In two earlier posts we discussed 1) including a loyalty proxy as part of your brand perception research and 2) determining the extent to which your desired brand image is reflected in how customers actually perceive the brand.
Now, we expand the research plan to move beyond loyalty and brand perception, and investigate customer engagement, or the extent to which customers are engaged with the brand through share of wallet.
Comparison to Competitors
The first step in measuring customer engagement is capturing top-of-mind comparisons of your brand to competitors. There are many ways to achieve this research objective, perhaps the simplest is to present the respondent with a list of statements regarding the 4-P’s of marketing (product, promotion, place and price) and asking customers to compare your performance relative to your competitors.
The statements you present to customers should be customized around your industry and business objectives, but they may look something like the following:
- Their products and services are competitive
- They are more customer-centric
- They have lower fees
- They have better service
- They offer better technology
- They are more nimble and flexible
- They are more innovative
Similar to the brand perception statements discussed in the previous post, these competitor comparison statements can be used to determine which of these service attributes have the most potential for ROI in terms of driving loyalty, again, by cross tabulating responses to the customer loyalty proxy.
The next step in researching customer engagement is to determine if the customer considers you or another brand their primary provider. This is easily achieved by presenting the customer with a list of providers, including yourself, and asking them which of these the customer consider their primary provider.
Finally, we can tie industry comparisons to primary provider by asking why they consider their selection as a primary provider. This is best accomplished by using the same list of competitor comparison statements above, and asking which of these statements are the reasons they consider their selection to be the primary provider.
Similar to the brand perception statements discussed in the previous post, these competitor comparison statements can be used to determine which of these service attributes have the most potential for ROI in terms of driving loyalty, by cross-tabulating responses to these statements to the loyalty segments.
Establishing and measuring loyalty proxies is important, but your brand perception research should not end there. Brand perception research should produce insight beyond loyalty. It should determine the extent to which customers impressions of the brand are aligned with your desired brand image. Additionally, perceptions of the brand among the most loyal and engaged customers should be compared to those who are deemed less loyal or engaged to identify opportunities to improve perceptions of the brand among customers at either risk of defection, or not fully engaged
In a subsequent post, we will address ways to measure engagement/wallet share.
The first step in measuring your brand perception is to define your desired brand. Ask yourself: if your brand were a person, what personality characteristics would you like your customers to describe you with? What adjectives would you want used to describe your brand?
In addition to describing your brand personality with adjectives, come up with a list of statements that describe your desired personality. For example, you may include statements such as:
- We are easy to do business with.
- We are knowledgeable.
- We are like a trusted friend.
- We are interested in customers as people, not just the bottom line.
- We are committed to the community.
So, we defined the brand in terms of personality adjectives and statements. Both will be used in designing the survey instrument.
The Survey Instrument
Unaided Top-of Mind
The first step in the survey instrument, is asking customers for their unaided top-of-mind perceptions of the brand. This will uncover the first thing that comes to customers’ minds about your brand prior to the effects of any bias introduced by the research instrument itself. There are many ways to capture unaided top-of-mind impressions. We like a simple approach, where you ask the customer for the one word that they would use to describe the company. This research question will yield a list adjectives that can be quantified by frequency and used to determine the extent to which customers top-of-mind impressions match the desired brand image.
After we have defined top of mind impressions of the brand, we recommend comparing brand perception to your desired brand identified in the brand definition exercise described above. This is a fairly simple process of presenting the customers with your list of brand personality adjectives and asking the customer which of these adjectives would the customer use to describe the company.
The next step in comparing the reality of brand perception to your branding goals is to ask the customers to what extent do they agree with each of the brand personality statements described above. As with the list of adjectives, this holds a mirror up to your desired image and measures the extent to which customers agree that you are perceived in the manner that you want to be.
Identifying Attributes with the Most ROI Potential
The value of these brand perception statements goes beyond just evaluating if you live up to your brand. Used in conjunction with the loyalty proxies discussed in the previous post, they become tools to determine which of these brand personality attributes will yield the most ROI in terms of improving customer loyalty. This is achieved with a simple cross-tabulation of agreement with these statements by customer loyalty segment. For example, if NPS is used as the loyalty proxy, then we simply compare agreement to these statements from promoters to detractors to determine which attributes have the largest gaps between promoters and detractors. Those with the largest gaps have the most ROI potential in terms of customer loyalty.
