Listen, Learn, Act - Part 3
By Karen Platt, Director of Customer Experience, Optus Business
You've invested heavily in a customer feedback program, but how can you be sure of getting a good return? The only certain way is to incorporate it as part of a comprehensive customer experience (CX) program that's fully integrated into your business.
By its nature, a successful CX program requires significant and ongoing change inside your organisation. That certainly isn't easy, but it's fast becoming an essential part of doing business in today's ultra-competitive economy. A successful CX program will reduce churn rates, increase brand loyalty and turn customers into brand advocates.
At Optus, we began formal programs to improve our customers' experiences in 2007. Since then, we've learnt plenty of lessons and developed a mature CX program that has become a core part of our business.
To pass on the benefits of our experience, we're providing our Listen, Learn, Act series of papers. In our first paper, we explained how to design an effective customer feedback program. In our second paper, we offered further insights into how to optimise feedback programs and increase your return on investment. In this third paper, we explain how to use customer insights and change management to drive better business outcomes.
INTRODUCE ACTION PLANS
We finished our
To pass on the benefits of our experience, we're providing our Listen, Learn, Act series of papers. In our second paper by stressing the importance of closing the feedback loop with customers – to follow up with a 'thank you' if they give positive feedback or to quickly address their problem or concern if their feedback is not so good.
A swift, appropriate response will increase the likelihood of that customer participating in future feedback programs, but that's not always easy. If a customer has suffered from a repeated mistake – for example, incorrect bills – how do you quickly resolve that problem? The account manager can't solve the problem on their own. It has to be a team effort.
The solution is to create formal action plans for significant customer problems. The account managers – or whoever is responsible for the customer relationship – still lead the response, but they can pull in whoever they need to help resolve the issue. In this case, it would require the billing manager to solve the problem of the incorrect bills.
The same would apply to a product malfunction, a support issue or a delivery problem. Action plans should be applicable to every line of business.
But it doesn't end there. Every department has to be prepared to continuously improve the way they work.1
THE FIVE STEPS OF CHANGE MANAGEMENT
Change is at the heart of a successful CX program. Everyone across the organisation has to listen to customers, and make meaningful and ongoing improvements based on customer feedback.
That's a huge challenge. How do you create a culture of openness and change?
For organisations grappling with the transition, the first step is to build change management capability into the business.
Put simply, change management is the people side of business transformation. In the context of a CX program, it's understanding that customer feedback has an emotional element and a positive or negative impact on people. It's about inspiring people to listen, learn and act on customer feedback.
Change management is an area of great interest to market researchers and no wonder. They often present valuable feedback but to no avail – nothing changes.
So how do you make your research matter? How do you turn customer feedback into real business value?
Change management for a CX program is a multi-step process. It needs buy-in from the top of the organisation for maximum effectiveness, but nevertheless there are steps any research or marketing head can take to reduce ongoing problems for customers.
The Prosci ADKAR® Model provides a useful framework for taking control of change. It means ensuring internal stakeholders have the:
- awareness of the need for change
- desire to participate and support the change
- knowledge on how to change
- ability to implement required skills and behaviours
- reinforcement to sustain the change.
Step 1: Raise awareness
The first obvious step is to spread the word – to educate internal stakeholders about why you have feedback programs, how you go about collecting feedback and what you do with it.
But before that, you need to understand who your stakeholders are and what's in it for them.
At Optus Business, our CX team does a lot of work on understanding what's keeping stakeholders up at night, what their key performance indicators (KPIs) are, and tying feedback to those areas. Being able to offer relevant feedback makes it far easier to raise awareness.
Step 2: Create the desire to participate
Creating the desire for employees to participate in the program is perhaps the biggest challenge. Here are three key tactics:
- Ensure the program helps every employee you want to involve. It needs to be relevant to their business and help them achieve success. If not, you'll lack buy-in and you'll fall at the first hurdle.
- Get buy-in from the department head or team leader. Again, this is about the program being relevant and useful, but this time for the entire team and specifically to the manager's KPIs. It may require making a special effort to tailor the program and then to convince the manager that it can help them, but driving change in a department is much easier and more effective if the leader is on board.
- Link the program to KPIs and financial incentives. To be most effective, this should involve management's help in restructuring staff KPIs and bonuses so they're largely focused on improving customer experience. But if that's not currently possible, you can still tailor feedback programs so their results are relevant to existing KPIs. For example, if a billing manager is primarily focused on bringing in money quickly, design your feedback program so it provides actionable insights that help the manager achieve that goal and improve the customer experience.
Step 3: Giving employees the knowledge to change
Then, after implementing a program, it's a matter of analysing and distributing a breakdown of the results relevant to each group – telling them what's working, what's not and what changes customers would like to see.
