6 Steps to Improve Your Customer Satisfaction Surveys

by Martha Brooke on March 24, 2017

I’ll be moderating conversations about VoC at next week’s Operations Summit and it got me thinking… It’s practically a given that every company will issue a customer satisfaction survey as part of their VoC program. But it’s NOT a given that every survey will improve customer satisfaction.improve your customer satisfaction survey with our 6 step process

Think about your own satisfaction survey for a moment. Are you collecting accurate data? Is the data actionable? Are you able to identify clear gaps and opportunities?

Customer listening programs often suffer from a host of flaws and biases. In fact, in our recent study of point-of-purchase surveys we found that the largest US retailers pack their surveys with tired, biased, and often irrelevant questions.

And when clients come to us with their surveys, here are some of the common flaws:

Surveys so long they alienate customers.

Surveys that force customers to choose from irrelevant multiple-choice options.

Surveys whose customer comments never get properly analyzed.

Good surveys produce good data, and good data reflects the experiences your customers actually have with your company. Good data also shows where you need to improve.

This 6-step process will improve your VoC program by providing a customer satisfaction survey that gets to the heart of customers’ expectations, their perceptions and how they feel about their experiences with you.

  1. Evaluate your current survey(s) and map your unknowns.

    Work through your current survey(s) to identify irrelevant questions and biases. Check for:

    Neutrality: Are your questions impartial so you don’t force the answers you want?

    Engagement: Are questions conversational, so that customers want to respond?

    Relevance: Are you employing branching logic to ensure you’re maintaining relevance with customers throughout your survey?

    Sampling Biases: How well do your respondents actually represent your customer base?

    Actionability: Are you asking for information that can be put to use?

    Next, take a step back and consider what you don’t know—where might you have gaps in your understanding of customers’ journeys? Are there areas from your previous surveys that were inconclusive?

  2. Tailor your language.

    Think about your industry and customers. How would your customers describe their experiences with you? Ask your team:

    Who are our customers? How engaged are they?

    What words do they use?

    What’s most relevant to them?

    A classic example comes from the hospitality industry. Hotels often ask about quality of “housekeeping” on their surveys—but when customers they open their hotel room door, they aren’t looking for “housekeeping,” they’re looking for “clean.” Tailoring your survey’s language to match the customer’s is how you uncover the best data about how customers really feel.

  3. Develop branching logic.

    Consider your customers. Have you done a persona study? Does each persona interact with different touchpoints? For example, don’t force an end-user to click mindlessly through questions specific to distributors; it will result in junk data.

  4. Draft your questions. Iteratively.

    If you think a survey can be built in a day, you’re wrong. You’re asking customers to spend their valuable time taking your survey, so you’ll need to spend your valuable time building it.

    Questions should be put through detailed development and rigorous review processes. Return to step 1, and vet your newly drafted questions against the list of common problems. Then edit, and edit again. In fact, we recommend getting internal AND external feedback on your survey questions—before you edit one last time.

  5. Code and analyze the data.

    Once you’ve got your survey responses in, it’s time to find the signal in all that noise. Hopefully you have a large, statistically-significant, set of respondents, so your findings are predictive and forecastable.

    As part of your survey analysis, it is critical to code the open-ended comments. And by code we don’t mean simply read or make a word cloud. You need to scientifically parse and categorize the comments because this is how you bring that data to life in meaningful, actionable ways.

  6. Present your findings—graphically.

    To get your  team on board with your VoC results, curate your metrics down to a simple few and incorporate infographics. Use a dashboard to get everyone involved with the data and next step actions.

    Some great customer experience metrics that we advocate for include: Quality of Customer Interaction™, Customer Effort, Competitive Edge, and Persuasion Scores.

Not all surveys are created equally. In fact, many customer satisfaction surveys are disengaging and result in inaccurate data. But our 6-step process, gives you the framework you need for a stellar survey—one that collects accurate customer feedback, motivates teams to improve in specific ways, and shows customers their voices are heard!

GUEST POST: Jerry Sokol on Customer Experience Metrics

by Martha Brooke on December 20, 2016

Jerry Sokol writes for Biz Meets Tech and he recently wrote about something that’s always top of mind at Interaction Metrics—good customer experience metrics.

