Long Live the King
When you get angry, your brain zone called the hypothalamus stimulates. It sends a message to your adrenal medulla – the inner part of your adrenal gland, a small organ located on top of both kidneys. The adrenal medulla secretes adrenaline and noradrenaline, and it assists your liver in releasing more sugar; with higher levels of these hormones and glucose in your bloodstream, your heart rate and breathing speed up. Blood vessels tighten, blood pressure soars and smooth airway muscles relax. Your pupils dilate to allow more light to enter so you can see potential threats more clearly. Your body is on alert, and your muscles are ready for action.
In theory, you are now ready to run for your life or fight an enemy, a process coined as the ‘fight-or-flight response’ associated with 1920s Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon. Except, in this case, you are comfortably sitting on your very own sofa, facing your computer screen, or talking on the phone. You have not received the service you expected as a customer. You are explaining this to another human or robot at the other end. This company you purchased a service from is making you live a nightmare. It triggered an emotionally stressful situation that required your body to produce additional resources and energy to endure this unusual strain.
The resulting shouts, tears, shrugs, hand gestures, and bird naming will likely last just a few minutes. But they will resonate for much longer, leaving a dent or a deep scar into the relationship you thought you had with your trusted brand, provider, and customer representative.
Most times, an indelible trace of this situation will be left on social media platforms to inform the entire world about the poor treatment you have just received. You will be warning fellow Internet users that the same injustice could come knocking at their door if they do not carefully select their providers. Likely, you might even escalate this situation to the powers that be in order to demand justice. The world wide web is to witness the crusade you are about to embark on with your commando banner floating proudly in the air.
You are correct in thinking that I over dramatise a little. Yet if you were to casually stand by the coffee machine during customer representatives and community manager KitKat break, there is a good chance you would hear stories about client enquiries going wild every day. You might even listen to stories warning that an army is slowly but surely rising against the King.
This book is about leveraging modern technology to decipher the signs of the troubles ahead. It is about continuously improving service quality to avoid any heavy swords lifting, blood spilling and costly contingency plans. This book lays out the new reality business leaders face in a post Covid-19 era with hard evidence that customer affinity depends on much more than value-for-money.
Less than 5 mins to make a difference
According to Call Centre Helper, it only takes 4.9 minutes on average for the relationship with your customer to either wreak havoc or stay happily married. According to a Cornell University study, the average handling time (AHT) for contact centres in the telecommunications sector used to be 8.8 minutes compared to 4.7 minutes for the financial sector.
Yet, the call duration between a customer representative and a disenchanted customer is not a sign of performance. Indeed, one could seek to expedite customer enquiries without fixing the underlying issue. Expediting interactions might result in a client calling back again and getting their blood pressure on a rollercoaster ride. Hence, don’t wait until it is too late. You only have one chance and a short time to fix any problem a customer might encounter with your product or service.
Customers will enter the “path of great discomfort” when they burn precious time reaching out to someone in your team who might or might not solve their problem quickly. Whatever the outcome of this exchange, everyone could have done without it.
This book is not about what you should do once your client walks down this path with you, already demanding justice. There are many suppliers and consultants with expert knowledge about how to handle such situations expertly. We will not talk about empathy and what should happen during or after the stage of customer disillusion. Instead, we will talk about the steps that could have prevented it from happening in the first place.
After all, there is enough evidence that, in modern pandemic-scarred societies, customer experience is paramount. Since Covid-19 struck, half of the customers say that customer experience (CX) is more important to them than a year ago (according to a 2021 Zendesk global study).
In addition, almost everyone agrees (75%) that we are willing to spend more time buying from companies that provide a good experience. The stakes are high for any company since customers are not more forgiving since the pandemic. Zendesk clearly states that one unpleasant experience is still reason enough for many to consider taking their business elsewhere.
This behaviour is not a Generation thing either. Overall, the same expectation is accurate whether you are a Baby Boomer, a Generation X, a Millennial, or part of the Generation Z cohort. That explains why almost two thirds (63%) of customer experience managers interviewed by Zendesk stated that their company prioritises CX more than a year ago. A more abrupt conclusion from a 2020 Microsoft report says that organisations that fail to respond to the customer’s expectations will eventually fade from view.
