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Customer Experience Measurement in the Coronavirus Age

Earlier in this three-part series we discussed the mechanism and risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the implications of the pandemic on the customer experience.

For many brands, this pandemic represents a moment of truth with their customers.  Moments of truth are specific experiences of high importance, where a customer either forms or changes their opinion of a brand in meaningful and lasting ways.  Customers are stressed.  They feel uncertainty, fear and, frankly, exhaustion.   This uncertainty and fear drives customers to seek shelter from resources they trust.  Brands which become a trusted resource, which provide comfort, true comfort, in the face of this crisis have an opportunity to not only do the right thing, but cement their customers’ relationship with the brand.  On the other hand, brands which fail to do so, risk destruction of their customer relationships.

Perhaps the most important way brands can respond to the moment of truth presented by this crisis is showing true care for: customers, employees, and the community.

Additionally, it is imperative that customers feel safe.  Based on current science, in-person interactions can be relatively safe if followed within CDC and public health guidance including risk mitigation efforts such as: physical distancing, masks, ventilation, length of exposure, and hand washing & sanitizer.

Using these previous posts as a foundation, we can now address the implications of the pandemic on customer experience measurement.

So…. what does all this mean in terms of customer experience measurement?

First, I like to think of the customer experience measurement in terms of the brand-customer interface where customers interact with the brand.  At the center of the customer experience are the various channels which form the interface between the customer and institution. Together, these channels define the brand more than any external messaging. Best-in-class customer experience research programs monitor this interface from multiple directions across all channels to form a comprehensive view of the customer experience.

Customers and front-line employees are the two stakeholders who interact most commonly with each other in the customer-institution interface. As a result, a best practice in understanding this interface is to monitor it directly from each direction: surveying customers from one side, gathering observations from employees on the brand side, and testing for the presence and timing of customer experience attributes through observational research such as mystery shopping.

Measure Customer Comfort and Confidence

First, fundamentally, the American economy is a consumer confidence driven economy.   Consumers need to feel confident in public spaces to participate in public commerce.  Customer experience researchers would be well served by testing for consumer confidence with respect to safety and mitigation strategies.  These mitigation strategies are quickly becoming consumer requirements in terms of confidence in public commerce.

The American economy is

driven by consumer confidence.

Along the same lines, given the centrality of consumer confidence in our economy, measuring how customers feel about the mitigation strategies put in place by the brand is extremely important.  Such measurements would include measures of appropriateness, effectiveness, and confidence in the mitigation strategies employed.  We recommend two measurements: how customers feel about the safety of the brand’s in-person channel in general, and how they feel about the safety relative to other brands they interact with during the pandemic.  The first is an absolute measure of comfort, the other attempts to isolate the variable of the pandemic, just measuring the brand’s response.

The pandemic is changing consumer behavior. This much is clear.  As such customer experience researchers should endeavor to identify and understand how consumer behavior is changing so they can adjust the customer experience delivery mix to align with these changes.

Testing Mitigation Strategies

Drilling down from broader research issues to mystery shopping specifically, there are several research design issues that should be continued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Measure Customer Confidence in Post-Transaction Surveys with Alerts to Failures:  First, as economic activity waxes and wanes through this coronavirus mitigation effort, consumer confidence will drive economic activity both on a macro and micro-economic level.  Broadly, consumers as a whole will not participate in the in-person economy until they are confident the risk of infection is contained.  Pointedly, at the individual business level, customers will not return to a business if they feel unsafe.  Therefore, market researchers should build measures of comfort or confidence into the post-transaction surveys to measure how the customer felt as a result of the experience.   This will alert managers to potential unsafe practices which must be addressed.  It will also serve as a means of directly measuring the return on investment (ROI) of customer confidence and safety initiatives in terms of the customer experience.

Measure Customer Perception of Mitigation Strategies:  Coronavirus mitigation strategies will become typical attributes of the customer experience.   Beyond simply testing for the presence of these mitigation strategies, customer experience managers should determine customer perceptions of their appropriateness, efficacy, and perhaps most importantly, their confidence in these mitigation strategies.

Gather Employee Observations of Mitigation Strategies:  Frontline employees spend nearly all their time in the brand customer interface.  As such, they have always been a wealth of information about the customer experience, and can be surveyed very efficiently.  The post-pandemic customer experience is no exception. 

First, as we discussed previously, employees have the same personal safety concerns as customers.   Surveys of employees should endeavor to evaluate employees’ confidence in and comfort with coronavirus mitigation strategies. 

Secondly, frontline employees being placed in the middle of the brand-customer interface are in perfect position to give feedback regarding the efficacy of mitigation strategies and the extent to which it fits into the desired customer experience – providing managers with valuable insight into adjustments which may make mitigation strategies fit more precisely into overall the customer experience objectives.

Independently Test for the Presence of Mitigation Strategies:  All in-person channels across all industries will require the adoption of coronavirus mitigation strategies.  Mystery shopping is the perfect tool to test for the presence of mitigation strategies – evaluating such strategies as: designed physical distancing, physical barriers between POS personnel and customers, mask compliance, sanitization, and duration of contact.

