In-store shoppers have many interactions that collectively determine their overall experience. That’s why retailers must work to understand if every single touch point — interactions with sales associates, products, environment, technologies etc. — is working well, and what can be improved if it’s not.

For instance, if shoppers typically leave a retailer’s “Health and Beauty” section more frustrated than when they entered, this indicates issues with experiences specific to that department. Granular insights like these will help retailers make small improvements across their overall in-store customer experiences. Armed with this understanding, human workers can be trained to provide specific types of assistance at various touch points to improve or enrich that specific experience.

Personalizing the Experience

Facial recognition by itself has interesting and helpful applications. However, the real promise lies in using this data in concert with other data sources and analytics technologies to gain a comprehensive understanding of individual customers.

One of the most talked-about buzzwords of the last 18 months has been personalization. And while application of this concept has been used primarily by digital marketers to target offers and content, a study earlier this year confirmed that consumers value personalization during purchase and service interactions above marketing/advertising moments, which they ranked least important of the three.

A future scenario might be leveraging facial recognition to understand when a customer had entered a store, and then harnessing the plethora of other customer and contextual information to serve up a personalized and very meaningful experience, based on past interactions and nimble enough to read and analyze in-store behaviors and sentiment. This stream of real-time “customer experience intelligence” could power everything from targeted offers based on same-day comparison shopping from a customer’s mobile device, to individual customer dossiers to support more helpful associate-to-customer interactions.

Imagine a store manager receiving an alert that a VIP customer had entered the store, a record of her recent browsing history of both your website and your competitors’, her recent purchases, as well as social reviews and feedback she’s given about your brand — along with past and current sentiment. Instead of extending a generic greeting, the technology would augment the floor staff’s expertise to create a very different customer experience, indeed.

Anticipating their Needs

The ultimate promise of today’s emerging technologies and analytics are moving beyond responding to, and instead anticipating, customers’ needs, wants and opportunities for delight. With enough data and time, predictive algorithms can find patterns in past behaviors, and make an educated guess at what customers, and metrics, will do in the future. This allows retailers to avoid drastically bad experiences by preventing the conditions that cause them in the first place. It also allows brands to identify elements of the experience that drive the most positive business and relationship outcomes, and proactively build those into more places along the customer journey.

One national brand we worked with brought together individual store sales data and goals, with customer feedback and sentiment. We ran predictive models that identified which locations would miss sales goals, and exactly why — by location. Armed with this information, each store manager could focus their team on bolstering the experience in ways that both make customers happier, and get them to their monthly sales goals.

In the past, predictive models were run almost exclusively on structured data, and netted a respectable, but still wanting 60% to 70% accuracy rate. By incorporating unstructured human data from facial recognition software, social reviews and survey comments, accuracy can reach well into the 90% range.

Just like any new technology, facial recognition won’t be a silver bullet for understanding and interacting with today’s born-digital customers. However, applied thoughtfully, and in concert with a broader set of data and technologies, facial recognition is set to become a very powerful lens into one of the most elusive and important questions standing between buyers and sellers: Why. Why do they love this and shun that? Why didn’t they purchase? Why did they choose our competitor over our brand? Why do they come back over and over again? Why did they spend more this time than last? Every tool retailers can bring to the solving of this mystery is priceless.

Artificial Intelligence, the Employee Journey, and the Millennial Dilemma

Today’s employer is facing a 21st century personnel challenge, one which was almost non-existent for their predecessors.

Previous generations held the expectation that an individual would build a professional career within one industry by starting at the bottom of the ladder and working their way up.

No longer is this the case. With the millennial generation now fully immersed in the professional world, career roles have simultaneously become transient and permeable, reflecting the globally mobile society enabled by the technology boom over the last two decades. No longer is a one single ladder approach king — employment has become a multi-faceted snakes and ladders game.

With such movement, a key challenge faced by employers will be adapting to this professional mobility and introducing mechanisms to keep up with the expectations of employment in the digital age. Technology is now available to support employee retention and artificial intelligence (AI) can be harnessed to analyse the employee journey of today.

AI and the price of employee turnover

Research has found that an individual is now expected to move roles between 10 and 15 times throughout their career, with most under 40 years old moving on after fewer than five years in any one role. With such high turnover, recruiting and training new staff is a costly affair.

Placing emphasis on the employee journey and bringing in new devices to understand your workforce in real time is, therefore, becoming increasingly important to address the wider trend for professional job hopping.

Vital learnings can be taken from the customer experience journey approach, which takes into account a multi-faceted relationship with the consumer across time and numerous events or touchpoints, from face-to-face engagement and service interactions, to electronic surveys and digital personalisation. Emphasis lies on ensuring the customer has access to the brand and is confident their voice will be heard and heeded.

Utilising the assets gleaned from customer experience strategies offers employers an opportunity to repurpose learnings and devices to better understand their employees. Looking at employee experience through a CX lens will allow businesses to spot trends, implement new processes, as well as monitor and evaluate the impact these changes have on overall satisfaction and retention rates.

Like CX, listening to the voice of the employee is fundamental to understanding what makes them tick, and likewise providing multiple avenues through with they can share their feedback is key. Blending smarter technology with best practices can speed up results and is proven to provide more accurate and successful outcomes.

Proactive action is particularly important when factoring in turnover levels and many employers have a reactive approach, only taking steps when a letter of notice is handed in. This process needs to be reengineered so businesses can stay ahead of the game — considering and responding to an employee’s development and feedback throughout their journey with a company.

High turnover rates are especially prevalent in industries such as retail, food, and hospitality, where hours can be unsocial and the demands high. For these areas in particular, predictive and AI technologies can provide real benefit, determining when an employee’s engagement drops, allowing an employer to use this intel and proactively prevent turnover, which in turn can reduce the costs of replacing human capital.

Even more compelling perhaps, is AI’s ability to find patterns across the entire workforce, surfacing traits, events, and employment conditions and where they converge to produce more productive, happier, and longer-tenured staff. With this intelligence, brands can hire, incentivise, train, and even exit employees in a more proactive and productive way.

Employee retention and the influence of AI

With the turn in the generation tide, employees have developed different expectations about their careers — we now live in society where individuals are more or at least equally concerned about fulfilment as achievement. In fact, research has found that 64 percent of millennials would rather be in a job they love and earn less, than have a six figure salary.

Ninety-two percent of millennials also believe that business success should be measured by more than just profit. This is a real marked shift and one employers need to build into their retention and engagement strategies, through from graduate roles up to the board of directors.

Using the latest developments in AI will allow companies to better analyse the points of truth along an employee journey, informing employers about why and when an employee becomes disengaged. This intel can then alert managers so they can take the most effective course of action, and redesign experiences to be more fulfilling.

