Tag Archive | Moments of Truth

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 (note: subsequent to the date of this blog post, the CDC’s guidance has been updated from 15 consecutive minutes to 15 non-consecutive minutes in total over a 24-hour period).[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 2 – Intra-Channel Consistency

Previously, we discussed the implications of inter-channel consistency for researchers, and introduced a process for management to define a set of employee behaviors which will support the organization’s customer experience goals across multiple channels.

This post considers the implications of intra-channel consistency for customer experience researchers.

As with cross-channel consistency, intra-channel consistency, or consistency within individual channels requires the researcher to identify the causes of variation in the customer experience.  The causes of intra-channel variation, is more often than not at the local level – the individual stores, branches, employees, etc.  For example, a bank branch with large variation in customer traffic is more likely to experience variation in the customer experience.

Regardless of the source, consistency equals quality.

In our own research, Kinēsis conducted a mystery shop study of six national institutions to evaluate the customer experience at the branch level.  In this research, we observed a similar relationship between consistency and quality.  The branches in the top quartile in terms of consistency delivered customer satisfaction scores 15% higher than branches in the bottom quartile.  But customer satisfaction is a means to an end, not an end goal in and of itself.  In terms of an end business objective, such as loyalty or purchase intent, branches in the top quartile of consistency delivered purchase intent ratings 20% higher than branches in the bottom quartile.

Satisfaction and purchase intent by customer experience consistency

Purchase intent and satisfaction with the experience were both measured on a 5-point scale.

Again, it is incumbent on customer experience researchers to identify the causes of inconsistency.   A search for the root cause of variation in customer journeys must consider processes cause variation.

One tool to measure process cause variation is a Voice of the Customer (VOC) Table. VOC Tables have a two-fold purpose:  First, to identify specific business processes which can cause customer experience variations, and second, to identify which business processes will yield the largest ROI in terms of improving the customer experience.

VOC Tables provide a clear road map to identify action steps using a vertical and horizontal grid.  On the vertical axis, each customer experience attribute within a given channel is listed.  For each of these attributes a judgment is made about the relative importance of each attribute.  This importance is expressed as a numeric value.   On the horizontal axis is a exhaustive list of business processes the customer is likely to encounter, both directly and indirectly, in the customer journey.

This grid design matches each business process on the horizontal axis to each service attribute on the vertical axis.  Each cell created in this grid contains a value which represents the strength of the influence of each business process listed on the horizontal axis to each customer experience attribute.

Finally, a value is calculated at the bottom of each column which sums the values of the strength of influence multiplied by the importance of each customer experience attribute.  This yields a value of the cumulative strength of influence of each business process on the customer experience weighted by its relative importance.

Consider the following example in a retail mortgage lending environment.

VOC Table

In this example, the relative importance of each customer experience attributes was determined by correlating these attributes to a “would recommend” question, which served as a loyalty proxy.  This yields an estimate of importance based on the attribute’s strength of relationship to customer loyalty, and populates the far left column.  Specific business processes for the mortgage process are listed across the top of this table.  Within each cell, an informed judgment has been made regarding the relative strength of the business process’s influence on the customer experience attribute.  This strength of influence has been assigned a value of 1 – 3.  It is multiplied by the importance measure of each customer experience attribute and summed into a weighted strength of influence – weighted by importance, for each business process.

In this example, the business processes which will yield the highest ROI in terms of driving the customer experience are quote of loan terms (weighted strength of influence 23.9), clearance of exemptions (22.0), explanation of loan terms (20.2), loan application (18.9) and document collection (16.3).

Next, we will look into the concepts of common and special cause variation, and another research methodology designed to identify areas for attention. Control charts as just such a tool.

Emotional Intelligence: Build Bonds Between Your Brand and the Customer

Though it does not pre-assign seats or provide onboard meals and at times has a lengthy wait and check in process, consumers year in and year out rank Southwest Airlines at the top or near the top of customer service.

Why is Southwest consistently near the top?