Alternative Research Sources for Behavioral Observations:  Some customer experience managers may not want unnecessary people within their in-person channel.  So the question arises, how can employee behaviors be measured without the use of mystery shoppers?  One solution is to solicit behavioral observations directly from actual customers shortly after the in-person service interaction.  Customers can be recruited onsite to provide their observations through the use of QR codes, or in certain industries after the event via e-mail.  The purpose of these surveys is behavioral – asking the customers to recall if a specific behavior or service attribute was present during the encounter.  From a research design standpoint, this practice is a little suspect, as asking people to recall the specifics about an event after the fact, without prior knowledge, is problematic.  Customers are not prepared or prompted to look for and recall specific events.  However, given the unique nature of the circumstances we are under, in some cases there is an argument that the benefits of this approach outweigh the research limitations.

Test Channel Performance and Alignment

The instantaneous need for alternative delivery channels has significantly raised the stakes in cross-channel alignment.  As sales volume shifts to these alternative channels, customer experience researchers need to monitor the customer experience within all channels to measure the efficacy of the experience, as well as alignment of each channel to both each other and the overall brand objectives.

Finally, as more customers migrate to less in-person channels, customer experience researchers should endeavor to measure the customer experience within each channel.  As more late adopters are forced by the pandemic to migrate to these channels, they may bring with them a completely different set of expectations relative to early adopters, therefore managers would be well served to understand the expectations of these newcomers to the alternative channels so they can adjust the customer experience to meet these new customers’ expectations.

As commerce migrates away from conventional in-person channels to alternative delivery channels, the importance of these channels will increase.  As a result, the quality and consistency of delivery in these channels will need to be measured through the use of mystery shoppers.  Some industries are going to be problematic, as their current economics do not currently support alternative delivery.  With time however, economic models will evolve to support alternative channels.

Conclusion

This is a difficult time.  It will be the defining event of our generation.

The pandemic, and our reaction to it, is dramatically changing how humans interact with each other, and the customer experience is no exception.  There is reason to suggests this difficult time could become a new normal.  Managers of the customer experience need to understand the implications of the customer experience in the post-Covid environment, as the implications of the pandemic may never fully subside.  Customer experience managers must consider the implications of this new normal, not only on the customer experience, but on customer experience measurement.

Customer Experience Measurement in the Coronavirus Age: Implications for Customer Experience

Earlier in this three-part series we discussed the mechanism of infection and risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

In summary, the most common cause of spread is believed to be airborne by inhaling virus particles exhaled into the environment.  The infectious dose of a virus is the amount of virus a person needs to be exposed to in order to establish an infection.  We currently do not know the infectious dose for SARS-CoV-2.  Estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand virus particles.[1]  One virus particle will not cause an infection.  To be infected one must exceed the infectious dose by either being exposed to a cough or a sneeze.  Absent coughs or sneezes, under normal activity one must be exposed to the virus over time to exceed the infectious dose.

This post draws ocorn the foundation of the first to discuss the implications of the pandemic on the customer experience.

Modern day customer experiences exist in a finely tuned ecosystem, where the dramatic changes as a result of the pandemic have off set the delicate balance, causing problems from supply chain disruptions to an immediate shift away from in-person channels.

Furthermore, the pandemic represents what I call a moment of truth regarding the relationship with customers.  Moments of truth are specific experiences of high importance, where a customer either forms or changes their opinion of a brand in meaningful and lasting ways.  How brands respond to moments of truth, particularly in this time of global crisis, will strengthen or weaken the customers’ relationship to the brand.

Moments of truth are specific experiences of high

importance, where a customer either forms or changes

their opinion of a brand in meaningful or lasting ways.

Customers are stressed.  They feel uncertainty, fear and, frankly, exhaustion.   Ongoing concern for personal safety, education of children, and the well being of loved ones is exhausting.  This uncertainty and fear drives customers to seek shelter from resources they trust.  Brands which become a trusted resource, which provide comfort, true comfort, in the face of this crisis have an opportunity to not only do the right thing, but cement their customers’ relationship with the brand.  On the other hand, brands which fail to do so, risk destruction of their customer relationships.

Care for all Stakeholders

Perhaps the most important way brands can respond to the moment of truth presented by this crisis is showing true care for stakeholders in the brand: customers, employees, and the community.

Care for Customers

Brands must communicate care for customers.  Drawing on a personal example, March of 2020 was a particularly worrisome time for me.   At that time, the Seattle area was considered one of the epicenters of the outbreak, mandatory stay at home orders where being introduced – fear ruled – fear driven by uncertainty; uncertainty with respect to the safety of myself and loved ones; uncertainty with respect to the financial future; uncertainty with respect to the state of the entire globe.

Amidst all this uncertainty and fear I received an email from Citigroup entitled “Covid-19.  Let us know if we can help.”  It communicated personal care for me, encouraged alternative channel use: online, mobile and 24/7 contact center assistance, and contained links to CDC guidance.

A week later the campaign continued with an update on the actions Citigroup was implementing based on the pandemic; again, educating me to digital tools available, offering personal assistance if needed.