This technology also has the ability to identify top talent for prioritised intervention. AI allows for a more personalised approach — we’re no longer looking at an A4 paper appraisal form. Similarly to CX strategy, a carbon copy tick-box approach is not the prerequisite anymore, nor can or should it be — any customer of employee strategy needs to develop in symbiosis with the technology available to ensure it is successfully received by today’s consumer.

Getting employees engaged in the CX programme is essential to involving employees beyond just asking about their own job satisfaction. It’s harnessing automated, AI-driven technology to listen, analyse, and distribute intelligence — in an always-on, systematic fashion — to what they have to say about the customer experience. Giving them ownership creates a fundamental shift in the way they view and engage in their own jobs, in the success of the brand, and in the relationship with the customer.

Recruiting through AI

By 2020, Gartner has predicted that 2.3 million jobs will be created by AI, whilst eliminating 1.8 million; AI is not only allowing employers to assess their employees but it also impacting the fundamentals of the workplace and the personnel needed. The most heavily impacted areas will be manufacturing, whilst the influence of new technology in healthcare and education will open up new roles.

In tandem with understanding turnover and employee satisfaction, AI can be harnessed within HR to complement recruitment drives. Some of the most attractive places to work for millennials are companies such as Apple, Google, and Disney.

As far as the workspace goes, these businesses are renowned for their high emphasis on employee welfare and are dedicated to building an employee journey which reflects the values of today’s workforce. Companies like these are setting the bar for employers and opening up the recruitment space to be more dynamic and inclusive.

Using tech and AI to search out the right personnel is also at the forefront of their strategies and, through successful implementation, they have developed a stable and highly skilled workforce.

The issue of recruitment is also less focused on a localised approach — the hunt for exceptional personnel has been launched on a global scale and tools such as Skype facilitate this search, bringing the recruiter and prospective employee into closer contact than ever before. Like with CX, the use of AI gives access into new realms of contact with the individual.

AI in recruitment strategies is designed to reduce or remove time-intensive admin tasks such as manually trawling through CVs. Successful use of AI can be implemented to support HR and refine employment drives, with new technology being developed to even predict a potential candidate’s likely performance in a particular role.

The key to truly understanding recruitment, retention, and turnover rates in today’s society is harnessing AI across a blended range of listening, analytical and reporting processes. Taking an always-on, systematic approach will help empower the employee and imbibe confidence in the brand ethos. Ultimately, opening up two-way communication through the vehicle of technology will give employees a sense of ownership as co-creators of the employee experience.

This in turn will create a fundamental shift in the way employees view and engage in their own jobs, in the success of the brand, and in the relationship with the customer.

I Buy, Therefore I Am: The Psychology Behind Why We Choose Our Favorite Brands

What do the shoes you wear, the coffee you drink, and the car you drive say about you?

In what ways do your favorite brands help create your personal brand? How do they contribute to fulfilling your individual needs? And how do your shopping dollars help craft—and confirm—your personal identity?

Over the past 15 years, InMoment has collected and analyzed feedback from billions of customer experiences. We’ve proven—time and again—the direct connection between the meaningful differentiation of these experiences and the success of a brand’s CX objectives, such as willingness to return to, recommend, and, ultimately, promote a business. The customer stories shared at various touch points throughout the customer journey not only capture the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes within each unique experience, but confirm the congruence—or lack thereof—between customer expectations and the reality of the experience delivered.

While the intelligence derived from this feedback is critical for an organization to create optimal, personalized customer experiences that drive business value, there is another salient factor that drives consumer behavior: customer-brand identity. This concept is derivative of social identity theory and describes “an active, selective, and volitional psychological process in which customers compare their own identity to that of the company and identify with the company if it can fulfill one or more self-differential needs.” This connection between consumer and brand is much deeper and more meaningful than a singular experience; therefore, it has a greater potential impact on long-term loyalty, advocacy, and value.

Best-in-class brands know if they create a promise, product, and experience that evokes an identity worth aspiring to, customers will pay to align with and even promote it—increasing the lifetime value of the relationship. For instance, professional athletes across the world wear Nike; however, the sweeping majority of Nike customers are not actually world-class and/or Olympic athletes. Yet, when a shoe represents something we identify with or aspire to attain, we’re drawn to it. The truth is, most Nike customers are just like you and me: casual athletes or city dwellers who are drawn to the aura of innovation and inspiration associated with The Swoosh. This is a perfect example of a co-created brand identity that satisfies customer needs while staying true to the brand’s promise.

Tiffany & Co. is another example. The blue box and white ribbon exude elegance, class, and sophistication, and therefore, the legacy luxury brand has both the benefit and challenge of living up to a well-established customer expectation. The exclusivity and allure of the iconic Tiffany Experience throughout the entire customer journey—advertising, web presence, in-store experience, packaging, unwrapping, and ownership (of both the jewelry and box!)—is about so much more than a brilliant piece of jewelry. It’s about how we see ourselves, what we aspire to, our connection with the brand, and our identity. And that’s where true brand loyalty is born.

The same philosophy rings true for more utilitarian industries, such as retail pharmacy. While these entities are most commonly visited when people are feeling under the weather, Rite Aid has not resigned itself to being just a drugstore. Instead, it has deliberately positioned itself as a center for wellness, from its on-site illness-prevention services to its comprehensive loyalty program (aptly named wellness+) to its online and in-store imagery and messaging focused on healthy families and happy lives. Yes, you can visit Rite Aid to buy diapers or have your prescription filled, but the company’s promise is to be a partner in long-term health and wellness that goes beyond a single interaction.

Brands like Nike, Tiffany & Co., and Rite Aid have moved beyond simple, transactional customer satisfaction (which has low self-referentiality), and have found ways to integrate how customers see themselves within the brand’s offering. It’s more than a product or even an experience—it’s an identity. All things being equal, self-perception and aspiration are often the prevailing factors in choosing one product or brand over another.

Creating a strong, enduring customer-brand identity is also a competitive inoculation strategy. It is evident that the more customers identify with a brand, the more resistant they are to competitive attempts at winning their business. In addition, as their identity with a brand strengthens, so does their intent to repurchase and willingness to pay more for goods and services (e.g., waiting all year for a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte or immediately upgrading to the newest Apple iPhone).

