Contrary to conventional thought, this phrase never originated as a demand from a customer. It came from London department store owner, Harry Selfridge, in 1909 and was intended to convey to customers that they would receive excellent service at his department store and to convince his employees to provide excellent service.
Selfridge wasn’t alone in placing customers on a pedestal. Similar variations of the phrase found in other cultures include: “le client n’a jamais tort” (the customer is never wrong) in France, “der Kunde ist König” (the customer is king) in Germany, while in Japan they took it to a whole new level with “okyakusama wa kamisama desu” (お客様は神様です) meaning “the customer is a god”.
Four different cultures couldn’t be wrong, could they? Whilst this mantra might have had a positive effect on customer perceptions – especially at a time when misrepresentation was rife and caveat emptor was a common legal maxim – it had the opposite effect on employees. Often disempowering them in their relationship both with the customer and the business.
We all know that customers can be jerks sometimes, right! Need evidence? Look at the lady who walked into Bunnings last year in the middle of a pandemic when masks were mandatory in public claiming that she didn’t need to wear one. Not very queen-like is it? And certainly not behaviour befitting a god. Watching that video you feel just awful for the poor Bunnings employees who did a wonderful job in the face of such adversity. Was she right? I think we can all agree that the answer is no.
In extreme cases like that, when a business owner goes by the mantra “the customer is always right” and takes the customer’s side, the effect on employee morale is devastating. If employees think you don’t have their back when they’re dealing with a customer who is being completely unreasonable, they’re going to resent you for it.
But what about when the customer isn’t being completely unreasonable? More often than not, customers aren’t jerks and have a genuine issue. In these instances, they’re still not “right” but they’ve only got half the story. They know there’s a problem but they usually don’t know what’s caused it.
The employee is always right
In these instances, what’s needed is a “translator”. Someone who can turn the customer’s external language (for example “my delivery was missed”) into internal language (“our northern region driver called in sick yesterday and we have no contingency drivers booked in those situations”).
These “translators” are frontline employees and they are a gold mine of information. Who else within the company is fluent in two “languages” and gets to use both on a daily basis? Front line employees contextualise customer feedback adding a further layer of richness to the data.
So frontline employees are just as important to your business as customers. Maybe it’s time we had another look at some of our old sayings, and put our employees at the centre of them.
The employee is always right. The employee is never wrong. The employee is king. The employee is a god.
In the wise words of Sir Richard Branson “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
Imagine turning up for work each day as a frontline worker knowing you had that kind of support from your company. Imagine what kind of work you would do.
Connecting your customer and employees together for the full picture
What if you could have the best of both worlds? Ensuring that both your customers and frontline employees are heard.
At CentraCX, we believe there are 2 sides to every conversation. So we built Centra CX VoC to collect both customer feedback and frontline feedback. Combined, these insights provide the complete picture of your customer experience enabling you to action what really matters.
Companies that tap into the valuable resource that is frontline feedback using their customer feedback software are giving themselves the full picture when it comes to customer issues, and are more likely to get it right for customers and employees.
OK now I’ve got your attention let’s qualify that statement: collecting customer feedback without having it as part of a program that ensures action is a waste of time.
It’s great that so many companies have Voice of the Customer programs but it’s an unfortunate fact that for many of them, the data gleaned from customers will only be cursorily looked at or get summarised and go onto a dashboard where it will be swamped with other information. And that’s it. A month later, it happens again.
If the goal of an organisation is to become truly customer centric then just listening to customers isn’t enough. You actually have to do something with what they’ve told you. There needs to be a process created around customer feedback that ensures insights are extracted and acted upon. It needs to be part of a defined program that not only collects the data but analyses, synthesises and socialises it as well. In other words, glean insights from what customers have told you, tell the story of the data, and get it into the hands of the right people at the right time.
Having feedback as part a broader interconnecting network within a business is what makes it useful. There needs to be procedures set up around its receipt to ensure the maximum benefit is gained from it and, indeed, that it achieves the goal of the organisation in collecting it in the first place.