Two and a half months later, in June, I received an email expressing “heartfelt thanks” for adapting to changes and remaining loyal.  It described ways Citigroup was assisting with a variety of COVID-19 relief, specifically introducing a partnership with celebrity chef Jose Anres’ World Central Kitchen Campaign distributing meals in low-income neighborhoods in big cities like New York, and monitoring the globe for food shortages elsewhere. This not only demonstrated care for me personally, but care for the community.

Care for Communities

Citigroup’s donations to the World Central Kitchen campaign is one example of care for our communities.   There are countless examples of brands offering community support. 

  • A beer brewery, Brewdog, shifted production away from beer to hand sanitizer.
  • A Spanish sports retailer donated scuba masks to hospitals.
  • EBay offered free services to small business forced to switch from brick-and-mortar to ecommerce to keep their small business afloat – pledging $100 million in support of this endeavor.

Care for Employees

Employees are important.  They animate the brand and drive customer loyalty – particularly in moments of truth like these.  Research has determined that in many retail and service environments, there is a positive correlation between employee satisfaction and employee retention as well as customer loyalty.  They are not immune from the fear and the stress of this crisis.  Additionally, frontline employees spend all their time in the brand-customer interface.  They are the personal representatives of the brand.

Additionally, given these front-line employees spend the majority of their time in the brand-customer interface, they tend to have a level of understanding about the customer experience that management often misses.

As a result, it is incumbent on brands to attend to the stresses employees are under, demonstrate concern, and develop communication channels for employees to feed customer experience intelligence to management.

Delivery Channels

I’ve always been an advocate of meeting customers in their preferred channel; meeting them where they are today and delivering a seamless experience.   Obviously, over the recent decades there has been a migration from in-person channels to increasing self-directed, alternative channels.  The pandemic has immediately accelerated this shift.  Be it telehealth, online banking, in-home instruction of our children, or a restaurant delivering through UberEats, providers of all types now face increasing pressure to bring their business to their customers’ homes.

Emotional Well Being

As observed earlier, this pandemic is a moment of truth between many brands and their customers.  In our experience, customers primarily want three things from a provider: 1) empathy, 2) care/concern for their needs, and 3) competence.  We see this constantly.  Customers want to do business with brands that empathize with them, care about their needs, and are capable of satisfying those needs in a competent manner.  Brands that seek to attend to the emotional needs of their customers during this moment of truth will earn the loyalty and positive word-of-mouth of their customers.

In-Person Precautions and Mitigation Strategies

While the pandemic has accelerated an ongoing transition to alternative channels, some industries require an in-person experience.  Based on current science, in-person interactions can be relatively safe if followed within CDC and public health guidance outlined in the first part of this series:

  • Physical Distancing:  Estimates of exposure time all assume close personal contact.  Physical distancing decreases the likelihood of receiving an infectious dose by putting space between ourselves and others – current recommendations are 6 feet.

Furthermore, many in-person transactions can now be done touch free.  I recently had to rent a car, and was pleased to meet the rental attendant outside holding a tablet.  The attendant took down all my information, I never had to touch or sign anything.  In a different transaction, requiring a signature, I was offered a single use pen to keep.

  • Masks:  Masks are a core tool to provide physical distancing between individuals. Masks do not primarily act as a filter for the wearer, but suppress the amount of droplets an infected person can spread into the space around them. This reduces the risk that others will exceed the infectious dose of the virus.
  • Ventilation:  Well ventilated areas disperse virus particles making it less likely a dose exceeds the infectious limits.  Like my car rental agency, brands should endeavor to provide well ventilated spaces for employees and customers to interact – not only to protect customers but employees as well.
  • Length of Exposure:  Finally, brands should design service encounters to be as time efficient as possible.  Again, the CDC advises a 15-minute exposure limit for close personal contact.  Social distancing through physical distance, masks, and ventilation should increase this safe exposure limit.  However, strategies should be implemented to make service encounters as brief as possible.  For example, if you require information from your customers as part of the service interaction, collect this required information online or over the phone prior to an appointment.  This could help to make customers and employees safer and more comfortable.
  • Hand Washing & Sanitizer:  Hand washing and sanitization is the primary defense against transfer infections.

Putting it All Together

Putting all this together, let’s look at an industry Kinesis has the most experience with.  Kinesis’ largest practice is in the banking and financial services industry.  Recently the American Bankers Association (ABA) released the results of an industry survey regarding publically announced responses of US banks to the pandemic. [2] 

Many banks are applying some of the concepts discussed above in creative ways.  A review of a random selection of banks reveals the following responses ranked from most common to least common:

  1. Enhanced deep cleaning and disinfecting of work spaces;
  2. Implementing social distancing in work spaces, including branches;
  3. Encouraging use of alternative delivery channels, such as mobile and internet banking;
  4. Personalized assistance to customers negatively impacted by the pandemic;
  5. Increased donations to charity/ partnering with the local community to mitigate the effects of the pandemic;
  6. Allowing employees to work remotely if possible;
  7. Limiting access to branches (closing branch lobbies, limiting hours, appointment only banking);
  8. Paid time off for employees to self-quarantine or to care of school age children;
  9. Rotating schedules of customer-facing staff to reduce risk (one institution has applied a 10 days on 10 days off policy); and
  10. Educating customers of pandemic related fraud/scams.