Numbers are only useful insofar as they help you improve—simply tracking outcome metrics or just collecting data is never the answer. The right customer experience metrics don’t just tell you that customers are unhappy—they show you where, why, and what specific customer types are the most displeased.

If your numbers can you tell you the specifics of the problem, then next steps become abundantly clear. Jerry explains the dilemma businesses face when it comes to customer experience metrics, and poses good questions about how to improve customer service.

Jerry Sokol: Business thrives on numbers. Because numbers remove ambiguity and allow for clinical decisions. Now, of course numbers can be misused (“lies, damned lies, and statistics”), but for now, let’s sidestep that and talk about numbers being used for good.

Finance does this best. Finance metrics all boil down to “how much did this cost and how much did I make?” Very simple. Since money is involved, you had better believe that the backup is there to not only support those numbers, but help point to how to improve them.

As we get away from finance, things are not so clear. We want metrics that unambiguously tell us what’s going on with our operation, much as profit and loss do for finance. In fact, we want metrics that can, in some way, eventually correlate to profit and loss. And I would submit that most of them aren’t very good.

This is particularly true in customer care. Don’t get me wrong – the standard call center metrics absolutely have their place, and I’ll talk about that later. But they correlate very poorly to customer satisfaction, real cost and true agent performance. What’s worse is that they are frequently misused to drive bad and costly practices.

The industry attempts to address this problem have been poor. The mantra is that “we are swimming in data”, and through the magic of better organizational tools, the problem will be solved. We’ve had better charting of the same numbers, data warehousing, Business Intelligence tools, and now Big Data². Yet I still see the struggle for actionable information virtually everywhere I go.

From what I see, we’re going about this backwards. We are delivering metrics without first considering what QUESTIONS we want answered.

Given that the entire raison d’être of a call center is to address a caller’s concern, the #1 question to answer is “Did we solve the customer’s concern?” OK, First Call Resolution almost answers that, and is pretty well understood (if not used) by most call centers.

And the follow up is, “If not, why not?” Now it gets tougher.

Zooming out further, what about the most obvious question? How about “Why did they have to call in the first place?” This information – the tracking of call drivers – is rarely done well if at all.

With those three questions, I’m sure most of you could figure out what kind of information you would have to collect, and even come up with metrics that you could use. But, I’ll help more in future posts.

As a final note, ACTIONABLE is the important word. Your metric can be useful, but if the backing data doesn’t point to how you can improve, well…

Jerry Sokol is an independent consultant that improves customer service by improving how a call center’s processes and technology work together and align to the business.  Read more about him at bizmeetstech.net/

Voice of the Customer: It’s NOT About You!

by Martha Brooke on December 14, 2016

What’s the point of doing a customer satisfaction survey? Well, rather obviously, to gauge how customers perceive you, and where their expectations are being—and not being—met.

This requires walking in the customer’s shoes and designing your survey from the customer’s perspective. Sound simple? It is…sort of.

Unfortunately, organizations run a high risk of tunnel vision, becoming acutely interested in only the problems they think are most pressing. So they pack their questions into customer surveys, despite the fact that their interests have NOTHING to do with customers’ actual experiences.

Let’s look at an example:

Flawed Customer Satisfaction Survey

“Please rate the balance of graphics and text on *******.com.” (1-10, or Don’t Know).

The biggest problems with this question are:

  • It’s unclear: Does a bad rating indicate too much text, too many graphics, or both?
  • It’s out of touch with the customer experience: Customers don’t think, “Hmm, the graphics-to-text ratio has balance problems” They DO think, “This webpage sucks, I can’t find a simple answer.”

The question of graphic balance is best saved for a web design or UX team. As I often say, your customers are not your analysts. Leave questions out of the survey that do not reflect the customer’s immediate experience.

Examples of questions that customers CAN answer and that provide actionable insight for your customer satisfaction survey are:

  • “Who else might you buy similar merchandise from in the future?”
  • “How would you rate your call with our support team?”
  • “Did you get an answer to your question that made sense?

When you combine customer-centric survey questions with good customer feedback research methods, you’ll get to the heart of the customer experience.  So, take a hard look at your customer satisfaction survey and make sure it’s actually relevant to your customers. Start listening to your customers now!