These days, post-transaction surveys are ubiquitous. Brands large and small take advantage of internet-based survey technology to evaluate the customer experience at almost every touch point. Similarly, loyalty proxy methodologies such as Net Promoter (NPS) are very much in vogue. However, many NPS surveys are fielded in a post-transaction context (potentially exposing the research to sampling bias as a result of only hearing from customers who have recently conducted a transaction), and are not designed in a manner that will give managers appropriate information upon which to take action on the research.
At their core, loyalty proxies are brand perception research – not transactional. We believe it is a best practice to define the sample frame as the entire customer base, as opposed to customers who have recently interacted with the brand. Ultimately, these surveys are image and perception research of the brand across the entire customer base.
Happily, this perception research offers an excellent opportunity to gather customer perceptions of the brand, compare them to your desired brand image, as well as measure engagement or wallet share. An excellent survey instrument to accomplish this is a survey divided into three parts:
- Loyalty Proxy: Consisting of the NPS rating or some other appropriate measure and 1 or 2 follow up questions to explore why the customer gave the NPS rating they did.
- Image perception: consisting of 3 or 4 questions to determine how customers perceive the brand.
- Engagement/Wallet Share: consisting of 3 or 4 questions to determine if the customer considers the brand their primary provider, and to gauge share of wallet of various financial products & services across the brand and its competitors.
This research plan will not only yield an NPS, but it will provide insight into why the customers assigned the NPS they did, evaluate the extent to which the entire customer base’s impressions of the brand matches your desired brand image, as well as identify how the brand is perceived by promoters and detractors. This plan will also yield valuable insight into share of wallet, and how wallet share differs for promoters and detractors.
Such a survey need not be long, the above objectives can be accomplished with 10 – 12 questions and will probably take less than 5 minutes for the customer to complete.
In a subsequent posts, we will explore each of these 3-parts of the survey in more detail:
Previously we discussed the concept of “moments of truth” where some experiences in the customer journey have far greater importance than others. These moments of truth represent increased risk and opportunity to leave a lasting emotional impression on the customer; a lasting impression with significant long-term implications for both customer loyalty and wallet share. The purchase and sales experience is one such moment of truth. One study published in McKinsey Quarterly has determined that the purchase experience of financial services motivated 85% bank customers to purchase more financial products or invest more assets with the institution. (Beaujean et al 06)
We also introduced the concept of defining emotions using two dimensions of mood: valence (positive or negative) and arousal. Again, as we previously observed, modern research into brain activity during the decision process suggests that decisions are made within the brain before we are consciously of them. Emotions provide a short cut to acting on decisions, and rational thought appears to justify decisions after they are made on the subconscious level.
So…given that emotions play a key role in financial decisions, what are the emotions bankers encounter as part of the sales experience?
The emotions financial service customers experience vary by customer, financial need, circumstance and product/service sought, however the emotions a prospective customer may experience include:
• At Ease/Satisfied
So…what do we do with this enlightenment?
First, knowing that people are motivated to maintain positive emotional states and change/mitigate negative emotional states, it is important for the banker to recognize the prospective customer’s emotional motivation and offer solutions which will achieve either of these ends.
Kinesis has conducted research into purchase intent as the result of financial service sales presentation which may be instructive. Click here for this research.
Time and time again, in study after study, we consistently observe that purchase intent is driven by two dimensions of the customer experience: reliability and empathy. Customers want bankers who care about them and their needs and have the ability to satisfy those needs. Specifically, our research suggests the following behaviors are strongly related to purchase intent:
Interest in Helping
Discuss Benefits & Solutions
Promised Services Get Done
Friendly & Courteous
Both empathy and reliability require employees with Emotional Intelligence. These are employees with a positive outlook and a, strong sense of self-empowerment; self regulation; awareness of feelings (both their own and customers); master of fear and anxiety and the ability to tap into selfless motives.
Sales presentations are moments of truth with the potential to leave a lasting impression on the customer with significant long-term implications for both customer loyalty and wallet share – with obvious financial benefits for the institution. We’ve found that branches with above average frequencies of behaviors associated with reliability and empathy experienced a 26% stronger three-year branch deposit growth rate than branches with low frequencies of these behaviors.
Next, we’ll take a look at moments of truth in the context of problem resolution.
In an earlier post we introduced the concept of defining emotions using two dimensions of mood, valence (the extent to which the emotional state is positive or negative) and arousal (the extent to which the energy mobilization of the emotional state is experienced). In this post we postulated that understanding customers’ innate desire to maintain positive and mitigate negative moods has far reaching implications for the customer experience.
Before we explore these implications for the customer experience let’s explore the role emotions play in customer decisions.