It's vital to deliver the right message – a message which is an accurate reflection of the research, but which also focuses on what's important to the stakeholders and contains actionable insights. In other words, your research should help staff members take specific actions to improve their work.
Step 4: Ensure staff members have the ability to change
Like any new system or process, it's vital to provide employees and team leaders with the right training, tools, guides and support. Only then can they apply the feedback and make the necessary changes.
At Optus Business, we also have designated roles with different levels of authority and capability to drive process improvements. Some deal with relatively straightforward changes within a team, while others are charged with transforming a very complex process across multiple departments.
Step 5: Reinforce change
Ensuring your organisation continues to improve means providing ongoing reinforcement for change. This requires three key measures:
- Track improvements across the business. As explained in our
To pass on the benefits of our experience, we're providing our Listen, Learn, Act series of papers. In our first CX paper, qualitative feedback is vital for providing the actionable insights that trigger change. But it's also important to ensure there's quantitative feedback that aligns with metrics for all key areas, so you can see if feedback is actually leading to improved business outcomes.
- Link feedback metrics to employee KPIs. Of course, financial incentives are a very strong reinforcement. For example, customer advocacy could be linked to the sales team's commission structure. For other customer-facing teams, individual KPIs can be linked to team results – with contact centre employees, for instance, measured on the team's overall customer advocacy and other ratings. It also needs to be balanced with other important business outcomes. For example, a sales bonus structure could be linked to both revenue and customer experience KPIs.
- Encourage participation from the top. At Optus Business, our Managing Director reads all the feedback reports and adds a personal comment on each one. That's a very strong reinforcement tactic.
TAKE A STRATEGIC APPROACH TO CHANGE
So far we've explained the tactics and process of change, but for longterm success, you need to take a strategic approach.
To build a business case for ongoing customer-centric change, you may need to use some advanced analytics to identify the financial benefits. You may need to quantify customer loyalty and advocacy with metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and also in dollar terms. How much does it cost to replace a customer? How much more, on average, does an advocate spend with the business?
In some organisations, the challenge will be how to handle the preoccupation with short-term cost management and revenue concerns. Analytics should be able to model how CX can improve financial performance, but it has to be tailored to your organisation. For business-to-consumer (B2C) companies where it's easy for customers to move, the replacement cost of a customer is an important issue. Business-to-business (B2B) enterprises could look at customer advocacy and untapped opportunities for growth.
Even with full management support, CX resources are limited, so analytics can help you make decisions and prioritise your investments. It can identify which system and process changes deliver the best returns and which feedback programs offer the best value.
What's most important to your customers? What makes them return? What exactly is your business doing well to drive advocacy? These are obvious investment targets. So too are the things that most irritate your customers: how can you remove those irritants and what return will they bring?
DRIVE CONTINUOUS BUSINESS IMPROVEMENTS
As mentioned earlier, a successful CX program is a cycle of ongoing improvements, implementing feedback programs, closing the feedback loop with customers, deploying action plans when needed and driving strategic change through the organisation.
It also means listening to employee feedback. Customer feedback might identify a problem with the speed of complaint resolutions, but then employees tell you they lack the communications tools or training to improve. You will need to address both concerns to solve the problem.
Being prepared to listen to both sides will help drive continuous improvements to the business. So too will measuring the health of your organisation's customer experience in different ways. These may include:
- Segment health. Analysing customer feedback based on segmentation may reveal some common issues among particular types of customers. For example, a B2B company's high-value customers may be generally happy with their personal service, but smaller, more transactional customers may not be so happy with certain interactions with the contact centre.
- Territory health. Looking at the same customers another way – by their location – may reveal further insights. It may identify a technical or process problem in a particular area, or differences in customer behaviours, attitudes and buying cycles in different regions.
- Account health. For B2B enterprises with high-value clients, customer reports are essential. They should detail each customer's day-to-day experience, including their level of satisfaction with your products and services, and customer service. The report should identify any particular pain points, as well the customer's likelihood to re-sign and recommend, so you can have ongoing action plans or identify opportunities to increase business.
The scale of change may be daunting, particularly early in the process if it involves overhauling systems and processes, or changing individual behaviours and even the entire culture of a department or organisation.
However, if you are going to invest in market research and feedback programs, change is the only way to make it worthwhile for your customers and for your business. It means making a genuine commitment to listen to your customers, learn from them and then act.
When feedback programs are introduced, employees tend to assume that all feedback is negative. It's not. Feedback should also tell them what's working well. And as your organisation goes through continuous cycles of improvement, feedback will also improve, creating a business loved by both employees and customers.
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