So how does a brand integrate so seamlessly into a customer’s life? Creating a strong customer-brand identity that leads to fervent loyalty may seem like a tall order, only achievable by the most established brands. There are, however, steps organizations can take right now to begin building nearly unbreakable customer relationships:

1. Listen to your customers (and understand what they’re saying and feeling).

Most brands have formalized listening channels to track customer satisfaction in real time. And while guiding metrics like NPS and OSAT can serve as barometers for how well the company is meeting customer expectations, do not ignore customer stories (e.g., feedback, social reviews, and conversations) delivered through narratives, videos, images, and audio recordings. Customer stories, both solicited and unsolicited, speak the full truth about your customer-brand identity. For this, you need powerful analytics capabilities that can derive meaning from the explicit and implicit emotions that relate to identity, and arm your company with targeted insights, prescriptive recommendations, and predictive foresight.

2. Understand your industry, position, and competition.

Creating a strong customer-brand identity is also about offering a differentiated experience from your competitors. In addition to customer stories, competitive benchmarking can help your brand understand its position in the market; yet, going beyond simple rankings is imperative. As our team analyzes over one million pieces of customer feedback each day, we find that specific competitors are mentioned frequently—especially when an experience fails to meet expectations. These consumers often cite the reasons why a competitor fits better with who they are and why they may return to that brand despite past negative experiences. Understanding where you sit in your competitive universe is important, but unless you know the reasons why consumers choose products or brands, a clear and actionable path to meaningful customer experiences will remain a mystery.

3. Engineer a clearly-defined, and customer-aligned, brand identity.

Understanding your customer base, and more importantly, what drives loyalty for your brand, is critical when crafting and delivering your promise to consumers. Your presentation and offering must be in line with their self-concept and aspiration—especially those with the highest lifetime value. Remember the Tiffany example? The customer-brand identity is at play throughout the customer journey, from research to purchase to ownership. Your brand’s identity must be omnipresent, continually feeding the customer-brand relationship.

4. Create a congruent culture.

Have you ever gone shopping and dealt with an employee who clearly did not want to be there? Of course you have. Likewise, it’s evident when employees are not only brand advocates, but likely, customers themselves. For example, at Cabela’s, the frontline staff (also known as Outfitters) are more than just salespeople and cashiers—they’re experienced adventurers with a passion for the outdoors. Further, Outfittersare experts in the department in which they work, allowing them to elicit each customer’s individual needs and give personalized advice. Employees are an extension of your brand, and trust me, your customers have taken notice. Creating products, processes, and a culture aligned with your brand’s identity is infectious. When leaders and frontline employees identify with and advocate for your brand, they will create experiences that exceed customer expectations.

5. Connect through experiences.

There’s no simpler way to build customer-brand identity and loyalty than through experiences that are meaningful and authentic to that specific, co-created brand identity. In the hospitality industry, nobody does this better than Cracker Barrel. This home away from home is modeled after a traditional Southern general store with a singular mission: pleasing people. So rather than waiting for your table in a sterile holding area or on a cramped bench, guests can browse aisles of delicious country goodness, creating a seamless retail + dining journey—nary found anywhere else. Experiences that are unique to your brand’s culture, are meaningful to guests, and show you care about your customers are worth their weight in CX gold.

Understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms that motivate consumers to choose, stay, and advocate for brands is a critical endeavor in creating competitive advantage. By moving beyond fulfilling customers’ basic, utilitarian needs and building an ecosystem where who the customer is—or wants to be—integrates with what the brand offers, companies can develop an identity that actualizes customers’ higher-order needs. Using the aforementioned strategies, it’s no wonder the world’s leading brands have outlasted their competitors—crafting products and experiences that fulfill the deep-seated psychological needs of their customers. If trends in CX continue on their current trajectory, the necessity of customer-brand identification will determine who wins in the marketplace.

Global Branding, Local Cultures, and the Customer Experience

Over the last decade, waves of technological advancements, transport improvements, and communication progression have created what many call a “global village.” However, with the blurring of global borders comes a swarm of cultural differences that can make or break a customer experience (CX) strategy.

As business markets become increasingly globalised, the importance of understanding culture has become business critical. Failing to incorporate the concept of cultural diversity into a customer experience strategy will inevitably create barriers to winning the hearts and minds of customers.

The Importance of Being “Glocal”

Culture is essentially the characteristics and knowledge of a group of people. It encompasses social habits, religion, language, music, arts, and more. While everyone is made up of a similar genetic make-up, cultural upbringing leads people to laugh, eat, and even drink differently. It is indeed subject to constant change and has been made more dynamic in recent years by globalisation and the advent of the digital and connected age.

These factors have also sparked an increase in the number of companies competing amidst different cultures on a global stage today.  A “global business” has become a benchmark for almost all brands and marketers alike. In fact, a brand with a great purpose is now expected to travel across borders and cultures. The rapid growth of e-commerce has further accelerated this demand. Companies are therefore constantly faced with a challenge of making their brand culturally relevant while also delivering economies of scale, efficiency, and shareholder returns.

To succeed amidst this fast-paced environment, brands with global ambitions must understand and embrace the broad similarities of people across the globe while also taking into consideration the differences at a local level where culture is subjective, changeable, and above all, personal. Getting well-acquainted with cultural differences will not just help global companies earn a competitive edge but will also prove effective in enhancing the customer experience. In the global marketplace, the players who are aware and sensitive to the culture of their consumers have a greater profitability of success than those who do not. To make a big splash in the global market, it is vital that brands don’t just localise, but “glocalise” — a term coined by the sociologist Roland Robertson to indicate the integration of local languages, cultures, and customs into global products/brands.

The influence of culture can have massive ramifications for brands who choose to ignore them. For example, Coca-Cola has massive competition from other caffeinated drinks in markets such as the US, whereas, in others, local juice beverages are the brand’s main competitor. Therefore, it is no longer enough to just be bi-lingual. People, companies, and brands need to also be bi-cultural — understanding the nuances of customers stemming from different cultures. It’s safe to say that cultural awareness can be vital for a company to foresee what their local brand names will do to their company image on foreign shores.

A Closer Look

With every aspect of global communication being influenced by cultural preferences or differences, global brands now need more than just attractive logos or a common philosophy to succeed. Brands need to develop the ability to engage customers in a way that feels local to them. Choice of medium, colour, font style, or even size may have cultural overtones.

It is no longer sufficient for companies to merely have messaging in a local language. Cultural awareness must be applied to every aspect of the customer experience strategy — advertising, labelling, selling, and all promotion of products. For example, the colour blue can be soothing and represent trustworthiness to Americans. However, blue to Mexicans is their colour of mourning. Likewise, in some cultures, personal bonds and informal agreements are far more binding than any formal contract. In others, the presence of legal documents is paramount. While punctuality may be expected in one culture, in other cultures, a meeting time might be considered more of a suggestion than a hard-and-fast schedule.

