Customers can be satisfied, even when you aren’t meeting all their needs. Customer satisfaction research is important for measuring a specific contract. But customer experience research is how you assess whether you are meeting real customer needs.
On the surface, customer satisfaction and customer experience seem the same. But customer satisfaction is really a piece of customer experience, which is measuring a particular experience at a specific time, and after the fact. Customer experience is broader than that in that it measures a collection of things that influence the customer, such as brand perception, user experience, perceived value and satisfaction. Customer experience looks at what prospects are thinking before they buy, and provides businesses with the chance to change messages, services or touch points based on the feedback. This applies to any market: B2G, B2B and B2C.
There are a number of ways to evaluate customer experience. In surveys, you can ask questions about the overall experience working with a company, ease of using the website and so on. However, for customer experience, the most effective research method is focus groups. In this setting, customers tell personal stories that provide rich data on their actual experience. It is always amazing what customers will share — and the insights are invaluable. Other effective tools are audits, mystery shoppers, usability testing, monitoring social media conversations, analyzing inbound data and customer advisory boards. We have found that companies with the most successful programs use a combination of tools.
Whether you are conducting a customer satisfaction survey or conducting customer experience research, once you gather the information, it is critical to apply it. From the top down, the company needs to be willing to make changes — and then retest to ensure the changes are working. Customer satisfaction and customer experience monitoring and measurement need to be continuous. Repeating the process every six to twelve months ensures that your efforts pay off.
Here are tips on implementing change:
- Implement the insights that result from customer experience research, even if doing so requires a cultural shift. The most successful programs we have seen have been those where the CEO embraces all findings — both good and bad — and integrates them into the goals and objectives for senior leaders within the company. Senior leadership needs to infuse energy into the program, while employees must understand why changes need to occur and how they relate to the ultimate goal.
- Listen to what customers are saying, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s important to understand that customers’ perceptions are reality, regardless of whether these perceptions are true or not. You may not need to implement every suggestion they make, but you should focus on understanding what experiences and attitudes are behind their perceptions. At the same time, don’t overthink and overanalyze the meaning — that would keep change from happening. Create a sense of urgency around changes.
- Actually make the changes. Your research alone won’t help change your customers’ experience. You need to implement the suggestions — as soon as possible. Make the changes, but understand that customer experience is evolutionary: It is always in flux, which makes consistent, timely and ongoing measurement a must.
When your customers see that you are sincere about learning from them, you will find their experience will improve, and their satisfaction will increase.