There are many reasons.  The most significant being alignment of customer experience to both their brand and customer expectations; however, I believe a key component of Southwest success in customer service is the emotional intelligence of their employees.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is defined by four personality characteristics:

  1. A strong sense of self-empowerment and self regulation;
  2. A positive outlook;
  3. An awareness of feelings (both their own and customers); and
  4. A master of fear and anxiety and the ability to tap into selfless motives.

Each of these characteristics provide a clear benefit to the customer experience:

Personality Characteristic Benefit to the Customer Experience
Self-Empowerment and Regulation Make Decisions in the Moment

 

Positive Outlook

 

Constructive Responses to Challenges
Awareness of Feelings Empathy and Better Communication with Customers

 

Master of Fear/Anxiety and Selfless Motives Express Feelings of Empathy and Caring

 

Leading customer experience brands position the employee to constructively respond to challenges, make decisions in the moment, empathize with customers, and perhaps most important, not only feel but express feeling of care, concern and empathy to customers.

Much of the benefit of emotional intelligence is derived in  “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.  Perhaps the most common moment of truth is when something has gone wrong, the customer is unhappy or scared, and the relationship is at risk.

How do we build emotional intelligence?

First of all, emotional bonding cannot be scripted.  Attempting to script such a connection will inevitably come off as hollow and insincere lacking authenticity and empathy, completely undermining the desired customer experience.  Rather, emotional bonding must be a result of a spontaneous series of events that emerge from the emotional intelligence of employees.

The obvious starting point in building emotional intelligence is hiring frontline employees with the requisite emotional intelligence skills.   Emotional intelligence can also be learned.  However, it is a “soft” skill, unlike “hard” skills such as math; it can’t be taught in structured sessions. Rather, emotional intelligence is learned like almost all other human behaviors primarily though observation, experience and imitation.

 

Four Steps to Build Emotional Intelligence

Give people meaning in their work:  Inspire frontline employees with a purpose beyond a paycheck.  This clarity of purpose should include both what they are supposed to do and why they are supposed to do it.

In empowering frontline employees to serve customers, brands should arm them with statements of general principles and values rather than scripted procedures, which undermine empowerment.  Reinforce these principals often so in the instant, when they are in a moment of truth with a customer in need, they have an appropriate framework from which to resolve the issue – and bond the customer to the brand.

Most frontline employees want to help customers; however, their motivations may be varied.  Leading customer experience brands allow their employees to discover their own motivations for looking out for the customer’s best interests.

Create learning opportunities through experience:  Humans are programmed to learn through self-discovery.  Self-discovery reinforces the learning process by instilling a sense of accomplishment or pride.  These positive feelings associated with self-discovery are a strong psychological reward, which reinforces the learning process.  While self-discovery is not a top-down process, managers can foster self-discovery through feedback, encouraging employees to reflect on their own successes and failures, and anecdotes about other employees.  Case studies are not just for MBA students.

Align customer experience systems and processes:  It is imperative that systems and processes support the emotional skills desired from employees.  Systems and process must constantly reinforce the overall message of emotional intelligence and emotionally connecting with customers.   In empowering employees to respond to moments of truth, management must strike a balance between financial considerations and the things that matter to the customer.  Good customer experiences are not good because they are good; they are good because they are profitable; however, there is no benefit to being penny wise and pound foolish.  Finally, processes need to be streamlined to give employees both the time and ability to rise to the situation.

Enlist leaders and mentors:  Emotions are learned through modeling.  Children don’t learn to react to certain stimuli just because a parent tells them what to feel.  We learn how to react to certain situations through trial and error and observing role models.  First, it is imperative that all managers and leadership model appropriate emotional skills.  How can you expect emotional intelligence from the frontline if it doesn’t exist in leadership?  Second, identify employees with the appropriate emotional skills and position them as role models within the organization.

Key to success of any customer facing brand is alignment of the customer experience to both the brand promise and customer expectations.  Most of time, this is not difficult. Appropriate systems procedures and even automated delivery channels can achieve this end.   However, in moments of truth, where there is a high degree of risk associated with the outcome of the experience, leading customer experience brands rely on an emotionally intelligent frontline staff to align the experience and bond the customer to the brand.



 

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Implications of Mood Effects on Customer Experience Design

In an earlier post we explored how customers experience all aspects of their relationship with a brand through the lens of their emotional state, and observed that all brands must be prepared to meet each customer in their specific emotional state – be they happy, excited, depressed or angry.