Failure to “glocalise” and take into consideration these details can lead to the demise of brands in certain countries. For example, popular brand stores including Best Buy and Home Depot were recently closed in China — the world’s second largest economy. Best Buy opened stores in Shanghai and attempted to replicate their “big box” or large store retail strategy that worked well for them in America. However, trying to secure reasonably priced space in Shanghai was difficult as the city is known to have to have one of the highest densities in the world. Ultimately, Best Buy opened a giant flagship store in downtown Shanghai selling far too many product lines in a location where consumers had to walk up several stories to reach the entrance. Nearby local competitors Suning and Gome opened small stores right next to Best Buy with convenient access and sold only high demand, high margin products.

However several brands have succeeded in localising their strategy while also governing the ethos of their company. McDonald’s, for example, has been well-known for their subtle localisation strategies across the globe with the creation of regional menu items for each of their markets. Conversely, Apple has stores all over the world and follows a very strict customer experience protocol that is tailored to each region. The brand further ensures that the building type in each country matches the culture appropriately. Even Dove’s popular “Real Beauty” campaign which in Western markets featured images of everyday women in their underwear was modified to suit the preferences of the Middle Eastern market.

Factors to Consider

It is evident that brands that retain their core values and simultaneously tailor messages to suit individual markets reap a multitude of benefits. Hiring a diverse and multilingual staff can be a first step towards facilitating interaction with international customers. Furthermore, cross-cultural training can equip customer service staff with the knowledge and skills needed to strengthen overall customer experience across the world.

Humanising a brand with a vision and mission that inspires local markets can be yet another force that drives forward brand recognition across the globe. For example, Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking” campaign sustained tremendous global flex over the years by using culturally relevant quotes and messaging that connected with markets all over the world. Even Johnnie Walker’s latest “Keep Walking America” advert is a musical celebration of diversity.

Streamlining content and ensuring that local teams have complete access to a rich library of global assets can further assist a global-local alignment and visual consistency. For example, Unilever has recently centralised its global and local marketing functions to ensure that their marketers are better equipped in today’s “super-connected” consumer landscape. This can further support the brand’s desire to showcase commitment towards celebrating and embracing different cultures.

Since in different cultures the perceptions regarding behaviour, assertiveness, and satisfaction are different, it is important that brands embrace the importance of culture and provide customers with experiences that first and foremost take into consideration their varied cultural backgrounds.

CX Doesn’t Have to Be a Guessing Game

Over the past 15 years, I’ve seen the course of customer experience intelligence shift drastically, and my home state become a hub for the industry.

While I wholeheartedly believe Utah—home to InMoment’s global headquarters—is the most inviting and majestic locale in the entire United States, the climate and geography are certainly not for the faint of heart. Icy cold and snowy winters are followed by long, dry summers, while the shoulder seasons—spring and fall—last about as long as a head cold (but let me tell you, those few days are absolutely glorious). Yes, we have the Greatest Snow on Earth, the Wasatch Range, Uinta Mountains, and five nationals parks…and we also have rattlesnakes, flash floods, and the occasional inversion (a layer of cold, pollutant-filled air that gets trapped in the valley between winter storms).

But none of that compares to the terrors of living in Florida.

I say this partially in jest (see: alligators, cockroaches, mosquitos, and an average daily humidity flirting with 100 percent), while recognizing the harsh, potentially life-threatening realities of living in a tropical climate. We witnessed this truth earlier in the year with the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

In June, two InMoment employees relocated to the gulf coast of the Sunshine State—one accepted a CX leadership position with Foot Locker, while the other was afforded the opportunity to live closer to family while remaining a full-time (remote) employee at InMoment. Naturally, InMoment headquarters was concerned about the well-being of these two newly-minted Floridians and their families as Irma came barreling toward the state in mid-September.

Anyone who tracked this massive storm is familiar with the Cone of Uncertainty. This theory, which describes the evolution of certainty throughout a project or event, is used by meteorologists to provide guidance to local governments, officials, and residents as storms approach. When a tropical storm first becomes a hurricane, the Cone of Uncertainty is, well, quite uncertain. It’s narrow at one end (we have a good idea where the storm will be in an hour), but wide at the other. The further out we try to predict, the larger the margin of error. It’s scientific—but it’s also a bit of a guessing game.

Taking drastic action based on so little certainty would be unreasonable, impractical, and irresponsible. Imagine if we could only see the forecasted hurricane track once, and many days out. Would we evacuate the entire Eastern Seaboard each time a storm popped up in the Atlantic? We might if we had no other choice. Luckily, the forecast track is updated every few hours, and while we may not know the storm’s exact path until it actually makes landfall, the closer it gets, the more certain we become.

In the past, I’ve used the analogy of a car’s dashboard to refer to customer feedback data: the speedometer tells you how fast you’re going (i.e., metrics such as OSAT and NPS) but it’s the GPS (i.e., analysis of unstructured, qualitative data) that ensure you successfully navigate to your destination. While this analogy still rings true, I’ve started to think about CX strategy in terms of the Cone of Uncertainty, and how advanced models and an even deeper understanding of customer stories can reduce the amount of guessing required.

All companies, whether or not they’ve implemented Voice of Customer programs, have a broad view of the customer journey, a general sense of customer expectations, and likely some idea of how to improve customer experiences. This is the wide end of the cone (i.e., evacuating the entire east coast from Miami to Boston). In other words, it’s not very helpful. If you manage a CX program and all you can see is the wide end of the cone, it’s probably time to update your resume on Linkedin.

As I mentioned, when forecasting a hurricane’s track, we typically don’t know what the storm is going to do until it’s actually doing it. Due to wind, water temperature, and other variables, at only 12 hours out, the average forecast track error is still nearly 10 miles. That could mean the difference between a direct hit and a relatively minor meteorological event! Unlike a hurricane, predicting how to improve customer experiences is actually quite an accurate science—assuming you have the right model in place. We’ve been feeding our CX machines, algorithms, and engines with customer feedback data for nearly 15 years; the more data we put in, the better they’re able to prescribe and predict the path to better customer experiences with pinpoint accuracy.  

Going back to my dashboard analogy, from InMoment’s inception, CX technology has progressed from a basic speedometer to an advanced GPS, but what’s next? From our standpoint, it’s automation. It’s a self-driving CX engine—based on more than the analysis of structured data and predefined KPIs. As algorithms, machines, models, and data improve, the Cone of Uncertainty will become less of a cone and more of a line—a direct path from Point A to Point B. Companies will no longer rely on tools, but rather always-on CX guidance. An analyst inside the platform—reading tens of thousands of customer stories each week—that understands expectations and experiences, and targets recommendations to various personas within an organization.

