How to Convert the Value of Real-Time Conversational Customer Feedback Across Your Business

This is a guest post by Lindsay Willott, CEO of Customer Thermometer.

Of the 100 or 1,000 “connections” you have across social channels or languishing in your ages-old contact list, how many do you know well enough to pick up your last conversation where it left off?

Not many, if you’re anything like me. Family members, good friends, and most work colleagues at Customer Thermometer of course. But there are very few organizations. Most likely only places where I buy stuff very regularly or have very recently.

But insurance companies, banks, travel agents, clothing retailers, telecom providers, restaurants (the list goes on)—not so much.

As consumers, we know the onus is on us to establish that contact and provide the context, each and every time we want to “transact”. If only organizations were more conversational.

Conversational Customer Support Brings Challenges and Opportunities

The team at Kustomer have been quick to pick up on the concept of “conversational” customer support with various blogs and a white paper. Put simply, it’s the ongoing contact between a customer and organization that transcends the “transactional” events that customer service platforms and processes focus so much upon.

But while organizations can plan processes and workflows around transactional support, conversational support demands the capacity to manage a far more chaotic picture, 24/7, on an omnichannel basis.

It means changing the rules of engagement with customers, becoming more spontaneous and proactive rather than reactive and pre-planned. Willing to use more relaxed, informal language–while staying professional–where and when it’s welcome.

Let’s assume you’ve equipped yourself with a platform–Kustomer’s or otherwise–that enables you to pull this off from a technical perspective. Congratulations! But how can you check you delivered on conversational customer support, in a non-jarring way?

Make It Simple and Instinctive to Optimize Response Rates

Conversational service goes beyond problem-solving or troubleshooting. It makes engagement enjoyable for the customer, building trust and rapport, and nurturing relationships so that they’re impossible to disrupt.

This makes it absolutely vital for the feedback process to be lightweight and non-disruptive. No big surveys or elaborate forms. Just something that demands a single click or the quickest of comments.

The best way is to mimic the way customers would give feedback to family and friends in real life. That means emojis. On any given day, 5 billion emojis are used on Messenger, with countless more on WhatsApp, social networks, email and SMS.

That’s why, as a basic default, we offer four responses for feedback, so you can route accordingly: gold star, green smile, orange deadpan, and red frown.

Sense and Respond in Real Time to Feedback About Your Customer Success Approach

Here is a suggested process to help keep happy customers delighted, and turn unhappy customers into loyal ones. Use any kind of graphical, emoji-based response mechanism you wish. The key takeaway is: don’t just collect feedback, act on it right away.

Set-up: Consider how your organization can enable improvements to flow from customer feedback. Who gets the alerts? What time limits, SLAs and owners are applicable, especially for negative feedback? Get the team together and kick off.

Send: Design a very simple, ideally graphic/emoji-based single question survey. Deploy it at applicable trigger points, set intervals on an ongoing basis for all communications. If the tool is truly non-disruptive, you won’t be adversely affected by testing out different approaches.

Respond/Fix: Initiate responses based on the feedback category. Whether you’re thanking people for their great feedback, asking input for improvements or identifying negative issues for speedy resolution, it’s important to maintain the right tone.

Share: All this data has to be put to good use, both on an individual basis (for escalating specific issues) and at the macro level for tracking trends. This is where pre-integration between Customer Thermometer and Kustomer (and other tools) assure maximum benefits. Real-time customer insights are easily added to communications flows, reports and management dashboards through automation.

Improve: Multiply your improvement potential by using real-time feedback to reward and incentivize staff, boost marketing efforts, enhance products and services, tweak communications processes, and shape internal training programs. Crucially, look after customers as individuals to optimize loyalty and reduce churn.

Discover hidden insights you never knew were there

CEO and founder of beauty brand Glossier, Emily Weiss, hits the nail on the head with part of her philosophy for customers, the “people-powered beauty ecosystem.” Her advice: “Involve her. Don’t just make her feel involved. Reward her… Say thank you. Use that information, that feedback loop.”

Glossier uses Customer Thermometer to get feedback from its customers, uncovering “important insights to constantly improve our processes and ensure excellence.”

Market insights you would most likely kill for can flood right into your company through your customer service team. You just need to get the process right for sharing it and using it to best effect.

Voice of the Customer: Are You Really Hearing What They’re Saying?

This is a guest post by Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience at FCR.

Are you in the habit of closing the loop with customers that offer negative feedback on post-interaction surveys like Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Score? I certainly hope so, because it’s a great practice that many companies aren’t in the habit of doing. When I led a customer service team, I was very proud of the fact that we made every attempt at closing the loop with the upset customers we knew about, and by some combination of resolving their issue and offering compensation, we managed to save a good many of them from churning.