The four main reasons that organisation collect feedback are: complaint management, product and process improvement, business reporting and employee engagement. Ensure that you clearly recognise your actual purpose and create action plans, assign responsibilities, and define the metrics you’re going to use to measure success. Then, in order to maintain a continuous improvement cycle, close the loop on your change management process. And it’s so important to close the loop with the survey respondents! Let them know their voices were heard and tell them what you’ve done with what they told you.
One of the unique benefits of CentraCX is that it operationalises feedback within a business. The features of the platform (including Tribal Analytics, machine learning classification and workflow) help create the processes necessary to embed the voice of the customer in companies’ day-to-day operations.
Voice of the Customer is not a platform and not an activity, it’s a system of management. Having processes around feedback so that it is part of a broader continual improvement system is what makes it useful. The risk of not making customer feedback part of your operating rhythm is falling back into old habits, failing to transform, and ultimately negating the reason the organisation sought to collect the voice of the customer in the first place.
With so many frontline employees working from home right now, employee engagement is a hot topic. Yet many companies are overlooking a key resource that can be used not just to engage staff but to empower them as well. That resource?
It’s often said that “feedback is the breakfast of champions” and it’s true. Every individual that ever improved their performance received feedback along the way telling them what they were doing right and wrong. A good manager will be constantly providing feedback to their teams. When done in the correct manner, it’s not seen as criticism; it’s seen as support.
Yet when it comes to allowing frontline staff to hear customer feedback, particularly when it’s directed at an individual, many organisations won’t allow it.
Their concern is that the employee will be negatively impacted by the feedback; that they will hear something from a customer they will perceive as criticism or a personal attack and as a result their performance will suffer.
However, the vast majority of feedback left by customers about employees is positive and this provides critical context to the small amount of actual criticism. Customers are also more knowledgeable than they’ve ever been and are very good at differentiating product, price and service. They know when an issue is product-related and an employee is doing everything they can to help them and they appreciate it. Customer feedback helps employees feel valued and appreciated by the very people they interact with everyday.
But the benefits of sharing customer feedback with employees don’t stop there. When employees are able to engage with the feedback, it can be used to empower them.
A feedback management tool like CentraCX that allows frontline employees to comment and engage with customer feedback not only provides context to that feedback but adds a further level of depth and richness to what is being said by customers. Importantly, it amplifies the frontline employees voice within the organisation and makes them feel heard which is incredibly empowering.
The knowledge and experience of frontline workers is a goldmine that is left untapped in many organisations. Bi-annual internal surveys don’t cut it. They could never hope to capture what is happening daily on the front line and the lag between the event and when it is reported is enormous.
So let the customer’s voice ring out within the walls of your organisation and use it systematically to not only engage your employees but to empower them as well.
Businesses today need to be able to analyse and interpret their customer experience in real-time and then adapt their response to effect positive change. The faster they can do it – the more agile the company is – generally the better their performance.
Remembering that customer experience is how a customer feels about you based on every interaction they have with you, it follows then that customer experience managers need direct customer feedback to measure the effects of their efforts to improve customer perceptions.
Feedback highlights what customers think you’re doing well, what you could be doing better and, in some cases, even how you could be doing better.
I’ve written previously about some of the guidelines to follow when implementing a Voice of the Customer program. This post adds to that original list with five more suggestions to help you get the most out of listening to the Voice of the Customer.
1. Actively Listen
Customers won’t always want to provide feedback at the time you send them a survey. But conversely, there’ll be times they’ll want to let you know their thoughts (for example, after they received great service from one of your customer service representatives) and there won’t be a survey presented to them for them to do it. For this reason it’s important to survey after every interaction. In addition to this, for the situations where there hasn’t been an interaction, you need active listening posts. These could include a discreet feedback tab on your website, a phone number on your company vehicles, or a web link on your user guides. We are all very busy, so make it easy for your customers to share their thoughts with you.