In the next post, we will build off the foundation of the previous two posts to address the implications of the pandemic on customer experience measurement.


[1] Geddes, Linda. “Does a high viral load or infectious dose make covid-19 worse?”  newscientist.com, March 27, 2020.  Web May 14, 2020.

[2] “America’s Banks Are Here to Help: The Industry Responds to the Coronavirus.”  ABA.com, April 29, 2020.  Web.  May 19 2020.

Customer Experience Measurement in the Coronavirus Age: The Mechanism and Risk of Infection

Introduction

From Zoom happy hours, canceled events, concerns over how best to educate our children,  economic disruption, and caring for the victims, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and the resulting public heath requirements are changing our lives in ways both big and small, superficial and tragic.  The customer experience is certainly no exception.  Writing about effects of the pandemic, while it unfolds, is a unique challenge – as we are learning more about the virus, its health effects, mitigation strategies, and overall effects on society in real time.  Things change daily and we are all learning on the fly here.  This series of blog posts is an early attempt to discuss the effects of the pandemic on customer experience research.

Before we begin, let me stress one thing.  I am a market researcher who specializes in evaluating the customer experience.  I am not an epidemiologist or doctor, and I have no training or experience in public health.  As a result, I will refrain from expressing scientific or medical theories or opinions of my own.  Any virus related conclusions or opinions expressed in this series of posts will be from credible sources and cited in footnotes.  If at any point it appears I am drawing medical or scientific conclusions of my own, it is unintentional, and should not be regarded as such. 

The need for managers of the customer experience to understand the implications of post-SARS-CoV-2 environment will most likely survive the immediate pandemic.  Changes in customer experience management will probably assume a more permanent nature.  First, this novel coronavirus may never go completely away, but rather become endemic in our society, meaning it could be a constant presence.[1] Second, recent history suggests SARS-CoV-2 is not the only novel-corona virus we are going to face in the coming decades.  Currently there are seven know coronaviruses that infect humans – prior to 2003 there were only four.  In a relatively short period of time, three new coronaviruses have jumped from animals to humans.[2]  The number of known coronaviruses to which humans are susceptible has nearly doubled in 17 years, so it does not require a great leap of the imagination to conclude this is not the last novel virus we will need to deal with.

This pandemic and its predicted aftermath represent a moment of truth for customers and their relationship to the brand.  In an uncertain and risky environment, customers will be even more likely to build relationships with brands they trust.  Forward thinking managers of the customer experience will respond by building more mechanisms to monitor customer perceptions of safety within the in-person channel and fulfillment via expanded alternative channels.

Mechanism of Infection

What we know now is the virus appears to spread primarily through person-to-person contact, via people in close contact with each other or to a lesser extent secondary transfer off contaminated surfaces.

SARS-CoV-2 survives on most surfaces.  Touching an infected surface and touching your eye, nose or mouth represents a risk of infection by transfer.[3]  Although, recent guidance from the CDC suggests transfer is not a significance mode of transmission.[4]  That being said, high touch surfaces such as door handles, elevator buttons, POS machines, and bathroom surfaces, should still be considered a potential risk for transfer infection.  However, the main mechanism of infection is via close personal contact.

When an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or performs any other activity exhaling air, respiratory droplets are produced.  These droplets can land on the mouths or noses of people nearby, or in some circumstances, hang in the air in an aerosol form and be inhaled into the lungs.[5]  Current evidence suggests most individuals with mild to moderate symptoms can be infectious up to 10 days after symptom onset.  Further complicating this picture, it appears individuals without symptoms can be infectious even without knowing they are infected themselves.[6]

In order for customer experience managers to make informed choices about the customer experience in the post-Covid age, it is important to understand the mechanism of infection.  The infectious dose of a virus is the amount of virus a person needs to be exposed to in order to establish an infection.  The infectious dose varies depending on the virus  (the flu can cause infection after exposure to as few as 10 virus particles, others require exposure to thousands of particles to establish an infection).  Currently, the infectious dose of SARS-CoV-2 is not understood with any precision; however, some experts estimate it at a few hundred to a few thousand virus particles.[7] 

Like fire needs three things to burn (oxygen, fuel and heat), in my layman’s expression, three factors dictate Covid-19 transmission: activity, duration and proximity.

Different activities release different amounts of virus particles into the environment.  On the far end of the spectrum, a cough or sneeze releases about 200-million virus particles.  Furthermore, the force of a cough or sneeze can aerosolize these particles (thus allowing them to hang in the air for a long time), or travel across a room in an instant.  On the other end of the spectrum, breathing normally releases about 20 virus particles per minute, but with less force than a cough or sneeze.  As a result, the particles expelled by breathing will tend to be expelled at a slower speed and travel a shorter distance.  Speaking releases about 200 viral particles per minute.[8]

These rates of exposure are important in terms of understanding the time required to exceed the infectious dose threshold.  Consider the following formula:

The time required to be infected, assuming close proximity with no precautions, is the infectious dose divided by the rate the virus particles are expelled.