Humans evolved in a complex world and our ancestors lacked our ability for cognitive reasoning. They used emotion as a decision tool to motivate action. Fear motivated their fight or flight response. Happiness informed them of an absence of threat. Emotions are deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, from an evolutionary standpoint our cognitive ability is relatively new. As such, our brains are wired to experience emotions as a way of informing decisions.
Like our ancestors we live in a complex world; uncertainty is part of life. Emotions inform decisions and motivate action when there is not enough information or time available to consider the “right” choice. Emotions are responses to outside stimuli and serve as short cuts to action.
Recent experiments with fMRI machines, which measure blood flow and oxygenation levels in the brain, have determined we make decisions before we are even aware of the choice. Cognitive reasoning does not drive decisions, rather it leads us to conclusions. Emotions motivate us to action, reason, on the other hand, leads us to conclusions. Before we are even aware of a decision, we make an automatic, often unconscious, assessment of the situation. Emotion serves as a necessary short cut for acting on these unconscious decisions.
So what are the implications for managing the customer experience?
As a short cut for decisions, emotions are interpreted in the context within which they occur. Many brands only assess their performance, evaluating the execution of the customer experience, without assessing the emotional response the experience evoked. It is incumbent on managers of the customer experience to include a measurement of the customers’ emotional response to the experience.
When measuring the customers’ emotional response and motivations for their behavior it is important to understand that there is often a disconnect between what people say is important to them and what actually drove their behavior. As a result, customer experience researchers must explore motivations beyond just asking the customer what their motivations were.
Not all experiences along the customer journey are equal. In every journey there are specific “moments of truth” where customers form or change their opinion of the brand, either positively or negatively, based on the experience. Moments of truth can be quite varied and occur in a skilled sales presentation, when a shop owner stays open late help dad buy the perfect gift, or when a hold time is particularly long.
These moments of truth influence the emotional response to the brand long after the event. They form an emotional halo effect that influences the entire relationship with the brand. As a result, emotional responses to a brand do not occur in silos. Customers do not form judgments about discrete portions of the customer journey solely as a result of the specific experience, rather they judge each service encounter with a brand within the broader context of their entire experience with the brand – regardless of whether they are consciously aware of it or not.
Customer experience managers need to be aware of these subconscious influences, both when designing the customer experience and interpreting measurement of the experience itself. In a future post we will examine the implications of this emotional halo effect on customer experience measurement.
Additionally, In future posts we will explore the effect of these moments of truth on everything from customer acquisition, problem resolution, loyalty, wallet share, and customer experience measurement.
Customers experience all aspects of their relationship with a brand through the lens of their emotional state. Be they happy, excited, depressed or angry all brands must be prepared to meet each customer in their specific emotional state. It’s a challenge – but also an opportunity. Ultimately, loyalty is emotionally driven. Brands that can react to and manage customer emotions stand to reap the rewards of customer loyalty.
To understand the role of the customer’s mood in managing the customer experience, it is instructive to consider how two affective states work together to define mood. The following model tracks mood across valence (the extent to which the emotional state is positive or negative) and arousal (the extent to which the energy mobilization of the emotional state is experienced on a scale of active to passive or aroused to calm).
Together, these affective states of valence and arousal can define all human emotions. States of positive valence and high arousal are excited or happy; negative valence and low arousal are bored or depressed. States of positive valence and low arousal are calm and relaxed, and negative valence and high arousal are angry or frustrated.
Here is a detailed map of a variety of emotions across these two dimensions.
Research has determined that, not surprisingly, people are motivated to maintain positive moods, and mitigate negative affective states. When feeling good we tend to make choices that maintain a positive mood. Customers in a positive mood are more loyal, and more likely to interpret information favoring a current brand. Meanwhile, people in negative affective states make choices that have the potential to change or, in particular, improve their moods. For example, researchers have demonstrated a preference for TV shows that held the greatest promise of providing relieve from negative affective states. People in a sad mood want to be comforted, anxious people want to feel control and safety.
Key to maintaining positive moods is arousal or more specifically the management of arousal. Let’s take a look at how arousal management influences consumer choice. Consumers in a positive mood prefer products congruent with their state of arousal. Excited or happy consumers want to stay excited or happy, while relaxed and calm consumers what to stay relaxed and calm. Consumers in a negative mood prefer products with the potential to change their level of arousal. For example, in an experiment, participants were offered the choice of an energy drink or iced tea. The following chart illustrates participant’s preference by the state of arousal and valence:
Participants in a positive mood, preferred the drink congruent with their level of arousal, those in a positive low-arousal state preferred iced tea, and those in a positive high-arousal state preferred an energy drink. On the other hand, those in a negative mood preferred a drink incongruent with their energy state, those in a negative low-arousal state preferred an energy drink, and those in a negative high-arousal state preferred iced tea.