2. Optimise The Survey Experience
With survey response rates generally hovering between 5% and 20%, it’s important companies do what they can to optimise the survey experience. Every extra completed survey you receive provides you with greater customer insight. Customers are much more likely to provide feedback if you survey them via the same channel through which they’ve had an interaction with you. Sometimes that may be difficult, for example in a retail setting. The key is to make it as easy as possible. Many retailers now use a kiosk or iPad asking a single question with graphics-based response buttons similar to those in Figure 1.
3. Determine Drivers
If you are using a metric such as Net Promoter Score or Customer Effort Score, correlate the scores you’re getting with other data to help understand the drivers that affect those scores. An e-business might consider website downtime, a help desk – spending on staff, a technology company – product defection rates. Understanding the reasons why customers rate you as they do allows you to conduct regression analysis to predict what impact a variable will have on your chosen metric. Using the technology company example, regression analysis could uncover that reducing product defection rates by 10% will, with a fair degree of certainty, lead to a 2-point increase in their NPS.
In a business-to-business environment, it makes sense to give your more strategic customers – those that spend more with you and/or have been with you the longest – a louder voice. Segment your customer base by profitability and give priority to fixing the issues that cause your more profitable customers to defect. Losing those customers is going to hurt your business more than losing a customer who only buys once from you.
5. Close the Loop
How many companies currently do this? In my experience it’s very, very few and it’s such a critical part of the process. Once you’ve actioned the insights that were distilled from the feedback your customers provided, go back to them and tell them what you did or did not do with what they told you.
People are much more likely to provide feedback in future if they know their opinion was heard and responded to. This could be in the form of a newsletter, an update on your website, an outbound telemarketing campaign or above the line advertising: “you told us X so here’s what we’ve done…”.
We all know the names: Amazon, Apple, Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Zappos. These are the companies that are consistently recognised as having the best customer experience in the world. They win CX awards virtually every year and dominate their respective markets.
Locally, professional services firm KPMG released a report in September this year that listed Australia’s Top 10 CX Brands in 2020. In order, they were:
First Choice Liquor
What is it that enables these companies to deliver an experience that is consistently superior to that of their competitors?
In my experience of having spoken to the CEO’s and analysed some of Australia’s best-known organisations over the years, the reason these companies are so far ahead is that they possess many (or in some cases all) of the following twelve qualities:
The CEO understands the economic value of CX and actively promotes it both internally and externally.
They understand the customer problems they solve and constantly strive to uncover new unmet needs.
There is a clear organisational purpose that is understood by all staff and easily communicated to customers.
They define their aspirational customer experience and the strategy and principles that will support it.
They evaluate the impact on customers before making any decision.
They have one view of the customer – they collect and record information about customers from a wide variety of systems and store it in one central repository.
Customer journeys are mapped and widely communicated and continuous improvement practices are applied to reduce the difference between the intended and actual customer experience at each touchpoint (and overall).
They understand their customer value proposition and know why customers come, stay and leave.
Staff are rewarded and recognised on the achievement of customer experience goals.
The link between the employee experience and customer experience is recognised and they actively work to improve culture and employee engagement.
New, differentiating experiences are constantly being designed for customers.
A good understanding of customers gained through a robust customer insights program is critical. Customer feedback is a necessity for qualities 2, 6, 8 and 9. And through an effective VOC platform like CentraCX customer feedback can also be used to improve culture and employee engagement (quality 11).
If you find yourself looking at that list and feeling a little daunted at the number of things you’re not currently doing, start with one or two and once you feel like you’ve embedded them, pick one or two more. It will take time but as the Chinese proverb goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
If you don’t currently have a Voice of the Customer program in place, start with a small survey and go from there. Collecting customer feedback is always useful even if you don’t yet have all your other processes and evaluations in place. Now more than ever companies need to know what their customers are thinking.
Finally, just remember that becoming more customer centric is a transformation. To improve your chances of success be sure to implement any changes you make to your business using change management principles such as Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, ADKAR, or Lewin’s Change Management Model.
The companies with the best customer experience in the world are at the top of the CX mountain because they have placed customers at the heart of their organisations. By adopting the 12 qualities above, you too can follow the path they have blazed and join them on the summit.