Assuming an infectious dose of 1,000 virus particles, very close proximity to someone speaking (close enough to inhale all the particles released by the speaker) would require 5 minutes to exceed the infectious dose:

Similarly, very close proximity to someone breathing normally would require a ten-fold increase in exposure (50 minutes):

Obviously, a single cough or sneeze with 200-million virus particles will instantly exceed the 1,000 particle threshold.

Again, currently, we do not know the infectious dose – estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand virus particles.  Therefore, the data is insufficient to determine the exact duration of time to acquire an infection.  However, public health authorities do provide guidance.

Risk of Infection

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises, that for close contact with an individual in a non-healthcare setting, 15 minutes can be used as a threshold for the time to acquire an infectious dose.[9]

Since currently we do not know SAR-CoV-2’s infectious dose, the key take away is an individual is not going to be infected by a single virus particle.  However, we are not free from risk.  We, as a society, are going to need to weigh the risks.  This will take the form of everyday people making everyday decisions about the risks they are willing to accept – both to themselves personally, and to society as a whole.  “Nothing is without risk, but you can weigh the risks. . . . It’s going to be a series of judgment calls people will make every day,” as  Dr. William Petri a professor of infectious disease at the University of Virginia Medical School, told the Washington Post. [10]

Forward-thinking customer experience brands will consider how individuals and society as a whole weigh these risks and build customer experiences around both customer expectations and responsible civic commitment.  The pandemic represents a moment of truth between brands and their customers.    Building responsible and safe customer experiences will become a core driver of trust in the brand.

Some factors individual consumers and customer experience managers will need to consider as we weigh these risks include: [11]

Distance:  At a minimum the environment and activity should allow for 6 feet separation to be maintained.

Duration:  The duration of the activity should be short enough to minimize infection risk, considering the specific activity (breathing, talking, singing, etc) and other mitigation efforts (distance, masks, ventilation, etc).

Ventilation:  Indoor venues should be well ventilated.  Outdoor venues are naturally well ventilated and, therefore, safer.

Masks:  Mask wearing by individuals will inhibit the spread of virus particles in the air. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).  Masks are less of a filter to protect the wearer, but they inhibit the spread of virus droplets in the air by the wearer – masks protect others.[12]

Transfer Risk:  Customers and employees should avoid unnecessary contact with high touch objects or surfaces, disinfecting surfaces and hands with hand sanitizer.

In the next post, we expand on this discussion of infection risk and mitigation strategies and look at the implications of these on the customer experience and customer experience management.


[1] “Nothing Like SARS: Researchers Warn The Coronavirus Will Not Fade Away Anytime Soon”  npr.org,  June 11, 202.  Web.  August 13, 2020.

[2] Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Amitabha Gupta “Fred Hutch and Covid-19.” August 4, 2020. Video, 10:15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaa40DflvOk&feature=youtu.be.

[3] Skinner, Michael.  “expert reaction to questions about COVID-19 and viral load”  sciencemediacentre.org, March 26, 2020.  Web. May 13, 2020.

[4] “How COVID-19 Spreads.”  CDC.gov, May 21, 2020.  Web.  May 21, 2020.

[5] “How COVID-19 Spreads.”  CDC.gov, May 21, 2020.  Web.  May 21, 2020.

[6] “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2: implications for infection prevention precautions.”  who.int, July 9, 2020.  Web.  August 13, 2020.

[7] Geddes, Linda. “Does a high viral load or infectious dose make covid-19 worse?”  newscientist.com, March 27, 2020.  Web May 14, 2020.

[8] Bromage, Eric.  “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them.” Erinbromage.com, May 6, 2020.  Web. May 13 2020.

[9] “Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.”  CDC.gov, March 30, 2020.  Web.  May 15 2020.

[10] Shaver, Katherine.  “Wondering what’s safe as states start to reopen? Here’s what some public health experts say.”  Washingtonpost.com, May 15, 2020.  Web. May 15, 2020.

[11] Shaver, Katherine.  “Wondering what’s safe as states start to reopen? Here’s what some public health experts say.”  Washingtonpost.com, May 15, 2020.  Web. May 15, 2020.

[12] “About Masks.”  CDC.gov, August 6, 2020.  Web.  August 14 2020.

Implications of CX Consistency for Researchers – Part 1 – Inter-Channel Consistency

Previously, we discussed the business case and implications for customer experience mangers for inter-channel consistency.

This post considers the implications of cross-channel consistency for customer experience researchers.  The first research implication of inter-channel consistency is to understand that researchers must investigate service delivery consistency at its cause.

The range of choices available to customers here in the 21-st century is incredible.  Gone are the Henry Ford days when you, as he put it, “could have any color you want as long as it’s black.”  Modern customers have an array of choices available to them not only in the brands but in delivery channels.   Modern brands must serve channels in the channel of the customer’s choice, be it on-line, mobile, contact center, or in-person.   As customer choice expands cross-channel consistency has become more and more important.