GUEST POST: Customer Experience Measurement: Why it is Vitally Important but Badly Done! – by Ian Golding

by Martha Brooke on December 12, 2016

Today I’m pleased to share a guest post by Ian Golding. Ian drives home the critical point that customer experience metrics are essential to transforming experiences. It’s always great to share ideas about how improve customer service from like-minded thinkers.

When it comes to the profession that Customer Experience has now become, one of the most important and significant competencies required by all organisations is that of measurement. The ability of a company to robustly and continuously capture a ‘fact based’ understanding of how capable they are of meeting customer needs and expectations is critical if they have a desire to achieve customer focused success.

However…. There is usually one of those, whilst many businesses may be confident that they are indeed ‘measuring’ the Customer Experience, my overwhelming concern is that too many are doing so badly. I recognise that this is a rather bold statement to be making, so allow me to clarify my top 4 reasons why I think this:

1. Failure to measure sufficient ‘voices’!

I believe that the most robust Customer Experience measurement systems should contain a combination of three important ‘voices’- Voice of the Customer (VOC); Voice of the Employee (VOE); and Voice of the Process (VOP). Many organisations are (and have been) measuring VOC for a number of years. Although this is important, VOC in isolation of any other form of measurement may not enable those capturing it to understand the relationship between the things they do (processes that enable the customer journey) and the way they make the customer feel (customer perception). If this is the case, determining exactly WHAT it is that needs to be ‘fixed’ to improve customer perception is challenging (and sometimes impossible).

Over the years, I have interacted with a number of organisations who capture VOC (and VOC alone) yet do not understand what they are supposed to do with it – what prioritised actions should be taken. If these businesses were complementing and correlating their VOC with VP and VOE, they would be in a very different position.

2. Failure to measure the true ‘end to end’ customer journey

The theme of ‘not measuring sufficient voices’ continues in my next assessment of the state of Customer Experience measurement today. Customer Experience Measurement is Key Whilst many companies are capturing at least VOC, too often, the VOC they are capturing is NOT representative of the ‘end to end’ customer journey – and sometimes of all types of customer. If you are only asking customers about a part or parts or the customer journey, the feedback being received will only be representative of the parts you are asking them about – it is not rocket science.

Despite this, I have observed too many scenarios where the measurement system is not representative and as a result, an organisation in this position is likely to do one thing – JUMP TO THE WRONG CONCLUSION! It is so important to get to the TRUTH with Customer Experience measurement – nothing else matters than having a clear understanding of the things that need to be addressed to have the greatest effect on improving customer perception and as a result, commercial goals. One thing I can say with certainty – if your customer metric looks too good to be true – it probably is!

3. Failure to align business process to the customer journey

The most robust Customer Experience measurement systems are structured by correlating business processes with the customer journey. If we think of all organisations as a combination of ‘layers’, whilst the top layer is the customer journey, the middle layer is made up of business processes. It is a business’s processes that enable the customer journey to happen. The third layer comprises the technology that enables business processes to deliver the customer journey…. Are you still with me?!

For a business to be ‘focused’ on knowing WHAT to address to improve the customer journey – in other words, to be able to narrow down to a small number of priorities – it must be able to measure ‘CAUSE and EFFECT’. If you measure how capable business processes are at doing what they need to do (the CAUSE), as they improve, you should see an improvement in the way customers feel about what you do (the EFFECT). This principle only works on two conditions – a) you measure all business processes that enable the delivery of the customer journey; and b) your business processes are ALIGNED to the customer journey.

In my experience, so many companies designed and implemented business process (and technology for that matter) without even knowing that the customer journey existed, too often, business processes do NOT align to the customer journey. As a result, it is difficult (and sometimes impossible) to correlate a change in the performance of processes with customer feedback. Getting this right – enabling the relationship between process and customer journey is perhaps the most powerful way of understanding how to improve the customer experience (based on fact).

4. Failure to take ACTION

Failing to take ACTION on Customer Experience measurement is a BIG mistake to make. It is more common to see this being the case than you may imagine. All over the world, business leaders seem unsure as to whether or not they should be using measurement as the carrot or the stick! In reality, neither of these analogies is appropriate (in my opinion).

