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You can't satisfy customers if your brand is deaf, dumb and blind

16th Apr 2012
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David Parcell details alarming research that exposes the gap between where customers provide feedback and how organisations refer to this customer insight.

Customer satisfaction is going to top the agenda for many organisations in 2012, either through a desire to secure competitive advantage or to adhere to industry regulations. According to Forrester Research, 90% of customer service decision makers think it is critical to their company’s success, and 63% think its importance has risen in recent years.
Faced with an increasingly turbulent and uncertain economy, it is more important than ever that companies look to use 2012 and beyond to pay heed to what their customers are telling them and use these insights to continually improve what they do, so they can keep customers loyal.
It is evident that many organisations have a long way to go. Research that we conducted with Customer Contact Association (CCA) revealed that almost 90% of British consumers provide feedback to organisations if they experience bad service but almost half do not think companies take notice of or care about it.
The study was based on parallel surveys of both businesses and consumers, and highlighted that organisations aren’t always referring to all the channels customers use to voice opinions, and that they are using insight gained to a varying degree. Businesses need to address this going forward, taking insight from both the positive and negative feedback to inform service operations, products and marketing strategies, so they better suit the demands of their customers.
For example, our study exposed significant gaps between where customers provide feedback and how organisations refer to this customer insight. The most widely used means of providing feedback directly to organisations is by post or email, with 44% of consumer respondents citing this as their preferred method. However, 65% of the businesses surveyed reported they refer to less than one quarter of the emails they receive for customer insight. For letters, the proportion rockets to 75%.
Bleak for contact centres
The figures are equally bleak when looking at the contact centre, a key front line customer interaction point for many organisations. Our research revealed that contact centre agents’ own notes are also largely overlooked – only one third of the businesses surveyed say they regularly refer to these information sources for customer insight.
It is vital for businesses to understand that valuable feedback doesn’t only come from structured sources like market research and surveys, but also from gathering and making use of the comments customers make every day. Organisations need to get far better at understanding the unstructured detail which in the past has defied conventional analysis – anecdotes, asides and emotions.
This form of insight can be mined from phone calls into the contact centre,  emails or social media, which can then be collated to present a clear picture of what consumers think about a product or service, and indeed a company as a whole. This is a critical element to achieving competitive advantage, because, when analysed, the insights gleaned can be used to better inform decision making to tailor business operations and provide an early warning signal for potential customer service issues which can then be addressed before they become brand threats – thus boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Consumers expect to see a response from companies through social media too. In particular, as dialogue between companies and their customers has become far more immediate, it creates higher expectations for faster responses to queries and comments and action on points raised by customers online. It is therefore key that brands form a cohesive strategy for responding to and dealing with customers via social media.
Of the consumers surveyed, the majority think social media can hold companies to account like never before. 59% also believed companies should pay much more attention to what people say on social media – then act on what they hear. It is also often the case that if feedback is not acknowledged or resolved via this channel, a small problem can potentially spiral into a much larger reputational issue. This is especially important when looking at the younger customers. Our research showed that young people are far more likely to turn to social media channels  than pick up the phone to make their thoughts known.
Those organisations that fail to respond to the changes in channels that their customers use could end up with a much larger reputational issue to deal with. Those that get social media service right can target those individuals who haven’t taken a conventional approach to customer service, as well as opening a new channel for customers to communicate with their providers. Social media response doesn’t always have to be a defensive play.
The brands that push customer satisfaction to the top of their agenda and actively listen to and act on feedback,  through whichever channel it’s shared, will be steps ahead in boosting customer loyalty. Being tuned into customers and their perceptions of the companies they choose to deal with, and then being seen to take action on what they hear, is going to be key to success in 2012 and beyond.
David Parcell is managing director EMEA and corporate officer at Verint.

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