Customer Experience Design

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.

A 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.

In considering the role of customer emotions in their relationship to a brand, it is important to understand the implications of customer emotions on design of the customer experience. It is impossible, of course, to plan every customer experience or to ensure that every experience occurs exactly as intended. However, brands can identify and plan for the types of experiences that impart the desired emotional state on the customer. It is useful to group these experiences into three categories of interaction with the customer: Stabilizing, Critical, and Planned.

Stabilizing

Stabilizing interactions promote customer retention, particularly in the early stages of the relationship.

New customers are probably in a positive state of valence, with either a high state of arousal (happy/excited) or a negative state of arousal (relaxed/calm). Remember, people are motivated to maintain positive moods, therefore, the objective of these stabilizing interactions is to maintain this positive mood.

The keys to an effective stabilizing strategy and maintaining these positive moods are education, competence and consistency.

New customers are at the highest risk of defection. As customers become more familiar with a brand they adjust their expectations accordingly. It is important that expectations be set appropriately to eliminate conflict with reality. Conflict between expectations and reality early in the customer relationship runs the risk changing the customer’s mood from positive to negative. They are more likely to experience disappointment, and thus more likely to defect.

Education influences expectations, helping customers develop realistic expectations. It goes beyond simply informing customers about the products and services offered by the company. It systematically informs new customers how to use the brand’s services more effectively and efficiently, how to obtain assistance, how to complain, and what to expect as the relationship progresses. In addition to influencing expectations, systematic education leads to greater efficiency in the way customers interact with the company, thus driving down the cost of customer service and support.

Critical

Critical interactions are service encounters that lead to memorable customer experiences. While most service is routine, from time to time a situation arises that is out of the ordinary: a complaint, a question, a special request, a chance for an employee to go the extra mile. We call these critical interactions “moments of truth.” The outcomes of moments of truth can be either positive or negative – they are rarely neutral.

Because they are memorable and unusual, moments of truth tend to have a powerful effect on the customer relationship. We often think of moments of truth as instances when the brand has an opportunity to solidify the relationship – earning a loyal customer, or risk the customer’s defection. Positive outcomes lead to positive states of valence (excited, happy, relaxed, calm) with greater wallet share, loyalty, and positive word word-of-mouth endorsements; while negative outcomes generate negative states (anger, frustration, depression); and result in customer defection, diminished share of wallet and unfavorable word-of-mouth.

We are in an era of automated channels. Automated channels are essential for meeting customer expectations and reducing transaction costs, but technical solutions are not, by themselves, able to drive an emotional connection between customers and the brand – particularly in moments of truth. Employees, emotionally intelligence employees, empowered to resolve the issue are critical in driving an emotional connection. In a future post, we will discuss the concept of Emotional Intelligence of frontline employees in handling moments of truth.

An effective customer experience strategy should include systems for recording critical interactions, analyzing trends and patterns, and feeding that information back to the organization. Employees can then be trained to recognize critical opportunities, and empowered to respond to them in such a way that they will lead to positive outcomes and desired customer behaviors.

Planned

Planned interactions are intended to increase customer profitability through up-selling and cross-selling. These interactions are frequently triggered by changes in the customers’ purchasing patterns, account usage, financial situation, family profile, etc. CRM analytics combined with Big Data are becoming quite effective at recognizing such opportunities and prompting action from service and sales personnel.

Customer experience managers should have a process to record and analyze the quality of execution of planned interactions with the objective of evaluating the performance of the brand at the customer brand interface – regardless of the channel.

The key to an effective strategy for planned interactions is appropriateness. Triggered requests for additional purchases must be made in the context of the customers’ needs and permission; otherwise the requests will come off as clumsy and annoying. By aligning information about execution quality (cause) and customer impressions (effect), customer experience managers can build a more effective and appropriate approach to planned interactions.

 

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Loyalty & Wallet Share

Loyalty. There is almost universal agreement that it is an objective – if not the objective – of customer experience management. It is highly correlated to profitably. It lowers sales and acquisition costs per customer by amortizing these costs across a longer lifetime – leading to extraordinary financial results. In retail banking a 5% increase in loyalty translates to an 85% increase in profits.