Customer experience initiatives should not be a shot in the dark—trial and error. With real-time updates, alerting, and recommendations—fueled by the always-on ingestion of customer feedback data—customer experience initiatives should not be educated guesses, but calculated certainties.

How Does Geography Impact Customer Experience?

CX programmes are adopted by many organisations across the globe, each with a different approach and ultimate goal. Whilst the concept of CX is namely the same wherever you look, we’re really interested to see and share how it’s interpreted across different countries.

In our CX Trends Study we compared customer experiences in the UK and Germany, two major European economies. We delved into what emotions consumers and brands associate with positive and negative experiences, loyalty and personalisation.

We found that emotion plays a huge part when it comes to CX. As customers, we base our experiences on whether something makes us happy, sad or even indifferent. What emotions do we feel when we have a positive experience? Do we feel satisfied, important or reassured? Our survey identified that 35% of consumers in the UK felt safe and reassured when they had a positive experience in comparison to 40% in Germany.

Whilst it makes sense to feel reassured when we are happy with something, we saw a higher percentage of Germans (13%) who felt excitement when they had a positive experience, with an underwhelming 2.5% of UK consumers experiencing the same emotion. The question is, why is there such a stark difference in this particular emotion? Do Germans express more emotion than Brits? Do they have different values in the exchange process which means their expectations might be lower than neighbouring countries? Or are British people simply harder to please?

Our study also showed that over 20% of British consumers surveyed ranked reassurance as one of their top emotions associated with loyalty to a brand. In comparison, this halves in Germany to 10%. That said, enjoyment and excitement remain significantly higher in Germany than in the UK.

Looking at negative experiences, the differences between UK and German consumers were similarly as stark. When asked what emotions they most associate with something negative, 34% of German consumers said anger was their primary emotion, in comparison with 8% of Brits. In addition, open-ended comments such as “burning anger and hatred” were received by consumers in Germany — some of the most emotive comments submitted in the report.

The CX Trends Study provided lots of rich and valuable statistics from across several different countries helping us to understand the true emotions of our consumers. In a world where expectations are constantly changing, it’s vital that brands stay in tune with their customers’ ever evolving emotions. From this, we can start to understand and learn that some consumers are more emotive in their reactions and develop their CX approach appropriately.

No two customers are the same which is why different CX programmes must cater for all, wherever they are globally. Without this guidance, brands and customers really will be ‘worlds apart’. We’d love to hear your views — have you encountered these differences? Have you been surprised by the nuances in global customer expectations?

We’ll be exploring these differences and more in our next CX Trends study, which will be published early 2018.

Customer Expectations on a Global Scale

In today’s connected world, managing a customer’s expectation and consistently creating positive experiences has proven to be a challenge for many organisations.

Part of the challenges in customer experience can be attributed to a variance in preferences across different industries and geographies. A recent study conducted by the UK Institute of Customer Service (UKCI) revealed that customer needs for specific types of services vary by industry, country, and channel.

Importance of understanding customer differences across sectors

In the modern business context, a healthy customer experience initiative is defined by a brand’s commitment to both satisfying customers and motivating strong loyalty. This in turn requires a firm to have a strong understanding of wide-ranging customer expectations.

Today, customers expect excellent experiences from their bank, insurance provider, mobile operator, and even their electricity supplier. However, priorities and expectations of what is considered excellent vary across industries.

For instance, staff competencies are considered particularly important in the banking and insurance industries while speed of resolving complaints, product reliability, and accessibility is a top priority in retail.

However, amidst these varying expectations, there is one shared ideology that prevails — there is no business without customers. Understanding customer expectations is therefore a prerequisite to delivering a superior service which can in turn create brand advocates and prolonged customer loyalty.

In fact, a study by Wunderman found that a staggering 79 percent of customers base their initial purchase intent on how efficiently a brand understands and cares about them. Suffice to say, understanding customer expectations is a crucial ingredient to the success or failure of a business.

Different customer expectations across countries

It is imperative that customer service representatives are aware of the diverse requirements in different countries and cultures. It is especially vital for companies that wish to expand their operations globally. Understanding disparities in customer priorities will invariably help companies identify strengths and opportunities for improvement and differentiation.

These priorities can vary from price, quality, and physical presence of a representative. For instance, customers in Japan have very high expectations of customer service and do not expect to pay for it. Accordingly, service providers in Japanese markets are expected to go out of their way to serve customers and solve problems.

If a customer seeks out phone support in Japan and is dissatisfied with the outcome, the company will more often than not send someone to help them out. This may not always be expected from companies in countries like the UK or US.

Furthermore, a 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer Report by American Express revealed that 78 percent of US customers rate being connected to someone who is knowledgeable as important, whilst only 65 percent of customers in the UK agreed with this. Moreover, a study conducted by New Voice Media found only 25 percent of Americans will hold while on the phone after 10 minutes, compared to 64 percent of Brits, for whom it is a regular occurrence.

Understanding wavering emotions

Existing UKCSI research notes considerable differences in how customers describe emotions associated with positive experiences. The research showed Danish customers, for example, predominantly using the verbatim “they had what I was looking for” while Spanish customers usually stated “I am satisfied with doing what I came to do.”

Respondents were further analysed to understand which emotions they associate with brands to which they feel the most loyal. Most customers across the countries analysed rated “satisfaction” as the most common emotion they associate with brand loyalty.

Around 20 percent of UK customers associated being safe and reassured with brand loyalty, while only 17 percent of US customers agreed with this. “Entertained” was the lowest-ranked emotion overall. However, 11 percent of Finnish customers chose this emotion — nearly twice as many as the nearest customer group from another region. Meanwhile, customers in France and Finland ranked ‘excited’ higher than in other countries.

The research also suggests customers across Europe share many of the same priorities but there are also a number of nuanced priorities by each country. Differences in the way customers score each priority out of ten was also noted. For example, there is less than an average differentiation in the range of priority scores in Poland, with less than one point difference between the highest rated priority (condition of delivered goods)  and the lowest (organisation contributes to the national economy).

Communicating using the right channels

Most companies today use multiple channels to interact with customers. This has been made easier with the rapid increase in technology and the advent of social media. However, customers across different industries and countries have varied preferences on how they wish to communicate with service professionals.

For instance, banking customers prefer a complete omni-channel experience with physical branches, online banking, mobile apps, text notifications, and phone calls. However, customer expectations with a healthcare company may not go beyond the ability to contact the company via phone and receive a text with reminders of upcoming appointments.