The problem for customer experience researchers is that this channel expansion requires a broad tool box of research techniques, as different channels require unique systems and processes appropriate to the channel.  Systems and processes for on-line channels are different than those for in-person channels.  These different systems and processes often lead to the siloing of channels, which may help make individual channels more efficient, but run the risk in inconsistencies in the customer experience from one channel to the other.

Customers, however, don’t look at a brand as a collection of siloed channels.  Customers do not care about organizational charts.  They expect a consistent customer experience regardless of channels.  Customers expect cross-channel consistency.

If senior management has defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role in coordinating research tools is much easier.  If management has not defined the customer experience organization-wide, the researcher’s role is nearly impossible.

The first step in defining the customer experience organization-wide is writing a clear customer experience mission statement which clearly communicates how customers should experience the brand, and how management wants customers to feel as a result of the experience.  Next, the customer experience should be defined in terms of broad dimensions and specific attributes which constitute the desired customer experience and emotional reaction to the brand.

For illustration, let’s consider the following example:

A bank may define their customer experience with four broad dimensions, which can be described as:

  1. Relationship Building
  2. Sales Process
  3. Product Knowledge
  4. Customer Knowledge

Next, the customer experience leadership of this bank must define each of these broad dimensions in terms of specific attributes which combine to make up the dimensions.  For example, each of the above four dimensions may be defined by the following attributes:

Dimension Attributes
Relationship Building Establish trust

Commitment to customer needs

Perceived as trusted advisor

Sales Process Referral to appropriate partner
Product Knowledge Understanding of a range of products

Understand features and benefits

Explain benefits in ways that are meaningful to customers

Customer Knowledge Needs analysis

Once each of the above dimensions has been defined in terms of specific attributes, the next step in translating the customer experience definition to action is to define a set of empirical behaviors which support each attribute.

For example, establishing trust is an attribute of relationship building.

Relationship Building –> Establish Trust

Under this example, a set of behaviors is defined which are designed to establish trust.  For example, these behaviors may be:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Speak clearly
  • Maintain smile
  • Thank for business
  • Ask “What else may we assist you with today?”
  • Encourage future business

Now, each of these six behaviors is mapped across each channel.  So, for example, this bank may map these behaviors across channels as follows:

Behaviors Which Support Establishing Trust:

New Accounts Teller Contact Center
Maintain eye contact Maintain eye contact
Speak clearly Speak clearly Speak clearly
Maintain smile Maintain smile Sound as if they were smiling through the phone
Thank for business Thank for business Thank for business
Ask “What else may we assist you with today?” Ask “What else may we assist you with today?” Ask “What else they could do to assist you today?”
Encourage future business Encourage future business Encourage future business

Repeating this process of mapping behaviors to each of the attributes will produce a complete list of employee behaviors appropriate to each channel in support of management’s broader customer experience objectives.

Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 5 – Inter-Channel Consistency

Previously we explored the business case for consistency by considering the influence of poor experiences.

The modern customer experience environment is constituted of an ever expanding variety of delivery channels, with no evidence of the slowing of the pace of channel expansion.  As channel expansion continues, customer empowerment is increasing with customer choice.  Customer relationships with brands are not derived from individuals’ discrete interactions.  Rather, customer relationships are defined by clusters of interactions, clusters of interactions across the entire life cycle of the relationships, and across all channels.  Inter-channel consistency defines the customer relationship.

McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, demonstrated, in a retail banking context, a link between cross-channel consistency and bank performance.

In customers’ minds, all channels belong to the same brand.  Customers do not consider management silos or organizational charts – to them all channels are the same.  Customers expect consistent experiences regardless of channel.  In their minds, an agent at a call center should have the same information and training as in-person agents.

What are the implications for managers of the customer experience?

The primary management issue in aligning disparate channels is to manage inconsistency at its cause.  The most common cause of inconsistencies across channels is the result of siloed management, where managers’ jurisdiction is limited to their channel. Inter-channel consistency is increasingly important as advances in technology expand customer choice.  Brands need to serve customers in the channel of their choice.   Therefore, the cause of inter-channel inconsistency must be managed higher up in the organization at the lowest level where lines of authority across channels converge, or through some kind of cross-functional authority.

The implications for management are not limited to senior management and cross-functional teams. Customer experience managers should be aware that top-line averages can mislead.  Improvement opportunities are rarely found in top-line averages, but at the local level.  Again, the key is to manage inconsistency at the cause.  Inconsistency at the local level almost always has a local cause; as a result, variability in performance must be managed at the local level as well.

In a previous post from 2014, we discussed aligning cross channel service behaviors and attributes.

In the next blog post in this series, we will explore intra-channel consistency.

Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 3: The Causal Chain from Consistency to Customer Loyalty

In an earlier post we discussed the business case for consistency, primarily because consistency drives customer loyalty.  This post describes the causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.

Brands are defined by how customers experience them, and they will have both an emotional and behavioral reaction to what they experience.  It is these reactions to the customer experience which drive satisfaction, loyalty and profitability.

There is a causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.  McKinsey and Company concluded in their 2014 report, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, that feelings of trust are the strongest drivers of customer satisfaction and loyalty, and consistency is central to building customer trust.