Loyalty

Loyalty is Emotion Driven

Banks often see themselves as transaction driven; delivery channels are evaluated on their cost per transaction. As a result, there is a lot of attention given to and investment in automated channels which reduce transaction costs and at the same time offer more convenience to customers. Win-win, right? The bank drives costs out of the transaction and customers get the convenience of performing a variety of transactions untethered by time or space. However, while transaction costs and convenience are important, loyalty is often driven by an emotional connection with the institution. An emotional connection fostered by interaction with actual employees at moments of need for the customers –moments with a high level of emotional importance to the customer – moments of truth.

Moments of truth are atypical events, where customers experience a high emotional energy in the outcome (such a lost credit card, loan application, or investment advice). In one study published in McKinsey Quarterly, positive experiences during moments of truth led to more than 85% of customers increasing wallet share by purchasing more products or investing more of their assets (Beaujean et al 06)

Impersonal alternative channels lack the ability to bind the customer to the institution. It’s the people. Effective handling of moments of truth requires frontline staff with the emotional tools or intelligence to recognize the emotional needs of the customer and bind them to the institution.

 

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3 Types of Customer Interactions Every Customer Experience Manager Must Understand

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Every time a customer interacts with a brand, they learn something about that brand, and adjust their behavior based on what they learn.  They will adjust their behavior in ways that are either profitable or unprofitable for the brand.  The implication of this proposition is that the customer experience can be managed in such a way to influence customer behavior in profitable ways.

In order to understand how to drive customer behaviors via the customer experience, it is first, is important to define the customer behaviors you wish to influence, and to align marketing message, performance standards, training content, employee incentives and measurement systems to encourage those behaviors.

It is impossible, of course, to plan every customer experience or to ensure that every experience occurs exactly as intended. However, companies can identify the types of experiences that impart the right kind of information to customers at the right times. It is useful to group these experiences into three categories of company/customer interaction:  Stabilizing, Critical, and Planned.

Stabilizing

Stabilizing interactions promote customer retention, particularly in the early stages of the relationship.

New customers are at the highest risk of defection.  As customers become more familiar with a brand they adjust their expectations accordingly, however new customers are more likely to experience disappointment, and thus more likely to defect. Turnover by new customers is particularly hard on profits because many defections occur prior to break-even, resulting in a net loss for the company. Thus, experiences that stabilize the customer relationship early on ensure that a higher proportion of customers will reach positive profitability.

The keys to an effective stabilizing strategy are education, competence and consistency.

Education influences expectations, helping customers develop a realistic expectations.  It goes beyond simply informing customers about the products and services offered by the company. It systematically informs new customers how to use the brand’s services more effectively and efficiently, how to obtain assistance, how to complain, and what to expect as the relationship progresses. In addition to influencing expectations, systematic education leads to greater efficiency in the way customers interact with the company, thus driving down the cost of customer service and support.

Critical

Critical interactions are service encounters that lead to memorable customer experiences.  While most service is routine, from time to time a situation arises that is out of the ordinary: a complaint, a question, a special request, a chance for an employee to go the extra mile. The outcomes of these critical incidents can be either positive or negative, depending upon the way the company responds to them; however, they are seldom neutral. The longer a customer remains with a company, the greater the likelihood that one or more critical interactions will have occurred.

Because they are memorable and unusual, critical interactions tend to have a powerful effect on the customer relationship. We often think of as “moments of truth where the brand has an opportunity to solidify the relationship earning a loyal customer or risk the customer’s defection.  Positive outcomes lead to “customer delight” and word-of-mouth endorsements, while negative outcomes lead to customer defections, diminished share of wallet and unfavorable word-of-mouth.

The key to an effective critical interaction strategy is opportunity. Systems and processes must be in a position to react to these critical moments of truth.

An effective customer experience strategy should include systems for recording critical interactions, analyzing trends and patterns, and feeding that information back to the organization. Employees can then be trained to recognize critical opportunities, and empowered to respond to them in such a way that they will lead to positive outcomes and desired customer behaviors.