In the UK, UKCSI research revealed that website use is higher than the European average, although this is not uniformly the case across sectors. Website use is particularly high in telecommunications, media, insurance, and utilities, but is slightly less than average for banking, retail (food), and transport. In the Netherlands, “in person” is used less than the European average, although it is still the most popular channel for interacting with organisations.

Acknowledging preferred personalisation levels

In recent years, personalisation strategies have grown in importance and have seen a significant impact on levels of advocacy and loyalty customers have towards a brand. In fact, customers today do not just expect but demand tailored services that suit personal preferences.

They also want e-commerce sites and in-person sales associates to know who they are and offer relevant assistance. UKCSI’s recent survey recognised this fact, as “personalised support” emerged as a prime priority over purchase and advertising.

The report further indicated that customers in North America and the UK chose personalised support even more often than average at 54 percent and 53 percent, respectively. Moreover, 41 percent of customers in Spain value personalisation during the purchase process highest of all countries, a full six points above the average of 35 percent, while German customers weighted the different types of personalisation most equally.

It is imperative that companies today understand and respond to not just a customer’s buying habits and incomes, but also their emotions and states of mind. Acknowledging these subjective experiences and the role every function plays in shaping them is undoubtedly important in ensuring that customer satisfaction is more than just a slogan but also an attainable goal.

Retailers Are Dabbling in Facial Recognition

Walmart is the latest retailer testing facial recognition technology in an effort to create a better customer experience. Customer experience (CX) expert Brennan Wilkie says that facial recognition will be a key technology moving forward in the personalization of shopping.

“Installing facial recognition monitors in stores has the potential to grant retailers insight into the in-store customer experience,” Wilkie, the senior vice president of customer experience strategy at InMoment, told FierceRetail. “They can use it to determine, for example, whether customers are frustrated during self check-out and notify staff to respond with triage, pre-empting complaints and ultimately attrition.”

Retailers can then pair the facial expression data with customer demographics, loyalty metrics and other product purchase information, a brand can gain a deep understanding of the consumer.

“This intelligence could fuel action across the organization, from targeting demographics differently, to increasing access to self check-out, to deploying human talent at the specific points along the customer journey where they increase value,” he added.

However, Wilkie warns that Walmart and other retailers will need to be cautious as they test and implement these new tools in order to avoid crossing the line of customer privacy with this new tool. To address this, brands must be transparent about where, when and why they’re using this new technology, and of course, offer value in return for this privacy invasion.

There are several other challenges associated with using facial recognition. For example introducing new data when companies are already swimming in Big Data and struggling to derive value from it.

“Having a strong strategy for how to manage, access, analyze and action the information will is paramount,” Wilkie said. “Practically, there may be pushback from customers who are uncomfortable with the idea of their in-store actions being not only recorded by facial recognition monitors (often already done for security purposes), but observed and analyzed for business strategy reasons. If retailers can communicate the overall benefits of the technology as they roll it out, any negative feedback should be outweighed by the positive. This strategy has worked well with newly introduced in-store technology, such as self-checkout lines and chip readers, in the past.”

Another concern related to this infant technology is that there is the potential for the data to be misread. Therefore, the analytics software needs to be very sophisticated to be able to get results off of reading a customer’s expression.

The final challenge will be knowing when a retailer should implement new changes based on localized behaviors.

“Regionally, customer demographic preferences can differ. This should be considered as CX changes are implemented at scale as a result of learned insights from the technology,” he said.

So which retailers should be leading the way with facial recognition?

Wilkie recommends retailers with Millennials as their main demographic since study findings show that Millennials are most comfortable with the idea of sharing personal data with companies as a means to using their products or services. Additionally, retailers who are testing out the incorporation of robot assistance for processes such as self-checkout and self-price check are great candidates for using facial recognition.

“By better understanding a customer’s reactions at every point in their customer journey, retailers can assess the ideal balance of human and tech at each customer touchpoint. They may find that their demographic of customers prefers the traditional experience, unlike other retailers with more connected consumers as customers,” Wilkie said.

Using facial recognition technology for CX insights is still in its early stages. Advancements in software will add a new layer of understanding of the CX for retailers.

“Written feedback, voice feedback and body language will be the holy trinity to delivering a robust customer experience once facial recognition technology is mastered,” he added.

The Power of First-Hand Employee Knowledge

This post was written by James Bolle, VP Head of Client Services EMEA

There are many factors that go into making a customer’s overall experience a great one, but the impact of your employees might well be the biggest.

Employees are the face of your businesses and must play an important role in any CX programme. The widely accepted model “Value Profit Chain” states that if you have happy employees, you have happy customers.

However there are now many different variables that impact on this process. Customer experience will affect employee experience and vice versa. In order to understand your customers’ experiences you first need to understand your employees’ experiences.

This year’s EMEA Customer Experience Elevated conference (CXE17) highlighted the importance of employee engagement, and the huge part it plays in the CX journey. We welcomed CX experts from across the globe including Revolution Bars Group, and Tiffany & Co. Whilst each is a very different business, engaging employees was the unifying factor in all their presentations.

Employees are impacted every day by customers. They are the primary representatives of an organisation; they know what happens “behind the scenes” and can offer significant insights into what may be creating and impacting the customer experience. It is imperative companies listen to them and when they do so, they often find more specific and relevant insights to improve their business.

Revolution Bars Group told us at CXE17 that their core message is “to deliver an amazing customer experience every time.” InMoment worked with Revolution to help the business review the entire perspective of their customer experience and listen to multiple stakeholders, not just customers, to gain a much greater understanding of the overall customer journey. Revolution introduced InMoment’s Voice of Employee (VoE) programme alongside InMoment’s Active Listening to collect data from both employees and customers to develop a holistic understanding of the customer experience.

The data collected from employees as well as customers has meant Revolution has been able to make changes to its business and has seen marked improvements in its customer experience due to the direct correlation between the employee experience and customer experience.

Revolution’s use of VoE is a clear example of how tapping into employee feedback on the customer experience can have a direct impact on your business.

Employees provide brands with actionable, success-driving insights – they should be considered a key part of the CX mix.

Getting Personal: Know More Than a Customer’s Name

Despite access to more data than ever before, brands still don’t fully understand what motivates customers.

Customer Experience (CX) is now an established framework that, if managed correctly, can drive fierce loyalty and establish an unbeatable competitive advantage when it comes to developing a deep understanding of the expectations and perceptions of customers.

Over the past year, our experts have noticed customers talking about their desire for personalisation in a much broader way. We found that while customers worldwide appreciate personalised experiences along all points of their journey, some countries prioritise one type over another.

This reinforces the importance that there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to personalisation. Brands must delve into their customer data to fully understand their customers’ needs and expectations to ensure they are providing them with an accurate personalised service.