For example, in our experience in the banking industry, institutions in the top quartile of consistent delivery are 30% more likely to be trusted by their customers compared to the bottom quartile.  Furthermore, agreement with the statements: my bank is “a brand I feel close to” and “a brand that I can trust” are significant drivers of brand differentiation as a result of the customer experience.  Again, brands are defined by how customers experience them.  In today’s environment where consumer trust in financial institutions is extremely low, fostering trust is critical for driving customer loyalty.  Consistency fosters trust.  Trust drives loyalty.

In our next post we will continue to explore the business case for consistency by considering the influence of poor experiences.

 

Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 2: Business Case for Consistency

In a previous post we considered why humans value consistency.

Loyalty is the holy grail of managing the customer experience.

The foundation of customer loyalty is consistency. In a 2014 research paper entitled, The Three Cs of Customer Satisfaction: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, McKinsey & Company concluded that trust, trust driven by consistent experiences, is the strongest drivers of customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Kinēsis, believes that each time a brand and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the brand, and they adjust their behavior based on what they learn. There is real power in understanding this proposition. In it is the power to influence the customer into profitable behaviors and away from unprofitable behaviors. One of these behaviors is repeat purchases or loyalty.

Customer loyalty takes time to build. Feelings of security and confidence in a brand are built up by consistent customer experiences over a sustained period of time. Across all industries, customers want a good, consistent experience with the products and services they use.

The value of customer loyalty is obvious. Kinēsis has found the concept of the “loyalty effect” to be an excellent framework for illustrating the value of loyalty. The loyalty effect is a proposition that states that customer profitability increases with customer tenure. Consider the following chart of customer profit contribution to customer tenure:

This curve of profit contribution per customer over time is called the loyalty curve. At customer acquisition, the profit contribution is initially negative as a result of the cost of customer acquisition. After acquisition, customer profit contribution increase with time as a result of revenue growth, cost savings, referrals and price premiums. Loyal customers and consistent customer experiences require less customer education, generate fewer complaints, reduce the number of phone calls, handle time and are more efficient across the board.

In the next post we will explore the causal chain from consistency to customer loyalty.

Business Case and Implications for Consistency – Part 1: Why We Value Consistency

Humans value consistency – we are hard wired to do so – it’s in our DNA.

It is generally believed that modern humans originated on the Savanna Plain. Life was difficult for our distant forefathers. Sources of water, food, shelter were unreliable. Dangers existed at every turn. Evolving in this unreliable and hostile environment, evolutionary forces selected in modern humans a value for consistency – in effect hard wiring us to value consistency. We seek security in an insecure world.

In this context, it is not surprising we evolved to value consistency. While our modern world is a far more reliable environment, our brains are still hard wired to value consistency.

The implication for managers of the customer experience is obvious – customers want and value consistency in the customer experience. We’ve all felt it. When a car fails to start, when the power goes out, when software crashes we all feel uncomfortable. A lack of reliability and consistency creates confusion and frustration. We want to have confidence that reliable events like starting the car, turning on the lights or using software will work consistently. In the customer experience realm, we want to have confidence that the brands we have relationships with will deliver consistently on their brand promise each time without variation in quality.

Customers expect consistent delivery on the brand promise. They base their expectations on prior experience. Thus customers are in a self-reinforcing cycle where expectations are set based on prior experiences continually reinforcing the importance of consistency. This is the foundation of customer loyalty. We are creates of habit. The foundation of customer loyalty is built on the foundation of dependable, consistent, quality service delivery.

While we evolved in a difficult and unreliable environment, our modern society is much more reliable. Our modern society offers a much more consistent existent. Again, it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. Product quality and consistency of our mass production economy has reinforced our expectations of consistency.

Today’s information technology continues to reinforce our desire for consistency. However, it adds an additional element of customization. Henry Ford, the father of mass production, famously said of the Model-T, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” Those days are gone. Today, we expect both consistency and customization.

In the next post, we will explore the business case for consistency.

Contact Center Purchase Intent Drivers

Previously we explored which service attributes will yield the most ROI in terms of driving purchase intent.

Previously, we also explored the relationship of specific sales and service behaviors to purchase intent.

Cross Tabulation By Purchase Intent

Greeting Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Greet by identifying the name of the institution 99% 97%
Greet by identifying themselves 100% 97%
Ask name 78% 71%
Ask how they could assist 100% 98%

 

Hold Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Ask permission to be placed on hold first 85% 73%
Give the reason for being placed on hold 100% 88%
Give an estimate of how long you would be on hold 56% 27%
If the actual hold time exceeded the estimate, representative returned to the call to of the status 88% 50%
Thank for holding upon returning 96% 81%

 

Transfer Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Explain the reason for the transfer 99% 98%
Ask permission to transfer 84% 65%
Stay on the line until the transfer was answered by another representative 53% 33%
If hold time exceeded 60 seconds, return to explain delay and ask if you want to continue to hold. 35% 7%

 