But what about those customers that don’t complete a survey voicing their displeasure? What about those where something goes wrong and it’s “too much trouble to complain?” Or perhaps they do complain and the disinterested reply from support is enough for the customer to cut their losses and move on to a company that actually wants their business. And then there’s that statistic where upset customers tell dozens of people about negative experiences while happy customers tell a small handful of their friends. I’m convinced that someone invented that statistic to strike fear into the hearts of customer service leaders with the sole purpose of selling books, software, consulting, etc.

Regardless, it’s the upset customers I don’t hear from that keep me up at night—the unhappy ones we’ll never have the opportunity to save. There’s got to be more we can do, right? What if I told you that more customers are offering feedback about how we can improve and keep their business? It’s time that we start listening to the “voice of the customer” far beyond surveys, and the great news is that what once seemed far off in the distant future is totally possible right now. Let’s discuss further.

A Survey is Not Enough

I love surveys. The act of asking for feedback and then taking the time to act on that feedback is what fuels a great continuous improvement process, but it alone as a voice of customer program is incomplete at best. In my work at FCR, I see a wide range of response rates to surveys anywhere from 10 to 30%—and rarely beyond that.

Can a company really consider a voice of customer program robust if it doesn’t hear from 70% of its customers? If our goal is to truly understand what’s driving dissatisfaction and drive our customer churn rate down, we need to do more. Customers are giving feedback on traditional support channels and social media, and we must listen to that valuable non-survey feedback as well.

Sentiment Tells Us Much More

Consider for a moment relationships and what we know about nonverbal communication. In my own relationship with my wife, most of the feedback I receive about how to be a better husband is nonverbal. Whether it be “the look” or perhaps a tone of voice, I had better be adept at recognizing her signals long before she has to explicitly tell me she’s upset.

Natural language process (NLP) works in much the same way, by understanding not just what customers are saying but the way they’re saying it. Considering the fact that only 1 of every 26 customers actually complains when something goes wrong, the ability to capture customer sentiment from all customer interactions including social posts, voice, email, chat, and SMS significantly broadens our understanding of what customers are saying. And it allows us to recognize an upset customer—sometimes long before they give explicit feedback via a survey. Now we’re on our way to listening to 100% of customer communication with our company. But there’s still more.

But Actions Give Us the Full Picture

Traditional contact center platforms do a great job of helping us pull in customer communication from a variety of sources and respond in a timely manner. For teams of all sizes this is important, and the ability to track a myriad of KPIs helps us measure success, but these systems are almost exclusively predicated on the customer reaching out to us first. Are we to assume that if the customer doesn’t reach out, they’re happy?

If that’s your assumption, you may want to read up on customer journey mapping. This is the exercise of looking at the customer journey from A to Z, identifying all of the places customers touch your company (AKA touchpoints), and evaluating that experience. As I’ve learned about journey mapping, I’ve come to realize what a small (but important) role customer service plays in the overall customer experience.

Clearly a modern contact center platform must take into account the entire customer journey and understand what customers are telling us at each touchpoint with their actions. A few ideas where this might come in handy include:

  • Understanding whether the customer is a first-time buyer or long-time customer.
  • A regular subscription stopped or downgraded after a long history of purchasing regularly.
  • Order fulfillment or shipment is delayed.

There might be a variety of issues. The ability to see this full picture of the customer’s history allows us to take a more proactive approach and reach out to customers, sometimes before they become aggravated.

Focus on Customer Lifetime Value

Now this is starting to sound like the comprehensive voice of customer program we’re going for. We’ve moved beyond reacting to customers with known issues and are proactively acting based on patterns in the customer journey. There’s a final, invaluable ingredient, or metric, in this process that’s so often missing from the process of supporting customers: lifetime value.

Understanding how much a customer has purchased historically and potential future spending is an invaluable tool for a couple reasons. First, it allows your support team to understand what it might take to make things right when something has gone wrong. For example, if a customer spends $25 per month, a $10 coupon might be appreciated, but if they spend thousands annually, that same $10 credit might be insulting.

Second, with lifetime value, we can offer a premium level of service to those high value customers. When it comes to proactively reaching out to customers at various points in the journey we’re now working smarter, not harder by prioritizing our reach out first to those that spend the most and/or have been with us the longest.

A true voice of customer program should absolutely strive toward a 360-degree view of the customer’s experience—and this is totally possible when we can easily see support history, feedback, sentiment, actions and lifetime value. With that information, we shift our approach from a reactive to a proactive one. Once that’s occurred, I see a future where customer service leaders everywhere sleep a whole lot better at night.

Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service, customer experience, and contact center professional. He’s also the co-founder and regular contributor on Customer Service Life. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. 

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