These are enough signs that investing in preventive mechanisms to handle customer satisfaction is an area of priority to any CEO and Marketing Manager today. If it is not already the case, raise the alarm bell, someone will thank you for it at some point, without a doubt.
Make a change in your metric menu
Understanding which key performance indicator (KPI) to assess is paramount when proactively considering customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. When considering which KPI to add to your marketing decisions dashboard, there are many choices.
Gartner expertly states that the Top 5 customer management indicators are the average speed of answer, first call/contact resolution, average handle time (AHT), customer satisfaction score, and net promoter score (NPS). The latter is a simple method widely adopted by Fortune 500 companies and other organisations to assess customer or employee loyalty. It aims to motivate organisations to focus more on improving products and services.
NPS is a survey-based metric developed by Fred Reichheld and Bain & Company that reflects the number of customers likely to recommend your company, product or service to a friend or colleague. NPS is a great KPI to monitor, I strongly suggest you add such a customer loyalty assessment to your KPI portfolio if your marketing budget can afford consumer survey expenses.
These KPIs reflect a world where call centres were the primary hub for customer care handling. Over the years, the rise of social media and messaging platforms has revolutionised conversational experiences, opening new doors to how customers and companies interact when a problem arises.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, almost two thirds (64%) of consumers reported using new channels to communicate with companies, with Millennials and Generation Z leading this new habit. Nowadays, it is likely that we will use digital channels at our disposal before picking up the phone or going to a retail store. These include chatbots, community forums, email, help centres or FAQs, messaging platforms, online contact forms, social media posts, voice assistants or web chats.
These form part of an omnichannel experience whose goals are to disseminate marketing-driven information more cleverly to customers. With it, we can integrate all channels into a holistic view of the customer journey that can help customer care agents resolve issues quickly without asking people to repeat the same information.
Technology has opened a new world of customer management and marketing KPIs opportunities. Call transcripts are not the only written traces of what your customers say about your company, products and services. There is now tons of information piling up every day on the Internet to complement what call centres can measure. Sentiment score is the primary KPI that emerged from omnichannel and that help to make the data left on messaging platforms talk effectively. It is a score powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that interprets the depth of emotions in a piece of text such as emails, social media posts or web chats.
There is now a plethora of companies that offer algorithms to compute sentiment analysis metrics. The scientific community is buzzing with new research and ideas to create promising new KPIs to monitor customer satisfaction levels from web-based content, including speech recognition.
The menu of metrics at your disposal to evaluate customer happiness is likely to resemble an extensive menu at your favourite coffee shop. You might soon order a Unicorn Frappuccino from the list of choices and options on the barista’s menu, when all you thought you wanted was just a coffee. AI is the secret ingredient that KPI baristas have started roasting and powdering over innovative customer management metrics. If this is not the case, you will soon have to choose whether you want to taste it hot or cold.
The prevalence of new conversational channels speaks for itself and will continue to grow until we reach the proper equilibrium between written and oral customer care conversations. For example, a Microsoft study shows that 54% of global consumers have a more favourable view of brands responding to customer service questions or complaints on social media.
This trend will only exacerbate as the age pyramid develops with younger generations – well-versed with tech and messaging platforms – overtaking their non-techie elders (even though this stereotype seems not to hold true anymore). Omnichannel is the new norm; let’s face it.
Summon your Anger Index Signature to the rescue
The continual onslaught of emerging technologies that promise to uplift customer satisfaction marks a positive change in how companies care about customers. Yet, while all the KPIs discussed previously are great metrics, they only provide a snapshot of how well you handle customer care and if customers are loyal. But they do not cover the why? question that can help marketing experts to address the root causes of customer discontent.
Nothing is more frustrating than a low Net Promoter Score (NPS) that tells you that customers are unlikely to recommend your brand to friends and colleagues, without understanding why. It is equally frustrating to analyse sentiment scoring and find out that your average score tends towards zero, showing how angry customers are with your brand, with no explanation of why.
