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Mirroring Customers
 

Mirroring Customers

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Many companies have determined that identifying perceptual gaps between customers\' evaluations of products and services and what employees think customers will say enables: targeted training and ...

Many companies have determined that identifying perceptual gaps between customers\' evaluations of products and services and what employees think customers will say enables: targeted training and communication, employee involvement, incentive opportunities. Leading companies have made \'mirroring\' part of their DNA.

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    Mirroring Customers Mirroring Customers Document Transcript

    • L OYA LT Y “Mirroring” Customers Written By: from Inside the Company Michael Lowenstein, CMC The Benefits of Understanding How Closely Vice President and Senior Consultant Harris Interactive Loyalty Employee Perceptions of Value Delivery Harris Interactive Inc. Reflect Those of Customers Some may remember an episode of ‘90’s sitcom ‘Murphy Our sample included a statistically valid cross-section of Brown’ in which Candice Bergen, as Murphy, is viewing a purchasing agents in both business-to-business and focus group about her news program, FYI, through the two- consumer products and services companies. Purchasing way mirror. In a key scene, focus group participants are agents were selected because, while others often influence asked to describe the personalities and presentation styles of purchases and may even be instrumental in decision- various members of the program – beginning with Corky, making, it is the purchasing agent who usually has the most Frank, and Jim; and they do so in positive, glowing terms. day-to-day contact with suppliers. Sales managers from busi- When they get to descriptions of Murphy, however, the ness-to-business and consumer products and services were perceptions turn to sharply negative. Murphy is identified as selected because they offer an overall perspective of the abrasive, abrupt, and insensitive, just a few of the unflatter- entire selling and support process. Finally, marketing ing characterizations of her interviewing and reporting style managers were included because they are frequently respon- on the program. sible for their company’s communication efforts. Hearing and seeing this, Murphy jumps from her chair, One of the first things we wanted to know from the bursts out of the client viewing room and emotionally purchasing agents was whether they saw their suppliers as confronts the focus group members, asserting that, deep commodity-oriented, i.e. providing competitive prices and down, she is really warm and caring, and that viewers don’t basic service and support, or customer-oriented, working to see her in that light. Though played for laughs, this scene is deliver optimum value and benefit. Customer-orientation, all too representative of the value delivery perceptual gaps which emphasizes relationships and high customer commit- which often exist between suppliers and their customers. ment and advocacy, correlates very closely with customer Simply stated, employees frequently see both the importance loyalty behavior. and the performance of key drivers very differently when Only 43 percent of the purchasing agents said their suppli- compared to customers. ers were customer-oriented, compared to 73 percent of the Years ago, quality guru W. Edwards Deming said that what sales managers and 71 percent of the marketing managers everyone in a company does can be reduced to one of two who thought that purchasing agents would consider them functions: to serve the customer or serve someone who does. customer-oriented. This significant difference was a telling So, arguably, understanding where perceptual gaps between clue into the degree of misinterpretation and misperception employees and customers exist anywhere in the company between customers and suppliers. The two groups are not should be of prime importance to the Human Resources speaking the same language, struggling to make one another (HR) department, especially in their capacity of helping understood. It’s also critical to understanding why the level optimize the effectiveness of human resources. of customer defection is so high at most companies. In preparation for Customer WinBack, my 2001 book on customer loss and recovery co-authored with Jill Griffin, we conducted original research among purchasing agents and sales/marketing managers to better understand the essential value delivery perceptual differences between customers and suppliers. 1 www.harrisinteractive.com 877 919 4765 ©2007, Harris Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction prohibited without the express written permission of Harris Interactive.