When it comes to Customer Experience Measurement, the number – an NPS score for example (which some may see as either the carrot or the stick) – is not the sole reason for measuring. Regularly I come across leaders who are focussed on the score and the score alone – almost obsessively. I do believe that a score is important – to link to business strategy and to act as a ‘talisman’ for everyone to follow, BUT unless you know what to do with the measurement being captured, it is POINTLESS.

There are more examples I could add of what I consider to be ‘bad’ examples of Customer Experience measurement – but rather than me rambling on, I would love for you to add your reasons by commenting on this article. As a profession, it is the responsibility of Customer Experience Professionals all over the world to educate businesses how to measure the Customer Experience well – I hope you will take some time to add your expertise for others to learn from!

About Ian Golding:

A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies.

Retailers Waste Time with Critically Flawed Surveys

by Martha Brooke on November 1, 2016

It seems that we’re asked to take a customer satisfaction survey with nearly every purchase. But do you ever wonder…do they really care what I have to say?

Our 2016 Customer Listening Study, the first of its kind, evaluated the customer satisfaction surveys of 51 top US retailers. The main finding: retailers like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart waste customers’ time—and their own—with critically flawed surveys. No company was completely scientific in its approach; nor did any company fully connect with customers in a thoughtful, compelling way.

Yet retailers issue millions of customer satisfaction surveys daily—which begs the question of whether these surveys are worth the paper they’re written on. To find out, we objectively evaluated 15 survey elements, in areas such as information quality, customer engagement, and branding cues.

The average survey quality score was 43—an F grade. We found two main problems with the surveys:

    • They collected largely inaccurate data.
    • And failed to demonstrate active customer listening.

We also found that:

    • With 23 questions on average, the surveys were excessively long.
    • 32% of all questions lead customers to give answers that companies want to hear.
    • 7-Eleven had the best survey—it was 13 questions, none of which were leading or used biased wording.
    • Family Dollar had the worst survey—it had 69 questions, 29 of which were leading.
    • Nordstrom, the most known for customer service, stated its survey would take 2 minutes—but with 25 questions, it took 4-5 minutes.

This study highlights how easy it is to produce a flawed survey. The findings should be considered by any company with a customer listening program.

To get more value from their customer satisfaction surveys, retailers should apply a scientific methodology, and be sure to connect with customers to show they’re listening.

The retailers selected for the 2016 Customer Listening Study were the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) top retailers, omitting supermarkets and membership stores. Surveys were collected between June 23 and July 27, 2016. Download the Study Report, or watch the 2-minute video.

Have a question about the Customer Listening Study, or want to learn about designing an intelligent customer satisfaction survey? Drop us a line.

3 Ways to Get More from Your Mystery Shops

by Martha Brooke on October 14, 2016

At conferences, I’m often asked about mystery shopping, and it got me thinking: there are a lot of misunderstandings about what mystery shopping can and can’t do.Customer Service Evaluation Mystery Shops

Some see mystery shopping as a simple check-in; others see it as too artificial for an accurate customer service evaluation. Many executives assume they get the same insights from reviews, social media, and direct customer feedback.

Others think it’s all about consumer retail, such as clothes shopping at the mall. They are wrong. Mystery shopping has tremendous value for B2B as well as B2C, and is vital to a thoughtful and well-vetted customer service evaluation.

Obviously mystery shoppers are NOT real customers, and don’t always reflect your average customer—whether that’s a machine parts distributor or a fashion-forward teen. What mystery shopping offers is a high-precision tool to improve customer service in your most vulnerable areas. In addition, it’s highly customizable for different goals. And because it examines what actually happens, it enables you to track actionable customer experience metrics.

Here’s how to use mystery shopping to improve customer service:

1) Use mystery shopping to conduct a thorough, airtight customer service evaluation.

Designed and performed well, mystery shopping ensures that nothing slips through the cracks. It can test almost anything, plus track specific customer experience metrics, such as how associates:

+ Solve problems
+ Explain information
+ Represent your brand
+ Handle different personas (e.g. skeptical, confident, or angry customers)

Testing many things at once is an efficient way to target weak spots, focus on goals, and measure frontline performance against precise criteria.

2) Use mystery shopping for the most accurate apples-to-apples comparison with your competition.