Service Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Listen attentively 100% 88%
Use name at least once during the call 66% 44%
Use proper grammar 11% 96%
Speak clearly 98% 72%
Allow customer to speak first and finish your thought 99% 93%
Clarify all requests prior to processing the transaction 100% 80%
Maintain a friendly demeanor and pleasant voice throughout the call 100% 91%
Describe products or services in a manner that was easy to understand 100% 70%
Suggest additional products and/or services 71% 34%
Avoid bank jargon or other technical financial terms 100% 95%
Ask for business 88% 47%

 

Conclusion Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Thank for calling 98% 92%
Ask how else they could assist 95% 65%
Thank for choosing the institution 92% 66%

 

 

 Mean Attribute Ratings Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Job knowledge 4.9 4.0
Friendliness/Courtesy 4.9 4.3
Interest in Helping 4.9 3.8
Explaining products in understandable terms 5.0 3.9
Level of confidence in the representative 4.9 3.2
Valuing as a customer 4.9 3.5
Professionalism 4.9 4.0

 

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Drivers of Purchase Intent in the Contact Center Experience in Retail Banking

What impresses customers positively as a result of a call to your call center?

Call Center Mystery Shopping

To answer this question, Kinesis conducted research into the efficacy of the bank contact center sales process by observing a battery of sales and service behaviors through the use of mystery shoppers. The objective of this study was to identify which sales and service behaviors drive purchase intent. (See the insert below for a description of the methodology).

The table at the end of this post shows the relative frequency in which each behavior was observed in shops where the shopper reported positive purchase intent as a result of the call, compared to shops with negative purchase intent.

The seven behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent are:

  • Invite to visit a branch
  • If on hold, thank for waiting
  • Express appreciation for interest/thank for business
  • Offer further assistance
  • Mention/refer to website
  • Listen attentively to your needs
  • Offer to send material

Each of these behaviors is at least three times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to those with negative purchase intent.

Two observations jump out from this first group of behaviors:

First, integration of other channels into the sales process appears to drive purchase intent. Inviting the shopper to visit a branch was observed 6.4 times more frequently in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative. The branch still has a role in the sales process; other research consistently points to the convenience of branch location as a driver of selection of a primary financial institution. If contact centers leverage the branch during the sales process, they have a significantly better chance to advance the sale. Additionally, when the agent incorporated the website into the sales presentation, they also have a better chance of advancing the sale. Mentioning the website was 3.3 times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative.

Secondly, the balance of these key behaviors all revolve around personal attention (thank for waiting on hold, offing further assistance, listening attentively, offer to send material) and interest in the customer’s business (express appreciation or thank for business).

Nine more behaviors were at least twice as likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent:

  • Product knowledge
  • Ask for name
  • Ask for your business/close the sale
  • If on hold, check back in 1 minute
  • When thanked respond graciously
  • Ask probing questions
  • Explanations easy to understand
  • Explain the value of banking with bank
  • Thank for calling

The themes most common in this second group of behaviors that appear to influence purchase intent are competence (product knowledge, easy to understand explanations), personal attention (asking name, checking back on hold, probing of needs) and interest in the customer’s business (ask for business, express value, thank for calling).

So…what drives purchase intent as a result of a call to a contact center? Integrating other channels into the conversation, and sincerely expressing interest in the customer broadly drive purchase intent.

Frequency Behavior Observed in Shops with Increased and Decreased Purchase Intent:

Increased Decreased
Invite to visit a branch 64% 10%
If on hold, thanked for waiting 97% 20%
Express appreciation for interest / thank you for business 92% 20%
Offer further assistance 85% 25%
Mention/refer to website 66% 20%
Listen attentively to your needs 80% 25%
Offer to send material 97% 31%
Product knowledge 98% 35%
Ask for name 68% 25%
Ask for your business/close the sale 76% 32%
If on hold, check back in 1 minute 94% 40%
When thanked respond graciously 98% 42%
Ask probing questions 94% 42%
Explanations easy to understand 99% 45%
Explain the value of banking with bank 88% 43%
Thank for calling 99% 50%
Friendly demeanor / pleasant voice 100% 60%
Clear Greeting 95% 60%
Avoid bank jargon 98% 68%
Use name 96% 67%
Mention other bank product 99% 75%
Good pace 98% 75%
Wait for response before placed on hold 100% 80%
Demonstrate understanding of question 100% 81%
Answered in 3 rings 99% 88%
Speak clearly 99% 88%
Professional Greeting 98% 89%
Avoid interrupting 100% 95%

 

Methodology

To evaluate the state of the in-branch sales process, Kinesis mystery shopped five banks with significant North American footprints. Among the objectives of the study were to:

1) Define the sales process among different institutions.

2) Evaluate the effectiveness of specific sales behaviors.

Shoppers were asked a mixture of closed-ended questions to evaluate the presence or frequency of specific behaviors, and open-ended questions to gather the qualitative impressions of these behaviors on the shoppers – in short the how and why behind how the shopper felt. Finally, to provide a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of each sales behavior, shoppers were asked to rate their purchase intent as a result of the visit. This purchase intent rating was then used as a means of evaluating what behaviors tend to be present when positive purchase intent is reported as opposed to negative purchase intent.


Click Here For More Information About Kinesis'; Bank Mystery Shopping