Understanding the role of arousal management in customers’ innate desire to maintain positive moods and mitigate negative moods has far reaching implications for just about every element of the customer experience from sales, to problem resolution, to customer experience design, hiring, training and customer experience measurement. In future posts we will explore these implications for each of these elements of the customer experience.
Every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and adjusts their behavior based on what they learn.
To explore this proposition, Kinesis conducted a survey of 500 consumers asking them to recall an experience with any provider that they found to be particularly positive or negative, and determined how these customer experiences influenced customer behavior.
Here is how respondents told us they changed their behavior based on the experience:
This post specifically addresses positive word of mouth as a result of the experience.
Respondents shared positive word of mouth a median 4.3 times as a result of their positive experience, compared to negative experiences, which were shared about 20% more often (median 5.2 times). In fact, they were more likely to share negative word of mouth across all mediums:
Word of Mouth as Result of Experience
|Friend or family (Excluding Online or Social Media)||
|Coworkers (Excluding Online or Social Media)||
|Online Social Media||
Customers are far more likely to share negative experience using online mediums. While they are about 1.2 times more likely to share a negative experience with a relative, friend or coworker via an off line medium, they are 1.7 times more likely to share negative experiences over positive via online mediums.
Again, every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and changes their behavior based on what they learn. And, as this study shows, they certainly will share this experience with others. But what about the recipients of this word of mouth advertizing? How does one customer’s experience influence the behavior of others?
Approximately 90% of respondents said their purchase decisions were influenced positively (93%) or negatively (85%) by social media or word of mouth reviews.
With customer trust at an all time low, and social media providing a much more far reaching medium of person to person communication, positive word of mouth is becoming far more important in terms of defining the brand. Increasingly social media is becoming the media. With 9 out of 10 potential customers saying their purchase decisions are influenced reviews of others, it is increasing important that managers manage their customer experience to support and reinforce the brand.
Actions speak louder than words. Brands spend millions of dollars on external messaging to define an emotional connection with the customer. However, when a customer perceives a disconnect between an employee representing the brand and external messaging, they almost certainly will experience brand ambiguity. The result severely undermines these investments; not only for the customer in question, but their entire social network. In today’s increasing connected world, one bad experience could be shared hundreds if not thousands of times over.
Bottom line, frontline employees must be authentic representatives of the brand.
Simple enough, right? Nearly all rational managers will agree with the above statement. But how does management ensure that employees animate the brand? – It is a process of alignment.
Here are five steps to align the customer experience with external messaging:
- Align external messaging with customer expectations: Repeatedly test the effect of external messages on customer expectations. Ask yourself, what expectations are we instilling based on our messaging? Additionally, the next four steps will help ensure that operational staff fully understand and are equipped to handle these promises made to customers.
- Align customer expectations with company service standards: Even in the most sophisticated and progressive companies, standards of service delivery can be out of sync with customer needs and expectations. One reason is that customers are seldom involved in the writing of these standards. Rather, service standards tend to be the product of mid-management committees, resulting in a hodge-podge of ideas and opinions that are more a reflection of operational expediency than of customer expectations. A better practice is to calibrate service standards against customer needs, expectations and experiences.
- Align service standards with training content: Training should arise from standards, not vice versa. Bring training managers into the process from the beginning, ensuring that as standards are adjusted, training content will follow.
- Align training content with frontline execution: The success of most training programs is measured in terms of the participant’s ability to recall the content, rather than to apply the information on the job. A more proactive practice is to identify specific deficiencies in service delivery and adjust training content to address those deficiencies.
- Align frontline execution with rewards and incentives: At the managerial level, incentives tend to be in the form of quarterly bonuses linked to metrics such as customer satisfaction and service execution scores. However, you can go farther. Depending on the data available, consider rewards on a much more immediate and shorter cycle. For example, on a daily basis, call centers agents can receive bonus points that are immediately redeemable at on-line redemption sites. Or a bank teller may receive an immediate reward if they display the appropriate behavior to a mystery shopper. Thus, employees receive quick, meaningful rewards that reinforce the specific skills that are needed to improve customer experiences.
These are five steps to align the customer experience with external messaging. How do you ensure your frontline employees are authentic representatives of the brand?