You don’t exist in a vacuum; competitors are always part of the equation, but it’s hard to get an accurate comparison. Customer satisfaction surveys reveal how customers perceive you but they don’t measure concrete differences between you and your competition.

Mystery shopping looks at actual performance, using the same criteria to evaluate you and your competitors for an objective comparison. For example, for an investment strategies client, we used a high net worth persona to call nine of our client’s competitors asking similar questions about market volatility. This enabled us to show our client best practices from the field for handling this specific type of question.

3) Use mystery shopping to test your most difficult situations.

Most of your customer interactions are probably fairly cut-and-dry, with little risk involved. But for every fifty interactions, you might have one critical opportunity to keep or lose a customer. Mystery shopping is the best way to test how your frontline handles these high-risk interactions.

For example, for a client in healthcare, we designed a scenario in which a parent called in with her child having an asthma attack—a rare event, but critical to our client’s brand when it did occur. If you simply listen to twenty-five calls, it’s unlikely you’ll run across high-risk situations like these. Mystery shopping hones in on the moments when your brand and customer loyalty are most vulnerable.

In short, mystery shopping takes the mystery out of customer service. It ensures the most comprehensive customer service evaluation, accurately compares you with competitors, and tests high-risk situations. Done well, it provides actionable customer experience metrics, and uncovers clear steps to improve customer service.

Mystery shopping incorporates Interaction Thinking™, because it recognizes the fact that customer interactions are comprised of many nuanced details and elements. When designed to capture this complexity, mystery shopping pinpoints where you need to make the greatest headway. So, to improve customer service efficiently, incorporate expert mystery shopping into your current customer service evaluation program. You’ll have clear, actionable insights on where to improve most, and the concrete next steps to get you there.

A Really BIG Customer Satisfaction Survey No-No

by Martha Brooke on September 28, 2016

Our company recently began working with a website optimization service. As the introductory phone call drew to a close, our new account manager asked me to take a customer satisfaction survey—and told me, “That’s how I get paid.”

This was useless, awkward, and inappropriate. It showed that what I had to say didn’t really matter. Plus, this was my account manager—there’s no way I’d give him a poor rating that might sour our weekly phone calls.

This entire approach to customer satisfaction surveys ran counter to Interaction Thinking™ because it overlooked how interactions can create value for the company and customer alike. The company could have gotten accurate data (we’ll get to that in a minute), and the customer could have had a great onboarding experience, unencumbered by feelings of obligation or guilt.

Furthermore, the survey was painfully generic. For example, one question was the ubiquitous Net Promoter Score (NPS): “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend?” Not only is NPS so overused that many customers are numb to it—it’s often just irrelevant. Who would I recommend my account manager to? Most of us don’t discuss niche web services with friends. The rest of the questions were equally trite and focused on broad outcomes, not specific nuances.

By the way, if this had been a tech support call, linking employee pay to survey ratings could favor quick fixes that might seem right at first—but don’t fully resolve the issue, and leave customers calling back a week later.

Now, about that data: unfortunately, this company’s survey only gathered selective, biased feedback and inaccurate customer experience metrics. It revealed no valuable insights about the actual quality of the customer experience, or how to improve.

If companies want to master the customer experience to build customer loyalty, they need satisfaction surveys that collect accurate, valuable customer experience metrics—while never sacrificing positive, worthwhile experiences for customers.

Customer Experience: Use The Right Metrics

by Martha Brooke on August 23, 2016

If you’re not achieving your goals for the customer experience, you’re probably not measuring at the correct level; learn what that level is.

Companies want to give and get value through the customer experience—what are your goals? To deliver proactive customer service? Reduce customer support calls? Increase customer loyalty? Sell more through each customer interaction?

To achieve your goals, you’ll need to measure the fine-grained elements of your customer interactions. Only an up-close view—not a high-level view—will show you how to actually improve.

Where most companies get it wrong (really wrong) is they spend copious resources tracking the consequences of their customer experience (dashboards, Net Promoter Scores, etc.). But, they barely consider the factors that cause those experiences.

Outcome Metrics:
Outcome metrics are your results. For example, after a hotel stay, you might get a survey with the Net Promoter question: “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?” Your answer—if you answer at all—will be a result of your experiences at the hotel. Outcome metrics, whether satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores, allow you to track progress over time. They’re indicators of general performance, but they’re limited. They’re limited because they’re not the tools that will help you to improve.