    • Mirroring Customers from Inside the Company EXECUTIVE BRIEF We asked each group to assess the importance and perform- Again, this disengagement directly contributes to customer ance of close to twenty elements, or attributes, of value risk and churn. delivery. These included both functional, or rational, attrib- For key interaction and touch points between customers and utes and emotional, or relationship, elements. Like the suppliers, such as Customer Service, the level of true focus results to our first question, these findings were no less and centricity can be identified quite easily. We have long sobering and revealing. Other than pricing, need anticipa- advocated including at least once group of supplier staff – tion, and communication channel availability, purchasing most often from Field Sales, Marketing, and especially agents consistently gave high attribute ratings far less often Customer Service – in every customer loyalty study done for than sales and marketing managers. Many of these differ- our clients. The results are frequently eye-opening. What we ences were in relationship and communication areas, do with staff in these studies is, simply, ask them to respond essential in leveraging customer advocacy. to the same questions asked of customers, in the way they One of the things that particularly struck us was just how believe customers will rate and evaluate them as a supplier. low purchasing agents rated their suppliers in key relation- A company might have actively pursued, for example, a ship areas. For example, under 10 percent gave “Excellent” Total Quality initiative, believing that accurate, technically- ratings on communication, follow-up, service support, advanced, complete, on-time product or service delivery, at supplier dependability and flexibility/adaptability attributes. the right price, are the most effective ways to differentiate In the aspects of value delivery that really matter to purchas- themselves and create desired customer loyalty and advocacy ing agents, especially with regard to relationships, sales and behavior. They believe, in other words, that customers will marketing managers seem not to be speaking their language. reward them for executing these functional, or tangible, Perceptual Gap Profile Purchasing Agents vs. Sales Management vs. Marketing Management PURCHASING SALES MARKETING AGENTS MANAGEMENT MANAGEMENT 1. Consistent product/service quality 2. On-time performance/delivery 3. Knowledge of needs and requirements 4. Proactive communication 5. Speed of follow-up: requests/inquiries 6. Accurate billing 7. Competitive pricing 8. Quick, responsive problem solving 9. Accessibility of supplier contact/service staff 10. Attention to details 11. Rapport/relationship with supplier 12. Knowledge/expertise of supplier contact staff 13. Value-added service support 14. Ability to anticipate your needs 15. Dependability of supplier contact staff 16. Flexibility and adapability of supplier 17. Availability of multiple communication channels with supplier 18. Availability of multiple purchase channels 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% HIGH PERFORMANCE* *Based on high (5) performance ratings on a 5-point scale. 2 www.harrisinteractive.com 877 919 4765 ©2007, Harris Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction prohibited without the express written permission of Harris Interactive.
    • Mirroring Customers from Inside the Company EXECUTIVE BRIEF aspects of value provision with their dollars. Customer programs, and how they regard both the level and the Service and/or Sales staff, as a consequence, would have impact of complaints HR and service management can been force-fed a TQ diet, with compliance in the above reinforce a number of employee loyalty and contribution areas seen as paramount to success. They are schooled to best practices – generating trust in management, targeted believe that customers will: training, and communication and debriefing – all at the a) consider these functional aspects of value delivery same time. Here’s how. As indicated above, whenever highly important, and customer research is conducted, especially when it involves supplier interaction, include customer-touching staff as a b) not only rate the company highly in these areas, but sample group (or groups) in the study. If it’s a performance believe that these deliverables will positively leverage tracking study, such inclusion need not be done much more customer loyalty and advocacy than often once a year. Comparing customer perceptions to In circumstances like these, where a company has followed a staff perceptions can not only be very revealing, as we’ve path that typically doesn’t have much impact on loyalty and described, but also sharing these gaps with staff can create a advocacy behavior, or certainly less than believed as ‘conven- real awareness about what is working and what is not work- tional wisdom’, the perceptions of Sales and Customer ing with customers. Service staff are often significantly out of alignment with In the example on the next page, [INSERT INDUSTRY] those of customers. Staff and customers agree that the func- service staff had significantly different perceptions of tional elements of delivery are well-performed. Where they performance than customers in special and mainstream disagree is in the effect, i.e. the level of expectation, impor- education, especially in shipment accuracy, which they tance and impact, of these elements. believed customers would say was performed quite poorly. We’ve frequently found that customers consider the The reality was far different in nature. emotional, relationship and other intangible aspects of