In B2B, nearly 60% of business decision-making has already happened before buyers actually approach their prospective suppliers
It’s a statistic we’re all familiar with and in today’s digital-first world it’s hardly surprising: it’s so much easier to conduct upfront research on your prospective suppliers, from reviewing their website to tracking down product or customer service reviews. Buyers can also make an informed judgement about a company’s ethics and personality, from their tone of voice to the way they respond to social media comments. Before contacting an organisation directly, buyers have made several assumptions about the companies, their products and customer service, and have gone some way to deciding whether to work with them.
For marketers this growing trend presents new opportunities; we can use digital channels to help build company profiles through an integrated approach, complementing it with social media to help add personality to a brand. We can reach far more customers and prospects and know much more about them. Yet if customers are more connected than ever before, negative issues are quickly discovered and a disconnect between external messaging and customer experience is easily exposed, meaning reputation is critical for commercial success. Companies can no longer mask their true service performance and, ultimately, any marketing and PR efforts will be far less effective if your external company message is out of kilter with the reality voiced by your customers.
The answer to this challenge? Taking the time to better understand your customers and acting upon that insight. In listening to customer feedback – and acting upon it – businesses stand to truly differentiate themselves from the competition and deliver a far more consistent customer experience.
Getting to grips with customer opinion
Earlier this year, we commissioned research to understand and benchmark marketing effectiveness across over 250 businesses. A surprising 49% of those surveyed don’t conduct any customer insight. Yet without it, how can companies be sure that their carefully crafted marketing actually resonates with customers?
There are easy ways of learning more about customers and sense checking that external messaging doesn’t conflict with the feedback that your customers are communicating:
- Embrace social channels. It should be part of the marketing team’s responsibility to see what customers are posting about them on social media – companies should have their finger on the pulse by ‘social listening’.
- Check relevant online review sites and make yourself familiar with your online profile, as well as your social one.
- Ask customers! Direct customer insight is enormously valuable and should provide great marketing proof points for future activity. It also gives context, so businesses can better identify whether negative comments are typical of their customer base or just the anomalies.
Gathering insight doesn’t have to be fancy or costly. Many businesses start with some simple polls or online surveys either periodically or at specific points of the customer journey. For those ready to delve deeper, it might be time to employ a specialist outsourced partner. Whatever the approach, getting the wider organisation on board with research activity is essential to ensure they reap the rewards.
Making customer experience the responsibility of everybody
Deciding to survey customers about their experience is only the first step. If you’re asking customers to give up their time to talk about your performance, your organisation must be absolutely committed to improving it, meaning senior buy-in is critical.
An effective survey should seek to understand more about current customer sentiment, the reasons behind any negative sentiment that exists, and the elements of your service that are really important and less important to them. Not only will this provide you with a good steer on where to focus your improvement efforts, it also provides valuable insight for future proposition build.
Seeing your organisational practices with fresh eyes
It’s also vital that you identify any internal barriers to service improvement, be it system limitations, a process related issue or even problems related to internal culture. Only once you have insight into these things can you start to plan for improvement.
A common problem amongst businesses is customer dissatisfaction rooted in disconnected or inconsistent internal processes. This is particularly true for long established businesses where processes have not been overhauled for some time.
Other common problem areas can be an inconsistency in customer relations, with a focus on key accounts with less effort made for smaller accounts causing patchy service provision, or sales and service teams that operate in silos hampering productivity and leading to ineffective customer relationship management.
Customer insight can also highlight cultural changes that need to be addressed, such as a focus on perceived departmental performance rather than actual customer satisfaction, or KPI and targeting that does not prioritise the customer. Directly inviting customers to share their thoughts with you can also overcome an inability to get a clear view of their needs and experience due to defensiveness of individuals or teams and fear of receiving blame.
Once you’ve received your insight, it’s time to take action. Host a formal debrief with key members of your senior team that will become your customer experience custodians. Prepare them to listen to the results of your research – it’s OK for people to feel a bit uncomfortable, it will help them to engage with the content. Be sure to leave departmental pride at the door though, it’s time to get customer-focused. Use audio or visual clips of customers talking about your business to really deliver impact. Focusing on the valuable insight that your customers have provided will help your business to tangibly improve.
Share key learnings with the rest of the business, making sure you get the right balance between motivational, positive feedback and action-oriented, negative comments. Identify champions from across the business to become your customer improvement hit squad. Help them to create a detailed action plan that can be referenced by everyone and give your champions the remit to initiate, track and implement initiatives.
Embedding a customer-focused culture
Your action plan is key to making tangible improvements that are rooted in customer needs, wants and frustrations. Try not to let this activity get lost in the day-to-day – momentum and reflection are crucial to remain focused on customer experience.
Let customers know you’re committed to improvement – and manage their expectations. Let them know what you’re going to do straightaway and what’s going to take longer to fix. Communication is crucial with internal teams too, keeping them informed of sentiment, actions and upcoming improvements. Educate teams as to how quickly they should expect feedback to improve – it’s easy to feel despondent if satisfaction scores don’t improve quickly. Remember, customers need to experience a change several times to feel confident enough to raise their score.
A customer-focused culture means continually gauging sentiment, meaning marketers need to plan ahead – when are you next going to survey your customers? There are lots of ways to plug the gaps between ‘main’ surveys, from health checks with a smaller sample or feedback loops at particular points of your customer journey.
Fundamentally changing ways of working (and people’s mindsets) isn’t easy – it might be challenging, but it’s always going to be well worth the effort. Be mindful that business targets can get in the way when embracing a customer-centric approach, but customer satisfaction is key to commercial success. Customer evidence is a powerful driver for change – so use it to make a difference to your business. Make sure your senior team are firmly behind the programme. Leading from the front is essential as it will provide confidence for the people within your organisation.
Understanding your customers better enables you to create compelling marketing and PR messages, while reducing the risk of you being tripped up by a poor reputation. If you develop your external messages in line with customer insight, your marketing will always be more effective.