Planned

Planned interactions are intended to increase customer profitability through up-selling and cross-selling. These interactions are frequently triggered by changes in the customers’ purchasing patterns, account usage, financial situation, family profile, etc. CRM analytics combined with Big Data are becoming quite effective at recognizing such opportunities and prompting action from service and sales personnel.  Customer experience managers should have a process to record and analyzing the quality of execution of planned interactions with the objective off evaluating the performance of the brand at the customer brand interface – regardless of the channel.

The key to an effective strategy for planned interactions is appropriateness. Triggered requests for increased spending must be made in the context of the customers’ needs and permission; otherwise the requests will come off as clumsy and annoying. By aligning information about execution quality (cause) and customer impressions (effect), customer experience managers can build a more effective and appropriate approach to planned interactions.

 

For additional perspectives on research techniques to monitor the customer experience in the stabilizing phase of the relationship, see the post: Onboarding Research: Research Techniques to Track Effectiveness of Stabilizing New Customer Relationships.

For additional perspectives on a research methodology to investigate “Critical” experiences, see the post: Critical Incident Technique: A Tool to Identify and Prepare for Your Moments of Truth.

For additional perspectives on research methodologies to investigate “Planned” experiences through out the customer life cycle, see the post: Research Tools to Monitor Planned Interactions Through the Customer Life Cycle.
 

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4 Ways to Understand & Monitor Moments of Truth

Moment of TruthEvery time a customer interacts with a provider, they learn something either positive or negative, and adjust their behavior accordingly based on what they learn.

The customer value equation is an on-going process by which the customer keeps a running total of all the benefits of a product or service (both tangible and intangible) and subtracts the sum of all the costs associated with the product or service (tangible and intangible). If the product of this equation is positive they will start or maintain a relationship with the provider.

But is this a continuous process? Or do many customers travel through the customer journey in a state of inertia until they reach critical points in the customer journey where they feed knowledge gained, at these critical points, into the customer value equation?

The fact of the matter is not all points along the customer journey are equal. In every customer journey there are specific of “moments of truth” where customers form or change their opinion of the provider, either positively or negatively, based on their 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.

In designing tools to monitor the customer experience, managers must be aware of potential moments of truth and design tools to monitor these critical points in the customer journey. Some of these tools include:

Mystery Shopping: Mystery shopping allows managers to test their service experience in a controlled manner. Do you have a concern about how your employees respond to specific customer complaints or problems? – Send in a mystery shopper with that specific problem and evaluate the response. Are you concerned about cross-sell skills? – Send in a mystery shopper with an obvious cross-sell need and evaluate how it is handled. With mystery shoppers managers can design controlled tests to evaluate how employees react when presented with specific moments of truth.

Customer Comments: Historically, comment tools have taken the form of cards; however, increasingly these tools are migrating onto online and mobile platforms. The self-administered nature of comment tools make them very poor solutions for a customer survey, as we tend to hear from an unrepresentative sample of customers who are either extremely happy or extremely unhappy.

However, this highly self-administered nature of comment tools makes them perfect to monitor moments of truth. Customers on the extreme end of either scale probably are at a moment of truth in the journey. In designing comment tools, be sure to limit the amount of categorized questions and rating scales; rather give the customer plenty of “white space” to tell you exactly what is on their mind. Over time, an analysis of these comments will give you insight into the nature and causes of moments of truth.

Social Media: Similar to collecting comments from customers, social media can be an excellent tool for identifying common causes of moments of truth. Customers who take to social media to mention a product or service are likely to be highly motivated – again, at the extreme ends of the satisfaction spectrum.

Survey Tracking: Finally, ongoing satisfaction tracking of all customers can be a source of intelligence regarding moments of truth. To turn a satisfaction tracking study into a moment of truth monitor, focus your attention on the bottom of the satisfaction curve. If a customer assigns a satisfaction rating of “1” or “2” on a 5-point scale, drill into these customers’ responses on a case by case basis to determine what caused the low rating – this will most likely reveal a moment of truth.

Here are four ideas to identify and monitor moments of truth.

How do you monitor your moments of truth?


Clink Here for Mystery Shopping Best Practices


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