In our 2017 Global CX Trends report, we’ve dug deep to determine how consumers and brands prioritise different aspects of personalisation. A lot of brands around the world have used data to send targeted messaging to customers across a variety of platforms, but research has shown that consumers are looking for the next level of personalisation and if brands can get it right, they’ve got the golden ticket to satisfied, reassured and most importantly, loyal customers.

The Three-Types of Personalisation

The three key pillars of personalisation that have come out of the report are support, purchase, and advertising. Interestingly, customers in every country ranked personalised support as their first priority.

Personalised support can be defined as when customers reach out for help. No matter how a customer reaches out to a brand, they already know who that customer is and what they have purchased. In particular, consumers want service companies to know their history so they don’t have to retell the same story to each successive employee they encounter.

In North America and the United Kingdom, customers ranked personalised support higher than the average (45 percent) at 54 and 53 percent, respectively.  Personalisation of this nature will not only improve the overall user experience, but will result in the customer getting the information they need in a faster and more streamlined manner.

Following support personalisation, customers ranked purchase personalisation as a key contributing factor to brand loyalty. Customers expect brands to know them and their needs, as well as offer expertise in what they are selling and make helpful recommendations.

This isn’t just a simple case of upselling products at the point of purchase, but understanding the reasoning behind the product purchase and assessing what will aid the customer in their journey.

This is of particular interest to Spanish customers, who ranked purchase personalisation at 41 percdent, compared to the global average of 35 percent. That said, customers from across the globe want e-commerce sites and in-person sales associates to know who they are and offer the relevant assistance.

Companies who can get this right can expect to reap the rewards. Research suggests that if consumers enjoy personalised interactions, they are happy to purchase more when they feel those experiences provide real value.

Finally, advertising using personal marketing messages that include being addressed by name and offers relating to suitable products is probably the most recognised form of customer personalisation, but surprisingly it was voted the least important globally at just 20 percent.

Companies such as Channel 4 have taken advertising personalisation to a new level by personalising adverts with viewers’ names as they watch content through the broadcaster’s video-on-demand service. Channel 4 has described this service as ‘an immensely powerful marketing tool’, however in the UK, only 17 percent of people thought personal marketing messages were effective.

The Insights

The key insights from the report indicate that operation leaders tend to understand personalised experiences in the support and purchase departments as they fall within their areas of responsibility.

Marketers on the other hand often associate personalised experiences with well-targeted advertising. For consumers, it’s about the total journey. The well-targeted advert may drive the traffic to a brand and get customers thinking about a product, but if the support and knowledge from staff isn’t there to make consumers feel safe and reassured, the result can be detrimental.

With the majority of organisations now reporting marketing as the ‘owner’ of the customer experience, it’s particularly important for these leaders to understand and support personalisation in a much more comprehensive way.

The Guide to Getting Personalisation Right

  • The heart of any company is its employees. To ensure they are giving your customers the best possible service, they need to be motivated and feel empowered. Make sure each individual has the skills and training they need to offer the best service possible. Encourage employees to share their experiences so they can learn from one another. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
  • Having the right people on the front lines with the right attitude sounds obvious but it can make an astounding difference to what customers think of your brand. All it takes is one disgruntled customer to have a conversation with one not-so-helpful employee and you’ve lost a customer for life. What’s more, news of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good customer experience*, so employees need to get it right every time.
  • Gathering quality customer experience data can also make a massive difference to how brands communicate with their customers. If brands have the right software in place to capture feedback and insights along every point of a customer journey, then they’ll be well on the way to offering targeted personalised support which will enhance the overall user experience.

Why Amazon’s Acquisition of Whole Foods Is a Lesson in Committing to Employees

In the year’s growing list of mergers and acquisitions, Amazon‘s purchase of Whole Foods has dominated media attention. However, while news outlets have been quick to hypothesize what the purchase means for both brick-and-mortar and online grocery, it’s worth stepping back to think through an overlooked part of the acquisition — employees.

As the ink dries on the early August deal, attention has mostly focused on customers. This comes as little surprise, with recent price cuts and other shopping/purchasing conveniences setting the stage for a new era of grocery. With consumers and high-ranking internal players on board, Amazon and Whole Foods must now address the impacts of this acquisition on employees.

As they do, businesses of all sizes can learn a thing or two in the process.

Lesson 1: Don’t choose between customers and employees.

Amazon and Whole Foods’ priorities could not be more distinct under the old model, with the former geared toward consumers and the latter toward employees. Whole Foods has historically treated its nearly 100,000 employees lavishly, while alienating some consumers with high prices. Amazon, on the other hand, has built its empire around generous shipping speeds and return policies amid a dangerously intense internal company culture.

On paper, Whole Foods’ employee-first mentality and Amazon’s customer-first motto couldn’t be a worse match. But, with each company an expert in its own right, Amazon and Whole Foods have a unique opportunity to blend their individual approaches and bring the best of each to the forefront. Customer and employee needs are not mutually exclusive, and neither should be the strategies and solutions used to listen to them.

Instead, by listening to both groups at once, stakeholders can pursue data-driven insights that go beyond traditional feedback metrics like turnover and attrition. The right technology can not only elevate employee voices, but actually unites customer and employee feedback for an improved and more reciprocal experience.

Lesson 2: Increase calls for unstructured feedback.

To put employees and customers in conversation, businesses must seek out feedback platforms committed to not only gathering, but analyzing unstructured data.

Popular CX metrics like Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are misleading and don’t adequately reveal what’s going on inside the heads of employees and customers. Conversely, unstructured data gives employees and customers the space to comment on bottom-line critical human factors like staff helpfulness, friendliness and attentiveness.

Consider the following scenario: After experiencing major difficulties checking out at Whole Foods, a customer leaves the store frustrated. At first glance, this situation may seem like a one-time technical issue, but in talking to both the customer and employee present for this exchange, we can see that the best solution is hardly black and white.

After reaching out to the customers (as Amazon might), stakeholders learn that our shopper’s frustrations started well before final purchase. Not only was the store out of her favorite cereal, but she also waited for 10 minutes in the checkout queue — points of friction a traditional satisfaction scale would have missed. Then, in talking to the employee (as Whole Foods might), it’s revealed that the cashiers routinely feel understaffed. This employee also explains that he has little experience working with the store’s new automatic chip readers.

Combined, these feedback sources point to a solution that’s best for everyone. The customer’s feedback alone may have resulted in simple IT updates or better shift management. But, adding the employee’s input pushes for a more full-scale training initiative around new services and technologies — creating an improved experience for both employees and shoppers.