How are you supposed to fix things if this crucial piece of information is missing? By themselves, NPS or sentiment scores are like vintage fire alarm bells ringing loudly in a 200-storey building. Everyone can hear them and starts to panic, but the fire brigade has no clue which floor is on fire.
Industry analysts have predominantly designed these indicators to benchmark companies to show their peformance against competitors. These are KPIs used in Board meetings to congratulate each other. But they will not make any easier the lives of business experts standing every day on the frontline of customer satisfaction.
To win this battle, you need methods and KPIs focusing on the why and full stop. Therefore, we believe the Marketing and Product Development teams should have a toolkit that complements existing surveys, focus groups, and call centre insights. Companies should summon their Anger Index Signature (AIS) to analyse customer opinions posted on online communication channels.
AIS is a concept I have been pushing to help companies to decipher the root causes driving customer discontent. Think about it as a weekly visual snapshot of the areas within your company that is failing customers. These areas are great opportunities for business experts to spend time and energy.
Remove the blinkers and prioritise differently. Disturb your marketing and communications routine by diving into the fixes and messages that address particular weaknesses each week or each month at the very least. Disturbing your routine is an ambitious promise, but it can drive impactful benefits, particularly if you combine it cleverly with existing customer satisfaction sampling methods.
Throughout this book, we will essentially take tech companies in the telecommunications industry as a use case example. I refer to them as “telcos” all along this book. Telcos have a lot of pressure on their shoulders since they invest heavily in the infrastructure that connect us to the internet. Moreover, they have one of the most diverse customer offering portfolios out there. Think about your Internet service provider. It is likely that it doesn’t provide basic Internet connectivity to you, but also offerings relating to smartphones, TV/media streaming, connected home devices, or even banking. The more offerings you have, the more expectations customers have. What would telcos’ AIS look like with complaints potentially coming from so many routes?
In the illustrations on the next page, each bar represents a topic of root causes of customer complaints – there are 16 in total on each polar chart. Based on all negative complaints received during the period analysed, the bar’s length reflects the topic’s prevalence (in %). At this stage, we purposely removed any polar chart axes information to make you forget about the details for a minute. The aim is to handcraft what the Anger Index Signature (AIS) concept looks like for telco providers.
As you will notice, AT&T has a very different signature than its US competitors, while Canadian operators show unique patterns compared to their British counterparts. Hence, if you were to work for any telcos across the US, Canada, or the UK, you would make different decisions and implement different corrective action plans based on this analysis.
I am not suggesting that complaints would eventually stop altogether. But you can monitor which topic is causing a surge in complaints weekly or monthly and mitigate for it before troubles hit the fan.
It would be like playing a rigged whac-a-mole™ game since you would have the tremendous advantage of being one step ahead. According to Wikipedia, I quote: the player holds a mallet in his hand and if you do not strike a mole within a certain time or with enough force, it will eventually sink back into its hole with no score.
Although gameplay starts slow enough for most people to hit all the moles that rise, it gradually increases in speed. Each mole ends up spending less time above the hole and eventually more moles will be outside of their holes at the same time. After a designated time limit, the game ends, regardless of the player’s skills. The final score depends upon the number of moles that the player struck.
In our case, the moles represent all the root causes of customer discontent that a company can face simultaneously. Here, we arm you with not just a mallet but with a marketing and product development bazooka to score points and slow down the game pace.
What is interesting here is that some complaints linked to the “core” activities of the company will be more prominent than others and hence easier to anticipate and correct. In contrast, some complaint root causes can be “peripheral” by nature. The company has no control over those since they depend on the environment surrounding the company’s activities and are harder (or almost impossible) to predict. Yet, once they appear, you can correct the trajectory immediately instead of simply not knowing and leaving it to pile up.
Later in this book, we will cover in-depth the importance of splitting core and peripheral root causes of customer complaints. The game ends when your customers bear a smile and type the eight characters you consistently want to read… “thank you”.
Are you ready to play?