I was recently contacted by someone asking for some advice around how to drive ownership around poor customer experiences. I am sure a number of you have faced similar situations at some level at some stage. Indeed, it is almost a rite of passage for any CX professional. That is to say, until you’ve convinced someone to own a customer experience problem, you’ve not properly earned your CX stripes.
In this instance, the ownership issue wasn’t due to a lack of engagement by the executive team or down to competing project priorities, but as a result of their voice of customer feedback providing, well, let’s call it ‘mixed signals’.
There are several ways to build a customer-centric culture (which I won’t go into great detail in this blog) but perhaps the most common method is to start by putting a customer experience related target metric in the strategic scorecard. Sounds familiar? It’s measurable, tangible, visible and can create focus. Something like an aspirational NPS target is supposed to get us all pulling together for the greater good of the customer. What tends to happen though is that people start to pay more attention to the scores than they do to the actual customer. It’s not that this approach is without merit. When people are focused on the overall strategic customer score, we believe we are creating shared accountability for the customer experience, which seems like a sensible idea. The problem here is that we don’t know how we all individually contribute to moving that number. Alternatively, we may be held accountable for a score relating to a particular part of the overall experience e.g. overall channel experience, or even more specifically an individual element within the overall channel experience, for instance an individual retail store. The problem here is that while it’s great that we create accountability for the part of the customer experience that we can control, it can also create disownership for the parts we believe we can’t. Who wants to be accountable for metrics in someone else’s scorecard when you’ve got enough problems trying to meet you own, right?
It was this concept of customer experience disownership that I was asked if I had any advice on. To fill in some background, the business has a voice of customer program that measures its channel experience in its individual physical retail spaces. A situation had occurred whereby a team member was reluctant to accept accountability for a poor score because some of the verbatim feedback mentioned elements of the experience outside of their direct influence. It may have mentioned something about products or an issue with customer service but the negative commentary was not directly about the retail space that they managed. The upshot was that the manager refused to take accountability for their poor NPS score.
It is probably safe to assume that the manager doesn’t really have a problem with the verbatim comments themselves but is using them as a distraction from the poor NPS result they received. You could try to convince the manager to accept the metric with the “it all comes out in the wash” argument. That is, if you’re going to disown the negative comments not related to your area, then equally you can’t own positive comments not related to your area, so just get on with it. While the idea that it all balances out is partly true, this doesn’t really move us forward and, if anything, will give people less confidence in the data.
So, where do we go from here? Let’s start with what we know.
- Firstly, we know that customers will often carry over perceptions of a previous experience even when rating a current one
- Secondly, if you give customers an opportunity to provide feedback they don’t always play by your rules, and we shouldn’t expect them to either
- Thirdly, customers give feedback in the hope that someone will read it and take it seriously
How do we use these points to try and address the underlying problem? The idealist in me would like to think the underlying problem is about a perceived lack of control around the numbers, as opposed to someone genuinely trying to hide poor performance or shift blame. The solution therefore needs to be about creating more control, by taking ownership of negative feedback before it reappears as a negative survey response.
Imagine a scenario whereby the frontline employee, in this case in the retail channel, solicits the feedback in a far less informal way than a customer survey. Simply asking in a more proactive way than “how is your day?” or “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”. The feedback is conversational, something along the lines of “how’s everything going being [insert brand name] customer?”. Do not fear the floodgates opening. The majority of customers are going to say “just fine thanks” and it won’t require any formal escalation or documentation. There may be some customers for which you can provide simple information, advice, or direct them to a more formal customer service channel, but you’d hope you’re doing that anyway. You may need to apologize for a poor experience which is a far more positive action than disassociating yourself from it completely. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for your frontline staff to engage on a personal level and empathize with your customers. It allows customers the opportunity to pass on their feedback, albeit in a less structured manner to a survey, that perhaps they may not have done otherwise face-to-face.
It’s important to point out that this is not about deliberately manipulating survey results or formalized feedback. Neither is it about downplaying the importance of capturing formal customer feedback to develop insights and learnings. This is very simply about providing customers with a better face-to-face experience through showing empathy in the moment. Your employees will be doing this already I’m sure but this is just taking it one step further. It is about turning disownership into ownership. From disowning a disagreeable NPS number into proactively owning the opportunity to allow customers to provide feedback. Providing this opportunity demonstrates to the customer that your employees are interested in their experiences, that they care and that they are listening.
The outcome will be a genuinely better customer experience which will be reflected in the NPS score for individual retail space. It’s not a silver bullet solution and won’t resolve all customer issues or negate every piece of negative feedback. It is however a positive step to address the root cause of the feedback which is really all the customer wants, and gets you thinking about the value of customer feedback very differently, i.e. as an opportunity to provide a better experience.
So, you don’t have to convince the manager that they need to be responsible for other people’s scorecards. You don’t need to get into the methodological nuances of customer feedback surveys. You also don’t need to wait for your customer culture to catch up whereby every employee has bought into the idea of complete shared accountability for the customer experience. You need to move the conversation away from defending a poor NPS result to how they can improve it. All you need to convince them is that the number they are accountable for can be positively influenced by taking proactive ownership of informal customer feedback. In the case of frontline employees, it’s doing more of what you’re already good at, but with greater intent around providing empathy and better understanding their experiences in the moment.
In summary, if someone in your business refuses to take accountability for either their shared or individual formal customer experience performance, ask them to take ownership of their informal feedback. In doing so they will better understand the value of all customer feedback while at the same time positively influencing their own performance score by providing a better customer experience through demonstrating empathy in the moment.