Putting it all together

Micro-moments like these exist throughout all stages of the grocery or retail experience, and engaged employees are eager to share when given the chance. There’s a reason two-thirds of employees would leave a job due to feeling underappreciated. Employees simply want to be heard — but don’t take my word for it. Ask them.

The same goes for customers. Offered a platform, shoppers are incredibly willing to give voice to what’s working with their relationships with brands and what’s not (this is already happening daily on Twitter). With so many voices to hear, businesses can again turn to sophisticated feedback platforms. These solutions are equipped with advanced analytics that can handle engagement needs at scale.

And with the combined reach of Amazon and Whole Foods, scale will be a top concern for the companies moving forward. While Amazon has earned access to more consumers via Whole Foods’ existing pool of shoppers, it’s also now responsible for many new employees — employees who are used to top treatment, and having their voices heard. Fortunately, all signs point to Amazon being ready to listen.

The ABCs of R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect is one of the key building blocks in a strong relationship, be it a marriage, friendship or business. Without it, we feel undervalued and underappreciated. In a customer-brand context, this is an incredibly important concept. Customers increasingly have opportunities to express their concerns and attitudes with brands in a multitude of ways, from a traditional survey response to a simple tweet. How brands react to this changing landscape is critical. According to the Institute of Customer Service’s (ICS) European Customer Satisfaction Index, leaders, stakeholders and organisations that build and foster relationships based on respect will be best-placed to achieve sustained customer and employee engagement.

Respect is a vital part of the customer experience mix as customers want to feel valued by the brands they interact with. Simply put, a customer that is willing to trade money for goods or services deserves to be treated as more than just a number. Feeling undervalued creates a strong, emotional state that can have a marked effect on both short- and long-term spend, loyalty and advocacy.

InMoment spoke to customers globally about how they feel following a negative experience and how this impacts on future buying prospects in our 2017 CX Trends Study. The responses clearly demonstrated the need for brands to get customer service right, with one French consumer saying “I have no desire to set foot in this store again” following a negative experience. At the end of the day, a customer has a simple expectation for the brand to deliver – be it having a product in stock or good quality food. When the brand gets that wrong, customers feel let down.

The customer-employee relationship is perhaps one of the most important relationships where respect must be a key focus. The ICS’s European Customer Satisfaction Index found that customers’ top priorities are mostly related to staff attitudes and behaviours, complaint handling and product reliability. Across eight different European countries, the three key customer priorities included:

  • Staff doing what they say they will do
  • Staff competence
  • Staff understanding a customer issue

The reason why these issues are so important to customers boils down to respect – a customer trusts a brand to deliver goods or services and be knowledgeable about those goods and services. Furthermore, if a problem occurs, a customer trusts that the brand will fix it. These expectations are infinitely reasonable so when they aren’t met, customers lose respect for the brand which can lead to them never interacting with that brand again.

It is essential that brands create a culture of respect, both organisationally and in CX in particular. There are four key steps to achieving this:

  • Empower conversation
  • Let the customer tell you their story
  • Let the customer know you have heard them
  • Take action and fix the issue (and let customers know you’ve made a change)

Empower conversation

Customer feedback is a fantastic way to demonstrate to customers that brands respect them and their opinions, however many methods of obtaining that feedback can actually work against a positive relationship. For example, surveys are often far too long, and questions don’t apply to the customer’s actual experience. When a brand asks questions, they should be tailored to the extent possible using data from CRM systems and loyalty programmes – availability of technology makes bespoke surveys possible, and customers are beginning to expect that type of personalisation.

Furthermore, brands should use a variety of methods for listening to customers, so customers can provide feedback in a way that’s easy and preferable to them. In addition to traditional surveys, brands should consider using video feedback, harnessing social media and building feedback into mobile applications. Increasingly adept mobile-embedded voice assistants like Siri are making voice feedback viable and simple. The objective with feedback should be to empower authentic conversation with your customers instead of a one-way interrogation.

Letting the customer tell you their story

Surveys traditionally ask a customer to respond to a series of questions with a numerical rating scale, providing structured data which can be easily reviewed, compared and analysed. However, structured data only touches the surface of a customer’s experience. It doesn’t highlight how or why a customer felt a particular way or the details of a particular experience.

People have told stories each other since the beginning of time – storytelling is intrinsic to being human and it should be harnessed in CX. Giving customers the flexibility to talk freely about their experiences without the constraints of numbers and direct questions does two things. Firstly, it provides unstructured data which brands can analyse at a deeper level. Secondly, allowing customers to tell their story, on their own terms, demonstrates a respect for their attitudes and makes the customer feel valued.

Letting the customer know you have heard them

Giving customers the opportunity to freely and openly talk about their experiences is the first step to demonstrating respect. To truly show customers their value as a consumer, however, brands must respond to this feedback and let them know that their voice has been heard.

Firstly, brands must respond to customers in a personalised way. If a brand responds to every single piece of feedback with the exact same message, it gives the impression that the customer’s feedback isn’t truly appreciated. Automation, CRM tools and loyalty programmes make personal responses straightforward, meaning bespoke responses to feedback can be provided without impacting on a brands resources.

Additionally, transparency in response to customer complaints is essential. As previously discussed, when a customer has a bad experience, they associate negative feelings with that experience. To help turn a negative experience into a neutral, or even positive experience, brands must respond in a timely fashion – through automated prioritisation tools – and tell the customer what they will be doing to help resolve the issue. This demonstrates to customers that they are respected and valued.

Take action

Bringing customers full-circle in a journey of change is the ultimate demonstration of respect, helping foster trust and loyalty in the brand. According to the ICS, trust increases in parallel with increasing customer satisfaction levels. Much of this is due to brands making business changes on the back of customer feedback. Primark changed their staff uniforms in the past year from black shirts to blue following customer feedback that staff were difficult to find. The New York Bagel company also made the big change of ceasing all pre-slicing of their bagels after public outrage of the reduced quality in bagels when pre-sliced. Their Facebook post letting customers know they’re taking on board all feedback garnered many emotionally-charged responses to the sliced bagel debate. Whilst these are small steps in improving the customer experience, the message it communicates is significant: customers are valued and that their views are respected and listened to.

It is no surprise that brands that listen to feedback and make changes as a result do better in customer service indices. Respect, trust and loyalty are all interlinked – demonstrating to customers that they are respected will lead to greater trust in the brand and will foster brand loyalty. This will result in stronger customer satisfaction scores and an altogether better customer experience. In the UK for example, companies that rank higher on the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) rank higher for trust with the UK average being at 78.2 out of 100 for UKCSI and 7.7 for trust in July 2017.

Get respect right, and stronger CX scores and improved business performance will follow.

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