value In case anyone should need more convincing of the benefits delivery – trust, communication, interactive/collaborative reaped from debriefing staff to understand their perceptions components of service, anticipation of needs, brand equity, of customer-related performance, here are three key reasons etc. – much more important, and more leveraging of behav- why organizations today should want to make staff a part of ior, than the functional aspects. Customers tend to see the every customer survey: functional aspects of delivery as more basic and expected, in other words one-dimensional and non-differentiating. For 1) Including staff in customer loyalty research enables companies involved in business-to-consumer products or employees to have a voice. This tells staff their opin- services, the emotional and relationship elements of delivery ions matter, which in turns helps trust to grow may represent 70%, or more, of what drives supplier choice between the company and staff. and loyalty decisions. This, somewhat surprisingly, is simi- 2) Surveying staff as part of the customer loyalty larly true for business-to-business products and services; so research process enables management to learn about understanding perceptual differences between staff and specific process areas where there is disconnect customers should be a priority for HR management as well between what staff perceives and what customers as managers in Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service. perceive. These revelations can open the door for Continuing with the above example, it’s every bit as likely to needed process changes in how customers are served. have situations where companies have made changes to their 3) Surveying staff as part of the loyalty and advocacy customer service protocols, such as the way calls or email research process helps pave the way for staff buy-in and messages are handled, without generating evidence of the support of new initiatives and changes, on behalf of effect on customers. Here again, Customer Service staff ’s customers, that may affect staff, directly or indirectly. perceptions of protocol value and benefits may be seriously Studies have shown that customer support groups consider out of alignment with those of customers. Other areas of meeting defined service levels their highest priority, while potential misalignment, or perceptual gap, include how relatively few identify generating revenue and optimizing customers and staff see change in performance over time, customer retention as key goals. This often results in consid- the effectiveness of relationship or communication erable disconnect within the organization, especially when 3 www.harrisinteractive.com 877 919 4765 ©2007, Harris Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction prohibited without the express written permission of Harris Interactive.
    • Mirroring Customers from Inside the Company EXECUTIVE BRIEF one group, such as Marketing, has a different set of Uncoordinated effort such as this occurs, unfortunately, all customer-related metrics, goals and objectives compared to too often. Conducting mirror research among Marketing Customer Service. It can, as well, create absolute headaches and Customer Service staff when parallel research is being for HR. conducted to assess the effectiveness, i.e. impact on If the Marketing department launches a large-scale promo- customer loyalty behavior, of the program on customers will tional program with new customers, and neglects to speak volumes to everyone in the company adequately inform Customer Service or appropriately train When companies are innovative and inclusive with staff, all and prepare CSR’s for the tidal wave of contacts they will parties benefit. The company gets more effective employees. receive, the results are inevitable. Customer Service won’t be Employees like the participation and learning. Customers able to handle all of the volume, and the CSRs will be over- like the improved processes. Another key advantage of focused on performing to their normal metrics levels. So, conducting employee ‘mirroring’ research is that, in all like- the company may lihood, competitors don’t have this kind of insight. They’re 1) lose a great many new customers and/or hearing only from the external constituent group, the customers, but not from the equally important representa- 2) have to deal with negative word of mouth. tives and deliverers of value, the employees. Performance Gap Profile Staff vs. Special Education vs. Mainstream Subject Areas STAFF SPECIAL MAINSTREAM EDUCATION 1. Simplicity of materials 2. Appropriateness of materials for reading levels 3. Overall cost 4. Responsiveness to service requests 5. Shipment accuracy 6. Range of mainstream materials available 7. Range of remedial materials available 8. Effectiveness in helping reach teaching goals 9. Overall graphic content 10. Contemporary nature of material 11. Speed of order delivery Overall Performance 10% 30% 50% 70% 90% HIGH PERFORMANCE* *Based on high (5) performance ratings on a 5-point scale. 4 www.harrisinteractive.com 877 919 4765 ©2007, Harris Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction prohibited without the express written permission of Harris Interactive. EOE M/F/D/V 05.07