Nuanced Metrics: The tools that show how to improve.
The customer experience consists of broad factors, such as connection and timing, which break down into smaller elements: the smiles, frowns, word choices, thoroughness of answers, and more. It’s these small elements that you can actually change. Nuanced metrics and methods are the tools that delve into these elements, uncovering your gaps, opportunities, and how to improve.

Quick Example:
Imagine you own a coffee shop and want to sell more coffee. A number of factors and elements are involved:
+ Product: Do customers like the coffee? Is it burnt or bitter?
+ Timing: How long do customers wait? And is there music in the background, so it doesn’t seem so long?
+ Connection: Did the cashiers focus on each customer? Or were they busy talking to each other?
+ Competition: Was a coffee shop on the next block offering free pastries?

You’ll increase sales revenue if you improve underlying factors like coffee quality, wait time and cashier attentiveness. But if you only look at your sales numbers, nothing will change.

Think of it like training to run faster.
To get results, you have to improve factors like: flexibility, endurance, and nutrition.

Each factor is comprised of myriad elements. For example, flexibility depends on: muscle groups, activity level and body temperature.

Devise a plan to improve each element and you’ll improve your speed. Simply measuring how fast you run will never tell you what to improve, or how. You can’t run faster overnight—but you can do 20 extra minutes of endurance training, 15 minutes of stretching, and eat healthier foods.

Wow VERSUS Satisfaction: Where Do You Need to Be?
How deeply you examine the factors and elements driving your outcomes depends on whether you need to satisfy or wow.

• Wow: In a competitive market, or when customer experience is one of your differentiators, you’ll have to “wow” your customers. “Wowing” requires you to unpack the customer experience at a granular level.

• Satisfaction: But, if you’re the market leader, achieving satisfaction is probably enough—and while you’ll still need to examine the details, you won’t need to scrutinize the subtleties.

Clarifying the Difference Between Satisfaction and Wow:
Customers are satisfied when their perceptions match their expectations. Customers’ expectations are set by your marketing messages, nearby competitors, and other companies comparable in your marketplace. Customers’ perceptions result from their direct experiences with you. Satisfaction is ok… but it’s NOT memorable.

On the other hand, to wow is to exceed expectations. This calls for consistency, surprise, and customization. For more about “wow” get our free overview.

Whether You’re Aiming for Satisfaction or Wow, Know Your QCI™ Score.
At Interaction Metrics, we’ve developed the Quality of Customer Interaction™ Score. QCI™ is more actionable than NPS and other single-input metrics. This is because it accounts for multiple aspects of the customer experience, weighted by what matters most for each customer and their situation.Interaction-Metrics-Key-Measure

Customer Experience Metrics & Methods: Align Them.
Your goals, metrics, and methods should fit together like a puzzle, each piece complementing and informing the other. To get the clearest read on the customer experience, use a hybrid approach—because every method has pros and cons. For example, surveys are easy to do, but fall short because customers are rarely conscious of the details affecting their experiences.

Hybrid approaches also deepen insights. For example, to gain competitive edge, service evaluations pinpoint where you’re losing customers, while interviews uncover customers’ innermost thoughts and feelings.

Measure. Grow. Transform.
The best thing about using nuanced customer experience metrics with the right combination of methods is that next steps become abundantly clear. Next steps can be workshops, model answers, optimized interaction maps, director’s cut audio… the sky’s the limit.

Bring It All Together:
For any customer experience goal, whether that’s to increase conversion, inspire customers, win market share or anything else, you’ll need to:
+ Stop relying on outcome metrics
+ Embrace nuanced customer experience metrics
+ Combine metrics with the right methods
+ Apply powerful, engaging next steps

Let’s discuss your goals and the best metrics and methods for you with a free MetricsLAB™. Your takeaways will include: the pros and cons of different metrics plus a few preliminary ideas to advance your measurement. It’s 25 minutes. No strings attached. Improve your customer experience metrics. When’s good for you? Sign up here.

Starbucks: Your Customer is NOT Your Guinea Pig

by Martha Brooke on August 18, 2016

It was the typical noon-time rush at my local Starbucks—certainly not my favorite time to stop, but I was hungry and needed a snack. I ordered a drink and a bagel, and moved out of line to wait. My drink came out quickly, but five minutes later there was still no bagel. I caught the eye of an associate and asked where the bagel had gone. “Oh that’s the new guy, he’s still learning the ropes,” was the response I received. No apology, no attempt to rectify the situation…It got me thinking: Situations just like this occur every minute, all day long, because with customer service comes high turnover—so there’s always the new guy, but customers shouldn’t be their guinea pig.

The lunch rush? Of course that’s not the right time to bring a new employee up to speed. They should be prepared for all situations before they’re assigned a shift. And to prepare associates for providing great customer service, you need to coach them using roleplay and plenty of immersive examples. Don’t just tell them how to interact with customers, have a process that shows them what great customer service entails.

When your employees do make mistakes, and they will, have a procedure in place that uses the situation as an opportunity to build value. If the Starbucks associate had said “Thanks for telling us—we’re a little out of process today and I apologize. Here’s a card you can use for any drink—and next time I hope you’ll find us more in step.” With this, I would have felt appreciated, like a valued customer, not like the forgotten consequence of training gone awry.

All great customer service is built on great process, not great people. Sometimes in customer service, associates come to you with seemingly innate skills for connecting with customers and making things right. But those amazing employees are mostly luck and luck’s not a strategy. You can’t control your associates’ every words and you can’t control that one missing bagel, but you can have processes in place to deal with situations in a way that’s positive for employees and customers alike.

To create processes that drive great customer service, catalog and model each step of your everyday interactions. Next, make sure your customer experience team measures how often—and how well—your associates adhere to those models.

The truth is your new guy is an opportunity. He shows where your processes are failing. That’s exactly what you need to know to stay ahead of your customers’ expectations so they don’t go blogging about missing bagels. Starbucks, you’re good; you could be even better!

Are You Benchmarking OR Innovating?

by Martha Brooke on August 10, 2016

Benchmarking has a history of helping businesses compete in global markets. But these days, many companies are missing out on the opportunity to innovate due to an over-reliance on benchmarked metrics.

The practice of benchmarking was born in the 1950’s with companies like GE and Toyota. Then, what was in vogue was a process called reverse engineering in which companies examined competitor products to find out how to make their own products better.

In the 1970’s, a struggling Xerox took a cue from reverse engineering, but shifted the focus from product features to all the processes (including customer service) that drive success.[i] Since then, benchmarking has spread like wildfire—but so have its critics who call benchmarking a “virus,” and “a recipe for myopia, me-tooism and mediocrity.”[ii]

The problem is that while benchmarking is important—because it helps you keep an eye on the competition—it’s not enough. Benchmarked metrics merely skim the surface, and if you spend too much time watching your peers, you’re probably not allocating the resources you need to fully differentiate or innovate.

Customer service contact centers suffer the most from benchmarking’s shortcomings, using metrics like time-to-answer and first call resolution (FCR) as the golden mean for operational targets. And they often fall back on generic tools like SurveyMonkey to collect outcome metrics such as customer satisfaction (C-SAT) and Net Promoter Scores (NPS).

So what do you do instead?

Recognize that the customer experience is complex—more complex than an FCR rate or NPS score. Experiences consist of multiple factors, such as information, connection and timing, which break down into smaller elements like thoroughness of answers, proactivity of explanations and word choice. While benchmarked metrics can capture parts of this experience, and perhaps alert you when something is going very wrong, they won’t give you the nuanced information you need to demonstrate market leadership.

If you want customer service that differentiates your brand and builds customer loyalty, you must take a deep look at your company and customer interactions, and use metrics that compare your performance against your own brand promise. Every company has its own signature and opportunities to innovate. To make your company stand apart, you’ll need to demonstrate your signature—and this requires granular metrics.

The companies that are succeeding in today’s global marketplace are the innovators, so make sure you are challenging yourself beyond benchmarking. Make sure you are rallying your team to measure the granular details that really matter.


i. Canada. Performance Management, Alberta Finance. Other Performance Measurement Documents: Results Oriented Government. Alberta: 28 September 1998.

ii. Brierley, Sean. “Benchmarking Causes a Loss of Focus.” Finance Week. 01 June 2005.